Dr. John Hoole – October 2, 2016




We have all heard, and we do believe, that the Word of God is mighty, all-powerful and everlasting.  But when horrific tragedy hits like what happened on 9/11, many find it difficult to hold firm to that truth.  Even as Christians, we often question “how is it that a loving God would allow such evil and mass chaos?”


We may lack a full understanding of God’s ways in how He can extract beauty from this broken world.  But it quite awe-inspiring when He sends us an undeniable message of hope amidst the devastation.


Such is the case when one firefighter was sifting through the rubble on Ground Zero after the attack.  About six months after the attack – in March of 2002 – this firefighter was with a crew sorting through the remnants of the south tower when he made a discovery.  It was a Bible fused to a melted chunk of steel.  Although the metal was reshaped from the heat, the pages of the Bible were still readable.


As you can see in this photo, the open page is the next part of the series we are studying on the Sermon on the Mount.  And you can see the section titled “Retaliation.”  We will read the text in a moment.


If you are visiting with us today, we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matthew 5 – 7.  In Matthew 5:20, Christ says: “…except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  In the remainder of chapter 5 (vss 21-48), Christ gives us 6 illustration to help us understand the righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.


When Jesus said our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, he was saying that He didn’t want our righteousness just to be a matter of external show.  When speaking to His disciples, He said of the Pharisees, “All their works they do to be seen by men.” (Matthew 23:5)


Jesus warns us in Matthew 6 not to “DO righteousness” – whether it be giving, fasting, or praying –  in order to be seen of men.  He says, “Live your life before the eye of God, not just the eyes of men.  Your Father sees in secret, and that is sufficient.  If you live for the praise of men, you have already received your reward.”


From the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus focuses on the internal -- on what men and women are like in their minds and hearts.  Thus far we have looked at four of the six illustrations Jesus give of a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  He tells us that our righteousness must be genuine—not just external actions, but internal attitudes. In Jesus’ day, (The Pharisees)   But Jesus wants both our external actions and our internal attitudes to match his character.


For example, everyone agrees that murder is wrong. That’s obvious.  But murder is merely the external evidence of an internal attitude.   Jesus said that it is also wrong to harbor unresolved anger in your heart, whether or not it leads to murder.


Likewise, nearly everyone recognizes that adultery is wrong.  But Jesus says that it’s also wrong to nurture sexual desire in your heart for someone other than your spouse.


God permits, under some circumstances,  divorce when a marriage has failed.  But it’s wrong to just abandon your spouse and leave them unable to remarry.   But Jesus says that it’s wrong to capriciously divorce your spouse just because you’re tired of being married to him or her.


Lastly, we saw that it’s wrong to go back on your word.  But Jesus says that the important thing is to be a truthful person, inside and out.


Today we look at the fifth of the six illustrations of the righteousness Christ wants to see in His followers.


The topic today is: RETALIATION.  And undoubtedly, we will also discuss revenge and justice.



The passage we are considering in Matthew 5 is the source of four very well-known sayings that almost everyone has heard or used before.


        •  An eye for an eye,


        •  Turn the other cheek,


        •  Go the second mile,


        •  Give him the shirt off your back.


So let’s take a look into the Bible as to what Jesus teaches about revenge, retaliation and justice.


Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV


38    "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

39    But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

40    If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.

41    And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.

42    Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.


One element of the great American philosophy of life is that we all have certain inalienable rights.  Among the most import privileges that our Declaration of Independence espouses are life , liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  In my lifetime rights movements have been developed for civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, workers’ rights, prisoners’ rights, tenants’ rights, animal rights, students’ rights and so on.  Never has a society been more concerned about rights.


Above all else, sinful man want what he thinks is his own.  And in the process of protecting what is his own, he is also inclined to wreak considerable trouble on anyone who takes what is his.  Retaliation, usually with interest, is a natural extension of selfishness.  And when self-interest dominates, justice is replaced by vengeance.  James points out that selfishness or self-interest is the source of wars and every other human conflict.


