Neither Jot nor Tittle
This text has many emphatic markers in the Greek which indicates that what Jesus says here is to be taken with all seriousness. We need to be reminded again that the Sermon on the Mount was preached to His disciples in the light of dividing the true disciples who hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice and those who are foolish and do not. The fact that this sermon had been passed down in Scripture to us today shows that Jesus is not just talking to the twelve or even the massed crowds, but to us as well. Seeing that this is the case, we need to pay heed to what is said.
Verse 17 begins with the imperative “Do not begin to say that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets.” This is followed by the strong Greek word for “but” followed by “to fulfill”. The Law and the Prophets were often put together to indicate the totality of Scripture. What Jesus is saying positively is that He came to completely fulfill the Scripture. Sometimes we tend to get bogged down into the commandments in the Law and take our eyes from the totality of the Scripture, which in that day was the Old Testament by itself
Jesus consistently taught that He came as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. In the Gospel of John, he tried to tell the Pharisees that it was their testimony of Jesus Himself which was the way to eternal life (John 5:39-40). After the resurrection, He opened the eyes of the Emmaus disciples to the testimony of Scripture concerning Himself and later in the appearance to the apostles that night. So this statement is more than just a statement that the Law of Moses was to be kept, and that Jesus expected this to be taught. It is rather a statement of the absolute inspiration and divine authority of the Scripture as a whole.
In verse 18, Jesus begins the verse with the strong word “Amen”. Amen is a word in Hebrew which has the meaning of “so let it be!” It is interesting that Jesus begins his important statements with either a single or double amen. The church, on the other hand, responds to the words of Jesus with “Amen”. The “so let it be” of Jesus “shall be.” By using the Amen, Jesus is equating His words to the divine authority and inspiration of Scripture. This is a strong claim to Jesus’ divinity when He puts His words at par with what is the God breathed word in Scripture.
Jesus also states in the verse a prophecy that at some time in the future, the heavens and the earth will pass away. But until that is fulfilled, not one Word or even a little letter like the Hebrew Yod will become irrelevant. Jesus is telling His true disciples that all of Scripture is to be revered and honored as His word.
In the church age, we have the divinely inspired New Testament which stands with the Old. Both are equally the Word of God and are to be understood as the product of the same Holy Spirit who inspired every word of Scripture. Unfortunately, much of the Old Testament has been dismissed as irrelevant by the church. In some circles, it is even seen as evil. But Jesus warns His true disciples that whosoever disregards even the slightest letter from the Word will become the slightest in the Kingdom. In other words, the one who lays aside a single Scripture will be laid aside in the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who declare Scripture to be irrelevant will be irrelevant to God’s Kingdom.
By being called least, some might think to take comfort in thinking that they will at least be in heaven, even if it is the remotest cabin in the corner of glory land. Some even seem that the farthest place from the throne of God is actually desirable, thinking they can sneak out the back door of the church service and play golf or something. Whereas I cannot definitely say so, I would think this opinion puts one in extreme danger of ending up in hell, and not just some remote corner of the Kingdom. A true disciple wants to be near His Lord.
Jesus counters the warning to those who would pick and choose from the Scripture with a blessing for faithfulness. Those who hold to the divine authority and inspiration of Scripture in both practice and teaching will be called “great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
What Jesus expects from His disciples is abundantly clear. They need to stick to the story of the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. We are not do delve into the idle speculations of human philosophy. We are not to elevate the words of men to the status of the words of God. Neither shall we reduce the words of God to the words of men. It is true that God used human authors to speak and or record His word to man. The trouble comes when we forget that they wrote or spoke as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
It is common in the commentaries to emphasize the human authorship of Scripture. Even in evangelical and conservative circles, this has crept in unawares. Statements like “Matthew here puts on the lips of Jesus” or Matthew is trying to present Jesus as a …, while Luke organizes His material to present Jesus as…” The emphasis should rather be on questions like “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the four gospels, and why does He present it as four portraits of the same Jesus?” When we emphasize how human authors thought rather than the purpose of the Holy Spirit for the Scripture, we reduce the Word of God to the words of men. When we do the Word of God are removed from their divine authority.
We can be sure that God hold to the eternal infallible, and authoritative Word He has given, regardless of what men or angels might think. The fact that there are too many in the church who reject the relevance and authority of some or most of Scripture does not change its objective reality in the sight of God. It is to God’s standards of judgment and not our own that we shall be held accountable to.
When we clear up what these verses are really saying, we can clear up other problems as well. Some think that all of the Law is still applicable to Christians, others to the Jewish nation, others to the millennial kingdom. The Words “until all things be fulfilled” is stated by Jesus. We must understand that the entire Scripture, was kept perfectly by Jesus Christ. Because of this “all things” have already been fulfilled in the earthly life of Jesus. Others were fulfilled in His atoning death and resurrection. Others will come to completion at His return. But even if what is called the “ceremonial” aspect of the Law need not be practiced anymore because it stands fulfilled in Jesus, the purpose for these laws as pointers to the Sacrifice of Christ still hold validity as proof of the unified plan of God in the Old Testament to reveal Christ. These also serve as a reminder to us that God has had a plan of redemption all along which he unfolded at various times, places, and ways to the Prophets until the day of Christ who is God’s final Word.
What we as a church needs to is to understand that the same God who worked Sovereignly in the Old Testament and in the New is the same God who is working out all things Sovereignly in the world today. And this certainly includes his true church who honors His Word in life and teaching. This is the people who He is blessing and will continue to bless. As we have already learned from the Sermon on the Mount, these blessings from God result in persecutions from men. These persecutions are the badge of our election in which God called us not just while we were in our mother’s womb, but before the foundation of the world itself. God created a world which He knew He would have to redeem. We certainly cannot comprehend this plan or why God even created the world and us knowing this. We instead are to believe that God has done this and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ according to His own purpose.
It is time for the church to repent and stop its Baal worship. It is time for the church to stop compromising the Word of God to gain the acceptance of men. The world is careening toward divine judgment. We need to warn everyone of this fact and urge them to believe the good news in Jesus Christ.
The world will persecute you for your faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the Word of God. But in a way, you will gain the respect of an enemy for being consistent to Christian principles. The compromisers, on the other hand, may not suffer persecution from the world but will rather be held in contempt. Why does the church continue if it doesn’t believe its own teachings, they might say. Why should people pay for an organization that inefficiently dispenses charity, political and moral advice? Paying ten percent to the church to provide second rate entertainment does not seem to be a prudent spending of money. One cannot even use churchgoing anymore as a means of influence. In fact, the opposite is becoming the case. In other words, the worldly and liberal church has nothing to offer that the world cannot do better and no hope of anything beyond this life either.
The half-believer might as well leave off going to church altogether if what the Liberals preach were true. Jesus does not provide a message of self-esteem or feeling good and whole in this life. He does not offer liberation to enslaved peoples. He is not an environmentalist. He is not a political philosopher. He is recorded as the Savior of sinners in the Scripture. He died for our sins, and His resurrection is proof that the sacrifice was accepted. What Jesus promised is ultimately far more than the watered down social gospel of the liberals.
Why doesn’t the church simply obey what Jesus taught. Let us tell his gospel his way.