What did Yeshua mean when He said He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah)? Some people would say that He came to complete the Law so that it no longer applied to His followers. But is that really what He meant? Look again at what He said:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV, emphasis added)
The English word “fulfill” appears twice in these verses. The first time it’s the Greek word plāro’ō (Strong’s G4137, πληρóω), which means to fill up full of meaning. Concerning the Law it means, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment.” There’s nothing in that definition about bringing anything to an end. It’s the second use of “fulfill” that carries that meaning, but it’s a completely different Greek word. The word is gē’nomī (Strong’s G1096, γíνομαι), which means to become, to come to pass, to happen. To restate what Yeshua said, the Law will be “fulfilled” or “completed”, but if heaven and earth are still here then that fulfillment or completion has not yet happened. It’s no coincidence that, way back when the Torah was given, Moses called on heaven and earth to witness the fact that the people of Israel had entered into covenant with God (Deuteronomy 4:25-31, 30:15-20). As long as heaven and earth are here, that covenant and the Law which governs it are still in effect.
So if Yeshua were to “fill up the Law full of meaning”, how would He do it? That’s what the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is all about. His next step is to point to the best example of godly living that His audience would understand. He says this:
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 NKJV)
Now that would have gotten their attention. To the Jews of Yeshua’s time the Pharisees were like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa in our day. If anyone knew about living a godly life, it would be them. They studied the Law and the Prophets constantly and taught the people how to obey God’s commandments. And yet, although they knew every jot and tittle of the Law, they didn’t understand the deeper meaning. What they taught and expected was basically behavior modification: getting people to act according to the letter of the Law, at least as the Pharisees interpreted it. But they missed what God really wants to do, which is to change people from the inside out so that they live according to the Spirit of the Law.
In all honesty, the Pharisees were working at a disadvantage. Up to the time that Yeshua arrived, the people of Israel had the same limitation that had been with them since God gave His Torah: they did not have a heart to understand it. The only way they could obey God’s commandments was to live by the rules as an act of will, and often that translated into trying to earn salvation and righteousness. However, God promised that He would change things for His people. Here’s how He explained it through the prophet Ezekiel:
Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’” And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:17-20 NKJV, emphasis added)
That “heart of flesh” is what Yeshua came to earth to give us. He is the One Who makes it possible not just to obey God’s commandments, but to understand them and live them out as God intended all along.