James 4:1-2 NKJV


1      Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

2      You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.


Few have had their legitimate rights trampled on more than the apostle Paul.  Yet to the selfish and indulgent Corinthians, he wrote:


“Am I not free?  Am I not an apostle?  Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?  Are you not my work in the Lord? … Do we not have a right to eat and drink?  Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?  Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? … If others share the right over you, do we not more?  Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor. 9:1, 4-6, 12).


The apostle Paul willingly set aside his rights for the sake of the gospel and the welfare of others.


In some ways, probably no part of the Sermon on the Mount has been so misinterpreted and misapplied as this fifth illustration.  It has been interpreted to mean that Christians are to be sanctimonious doormats.  It has been used to promote pacifism leading to conscientious objection to military service.  But I believe Jesus makes it very clear He did not come to eliminate even the smallest particle of God’s law.  God’s law includes respect for and obedience to human law and authority.


In this fifth illustration, Christ contrasts the righteousness of the Scribe and Pharisees with God’s.  Jesus shows how rabbinic tradition had twisted God’s holy law to serve the selfish purposes of unholy men.


An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth


Let’s look at the teaching of Jesus beginning with verse 38.


Matthew 5:38 NKJV


38    "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'


This quotation is taken directly from three Old Testament passages.  You will find them in Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21.  They are not identical verses, but each includes “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.”


In the Pentateuch an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth are part of a longer list that includes “hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:24-25) and “fracture for fracture” (Leviticus 24:20).  And the lists in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19 also include “life for life.”




“Life for life, eye for eye and tooth for tooth” is taken by some to say that Old Testament Law was savage and bloodthirsty.  This is absolutely not the case.  In fact, this is the beginning of MERCY.  Actually it is the foundational law of all civilizations.  Although it allows retaliation, it limited it by setting restrictions.  The law was intended as an equalizer of justice.  If a person knocks out my tooth, this law says I can have his tooth.  If I poke out his eye, he gets mine.


Retaliation as we know it today is often trying to get more that we lost.  We want two eyes for an eye or a life for an eye.  But that isn’t retaliation – it is revenge.  This law restricts the level of the retaliation not to be greater than the original act.  Revenge says that if a person cuts off my ear, I want to cut off his head.  And if I cut off his head, his brother kills me, and if he kills me, my brother will kill his brother, and pretty soon we have a clan war.


Without the law of retaliation, revenge goes from individual to the family to the clan to the tribe and ultimately to whole nations.  So this law was actually a way of limiting violence and bloodshed.  Furthermore, while the law allowed one to get even within limits, I did not REQUIRE one to get even.  So even in the Old Testament one could forgo retaliation.


The principle of punishment to match the crime has two basic purposes.


1.  The first was to curtail further crime.


The passage in Deuteronomy that says “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” also includes that it will reduce the intention of further crimes.  When equal punishment is given to equal the evil action, Deuteronomy 19:20 (NKJV) says:


20    And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.


2.  It prevents punishment based on personal vengeance and angry retaliation.


The second purpose was to prevent excessive vengeance.  The kind of hateful vengeance and retaliation I am speaking about is demonstrated by a man named Lamech, as mentioned in Genesis 4.  This is the not the Lamech who was the father of Noah, as mentioned in Genesis 5.


This evil Lamech boasted, “For I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me.  If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.  Punishment was to match, but not exceed, the harm done by the offense itself.


The law of an eye for an eye was a just law, because it matched punishment to offense.  It was a merciful law, because it limited the innate propensity of the human heart to seek retribution beyond what an offense deserved.  It was also a beneficent law, because it protected society by restraining wrongdoing.


We are tempted to get more than just even.  Human vengeance is never satisfied with justice.  It wants a pound of flesh for an ounce of offense.  This is one reason why God restricts vengeance to Himself.


Romans 12:19 NIV


19    Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.


The place in the Old Testament where “it is written,” is in Deuteronomy 32:35.  And it repeated in Hebrews 10:30.


