Disclaimer: I have no illusion that what I'm writing in this post represents the only valid understanding of the scripture in Matthew 5. This is my best understanding to date, though.
"For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." – Matthew 5:18
Jesus makes a remarkable statement here. Some have said that Jesus' previous "I have not come to abolish the law" statement was a defensive counter to the religious leaders' accusations of him as a lawbreaker. This makes some sense, except for the fact that many believe that the Sermon on the Mount came early in Jesus' ministry, before much of that criticism had been leveled. And also, note the reach of Jesus' statement. Not only did he not come to abolish the law, but he affirms that not the smallest letter or stroke of the pen of the law would pass away until all of it is accomplished! That's quite an overreach, if all he was trying to do was deflect criticism.
Plus, Jesus never strikes me as the kind of person who feels the need to defend himself.
Notice how Jesus talks about the law: to Jesus, the law is not a set of dead rules to follow. No, the law has a purpose, which can be accomplished. And we know this from scripture – the law is a mirror for us to see ourselves the way God sees us. The Psalmist writes of how the law "revives the soul", enlightens us, makes us wise, and endures forever.
Sometimes we get the idea that the law was an evil thing that Christ did away with. But that's not what he's saying here. To Jesus, the law is a very good thing, with a very good purpose, and it was to be accomplished, in him.
So, has the law been accomplished? People debate these days whether any of the Old Testament law applies to us today. There are some aspects of it that, obviously, were accomplished in Jesus' passion. For instance, we don't sacrifice animals for sin anymore, because Christ is our ultimate and all-sufficient sacrifice. We don't follow the rituals of the temple anymore, because we ourselves are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. And certain aspects of the law – the dietary laws, for instance – were specifically set aside in Scripture. Others, such as circumcision, are shown to have been replaced by new signs in the new creation (in this case, baptism).
I am not versed in all the theology behind Christ's statement. But I know that the law was not a mistake. It points us to Jesus, and in him it finds its fulfillment, and it is perfected in the "Law of Christ".
More on that in a later post.
[Note: this was cross-posted on the HNW Gap Singles site]