Jesus comes to fulfil
Click HERE for links to articles on Matthew 3:15 & 5:17
Jesus is the only logical choice to satisfy (fulfil) the requirements of righteousness, law, and prophecy. Matthew's Gospel uses the fulfilment theme (represented by the word plēróō) more than the other gospels (Matthew 16, Mark 2, Luke 9, John 15).
Looking back to the development and usage of the term plēróō, it is evident that this word group can have a variety of implications, depending on what it is referencing as needing fulfilling. Kirk (2008: 77) proposes that the fulfilment concept in Matthew is historically realized in Jesus continuing the story of Israel. This supports the assumption that Matthew’s intent is to tie his audience to the Jewish heritage. Kirk (2008: 78) contends that the formula quotations provide the window through which Matthew’s Jesus is seen in the OT context. Further, Kirk (2008: 87) does not find Stendahl’s (1954: 200-201) perser or Luz’s (2007: 156-164) proposals satisfactory as they do not provide a conceptual framework for understanding Matthew’s notion of plēróō. Rather, he disconnects them from their predictive role, attempting to find a broader base for the use of the OT. One possible solution he discusses is typology, which he thinks is closer to Matthew’s use in that it does not depend on prophecy. Rather than prophecy, there are reoccurring patterns, similar to Blomberg’s double fulfilment (2002: 17-33), indicating sovereign involvement. This can be illustrated by Allison’s (1993: 185) statement that Jesus is the Moses-like Messiah delivering the law on a mountain like Sinai. Nolland (2005: 123) comments that the Matthean account of Jesus coming out of Egypt establishes an Israel typology. This had become the language of messianic expectation (Nolland, 2005: 123, n. 160). Kirk (2008: 91) concludes that the law and the prophets provide the “shape” of Israel, past, present, and future. In this sense, Jesus becomes the fullest expression of Israel as the messianic hope, giving a new shape to Israel. Hamilton (2008: 243) explains typology using the reference to Hosea 11:1 and Jesus’ family coming out of Egypt. He equates Israel being brought out of Egypt and led into failure in the desert to Jesus’ return from Egypt and success over Satan in the desert. In typology, future readers can read the history as history but find in their current milieu a realization of the ideal of the history. This is Matthew’s intent as he connects them with the history by seeing it living in Jesus.
Matthew's most direct statement regarding Jesus fulfiling is in 3:15 and 5:17. In these passages, Matthew speaks to Jesus’ ontological essence (his nature) set in the events of his baptism and the Sermon on the Mount, respectively. The context of 3:15 (John the Baptist and Jesus) firmly anchors the fulfilment statement into Matthew’s milieu. However, there is a sense in which Matthew leaves the reader wanting. Covenant, messiah, and kingdom anticipate, at least for the historical economy, the necessity for the clear word of God. God had not hesitated to make his will known previously. If Matthew is attempting to restore the Abrahamitic tie, then, of necessity, the question of the law in relationship to righteousness is anticipated. Thus, the expectation is that the fulfilment of righteousness mandates a statement regarding the law. If righteousness is now fulfilled, what is the status of the law? Is it ineffectual? Viljoen (2011: 387) will argue that Matthew presents Jesus defending “the continuing validity of the Torah (Matt. 5:17-20) in a cohesive manner”. This is anchored to the established standard that fulfilled righteousness. Both the standard and the fulfiller are tested in the wilderness where the affirmation of sonship is challenged with the tri-fold temptation of “if you are the son”. Thus, Matthew’s drama has moved from the incarnational scene that fleshed out righteousness to Jesus’ formal proclamation of his authority as the one who pleases God (3:17; cf. 17:5). Although Matthew fills in the drama of the wilderness and the beginning of ministry, it is apparent that the fulfilment of righteousness concept is not complete. It is as if 3:15 anticipates something else. That which it anticipates is 5:17 (Luz, 2007: 140).
For more detailed insights into Matthew 3:15 and 5:17, please follow the links below:
Allison, D. (1993) The New Moses: A Matthean Typology, Minneapolis , MN: Fortress Press.
Blomberg, C. (2002) 'Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfilment', Trinity Journal, vol. 23NS, pp. 17-33.
Hamilton, J. M. (2008) '"The Virgin will Conceive": Typological Fulfilment in Matthew 1:18-23', in Gurtner, D.M. and Nolland, J. (ed.) Built Upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Kirk, J.R. (2008) "Conceptualising Fulfilment in Matthew," Tyndale House Bulletin, 59, 2008, [Online], Available: [20 November 2015].
Luz, U. (2007) Matthew 1-7, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Nolland, J. (2005) The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Stendahl, K. (1954) The School of Matthew, Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Viljoen, F.P. (2011) ' The Foundational Statement in Matthew 5:17-20 on the Continuing Validity of the Law in Mattew 5:17-20', Tydskrif van die Gereformeerde Teologiese Vereniging, vol. 45, no. 2 & 3, Jun/Sept, pp. 385-407.
Revised 10 February 2016
Person & Nature of Jesus