In today's study from Matthew 5:19-20, we see again that our righteousness cannot be obtained by the Mosaic Law, but instead through the completed work of our Lord on the cross.
The Measure/ Standard of the Law
v.19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Understand that the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is referring to is the one that he wanted to bring in at his First Advent. However, since it was rejected and he was crucified; it will be brought in at his Second Advent. A man’s level in the kingdom of heaven is to be based upon what he did with and taught about the commandments (the Law).
The Righteousness of the Law
v.20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Bear in mind that when Jesus spoke of exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he was talking to his disciples who were still under the law.
As a matter of fact, we must remember that the entirety of the Gospel accounts were still under the Law as that the age of Grace had not officially began until the crucifixion and Matthew 27:50-51 where we are told that when Jesus had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. Matthew 27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. Therefore, we have no righteousness from the law because we are under the New Covenant. Our righteousness comes from Christ, and therefore exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees.
1 Corinthians 1:30 “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” We are no longer under the Mosaic Law, since we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ under the New Covenant. Gal 3:22-26 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
As for the Pharisees, unfortunately their righteousness was all outward, it was the appearance of righteousness; it was all for show; it was all in an attempt to keep the Law as they saw it. We know this because Jesus said in Mark 7:6-7 “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Also, in Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. Also, in Matthew 23:27-28 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Apparently, while they were outwardly “righteous”; inwardly their hearts were detestable and our Lord called them out on it. That why our Lord said in Mark 7:20-23 "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man." Thus, they could not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus cautioned them in Matthew 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Jesus is saying that it’s not about outward, but inward righteousness. If you are righteous on the inside, you will be righteous on the outside! That kind of righteousness can only come about by faith in Christ through his finished work upon the cross for you and I.