The Commands of Jesus
Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:22)
The Context: This command is from the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7). In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a new and better Moses. Moses was seen as the Lawgiver in the Hebrew Bible (received the Law on Mount Sinai). What we find in the Sermon on the Mount, is that often, Jesus quotes one of the commandments or one of the other rules from the Torah (or Law, like 5.21, 27, 31, 38) and he expounds on it, revealing the Spirit that God gave the command in. He wanted to deal with our sinfulness (both external and internal).
Jesus is showing how demanding a holy God is. He cares more about our mere external obedience to a few commands, he cares about our heart. He was dealing with religious people who thought they could justify themselves before God on how they observed certain rituals (the Pharisees, that is). Jesus knows that external sinfulness comes from our internal uncleanness (see Mark 7.20-23). Adultery is obviously sinful but it stems from our evil thoughts. We think we are ok if we don’t engage in the external act of adultery (or any sexual immorality) but we can harbor these internal thoughts. These internal thoughts are what lead to the immoral sinful behavior. Jesus is trying to get us to deal with the source of our sinfulness (our hearts).
In Matthew 5.21-22, it seems that there may be four different sins denoted here: murder, being angry, calling your brother “Raca” and calling anyone a “fool”. However, he is not discussing four separate sins, but looking at the internal attitudes that lead to destructive external actions. What Jesus is doing here is contrasting our external appearances with our internal attitudes. The point is that in all four cases is that anger, as the root of murder, deserves the same penalty. What Jesus seems to be saying here is that the sin in your heart is enough to put you in danger of eternal punishment. Of course we can believe that committing murder would be serious enough to make us liable to eternal punishment. But Jesus is saying that the attitude of your heart is also sin and enough to keep you eternally separated from God.
Look at 1 John 3.15 – Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
See also 1 John 4:20 –
Jesus points out later that it is from within, our heart that our evil behaviors come from.
Matt. 15:19 – (evil thoughts almost being the heading of what follows)
For Jesus, the inner attitude is of supreme importance. Our inner attitude expresses itself in apparently small acts of unkindness, like calling our brother “Raca”. Raca is an Aramaic word that means empty head. This seems harmless to us today, but we need to remember that names carrying important meaning in Jesus’ day. The same thing works for “fool”.
Gehenna (or fire of Hell) – Gehenna was the Aramaic term for a place southwest of Jerusalem where at one time human sacrifices were offered to the god Molech (ancient Babylonian god, see 2 Kings 23.10; Jer. 7.31 for reference). In Jesus’ day it was basically the landfill area where people took their trash and it was burned. The constant burning there made this area a good metaphor for eternal punishment.
How in the world could my calling my brother “empty head” or anyone else a “fool” make me liable for eternal punishment? What Jesus is doing is connecting our external actions with our internal thoughts and showing us, again, how holy our God is. Our sin, in any faction, will lead to judgment before God. It can be as obvious as murder and as small as harboring resentment in your heart.
What does this have to do with me? We need to differentiate between getting angry once before we became believers and getting angry once after our conversion. All it takes is getting angry once before experiencing Jesus that can condemn us to eternal punishment. God is holy and all it takes is one blemish to keep us apart. (See Genesis 3 for back story here). On this side of conversion, our occasional angry outburst is forgivable, but if it is a lifestyle or it defines your character, that may be evidence that you haven’t experienced the power of the Spirit or that you need help walking you through such issues. It is evidence of a lack of discipleship. Go back to the verses in 1 John and Matthew 15 for support. Look at Col. 3.5-10 to see a list of behaviors that may have characterized your life prior to following Jesus (you once walked in these things). Thankfully there are a bunch of “But now”s in the Bible. You used to live like an unbeliever (because you were an unbeliever). But now, you can behave like Jesus because he has given you his power.
In this passage it shows us that we need to be respectful of not only our fellow Christians (brother of verse 22) but anyone (who you may insult by calling them a fool).
Jesus here penetrates to the spirit of the commandment. The fountain of a person’s conduct is the heart, or inner person, the transforming power of the kingdom must be especially experienced there. Anger and insults spoken from anger are evil and corrupting and call forth God’s judgment, just like the obvious act of murder.