So who are those who relax the commandments of God?
The Pharisees were commonly considered to be the ones who held the Law in highest regard, And so the relaxers of the law must be at the other end of the spectrum. And yet it is the Pharisees whom Jesus consistently confronted as disregarding or nullifying the Law.
While reflecting on Matthew 5:19, the question struck me: Might Jesus be referring to the Pharisees here, not their opposite? For they were actually relaxing the law by their multiplicity of qualifications and legalism, thinking, “As long as I do xyz and don’t do abc, then I am ok.” Jesus emphatically says, “No! You can get all your check boxes right and by your wicked heart, be wholly unrighteous.” The examples in Matt 5:21-48 follow this pattern and indeed point even deeper - that the Pharisees’ manipulation of the law into wicked justifications of their self-serving ends was, in fact, a means to avoid true obedience. Thus his declaration that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees is to say, unlike them, you must actually do, accomplish, fulfill the law. (See Romans 8:2-4)