Jesus is saying He does not erase or change the words of the Law. He fulfills them. He is also saying that he brings the kingdom and that those who are in the kingdom need to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. The key is to not relax the commandments in either one’s own life or one’s teaching role. Apparently the Pharisees do something wrong in one or both of these regards.
The Pharisees seem to have had a God with earthly “teeth.” But Jesus comes and shows that God has eternal “teeth.” When we deal with God we are in danger of the worst or best fate. There are earthly courts. And then there is the heavenly court.
Murder, anger, cruel words. They all have this in common: they lead you on the path to judgment. This is a judgment leading to an eternal sort of death. And you are guilty, you are culpable. So avoid that destination before it is too late.
The Pharisees didn’t see this. They were focused on the consequences of earthly judgment and with the mere letter of the Law. Living relationship with God is perhaps too frightening of a venture.
THREE MAIN THEMES:
A. CONFLICT with other people.
These might be either internal (i.e., the emotion of anger that is not acted on) or external (i.e., anger acted out through words and/or deeds).
The issue is that people matter to God. And He judges us based on our thoughts, words, and treatment of others. “Being angry and insulting another person made in God’s image (cf. James 3:8–10), not just the outward physical act of murder, is wrong and worthy of judgment” (Pennington, 182).
Either before a human court (i.e., the council or Sanhedrin) or a divine court (resulting in being sent to Gehenna’s fires or requiring an action before sacrificing at the altar).
The real issue is that the ultimate judge is God. So the stakes are higher - having not only to do with this life, but with the life after. And God’s judgment is perfect. And God knows everything about your heart, your words, your deeds.
I think the examples prove that the real issue is God’s judgment. It is the key motivator here.
This is seen in the escalating consequences of vv.21-22 which climax with the fire of Gehenna. There is a leap from human to divine judgment.
This is also seen when one looks at leaving the altar in order to bring about human reconciliation. But the ultimate goal of that horizontal reconciliation is so that when one communes with God, that one will not be liable of approaching God with falseness in the heart. And this is such a decisive, massive move because of how far the altar probably was. See France, 203.
And so I read the second situation (vv. 25-26) as illuminating the first situation in vv. 23-24. In going to the altar while I have unresolved sin with another (vv.23-24), it really is as if I am walking into court where he has a sure case against me (vv.25-26). I’m walking to my sure sentencing. Better to humble myself and go to the person I’ve wronged and make it right. “The exhortation to be reconciled horizontally with one’s brother or sister is tied intimately to worship and devotion to God vertically” (Pennington, 184).
France says this of the second “situation”: “But the inclusion of “I tell you truly” (see on 5:18) alerts us to a more ultimate purpose than merely avoiding imprisonment; like the other parable of debt and imprisonment (18:23–35) it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven. Luke similarly sets his parallel to this saying (Luke 12:58–59) in a context of eschatological readiness” (France, pp. 203-204). Likewise, Pennington: “In going to the altar while I have unresolved sin with another (vv.23-24), it really is as if I am walking into court where he has a sure case against me (vv.25-26). I’m walking to my sure sentencing. Better to humble myself and go to the person I’ve wronged and make it right. (That is, I see that the second example illuminates the first.) “The exhortation to be reconciled horizontally with one’s brother or sister is tied intimately to worship and devotion to God vertically” (Pennington, 184).
What is hopeful here about God’s judgment of us is that there seems to be a time in which we can surely set things right. So we need to jump on it. It is not like with murder where it is done and that person will surely be executed.
Resolving interpersonal conflict as the key to peace - escaping the consequence of judgment.
This involves humility, admitting of wrong before self, God, and other people.
“The situations Jesus describes are situations where the person who is being commanded has done the wrong” (Leithart, 1884). What is also true in both cases is that it is always incumbent on you to make things right. You don’t wait for the other person.
Coming face-to-face, as it were, with our judgment brings a new clarity. Like with Eveneezer Scrooge encountering the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Seeing the wrath we legitimately deserve, we are moved to take advantage of the moment we have to make things right and cover over our illegitimate judgment and execution of our neighbour.
The whole process seems to go wrong. There is a snap judgment, usually irrational and not having taken into account all the facts. Indeed, usually the facts are skewed or removed in favour of backing up the supposed truth of the initial snap judgment. This is part of the profile on anger’s energy - to reinforce this snap judgment. Anger’s energy is focused on an enemy and it is powerful, but not particularly intelligent. Anger is “the jock.” It is fitting that anger’s focused and powerful energy then tend to burst out from the heart/mind and through the mouth and fists. The ultimate goal of anger is to remove the problem, to blast away the blockade, to clear a path.
Anger is one of the best friend’s of our will. Anger reinforces the judgment of our will and then acts as executioner of the enemy.
Anger is mustered when we feel small and a problem seems big and threatening. Anger comes about as we encounter a perceived wrong and we want immediate results. Anger sprouts from weakness or insecurity.
The goal here is not so much about never being angry. The goal, it seems is seen in the two “situations” where we are exhorted to be reconciled, and quickly!
WHAT ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW?
He is not saying that murder is okay. He is not saying that the 6th commandment is wrong. It is still true that “thou shalt not murder.”
Jesus is not adding anything to the OT in terms of targeting the heart, not the activity; for both sources deal with both. “Never in the Mosaic covenant (or at any other time) did God ignore or disregard the ethical state or inner disposition of the person. The point of the Ten Commandments was never “just do these things outwardly and don’t worry about your hearts.” Quite the opposite. The message of the prophets is largely one of calling God’s people to pursue righteousness and to do it from pure, whole hearts” (Pennington, 183).
What Jesus adds or changes or fulfills is this: you will face the eschatological judge based on Jesus’ own words. His words as in parallel to and even as more authoritative than the Scriptures is also a new and important revelation here.
Jesus is not merely saying that we should avoid having a heart that is against God - that this is righteousness. No, he points us to action as well.
WHERE IS THE BITE? OR, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?