At this portion of His great sermon, Jesus comes to teach on murder, along with the thoughts and attitudes that are prohibited under the scriptural prohibition of murder. When God prohibits something, we cannot hide our disobedience through clever appeals to the technicalities.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘”You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.”’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘”Raca!’” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “‘You fool!”’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny” (Matt. 5:21-26).
In the first place, Jesus is not teaching against the law as it was given by God. As we have just seen, the law of God has not been abrogated. He is, however, teaching against traditional encrustations that have covered over and distorted the law. The Bible teaches that grace and law are found in the Old Testament, and grace and law are found in the New. That said, antiquity in itself establishes nothing. After all, Cain was older than Abel. Charles Spurgeon noted in this regard, “Antiquity is often pleaded as an authority; but our King makes short work of “them of old time.”
At the same time, a man who understands the Word of God should not be fearful of attacking any error, no matter how old or how venerable. Some ancient errors, however, as Chesterton observed, are too old to be patronized.
Jesus was refuting hybrid law. The first part of the cited law is the Word of God. But it was combined with something else — human tradition — that negated the force of the law of God. Rarely will religionists and saintlings make something up from scratch. They will frequently use the raw material of scriptural words and phrases as their starting point.
Jesus then points out the attitudes that fall under the divine prohibition of murder. Of course, the actual killing of someone unlawfully is prohibited. But much more than this is also prohibited.
Angry without a cause
— the person who gets angry with his brother idly is in danger of judgment.
— Raca is a word of Aramaic origin; it is a term of utter vilification. Use of it puts someone in danger of being brought before the Sanhedrin.
— The word fool here is moros. The use of this puts one in danger of hellfire.
In other words, the attitudes of a man (remaining only attitudes that never get beyond words) can cause his case to be appealed all the way up to the highest tribunal there is — the throne of God. And what will be discussed at that tribunal? Just the big picture? Not at all — “”But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36).
Jesus is talking about those who are angry without a cause. Christ is prohibiting worthless anger. Scripture does not prohibit anger in itself. Our problem is not that we get angry. Our problem is that we are angered by petty things (slow traffic in front of us), and we remain complacent over things that should make us angry (the abortion carnage). We see godly anger in different ways:
1. The example of our Lord — Mark 3:5
2. The express command of Scripture — Eph. 4:26
3. The prohibition of ungodly anger — Eph. 4:3 “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:9).
Yes, but . . .
This teaching does not settle easily in the modern mind. But why should we imitate Christ in some things and not others?