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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 5: Matthew 5:13-20, by Kevin M. Williams

Let us examine what we know so far from the book of Matthew. 1) It is a testimony to the Jewish people of the Jewish Messiah. 2) It is, in many ways, Yeshua’s own testimony of his rightful claim as the Messiah—God made flesh. 3) The Hebrew people, while sometimes blind, had seen some spiritual insights during the inter-testimonial period. Therefore, this passage, Matthew 5:17-20, ought to support these suppositions.

As the role of the synagogues, the Pharisees, and the Scribes increased, they laid down expectations of what the Messiah would do. There were many points of Torah which were difficult to understand, the Red Heifer (Numbers 19) for example. How could this mysterious sacrifice purify on the one hand, while on the other hand, cause a person to become unclean? These were instructions from the Most High God that could be carried out to the letter, but were too mysterious for mortal man to understand.

It was believed that when the Messiah came, His primary role would be as teacher. He would come and explain all the finer points of Torah so that everyone could understand them better, and could apply them more appropriately.

It is regretful that the word Torah has come to mean Law with a capital “L.” It literally means “instructions” or “teachings.” The Torah commandments, all 613 of them, were God’s teachings on how to live as God’s redeemed community. Yet the people did not understand all of these teachings and needed divine help. They could apply the strict letter of the law, but without the spirit, what good was it? They believed—and continue to believe—that the Messiah is that teacher.

One way we might be able to better appreciate Torah, is to listen to what Yeshua says. It is very common in modern seminaries and congregations to hear, “Jesus fulfilled the Law so we don’t have to anymore.” The phrase, “We are freed from the Law” is all too common, often leaving individuals to have to define obedience on their own. This is a demonstration of how far the predominantly Gentile church has drifted from its Hebraic roots.

Yeshua was using was an idiom from the synagogue and yeshiva (academy) still common today. When a person stood in the congregation—whether a rabbi, a disciple, or a lay person—to give his interpretation on what a passage of Scripture meant, if the people agreed, they said, “You have fulfilled the Torah!” It was a sign of encouragement, and acceptance. The people had been blessed by his iteration.

On the other hand, if a person handled the Word badly, if they missed the point and were potentially leading the congregation into false doctrine, the people would say, “You have abolished the Torah!” This would be followed by intense debate and discussion, to help put the errant soul back on track. This practice still thrives in synagogues today.

Yeshua’s message was, “I did not come to misguide you, but to help you understand the Word as God intended it to be practiced.”

In chapters 5-7, Yeshua repeatedly says, “You have heard it said.” Invariably, He is quoting one of the Ten Commandments—the Torah. Yet He goes on to say, “But I tell you,” and He gives His interpretation of the Word.

It was the opinion of the nation concerning the Messiah, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the prejudice or damage of Moses and the prophets: but that he would advance the Mosaic law to the very highest pitch, and would fulfill those things that were foretold by the prophets, and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp. . . . That he brought in an observation of the law much more pure and excellent than the Pharisaical observation of it was: which he confirms even to the end of the chapter, explaining the law according to its genuine and spiritual sense.2

It was typical in Yeshua’s day to teach in the name of another rabbi or scholar. The Talmud3 is littered with a rabbi’s comments, quoting another rabbi and possibly a whole string of rabbis who support a particular interpretation.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2002

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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