A Strike On The Cheek, A Black Eye, and Missing Tooth
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.
Roman troops were stationed at different points throughout Judea and Galilee, and were a constant source of irritation to the Jews by reminding them of their nation’s degradation. They chaffed at the sound of the trumpet calling the troops to form around the standard of Rome and bow in homage to this symbol of her power.
Frequently there were collisions between the people and the soldiers which further fueled the hatred. Often when a Roman official with his guard of soldiers hastened from point to point he would seize upon the Jewish peasants and force them to carry burdens up the mountainside or perform any other service that they might need. All this was done in accordance with Roman law and custom and resistance to such demands not only resulted in taunts but often acts of cruelty against the people. Every day the hearts of the people longed to cast off the yoke of Roman authority. It was in Galilee that the spirit of hatred was especially predominant.
Perhaps as Jesus taught upon the mountain side the sight of a company of soldiers brought heartfelt hatred across the faces of his listeners. Eagerly the people looked to Christ, hoping that he was the one who would humble the pride of the Romans.
It was with sadness that Jesus looks into the upturned faces before Him and noted the spirit of revenge that had stamped its evil imprint upon them. He knows how bitterly the people longed for the power to crush their oppressors. Mournfully He bids them, “Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever strikes you on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Christ presents His fourth illustration on the true spirit and character of the law by presenting before the people the contrast of merely obeying and the attitude of how it is kept. Christ attempted to point out to those listening that keeping the law is not for outward show, but instead shows the true condition of the heart. Christ now turns the attention of the people on how a Christian should respond when suffering injury at the hands of another.
It has been said, is based upon Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21. It has been said, An eye for and eye. When the law was instituted it marked a great advance over the blood feud system of justice common in ancient times, under which it was the general practice to repay injuries with compound interest. The law was a civil statute and the punishment was be carried out at the direction of the courts. It did not justify personal revenge. For similar provision in the law see “The Law of Hammurabi.”[i]
But I say resist not evil; that is to say, do not seek revenge for wrong suffered. Jesus here seems to refer to active hostility rather than the passive resistance. The word for “evil” may refer either to an evil person, an evil thing, or evil done to a person or by a person. For Christians their motto should be, “I will not meet violence with violence or evil with evil.” Paul councils us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) and “heap coals of fire” upon the heads of the one who wrongs you (please see Proverbs 25:21, 22 for the full meaning of “heap coals of fire”).
Jesus is more concerned with the spirit that prompts the act rather than with the act itself. The world teaches us to reward wrong with revenge. But Christ was saying is that if you are truly filled with my spirit you will not fight for what one would consider to be his rights. He will submit to injury rather than seek opportunity to inflict it.
Jesus himself fully observed the spirit of this command yet he did not literally invite additional injury, (see John 18:22, 23; Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53:7). Neither did Paul, (see Acts 22:25; Acts 23:3; Acts 25:9,10).
On the cross, Christ manifested the spirit of which He spoke when He called upon the Father to forgive those who tormented Him (Luke 23:34).
But Christ took this teaching a step further by saying, “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.” This ties into the statement above where Paul councils us to overcome evil with good. How difficult it becomes to hate your enemy when you take the time to prepare a meal for him. How difficult is it to seek revenge when you properly enter into prayer and pray for them?
If you have done something wrong and you are brought before the court, do not fight against the thing you are accused. Rather you should accept your punishment and pay your penalty, then show your humble repentance by going the extra mile and giving them more than they ask for.
From him who requests to borrow from you to meet the daily necessities of life, do not expect repayment, give unto him what he desires, with no thought of repayment. In this way you will bless and feed three were only one would have been fed before. “Who gives himself with his money feeds three: Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me.
Matthew 25:34-45 brings this clearly to light, with verse 40 saying. “and the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
When we do not take revenge upon our enemy, choose to go the extra mile, or supply others with their daily needs, we are showing the same love toward the sinner that Christ showed to us by dying on the cross.
[i] Hammurabi see Vol. I, p. 618;