Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:22d “. . .shall be in danger of the judgment:. . .”
Unresolved inner anger toward another is, in Christ’s estimation, murder, a crime worthy of judgment from a court of law. Jesus is not speaking literally. An angry person is not to be arrested and tried as a criminal. No one can be proven guilty of wrong inner feelings. Jesus is saying our innermost thoughts are important to Him. They not only foreshadow our own behavior, but also bespeak our true attitude toward Jesus. In the privacy of one’s innermost self, one lives before God. Dare we hate others in the presence of the One who most loves those very others?
Matt. 5:22e “. . .and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in
danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be
in danger of hell fire.”
Jesus here moved from hand-murder and heart-murder to tongue-murder. “All forms of inhumanity roused feelings of passionate abhorrence” in Him (Nicoll). Anger harbored within is bad, bitterness spewing forth like a volcano is worse.
“Raca,” an Aramaic term of abuse which the KJV translators did not even try to translate, in essence labeled one an empty-headed idiot. “Thou fool” is “moré,” root of our word moron, and a Greek equivalent for the Aramaic “raca.” There was little difference in the two terms. Both were used in contemptuous name-calling.
The actual words themselves were not Jesus’ main concern. Every culture in every age has had its own contemptuous vernacular, its own phraseology of disrespect. All words of this type are here forbidden by Jesus.
Few sins are more contemptible than verbalized contempt. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, who were filled with snobbery and pride, and called the common people “cursed” (JN 7:49). We dare not look down on, and spew venom on, any one for whom Christ died.
Angry words must go. It is okay to be straightforward and to the point, but abusive language issuing from a bitter heart is disallowed. Words of rage are a wickedness. Our culture is arguing over the merits of corporal punishment. Many say we should never spank our children, yet carefully administered spankings are not nearly as damaging as bitter words. Angry words are arrows that wound suddenly (PS 64:3-4), swords that cut to the bone, poisons that kill secretly and slowly.
”The council” was the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel, where the most notorious criminal trials were often held. “Hell fire” is literally “the gehenna of fire,” a reference to the valley of Hinnom, located on the southwest side of Jerusalem (JS 18:16). Here the bodies of the worst criminals were often disposed of.
Long before Jesus’ day, in this valley the wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh burned little children as living sacrifices to the cruel god Molech (2 CH 28:3; 33:6). Josiah, the good king, was so outraged by what his predecessors had done that he defiled the valley to assure it would never be used for religious purposes again (2 K 23:10). He made it the city dump, where the refuse of Jerusalem was carried out through Dung Gate (NH 3:14) to be burned. The valley of Hinnom thus became a public incinerator. Its fires never stopped, it bred loathsome worms hard to kill, and pictured as near as anything on earth the place of eternal retribution (MK 9:43-48).
Jesus again was not speaking literally. If we call someone an idiot or a fool, we are not to be tried before the Supreme Court or be cast into gehenna fire. Jesus was instead saying, think of a crime heinous enough to be taken to the Supreme Court, for example, the assassination of a President. Think of a crime so unspeakably horrid that the criminal’s body would not even be buried, but disdainfully taken to the garbage dump to be burned, for example, the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed over 100 innocent people. These images picture how serious God deems abusive language arising from an uncontrolled temper. These overwhelming and breathtaking metaphors powerfully express God’s displeasure at the ill treatment of human beings. Jesus was driving His point home, wanting us not only to hear His words, but also to feel their weight. Anger and its ill effects render us liable to outflowings of divine wrath fitly symbolized by the punishments Jesus described here.
Matt. 5:23a “Therefore. . .”
Whenever we see a “therefore” in Scripture, we need to see what it is there for. In this case, it points us back to the terrible penalties prescribed in verse 22. If God’s angerbolts fall on the angry man, then let us flee our anger with full haste.
To help us, Jesus will now give us good advice regarding how we can keep from getting anywhere close to having to suffer a divine judicial sentence against us. Jesus turns from the negative, what needs removal, to the positive, what we can do to promote prevention. When we dispel angry thoughts–good; when we harbor no bitterness–good; when we stop angry words–good; good, but not good enough. We must then move outside ourselves and take positive steps to be made right with others. We have to take the initiative in seeking to squelch any perceived trouble.
Our assignment is not only to rid all bitterness we harbor in our own hearts toward others, but also to seek to rid all bitterness others harbor in their hearts toward us. I must deal not only with anger in me, but also with anger concerning me. Any anger connected with John Marshall, whether in John Marshall about another or in another about John Marshall, John Marshall must try to do something about it.
“Oh this ethic of Jesus, how it scorches. . . .(it) is the severest thing that the world has ever had” (Morgan). Jesus made laws worthy of a God of love. He seeks to immerse love in us, to baptize us inside and out in loving fire, to burn away anger and leave in its wake beautiful people who resemble the God they claim to serve.
Charles Allen relates a conversation from Irving R. Stone’s novel, Love Is Eternal. Parker, the man who was supposed to guard President Lincoln the night he was shot, was fiercely asked by Mrs. Lincoln, “Why were you not at the door to keep the assassin out?” Parker sadly replied, “I did not believe that any one would try to kill so good a man in such a public place.” Mary Todd fell on her pillow, covered her face with her hands, and wailed, “You had no business to be careless. Go now. It’s not you I can’t forgive, it’s the assassin.” At this, Tad said, “If Pa had lived, he would have forgiven the man who shot him. Pa forgave everybody.” In Tad’s words Stone put his finger on the reason why America has taken Lincoln to its heart. He was like Him who on a cross said, “Father, forgive them” (LK 23:34).
“Lord, remove my anger, burn a miracle of love into me, not only because there is a judgment to fear, a Supreme Court to avoid, and a gehenna of fire to escape, but also because there is a beauty about You that I want others to see in me.”