Mathew 5:17 “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.”
A superficial reading of this passage seems to say that Jesus is affirming the validity of the Old Testament Law which would make them still binding for Christ’s followers.
But what did Jesus truly mean by this statement? One point is certainly true, Christ did not come to totally eliminate all the Old Testament laws and start from a blank canvass, we can certainly rule this out.
In this quote Jesus was really stressing the point that His mission wasn’t to invalidate all of God’s prior teachings and render them obsolete and defunct. He was making the point that the Law and prophecies of old were setting the stage for Christ’s arrival to fulfil them! God’s interactions with the Israelites of the Old Testament were only ‘Part 1’ of God’s ultimate plan. Jesus was explaining that He was here to instigate ‘Part 2’; the salvation.
So having pointed out that Jesus wasn’t going to scrap the Old Law, what then was his plan for the Old Law? Well, we know that Jesus did abolish many aspects of the old Law. For instance Mathew 5:38-39 states:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Here Jesus is quoting Exodus 21:23-24 which says ”But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,”
So we can see that Jesus is definitely abolishing at least parts of the Old Law. So this begs the question as to what He really meant when He said that he did not come to abolish the Old Law.
The second part of Mathew 5:17 explains what He did come to do; fulfil the Law and the Prophets.
The whole of the Old Testament is full of prophecies of the Messiah’s coming and what He was to achieve. This would make sense if we look at the Old Testament as being a prelude, or setting the stage, for Christ’s arrival.
Jesus further fulfilled the Old Testament by taking the Ten Commandments and further refining them:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Mathew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Mathew 5:27-28
So knowing what we now know, we see that when Jesus said “I have not come to abolish“, He meant that He had no intention of totally wiping away the Old Law and starting fresh, but instead He used it as the foundation of the God’s new Covenant, and built upon it. The Old Law served as a vital basis for Jesus’ new message. He verified parts, trimmed parts and embellished other parts.
So to answer the original question; “Should Christians Follow the Old Testament Law?”
No. We are not to follow the Old Law, but we are to follow Christ’s fulfilment of it. We are to follow Jesus’ new teachings over the superseded Old Law: