This is an important passage of Scripture, because it helps us understand how we should read the Bible. There are really a couple of ways that we can read the Bible.
(1) one way to read the Bible is by reading it
as a gospel story, from Genesis to Revelation.
(2) the other way to read the Bible is by looking
at Genesis to Malachi as a historical account.
One can read the Bible without any preconceived notion of any Christian belief. If we read the Bible like option two our question is this: what does this passage mean in its day? If we read the Bible like option one our question is this: what does this passage mean in light of the biblical story and how do I faithfully live out this text? If Jesus is the goal of the story from Genesis to Revelation, then reading the OT without reference to Jesus will be a terrible misreading. Therefore, we need to understand how to read the Bible.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Jesus is the one that fulfills the law and the prophets. It is clear that Jesus has been accused of abolishing the law and therefore he emphatically starts off by saying, “Do not think….” It makes you wonder what they had such a problem with? Yet Jesus doesn't want everything to be destroyed, but rather he wants everything to be fulfilled.
But really, who comes on the scene and tells them that they are the fulfillment of everything they've hoped for and everything they've believed in? Jesus does! In doing this, Jesus is claiming that he is the long awaited Messiah. When we read the Bible, we need to see Jesus as the central part of the story.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.
When Jesus claims that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, many people believe we can get rid of the law, but this isn’t the case. This passage shows us how serious Jesus is about fulfilling the law and the prophets…not abolishing them. He says that everything in the law is true, and every part of it will come to be just as it was written. Jesus is the one who comes in order to show us how to understand the law.
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The best way for us to understand this verse is by realizing that Jesus believes that the best way for us to follow him is by following the law. Those who follow Jesus (his teachings) will be called “great” in the kingdom. Those who deny him (his teachings) and cause others to deny him will be called “least” in the kingdom. This is not referring to a hierarchy in the kingdom. It is contrasting those who “do” what Jesus says versus those who “don't-do” what Jesus says. When we read the Bible it is important to understand that following Jesus means to follow Jesus. Seems simple enough right?
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus compares his followers to the religious leaders of the day. I wish I had an easier way to interpret this text, but it seems like Jesus is speaking plainly. What he says is, “If your righteousness doesn't surpass the most righteous people of the day, you will not be part of my kingdom.” It is like saying, “if your righteousness doesn't surpass that of Mother Teresa, you cannot belong to my kingdom.” This seems extreme, but Jesus wants to set up his kingdom and he isn’t afraid to let people walk away.
READING THE BIBLE
If this passage helps us to see the way in which we read the Bible, it is important to mention that we ought to read the Bible. You and I ought to value this text enough to know what it inside of it. I am afraid that most Christians aren’t even reading this story. I am not telling you to become Bible scholars. But I am telling you to read the text. See what the Bible has to say.
Following this passage, we will see how Jesus calls us to read certain aspects of the OT. He will talk about things like murder and adultery and loving our enemies. As a heads up, Jesus doesn't make it easier to follow the law of the OT. If anything, he seems to complicate it. For example, it’s easy to not murder someone, but Jesus talks about anger and that’s a bit tougher. What I want us to do is to take the Bible more serious in our lives. If we want to live like Jesus we need to see what he does and the only way to do that is by reading the Story.