We are going to go into a very misunderstood portion of Scripture in Matt 5.17-48, so we are going to spend a short time on these passages. But, these passages need to be understood in order to understand what Paul is saying in Romans. Yeshua says in Matt 5.17-20 that not even the smallest letter from the Torah will disappear until everything is fulfilled (given meaning). He then mentions the “least of the commandments” which are in the Torah. Have you ever broken the “least” of these?” We all have, so we are also going to be “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven. So, right away, Yeshua is “putting his listeners in their place (and readers today).” In the minds of those listening to him, there was panic. But, whoever does and teaches them will be called great. The only one who can be called great in the Kingdom of God is the one who perfectly keeps and teaches the Torah, which is where Yeshua comes in. He is the only one who fits that description.
Now, to enter the Kingdom, our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisee’s (v 20), and Yeshua is actually complimenting them. The Scribes were the most versed in the Scriptures, and the Pharisee’s most observant. What he is saying is this, “Look at the best that you have, and for you to enter the Kingdom of God, you will have to exceed the best of the best.” Matt 5.21-22 says that if we even call a person a fool, we are guilty of murder and destined for hell. The word “fool” there is the word “rasha” which actually means “wicked” but it is translated fool. A rasha is someone so wicked that they will never be saved. There are three books that are opened on Rosh ha Shannah, and they are the book of the Tzaddikim (righteous), the book of the Chata’im (sinners) and the book of the Rashim (wicked). We cannot be the judge of someone on this. The word “nabal” is fool and you will see this in the story of Abigail, her husband Nabal and David. In Matt 5.23-26, we have another one that gets all of us. How many times have we not gone to someone who had something against us to make it right. Matt 5.27-28 catches all of us, too. According to Yeshua, if we even look at someone to lust after them, we have committed a sexual sin. If our right eye or hand offends us, Yeshua says to “cut it off” which means to stop doing what is offensive. Can you imagine how his audience is hearing this?
Yeshua is communicating something and he is hitting them right in the gut, and they couldn’t get away from it. We will see where he is going shortly with all this. But, what he was doing was destroying all their self-righteousness, works righteousness and “works of the Law.” He isn’t giving these things in Matt 5 for us to live by, the point was, we can’t do them and we never have been able to. He is comparing them to God and where they stood was far short. Paul wrote, quoting the Tanak, that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yeshua is pointing that out in these verses (Ecc 7.20; Rom 3.23). He also instructs them on divorce, and the Torah also instructs us on how this is done; oaths, and the Torah instructs us on how this is done; and justice, mercy and kindness in personal relationships (Matt 5.31-47).
He will not be contradicting the Torah in these verses, but he is exceeding what it says in the Torah. The key to all of this is Matt 5.48. He says we are to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must do all of these things. But, we all want to enter the Kingdom, and so did his listeners, but they realized that they can’t do all of these things. That is where Yeshua was taking them (and us) as we read this. We realize that we need a redeemer, we need the Messiah, or “Go’el” and “kinsman redeemer” because the Torah will “get you” every time if you try to keep it for your righteousness. We would have to exceed the written Torah if righteousness was based on works. In order to enter Heaven on our own, we must be as perfect as God (Matt 5.48). He is destroying, or breaking down, their self-righteousness so that they will hear about true righteousness that comes by grace, through faith. He is letting them know what it is like to stand before God in their own righteousness.
Here is a very important point to understand about the Torah and the New Testament. On every one of these points, even through Matt 7.29, they are not given as a literal “how to live.” Many teachers approach these verses that way, but the point Yeshua is making is that we can’t do it, only he could do these things and meet God’s perfect standard. If we try to do them, it will destroy us. However, we should take these verses as goals and work them into our life. God gave the Torah to guide us on how to live. The problem with these passages out of Matthew is people take them literally, but Yeshua was not saying that. He was breaking down their self-righteousness. We are to let the Torah convict us of sin, and then we will finally realize that we have fallen short. The problem is not the Torah, it is us. There is a saying that says, “We have found the enemy, and he is us.” That is the Judicial role of the Torah. Once we realize we are sinners and are falling short, we realize we need a redeemer in Yeshua, then the Torah’s Instructive (or educative) role begins. So, lets go back to Rom 11.
In Rom 11.11-12, Paul talks about Israel and how they stumbled but did not fall. In addition, there would be a fullness or fulfillment. So, let’s look at this in detail. In Matt 21.1-5, we know that it is Nisan 10, and he is going to ride into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zech 9.9, which is a prophecy about the Messiah who is lowly, sitting on a donkey. Yeshua will be directing his criticism to the religious leaders, in particular those from Beit Shammai. Nisan 10 was the day Joshua crossed the Jordan near Jericho (Josh 4.19). In Matt 21.6-11, he is coming into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, east of the city. Luke 19.36-40 is a companion verse, and it gives us some additional information. The Mount of Olives had gravestones, and that is what he was referring to in Luke 19.40 when he says, “I tell you, if these (the people who were praising him) become silent (because the religious authorities were trying to silence them), the stones (gravestones) will cry out.” In other words, the dead people who are in Sheol right now know who Yeshua is. And if the religious authorities were able to silence the living from praising him, the dead, who know who he is, will praise him and cry out.
It was believed that in Hebron the resurrection of the dead would begin, the starting place. Then it would move to the Kidron, and that is why there were so many gravestones there. That is also why the Kidron Valley was called “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.” The Jordanians destroyed much of this area by 1967 and made a new area there. We find in Luke 19.41 that Yeshua “wept” over the city. There is a prophecy in 2 Sam 15.30 when David wept as he was on the Mount of Olives, being driven from the city by Absalom at what is called the “ascent of the Mount of Olives.” His weeping became part of the liturgy for the festival of Sukkot. The belief was, when the Messiah came he would weep over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The term “Gethsemane” means “oil press.” But, a Bible student of Dr. David Flusser said that the word “Gadsemene” in Aramaic means “the ascent” of the Mount of Olives, and that is where the garden is. This is one translation problem we have in our modern versions. Yeshua goes on in Luke and gives a prophecy not found in Matt 21.
In Part 16, we will go back to Matt 21.10-12 to pick up some additional information and develop what is going on here in these verses. All of this will lead right back to Rom 11 and the stumbling of Israel, but that will lead to their fulfillment, and to clarify what Paul is saying there. Some say Israel “fell” making room for the “church” but that is an inaccurate interpretation. We will begin to develop out Paul’s Olive Tree Theology found in Rom 11 in Part 16. All of this information will “dovetail” together as we move through it.