You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Here again, Jesus set forth a law this crowd had heard from their youth up. None would object to its validity. Even today, those who do not try to hide their indiscretions give a nod to the evils of adultery, and many of these also agree with the religious assessment of their own deserved punishment in hell. And this is the same unquestioned perception of those Jesus addressed. You see, contemporary religion assumes that Matthew 5 establishes the teaching of the fires of hell, when in fact Jesus merely addressed Israel in view of an already embedded belief. He stepped inside their bubble of darkness in order to poke holes through their perception, with the result that many glimpsed something beyond it.
Do you actually think Jesus meant for any to rip out an eye or cut off a hand in response to what he said? I say you can thank religion for such ridiculous teachings. Consider how later in Matthew’s account Jesus tells a rich man to give all his possessions away if he wants to be saved, but the man ends up walking away grief-stricken. Now, religious teaching would have us believe Jesus provided yet another requirement for salvation, when in fact Jesus revealed the truth afterward to his disciples. Listen:
And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And looking upon them Jesus said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
How often have we blindly read Biblical verses or passages without considering that the meaning may have been tied to someone or something else? Read Matthew 5:27-30 again — only this time, consider it in view of a meaning that was connected to the perceptions of those to whom he spoke. Consider Jesus speaking as if rubbing their noses in the absurdity of the logical end of the teachings of their religious leaders. In other words, if this is the truth of your salvation, then you had better do whatever is necessary to keep from ending up in the fires of Gehenna.
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Luke 14:28
You see, it would have made sense to them to cut their losses, even if it required extreme measures. But could they, would they actually follow through on what their teachings really demanded of them? Any scribe, Pharisee, or even your average Joe who felt justified because of his declared sexual purity would have been squirming in discomfort by the suggestion that his impure heart might actually condemn him. There could have been no objection. After all, each one surely heard the famous story of David repeated countless times, where God told Samuel,
Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
These people were already convinced that adultery merited the judgment of Gehenna, for they sat under teachers who were more than happy to assure them of it. However, their teachers must have been conveniently silent about the inward aspect of adultery. And for good reason, because their doctrines were formed according to their own purposes and desires — aka, their traditions — so that their teachings conformed to their perception of righteousness. In other words, they were smart enough not to blow their own cover. By addressing them as he did, Jesus confronted the people with the only logical conclusion available to them: Lose the right eye and cut off the right hand. Yikes!
Now, you should realize that such a conclusion only applied to the non-fornicators among the crowd. Why? Because the adulterers already assumed they deserved the judgment of Gehenna. I do believe that such folks would have been carefully observing the so-called righteous ones who had severely judged them over the years to see how Jesus’ words impacted them. For who was the greater sinner: the one who committed adultery or the one who harshly judged the adulterer, while secretly and vicariously having fornicated with many women? Why else do you think Jesus referred to removing not only the offensive eye, but the offensive hand as well? Do we not understand that self-righteousness keeps fleshly struggles alive within the Christian community today?
The message Jesus spoke applies to the professing Church of today as well as it did to Israel. And no, it’s not about going to hell or living by a set of new principles. Rather, it’s all about reassessing the logical demands of one’s own system of judgment to see if it really pans out or if it has merely provided a way to justify oneself while judging another for essentially the same offenses.
It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’ Matthew 5:31
Do you catch the shift in Jesus’ choice of commands? The first two came out of the original ten commandments, this one had been added later by Moses as a concession.
They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’ Matthew 19:7-8
Notice also that he did not begin with, “You have heard that it was said…”, but merely, “It was said…” The ramifications of divorce would have been old hat to these religious men who spent much of their day sitting around debating the conundrums of Biblical interpretation. Consider the nature of their discussions according to Jewish law:
Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason or no reason. The Talmud specifically says that a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman’s consent to the divorce is not required. In fact, Jewish law requires divorce in some circumstances: when the wife commits a sexual transgression, a man must divorce her, even if he is inclined to forgive her.Quote from jewfaq.org
The Talmud represents thousands of years of Jewish argument on probably every law in their history. It’s conceivable that some of the Pharisees Jesus spoke to may have contributed to it. Anyhow, we’re talking nit-picking detail. Imagine then, how Jesus’ total disregard for the entire system, created by the likes of these men, publicly exposed their hypocritical contradictions like never before. He merely declared the simple facts of divorce that could not be argued. He did not present a new Christian standard of morality, as is commonly taught. If he had, he would have provided them an opportunity for a real debate. And they would have argued it to death. As it was, his plain truth disoriented these men of wisdom and derailed their arguments.
Simply put — according to their own system of righteousness — Jesus exposed these men, otherwise considered faithful, godly examples of sexual purity, as not only adulterers of the heart, but also as men who forced others into adultery. On top of that, according to an honest evaluation of Law, every man who married a divorced woman not only married an adulteress, he became an adulterer himself.
…but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery
Realize that Jesus referred to the “reason of unchastity” not as the one legitimate condition for divorce, but out of simple logic. For it is the only situation in which a husband would not be causing his wife to commit adultery if he were to divorce her.
Here’s the real message in Jesus’ discourse to the crowd that day. For despite their decrees of Gehenna against others who did not live up to their own high standards, these self-righteous judges already knew the intricacies of the Law, and therefore, knew that their perceived status was a facade. In other words, they knew deep down inside that if anyone deserved the shame of the despised wasteyard in the shameful valley of Hinnom, where bodies of convicted criminals lay smoldering in burning flames alongside the rotting filth of their castoffs, it would be themselves.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18
The message Jesus preached that day declared a long awaited freedom, and the people were amazed by it. Everything revolved around the completion he was bringing to pass in himself. How often, though, have we questioned its accomplishment based upon the fact that the heaven and earth still stand, especially since the Law seems fully active and in control? Perhaps we need to have our world turned upside down so that we can see right side up.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. Romans 7:1-4
It makes sense according to the Law that a woman would be freed from her husband if he were to die. This is often how we think of our freedom in Christ, but the picture needs to be turned around. Our freedom in Christ comes not because the Law died to us, but that in him we died to the Law. As long as heaven and earth stand, so does the Law. We only confound ourselves by attempting to negate it. After all, its elemental principles form the basis for all existence under the sun. However, we do not belong to this world anymore, for we are of the one who has created a new world. In Christ, we died to the elemental principles by his death, and now we live only in him. Do not let the rationale of the elemental teach us how to understand our life In the new creation.