The Greatest and the Least in the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus explained that it wasn’t his intent to abolish the law and the prophets, but instead to fulfill them. But what does that mean? What was Jesus saying?

Fulfilling the Law and Prophets

Jesus was speaking to the Jewish people at this time as part of his Sermon on the Mount. He wasn’t telling them that he was doing a new thing. He wanted to make clear that he wasn’t establishing a new religion or a new way of connecting with God.

Read the story – Matthew 5:17-20

“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. 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. 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. 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.

Instead, Jesus was continuing God’s story, the story that God had been telling since the beginning of time, fulfilling what the law and the prophets had called God’s people to do and to be.

The law that God gave to Moses laid out the rules that God wanted his people to live by. Yet since that time, no one had ever fulfilled the law. No one had ever completely kept the law, obeying all of God’s commandments all of the time. Jesus says that he is here now to keep the law, obeying all of God’s commandments throughout his entire life. Jesus lived a perfect life without sin, therefore fulfilling the law.

The prophets also spoke of one who would come, a Messiah, who would save his people. By fulfilling these prophecies, Jesus showed himself to be the Messiah.

The Least and the Greatest

Jesus goes on to say that if someone sets aside a command and teaches others to do the same, they would be considered to be the least in the kingdom of heaven. Here, Jesus is continuing to explain that he isn’t changing God’s plan. He wants to carry the plan through to completion!

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law, at that time, were considered to be the best at keeping the law. They were humans just like any of the other people, so clearly they must sin and not keep the entire law. But Jesus says that unless our righteousness surpasses the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven.

So who, then, has a chance to enter the kingdom? There isn’t anyone who can do a better job of being righteous than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, is there?

Jesus is foreshadowing here the righteousness that those who believe in him will receive. God will consider everyone righteous by their faith in Jesus’s blood and therefore their righteousness will surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law!

Even more than this, we later learn that Jesus gives his Holy Spirit to those who believe in him and follow him, allowing that person to be born again as a new person in Christ, allowing them also to live their lives according to the leading of the Spirit of God, not according to our own fleshly desires.

What About Us? What About Now?

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you now about what you have learned from Jesus in these few verses?

What can you do to respond to him? How could your righteousness before God be even greater than the best, most religious person that you know?

Pray and ask God for answers to these questions… Then go and do it now.

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