“You Have Heard That it Was Said,” The True Meaning of God’s Law


Matthew 5:17-48 “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. 

 As Jesus takes the leaders of Israel through a list of 7 points in the Law of God, He tells them:

You have heard that it was said… But I say to You…

The Pharisees had developed their own interpretation of the law of God, which was described as their traditions. See Prophecy 192.

Jesus informs the leaders of Israel that their understanding of the law was not correct. In saying this, He was elevating His authority above all other authority. Only God has the right to make law and the ability to correctly interpret those laws. This is a seldom noticed section of scripture which really speaks to the true identity of Jesus. By stating, but I say to you, Jesus is claiming that He is God, the architect of all laws.

Isaiah writes that upon the arrival of the Messiah, He will clearly define and explain what the true meaning of God’s law is. Perhaps none of the elders of Israel who had read this verse of prophecy really understood its correct meaning. It certainly appears that Isaiah was describing the law as being misunderstood until the arrival of the Messiah; He would exalt the law and make it honorable.

It was not until Jesus arrived as the Messiah, and spoke these words to the Pharisees, that anyone correctly understood their intended meaning. By His authoritative exposition of the scriptures, Jesus identified Himself as the author of these laws.

The Pharisees had interpreted the law of God as external. Jesus brought us to an awareness that God is most interested in the inner person—the heart—where the will and the emotions reside.

A man may never commit adultery in his life; but all men, at some point, have looked at a woman with lust. Most people will not take the life of another human being, but Jesus said—to be angry with a person in our heart is the same as committing the physical act of murder.

Everything that we do begins within our heart. As we think, our emotions are stirred deep within us. Many times, long before a person ever carries out an action, he has already contemplated what he will do within his heart. There are occasions when a person has not taken time to consider his actions and simply reacts during a particular event. Even what appears to be impulsive actions, often have come from a prior moment when a person has pondered and considered what they wanted to do when provoked.

God looks at the heart first to see why we say and do things, before judging our actions. It is not enough to be righteous externally. We must endeavor to change our heart and also make it obedient.

This should have come as no surprise to the leaders of Israel. Upon the establishment of David’s throne, God chose a man who did not appear, to most people, to be anyone special. God, however, was looking past the physical appearance and into the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

The knowledge that God is looking into our heart in determining his judgment of our actions, will either give us a great deal of comfort or cause us tremendous despair.

For the person who has a heart after the Lord and genuinely wants to please Him, this will come as good news. For no matter how much we may love the Lord, we will always fail to be the person externally that we hope to be. Our sin nature will often cause us to fail; and when we do, we become discouraged. To know that the Lord looks past our failures and sees into our heart, understanding that we genuinely want to please Him, this knowledge can be a great source of comfort and encouragement.

Conversely, the person who is trying ever so diligently to do all the right things outwardly, while in his heart he is not really interested in pleasing the Lord—to discover that God looks at the heart, this knowledge will cause considerable discomfort. If the Lord can see into our heart, then we cannot fool Him. He knows when we are sincere and when we are just going through the motions, without a true heart of love for Him.

One of the wonderful accomplishments of Jesus while He was here on the earth was to show us who God really is: To open our eyes to His true intent and purpose for creating the laws He instituted.

The Pharisees loved to exercise judgment in cases of adultery, Sabbath breaking, hand washing and defilement with sinners. However, they neglected the greater requirements of the law: Justice and mercy. Jesus taught that the heart of God’s law is mercy. The laws of God were made to be a blessing and a help to man, not a burden and a curse.

People who have been trapped in a repeated cycle of sin carry such a heavy burden of guilt in their heart. What they need is a way out. They need someone who can forgive their sins and give them a new start. The person who is trapped in a vicious cycle of physical or emotional abuse in their marriage does not need to be told that they must endure that abuse for the rest of their life. They need mercy.

Jesus taught us as the Messiah, the true intent of all the laws of God. No one had even a glimpse of what the law really meant until Jesus came and explained it to us. There has never been another human being like Jesus who so thoroughly explained to us what God’s purposes were when He spoke to us concerning God’s law.

Jesus simplified and summed up the entire purpose of the law of God with this:

Mark 12:28-31 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

There is only One God, and we are to love Him with every fiber of our being. Secondly, we are to love other people with the same kind of love and consideration that we show ourselves. The entire heart of God’s law is centered on Love. If we love someone sincerely, then we will always want to do those things which please that person. No one will have to tell us what to do because it will be written on our heart. We love, therefore, we do our best to please and to honor those who are the objects of our affections.

John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Many people read this verse as a scolding from Jesus that if we truly love Him, we will obey Him. This is not at all what Jesus meant. The Lord was trying to explain to us that if we are in love with Him, then it will be very easy for us to do what He says. Those people whom we love, admire, respect, and long to be with, we want to always do those things that please them. The key in obedience to the Lord is to fall in love with Jesus so deeply that you will just naturally want to please Him in all you say and do.

If we would just follow this greatest of laws—to Love the Lord above all other people and things, and love others at least as much as we love ourselves—then we could all live in complete peace and harmony. Only when Jesus returns to earth to rule over all men will Love be the banner over us all.

Categories: Jesus: Author of the Law, Messiah's Authority, The Claims of Jesus, The First Arrival of the Messiah

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