Matthew 5:17 introduces the longest section of the Sermon on the Mount, running to the end of chapter 5, beginning with the indication that Jesus was addressing the thinking of the people around Him as He began His ministry. Without question, Jesus’ ministry was attracting attention (Matthew 4:23–25). He was doing this characterized by meekness and lowliness that distinguished Him from the religious leaders. Yet, He was doing things that clearly evidenced His divine commission, like healing every disease and all who were demon possessed, which also could not be duplicated by the religious leaders. Nevertheless, none of them was willing to endorse Him. This brought many questions to mind. Who was Jesus? Did He come to replace the Jewish religion? Did He come to abolish the Law of Moses?
Jesus was getting ahead of the rumors: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17). The reference is to the whole of the Old Testament, usually designated in this way (Matthew 7:12; 11:13; 22:40). However, note that here Jesus does not join the two with and but or. In other words, Jesus is arguing that He is not dismantling either the Law as given to Israel through Moses or the Messianic predictions of the prophets. He was fulfilling it all. He was the end of the Law for righteousness (Romans 10:4), and He was fulfilling everything spoken of Him by the prophets. No less than thirteen times in Matthew do we read, “this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet . . .” (1:22; 25, 17, 23; 4:14, etc.).
The law, as we have seen, forms the very foundation of all moral governance. The moral law of God resides in the Ten Commandments. This moral law was then applied to Israel in two ways: through the rules and ordinances it governed their worship of God and civic life in society. These two areas of application were made obsolete in the new covenant, but not the Ten Commandments.
Jesus summarized the Ten Words, as they were known, in two basic rules: love for God and love for neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). Nevertheless, Jesus did not change the Law. The Ten Commandments reflect the moral nature of God and are eternally binding on all His image bearers (believers and unbelievers; Jews and Gentiles, alike). It is on the basis of Law that all judgment is to take place (Romans 2:12). This responsibility includes the fourth commandment.
Christians have generally misunderstood the nature of this commandment because they worship on the first day, not the seventh, celebrating the resurrection. Although Jesus fulfilled this commandment, personally becoming the believers’ Sabbath rest (Matthew 11:25–30), the moral responsibility of all people to keep this commandment remains. The Sabbath commandment ties into the first three by serving as the regular weekly means of trusting God (the first), worshiping God (the second), and honoring His name (the third). How do we accomplish this? We shall see.