The Sermon on the Mount #9 - An Eye For An Eye

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The Sermon on the Mount #9:

An Eye for an Eye


Text: Matt. 5.38-42

Thesis: To note that vengeance belongs to the Lord.


(1)    We live in a society that believe in getting even and/or ahead.

(2)    However, as Christians, we must not succumb to such a mindset.

(3)    Let us note how we are to be:


I.                   The Problem (v. 38):

A.    Jesus quotes from the Old Testament (i.e., Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) in order to discuss the "lex talionis" (law of retribution).

B.     This law was given:

1.      To curtail further crime (cf. Deut. 19:20)

2.      To prevent excessive punishment (e.g., Gen. 4:23-24)

C.     “In no instance did the Old Testament allow an individual to take the law into his own hands and apply it personally” (MacArthur 1:330).

1.      According to Exodus 21:22, Leviticus 24:14-16, and Deut. 19:18, the trial and sentencing belonged to the courts, judges, etc. and the punishment was administered by the victim or others.

2.      Moses declared that vengeance and retribution belonged to the Lord.

3.      Other Old Testament verses shedding some insight:

a.       “Do not say, ‘I'll do to him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did’” (Prov. 24:29).

b.      “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Prov. 25:21-22).

D.    However, Rabbanic tradition had regulated this law as a mandate rather than a limit and some were taking vengeance in their own hands.

II.                The Solution (vv. 39-42):

A.    “Do not resist an evil person”

1.      Obviously, there is a sense in which we must resist evil (e.g., Jesus in the Temple [John 2:15]; Church discipline [1 Cor. 5:13]; Resisting the devil [James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9]).

2.      Thus, Jesus clearly has in mind personal retaliation (cf. Rom. 12:17-19).

B.     4 examples:

1.      “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”

a.       The strike was not only a painful blow, but a gross insult (cf. 2 Cor. 11:20).

b.      E.g., Jesus did not retaliate when he was struck (Matt. 26:67-68) and even prayed for forgiveness of His enemies as He was upon the cross (Luke 23:34).

2.      “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well”

a.       The “tunic” was a long undergarment, while the "cloak" was an outer garment used by the poor as a coverlet at night.  The cloak could not legally be kept overnight as a pledge (Exod. 22:26; Deut. 24:12-13; Job 22:5f).

b.      Obviously, this is in reference to a just case against you or in a case wherein reconciliation can be attained in a reasonable manner.

3.      “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles”

a.       The Persians authorized state couriers to impress others into service where needed (Epictetus IV. 1. 79; Herodotus 8:98; Josephus, Antiquities XIII. ii. 3 (52)).  The term is used in third-century Egypt of a boat used for postal service.  The practice was continued by the Roman Army which in the first century occupied Palestine.  A soldier could "force" a civilian to carry his luggage

b.      Obviously, the Jews hated this, but Jesus commands His disciples to go above and beyond what is required of them.

4.      “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you”

a.       The final illustration requires not only interest-free loans (Exod. 22:25; Lev 25:37; Deut 23:19) but a generous spirit (cf. Deut 15:7-11; Psa. 37:26; 112:5).

b.      We should be willing to help those who are in need regardless of “what’s in it for me.”



(1)   As Christians, let us remember that our true reward awaits us in Heaven and that we should be willing to suffer some injustices knowing that God will make all things right.

(2)   Let us treat others as we would like to be treated as opposed to how we are treated.

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