Perfection, 5:21-37


This passage, from the Sermon on the Mount, serves to define the righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. In v21-48 Jesus outlines a number of commandments from the law of Moses which were central to rabbinic teaching, and in doing so, he identifies the impossible ideals which transcend this Law, ideals which must be rightly performed if a person is to enter the kingdom of God.

The passage

v21-22. The Mosaic law condemns murder, although not killing as such. Killing in war or judicial execution is not condemned. The murderer is to face "judgement" - judicial process, Deut.16:18. Jesus teaches that anger is murderous in principle and so those who hate will similarly face God's "judgement." Even an insult (reka = blockhead, idiot) brings us, not just before the Sanhedrin, but to the "fire of hell."

v23-26. In two mini parables Jesus reminds us of the coming day of judgment and of our need to sort out sin before it's too late. While still on "the road to life", Bonnard, with the opportunity to set matters right, we need to take immediate action before the terrible day of God's judgement is upon us.

v27-28. Rabbinic teaching tended toward the view that adultery consisted of the theft of another man's wife, Ex.20:14, Deut.5:18. Jesus, on the other hand, demands of us a purity that refuses to lust.

v29-30. In another mini parable Jesus reminds us that sin must be radically addressed if we are to escape the inevitable judgment of the coming kingdom.

v31-32. The "one flesh" principle of Genesis 2:24 implies that there are no grounds for divorce in the sight of God. The Mosaic law tried to regularize a situation out of control and so did allow divorce, but Jesus points out that God's perfect law demands no divorce and in so doing he reinforces the sanctity of marriage. Of course, if the one-flesh union of marriage has already been destroyed by adultery, then it is acceptable to legally ratify what is now a given, although Jesus does not go on to approve remarriage.



v33-37. Jesus now deals with truth-telling. Rabbinic teaching took the Mosaic law on irreverent and broken vows, on lying, and attempted to codify the degree to which the vow was binding depending on how closely it was linked to Yahweh's name, Ex.20:7, Lev.19:12, Num30:2, Deut.5:11,6:3 etc. Jesus simply identifies God's will in the matter. We are to tell the truth; anything less is evil.

An exceeding righteousness

Some Bible-believing folk are unwilling to take an oath in court because to do so defies a direct word from the Lord. Mind you, God himself has sworn many oaths, eg. Lk.1:73! Taking Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount and using them as laws to bind on believers, or even worse, as laws for secular society, is to miss the point of this sermon.

Jesus takes four Old Testament Laws, namely: murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. He cuts through the contemporary teaching on the laws, often a teaching that underplays the seriousness of the law itself, and goes to the heart of the matter. He identifies the divine ideal behind the law. In 5:20 he calls these ideals a "righteousness [that] surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law." It is a necessary surpassing righteousness required of a person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Yet, in truth, we are all unable to keep any of the ten commandments. Some argue that they keep at least 2 out of 10, but in truth we all get angry, we all lust and we all lie, .....; our score is 0 out of 10. In the mini parables, v23-26, 29-30, Jesus reminds us that we need to do something about this situation before it's all too late. What we need to do is find someone who is 10 out 10, knock on his door and ask if we can come in, and there, in the security of his house, weather the threatening storm. It is those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" who "will be filled."


"The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith", Gal.3:24. Discuss.

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