Summary: Some difficult-to-understand sayings of Jesus. Some important truths for us to apply.
Turning My Other Cheek
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV).
The Law of Retaliation
Where did the quote from v. 38 come from and to what is it referring? What does it mean? And how was it being interpreted in Jesus’ day?
‘Eye for an eye’ refers to the law of retaliation.
“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23-25 NIV).
“If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured" (Leviticus 24:19-20 NIV).
“Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21 NIV).
This law was designed so that the judges would make sure the punishment fit the crime.
Prohibition Against Personal Vengeance
“It is of the utmost significance that each of the three Pentateuch accounts that prescribe the eye for an eye principle has to do with the civil justice system” (MacArthur’s Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew 1-7).
Why is that important? Because God never intended for men to personally avenge wrong done to them. It was for the courts and magistrates to administer; not for individuals to take the law into their own hands. But in the days of Jesus, the law of retaliation had become a justification for personal revenge. And obviously, that was the stance of the Pharisees. The people had heard this misinterpretation from their leaders. But we must have a righteousness that exceeds theirs.
What did Jesus mean when He said “Do not resist an evil person”?
The following are passages that speak of resisting evil:
Proverbs 28:4 NIV says, “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.”
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NIV).
“Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1Peter 5:9 NIV).
Clearly evil is to be resisted. Even Jesus went into the temple courts and turned over the money changers tables and ‘cleaned house.’
So why does Jesus say not to resist an evil person?
What Jesus meant about not resisting an evil person has nothing to do with resisting evil in general. We should resist evil and should desire to see evil persons brought to justice. We should report crimes and not allow wicked folks to get away with wicked deeds. But, what Jesus means in our passage is that when we are personally wronged by someone we should not strike back at them in vengeance. In Romans 12 NLT, Paul writes things such as, “never pay back evil for evil to anyone”(v.17), “never avenge yourselves”(v.19), “conquer evil by doing good”(v.21).
Rather than doing evil back to someone else that has hurt us, we should do good to them and thereby show them the love of Christ. This does not mean we should let people get away with criminal behavior. The following illustrations do not deal with folks breaking the law. If someone breaks the law we do our society a disservice by letting it go unreported.
What is significant about being struck on the right cheek?
What this does not mean:
1) This does not refer to governments being pacifistic. Romans 13:4 NIV, speaking of rulers, says, “but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Nations are expected to defend their people. Neither Jesus nor the apostles told the soldiers they encountered that they needed to leave their profession. A country that does not defend itself, even to the point of war, is a country that does the greatest disservice to its citizens; for that is part of its purpose. Furthermore, the law of retaliation was given to judges to properly enforce justice on those who broke the law.
2) This does not refer to a person being weak in regards to the defense of one’s self and one’s family. Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament states, “Christ did not intend to teach that we are to see our families murdered, or be murdered ourselves; rather than to make resistance.”