THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT -- LESSON FIFTEEN
"Two Mile Religion" or
"The Law Against Retaliation"
I. This is the fourth series of illustrations the Lord gave setting forth the
difference between the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees,
and that required of his disciples under his law. (5:17-20.)
II. In this he deals with the right attitude toward those who (1) insult, (2)
injure, or (3) impose upon us, and (4) the needy who ask for our help.
III. It is not easy to give an adequate, comprehensive summary of
Christianity in just a few words. (1 Cor. 16:13,14; 1 Tim. 3:16;
James 1:27; etc.) From one point of view it is the great gift of God's
redeeming love. (John 3:16.) From another viewpoint it is the
glorious mission of Jesus as Saviour--the incarnation and atonement.
(1 John 4:14; Luke 19:10; Matt. 1:21.) It is also the Lord's wonderful
words, works, and plan of salvation. (John 20:30,31; etc.) From
another standpoint, Christianity embraces the process of, and
motivation for, developing the right attitudes in those who are
regenerated, reformed, and fitted for the fellowship of God and angels
in heaven. Man's reckless and carnal spirit must be subdued, tamed,
and changed for the company of righteous and heavenly spirits
forever. The will of man must be brought into submission to the will
of God, and God's wonderful plan, wrought by his grace, must work
in man, wrought by his obedient faith, to make this a reality. All this
is involved in this lesson, in which Jesus makes resistance to evil
I. THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW OF RETALIATION. (5:38.)
A. An Eye for an eye: "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for
an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." (v.38).
1. The law of Moses did allow retaliation for injury, but this
was mostly a matter of judicial revenge, "as the judges
determine." (Exodus 21:22-25; Lev. 24:19,20; Deut. 19:15-21.)
2. Personal revenge and grudge-bearing were forbidden. (Lev.
19:17,18; Prov. 20:22; 24:19,29.) The injured person had
the right to prosecute him who injured him but was not
required to in all cases. (Deut. 19:15-21.) In the case of
murder, the lex talionis did give to the next of kin the
immediate right and duty of taking the life of the murderer
(Gen. 9:5,6; etc.) hence, the "cities of refuge" became a
necessity to protect the innocent and/or accidental manslayer
in Israel. (Joshua 20; Numbers 35.)
3. It was a good law for its time. Its purpose was to protect
both parties from loss of either person or property, by
causing any potential offender to realize that the injury he
inflicted upon another would in the end be inflicted upon
B. How the scribes and Pharisees perverted this law.
1. They drew the unnecessary and false inference that private
revenge was proper and necessary (provided the measure
provided in the law was not exceeded), and that there was "no
room left for remission, or the acceptance of satisfaction." --Matthew Henry.
2. By their tradition they made void God's law (as in Lev.
19:17,18; Deut. 19:15-21; cf. Matt. 15:6b), making the law
of retaliation "a ground for authorizing private resentments."
3. One can imagine how easy it would be for passionate humans
to pervert what this law allowed judicially, and let their
vindictive spirits run wild.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS REQUIRED BY THE NEW
A. Resist not him that is evil: "But I say unto you, Resist not him
that is evil." (39a) Cf. Romans 12:17: "Render to no man evil
1. This challenging command of Jesus is clearly different from
and superior to the Old Testament law of retaliation, and the
righteousness established upon this is superior to the former.
This is one of the hallmarks of a Christian.
2. However, the non-resistance to "him that is evil" enjoined by
this principle does not require absolute, unqualified
passiveness at all times and under all conditions. If we were
to understand this principle in such crass, wooden, literal
fashion, it (together with other principles taught in the
sermon on the mount) would bring us into impossible
situations, the meaning and benefits of the principle would be
lost, crime and evil would be encouraged thereby to the injury
3. "Evil" in one sense is to be resisted by Christians
wholeheartedly and unceasingly. (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8,9;
Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Tim. 6:12.) Jesus himself used force. (John
2.) Paul asked for help in self-defense. (Acts 23:17.) The
sermon on the mount "is not a code for slaves, but an
assertion of principles which are to be interpreted and applied
by the children of freedom." -- McGarvey-Pendleton, p. 244.
4. What Jesus here condemns is the spirit of revenge against
neighbor or friend who may, in a moment of hot passion,
knock out your eye or tooth. For principle's sake, personal
revenge is here forbidden. This startling but reasonable
principle, showing how and when we are to exercise patience
and forgiveness, is illustrated three ways, which does not (a)
"throw dust in the eyes of reason," or (b) "spit in the face of
sanctified common sense." -- Chappel, p. 149.
B. Turn the other cheek: "But whosoever smiteth thee on thy right
cheek, turn to him the other also." (39b)
1. Are we too sensitive? Too easily offended? What is our
2. There are three possible attitudes toward those who impose
insult, or violence upon us: (a) I can hit back--retaliate (any
wounded animal can fight back; but this merely demonstrates
which is the strongest animal physically, not morally); (b) I
can run--show fear (which is not always best for the
offender); or (c) I can stand my ground, take his insult,
suffer wrong but not do wrong, demonstrating moral
superiority and kindness.
3. Jesus and Paul illustrate this principle. (John 18:22,23; Acts
4. When the honor of Christ and the salvation of men require,
however, the Christian should observe this high, exacting rule
of non-resistance to the letter.
C. Let him have thy cloak: "And if any man would go to law with
thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." (40)
1. This involves judicial injustice.
2. The coat was the inner garment, the cloak the outer, also used
as bed-covering at night. (Exodus 22:26,27.)
3. "Why not rather take wrong? Why not rather be
defrauded?" joyfully in such matters, rather than be ruled by
a spirit of revenge and suffer all the bitter consequences? (1
Cor. 6:7; Hebrews 10:34.)
D. Go with him two: "And whosoever shall compel thee to go one
mile, go with him two." (41)
1. This refers to the practice, originated by the Persians and
adopted by the Romans, of sending royal messages and
documents by couriers, who could lawfully compel or
impress citizens to help them forward, a practice especially
galling to the Jews.
2. Jesus teaches that it is better, in such cases, to go two miles
then to be cursed by the spirit of revenge with all its bitter
3. The spirit of personal retaliation has no place in Christ's
kingdom or the heart of his disciple. (Rom. 12:17-21.)
Defending our rights, when necessary, should always be done
by a properly constituted process. (Acts 16:35-39.)
4. The oppression in all these cases mentioned by Jesus involve
lesser evils of life, not such major things as life itself.
III. THE POSITIVE SIDE OF THE LORD'S LAW. (5:42.)
A. The Christian's revenge is returning good for evil. (Rom.
1. Let us be more generous than demanded of us. (Luke 6:38.)
2. "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also..." (2 Cor. 9:6.)
B. Benevolence casts out revenge as light does darkness.
C. Do we go only "the mile of compulsion" in (a) giving and (b)
--Charles E. Crouch