Matthew 5:21-48 Antitheses

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[g]

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


In his commentary on Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins writes this about the intent of these verses:

  • True disciples not only avoid murder but are transformed so that they do not strip away the personhood or identity of others through anger of defamation (5:21-23), and they continually produce reconciliation in offended relationships (5:23-26)
  • True disciples not only shun physical acts of adultery but are so completely committed to God’s purpose for marriage that they have eyes and hands only for a spouse (5:27-28) and discipline every thought and action to be singly focused on the spouse (5:29-30).
  • True disciples not only respect the purity of the marital relationship but have God’s values for the original design of marriage and are unreservedly committed to its permanence and sanctity (5:31-32).
  • True disciples do not need to give oaths to confirm their trustworthiness, because their faithful lives repeatedly confirm the reliability of their words (5:33-37).
  • True disciples are so secure in their transformed kingdom identity that when they are wronged, they do not merely adhere to legal retribution but use every opportunity to serve others , both good and evil people, so that the reality of God’s grace in their lives woos them to the kingdom of heaven (5:38-42).
  • True disciples not only love what God loves and hate what God hates, but they have the renewed heart of God tat enables them to love the world of sinners for whom Jesus will eventually give his life (5:43-48).
  • Climactically, true disciples have experienced the powerfully life-changing presence of the kingdom of heaven in such a way that their progressive transformation into the image of Jesus, the Son of God, secures their progressive growth into the very perfection of God the Father (5:48).

The questions remain, “Are you truly a disciple, or have you sunk back into the crowd?  Do you want to step out of the crowd and commit to a life that Jesus can build in you?”


  1. What teachings have the pharisees been speaking to the people?
  2. How is Jesus indicating that the way the rules of the Old Testament are being applied is missing the point?
  3. How could some people read these verses and misapply them as a call to ‘try harder’?
  4. Are you a disciple?  What kind of life does a disciple live?
  5. How do you keep the perfection of God as a motivator in your life and not a demotivator?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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