The Torah (law) came through Moses. The call to return to the law came through the prophets. Men such as Elijah called Israel away from their idols and back to God (see 1 Kings 18). It’s no coincidence that after John appeared on the scene, Jesus identified him as the Elijah who was to come and restore all things (Matthew 17; Malachi 4).
What was it he was to restore?
When Matthew introduces the Immerser to his readers in 3:1ff, the first thing he tells them is that the kingdom is near. It was the kingdom John was working to restore, the rule over Israel by a descendant of David, Jesus Christ (see 1:1; 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Acts 1:6). In restoring the rule of God through Jesus, there was also a restoration of the prophetic emphasis on what was truly important. So John makes straight paths for the Messiah by warning people that physical lineage with Abraham was not entitlement with God and calling them to produce “good fruit” (Matthew 3:5-10). This is exactly the kind of message the prophets before John preached.
In the narrative section preceding the first teaching block, Matthew shows Jesus preaching concerning the nearness of the kingdom (4:17). He then begins the first teaching section (chapters 5-7), with Jesus telling people to go back—not to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, but to the Torah. Two parts of this section that strongly convey this are 5:17-20 and 5:21-48.
In the first section (5:17-20), Jesus clarifies any misunderstanding about His teaching in regard to Torah.
- He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (v. 17).
- Greatness in the kingdom is measured by following Torah as He modeled it (v. 19).
- Following the Pharisees’ model is not what His kingdom is about (v. 20).
In the second section, there is a series of six contrasts introduced by “You have heard that it was said,” or “It has been said” (v. 27,31,33,38,43). What follows these statements are erroneous interpretations of Torah undoubtedly popular in Jesus’ time. Probably put forth by the Pharisees, they represent a one-dimensional understanding that sought to do what the law of God said without honoring what the God who gave the law meant. They were seeking fulfill the word of God without seeking His heart. (Think of a child dutifully obeying a rule but failing to appreciate or accept the reason for the rule). Jesus refutes their misinterpretation and as the true observer and model of Torah, explains its real meaning. Honoring life is more than not murdering, it is learning to live in harmony with others. Honoring your marriage is more than not having sexual relations with someone else, it is about not sharing your heart with anyone else. In all His words, Jesus shows how the Torah touches on all aspects of our existence, giving us meaning and direction.
So for Jesus, going forward in the kingdom of God meant going back to the true meaning of Torah. This section has something powerful to say in regard to restoration. At the heart of restoration must be restoration of the heart! God forgive us when we speak or write of restoration and all we can talk about (or primarily speak about), is the form of this or the frequency of that. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing the Pharisees got caught up in? The heart of Jesus and His kingdom is expressed in these truths. We can and should practice both but we must put the emphasis where Jesus did!