Jesus begins this section by stating - "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matt. 5:17). This verse is a preface for the rest of the chapter. It was intended to prevent a misunderstanding of the things Jesus was about to say. Our Lord plainly affirmed that His purpose in coming to Earth was not to destroy "but to fulfill." To destroy the law would have been to tear it down or demolish it; Jesus didn't come to do that. He came to fulfill (literally "fill full" ) the Old Testament prophetically and typically (cf. Luke 24:44). A major purpose of the law was to bring the Hebrew people to Jesus; that is, to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah (Gal. 3:24,25). That purpose would not be accomplished if Jesus destroyed the law.
The Lord said in Matthew 5:18 - "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." Jesus' meaning here is this: "The law of Moses will be in force and nothing will be removed from it (1) until all is fulfilled or (2) until the world ends." Jesus refers to the "jot," which corresponds to the English letter "i," and the "tittle," which is the smallest marking to distinguish letters (e.g., the difference between the letters "c" and "e" ). For Jesus to say that not even the smallest detail of the law would be removed until all is fulfilled is to indicate His belief in word-for-word inspiration; it is to say that every letter contained in the Old Testament was there because God wanted it there. Nothing was written that didn't belong, and none of it would be taken away until all was fulfilled.
Jesus continues by stating - "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven..." (Matt. 5:19). It would be a mistake to understand Jesus to be implying that one may deliberately disregard any of God's commandments and still enter into the kingdom of heaven (as one of the "least"). It is important to observe that Jesus was referring to the Old Testament when He mentioned "the least of these commandments." It is certain that the Lord had the Pharisees in mind when He made this comment. They were guilty of dividing the commandments of God into "lesser" and "greater" ones, and they taught that the "lesser" ones were trivial or insignificant and could thereby be disregarded without danger. Essentially, they would "loose" (or "break") what they considered to be the lesser requirements of the law; that is, they would not teach such as being an obligation. In so doing, the Pharisees were the ones "destroying" the law, not Jesus.
This disposition to distinguish the importance between the various laws of God was a dangerous one. Those who practiced it under the law of Moses would be inclined to carry the same attitude into the kingdom of Christ when it was established. Even when such a person obeyed the gospel to enter the kingdom, their attitude toward God's word would render them "least" in the kingdom. For us today, Jesus is saying that those who attempt to rank the commandments of God under the New Covenant by order of importance are treading on dangerous ground. It is not man's place to attempt to categorize the Biblical topics that are "salvation matters" and the ones that aren't, on the basis of his own opinions. This is not to say that we should ignore the distinctions that the Scriptures delineate regarding certain matters of importance (e.g., Matt. 22:37-40; 23:23; Mark 16:16; etc.), but we should not go beyond the clear declarations of God's word in attempting to classify the relative importance of miscellaneous commands.
We will continue our analysis of this passage tomorrow.