By Johnny Stringer
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presented truths pertaining to the kingdom He was soon to establish (Matt. 4:17,23). In Matthew 5:20 He said that the righteousness required in His kingdom would be greater than the righteousness taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. He then proceeded to discuss the higher righteousness required in His kingdom.
He began by discussing the superior righteousness which is required regarding our attitudes toward others. The scribes and Pharisees condemned murder (v. 21), but their teaching fell short of what is required in the kingdom of Christ. Demanding a higher righteousness, Jesus condemns all feelings and expressions of contempt and ill-will.
Three Examples of Wrong Attitude
To depict the hateful attitude, Jesus gave three examples of that attitude.
First, He spoke of one being angry with his brother. The term anger is used here in the context of evil attitudes toward a person – contempt, ill-will, the desire to harm. It refers, therefore, to the anger which involves these attitudes, not to the proper anger toward evil which is controlled so that there is no ill-will toward the one whose actions anger us (Mk. 3:5; Eph. 4:6).
The anger which Jesus condemns is all too prevalent, even among brethren in Christ. Sometimes simple disagreements lead to bitter feelings. When one reaches the point that he cannot have kind feelings toward one with whom he disagrees, he has a real problem. Even when spiritual truth is involved and we properly become angry over false doctrine, our anger must not be the evil anger that involves ill feelings toward the individual; rather, we must desire his welfare, praying and hoping that he will come to a knowledge of the truth.
The second example Jesus gave of the wrong attitude was calling a brother “Raca.” Raca was an Aramaic word which meant “empty headed.” It was used to express contempt and scorn.
The third example which He gave was calling one a fool. The reference in this context is to calling one a fool out of contempt, calling him an insulting name simply to express scorn. There is a difference between such name-calling and simply describing a foolish person as what he is, with no bitterness or ill-will involved. Jesus Himself did that (Matt. 23:17, 19; 7:26). Hence, if one says that those who disobey God are foolish, he is simply teaching what Jesus taught; he is not violating the principle under discussion here.
Three Ways Of Expressing Judgment
As Jesus depicted the evil attitude in three ways, He also used three different ways to express the fact that men will be held accountable for this attitude (v. 22). (1) The one is angry with his brother will be in danger of the judgment. (2) The one who says “Raca” will be in danger of the council. (3) The one who says “Thou fool” will be in danger of hell fire.
Some believe that Jesus meant that each of the evils would result in a different fate. This is not the point. There is no significant difference between saying “Raca” and saying “Thou fool.” If the one who says “Thou fool” will go to hell, so will the one who says “Raca.” Rather than setting forth different fates for the different evils, Jesus is simply using three different ways of expressing the fact of divine judgment.
Some like to point out that the word translated “council” (KJV) is the word which was used to denote the Sanhedrin (the highest court of the Jews). But Jesus clearly was not referring to the literal Sanhedrin. No one was ever brought before the Sanhedrin for saying “Raca.” Jesus was not threatening folks with what the Sanhedrin might do to them. The one who said “Raca” had nothing to fear from the Sanhedrin. The word rendered “council” also had a more general meaning. It did not always refer to the Sanhedrin, but sometimes to other tribunals (Matt. 10:17). Jesus was simply saying that the guilty person would be brought to court – God’s court.
Even if Jesus was using the word to denote the Sanhedrin, He was speaking figuratively, using the earthly tribunal with which they were familiar to stand for the heavenly tribunal – much as one in the United States might figuratively describe God’s judgment seat as the Supreme Court. Jesus’ purpose was simply to convey the concept of judgment; and the tribunal to be feared by the person who said “Raca” was not an earthly one, but the heavenly one.
Jesus said that those who are guilty are in danger of hell fire. The word translated “hell” is gehenna. This was the name of a valley near Jerusalem which had a hideous history, having been the site of the burning of human sacrifices in heathen rituals. In Jesus’ day it was the place where garbage and trash were dumped. The name of this place had come to be used to denote the place of eternal punishment – and appropriately so. No word in the Jewish language was more fitting as a name for the place, of eternal punishment than the name of this loathsome valley.
Christians should contemplate well the fact that bitterness and ill-will toward others will result in eternal punishment. There have been causes in which brethren in Christ have had such animosity toward one another that they would not speak to one another or would not sit on the same side of the meeting house. There have even been cases of physical violence among brethren. Those who harbor such feelings will be held accountable.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 7, p. 203
April 2, 1987