God’s command for the individual believer has always been, “If you enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21).  And later in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:44 instructs us:  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,


Romans 12:20-21 (NKJV) tells us:


20    Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."

21    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


This Old Testament law was given to prevent personal vendettas from inflicting a harsher punishment than the criminal deserved.  If somebody blinded someone, they should not be killed for it.  Many times these debts were paid with a cash settlement – whatever amount an eye was worth.  The Bible supports measured justice.


But even if we stay within the bounds of inflicting reciprocal pain, we are still missing the point of what Jesus is telling us in the Sermon on the Mount.  Our external conformity to the demands of justice is often masking an internal problem.  We want revenge – and revenge is a sin.  So Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (vss. 38-39a)


In this command not to resist him who is evil, Jesus rebuts the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law and forbids retaliation in personal relationships.  He does not teach, as some claim, that no stand is to be taken against evil, and that it should simply be allowed to take its course.  Jesus and the apostles continually opposed evil with every means and resource.  Jesus resisted the profaning of God’s Temple by making a scourge of cords and physically driving out the sacrifice sellers and money-changers (Matthew 21:12; John 2:15).  We are to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9).  We are to resist all the evil that Satan stands for and inspires (Rom. 12:9; 1 Thess. 5:22; 1 Tim. 4:18).


The teaching of Jesus often goes beyond the teaching and understanding of the law by the Pharisees and Scribes.  When Jesus tells us not to retaliate against and evil person, the word RESIST in this context means “Do not render evil for evil.”


Jesus is talking about revenge, not self-preservation.  He is not telling us to be weak and passive.  He is telling us not to be vindictive.       Obviously, this is a high standard to live up to.         Yet, Jesus style-discipleship is not for spiritual wimps.


Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier that follow Stalin said in 1971, shortly before his death:


“We had no use for the policy of the Gospels: if someone slaps you, just turn the other cheek.  We had shown that anyone who slapped us on our cheek would hit his head kicked off.”


By the way, Khrushchev died exactly 30 years to the day before 9/11. – Sept. 11, 1971.


Jesus calls us to respond counter-intuitively.  Instead of meeting evil with equal or greater force, he urges us to meet evil with a completely different force: with good.  Instead of paying back in kind, we are called to pay be with kindness.


In Romans 12, we find some parallel passages to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.  Beginning in verse 17, we read:


17    Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.


Jesus is telling us, “Don’t do evil just because someone did evil to you.”  They did the wrong thing. You do the right thing.  Don’t get involved in the business of trying to get even – making sure everybody gets what they deserve.  That is God’s job and he’s really good at itInstead, we are supposed to get along as much as possible.  And that’s the next verse in Romans 12.


Romans 12:18 NKJV


18    If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.


It may not be possible, but we should do whatever we can on our side.


But what if that encourages them to continue their evil ways?  God has an answer for you – we read the next verse in Romans 12 earlier.


Romans 12:19 NKJV


19    Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.


God will take care of justice.  It may not be when we want it.  It may not be how we want it.  But He will make sure that justice is done.  But He will make sure that justice is done.  This policy is not a lack of justice.  It is a call not to take personal revenge in order to get justice.  Leave justice and revenge to God.  Some of that justice we may not see until we get to heaven.  But some of that is going to happen here on earth.


So, in the meantime, we are supposed to keep out of it and let Go do his thing.  We’ve got a different job to do.  Paul tells us as he continues in Romans 12, after not to take vengeance.


Romans 12:20-21 NKJV


20    Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."

21    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


We are to answer evil with good.  The trap is to be overcome by evil, to be so hurt, so wounded that we too choose an evil path by personally trying to settle the score.  God says pay back evil with good.


Jesus follows in the Sermon on the Mount with four examples of how this non retaliation will work.


        •  Vs. 39:  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.


•  Vs 40:  If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.


        •  Vs 41:  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.


        •  Vs 42:  If someone asks you, do not turn away from him.



We will study those topics at another time.