Retaliation and the Kingdom


Retaliation and the Kingdom
Matthew 5:38–42 “I say to you, Do not
resist the one who is evil. But if
anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39).

One of the best helps for interpreting
the Sermon on the Mount properly is to
remember that Jesus’ stipulations deal
directly with interpersonal
relationships within the covenant community and,
secondarily, with those
outside the church. It is not as if He has nothing to say to the structures of
society, it is just that we err if we treat Christ’s
words here as primarily
dealing with law courts, warfare, and other broad
societal and governmental

Consider today’s passage in which
Jesus discusses the Law’s “eye-for-an-eye”
justice (Matt. 5:38–42; see Ex.
21:23–25). Many assume He is saying that the
so-called lex talionis is wrong,
but such interpretations make Christ one who
denies the goodness of God’s law
(Rom. 7:7), not the one who fulfills it
(Matt. 5:17–20). As God Himself,
Jesus knows that eye-for-an-eye justice is
wise, instituted to ensure that
the punishment fits the crime. Justice in
ancient Israel’s tribal system
could have easily become endless feuding
without this law. Without the lex
talionis, in ancient times my family might
kill you to avenge your breaking
of my leg, your family might then kill my
family, and so on. Today, news of
young girls being raped or killed as
punishment in some Islamic countries for
“violating” their family’s “honor”
reveals the righteousness of the lex

Eye-for-an-eye justice was given to the courts in Israel to
ensure that
victims received adequate restitution. However, the lex talionis
was never
intended to justify retaliation for everyday, personal offenses.
This is what
Jesus is talking about in today’s passage. A slap on the “right
cheek,” which
basically amounts to a personal insult, must not be returned in
kind (Matt.
5:39). Believers give up their law-given right to keep their
outer cloak
(5:40; see Ex. 22:26–27), that is, we may not appeal to our legal
rights every
time we are wronged. The lex talionis restrains vengeance to
help us cultivate
a generous heart that overlooks personal offenses and
forgives for the
kingdom’s sake. In short, Matthew Henry says, “Christians
must not be
litigious; small injuries must be submitted to, and no notice
taken of them;
and if the injury is such as requires us to seek reparation,
it must be for a
good end, and without thought of revenge.”

Coram deo:
Living before the face of God
last point of Matthew Henry’s quote is important since there are times
seeking reparation may in fact be the best way to love our neighbor and
him from sinning further. Such occasions, however, will be few and
between. We are to endure insults and offenses meekly, doing extra even
those who do not deserve it (Matt. 5:41). When someone asks you for a
volunteer to go above and beyond their request.

For further

Genesis 34; 49:5–7

The Bible in a year:


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