“What about being angry without a cause (Matt. 5:22)? Why should it lead to hell?” a reader asks. Matthew 5:22 reads, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
We ought to be sure that we understand the context of this important passage. Two points have to be made. The first is that this word of our Lord is part of the so-called Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount has been rightly called, “The Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Those who distort the gospel with their views of social action to make this world a better place in which to live, and teach that ultimately the kingdom of Christ is to be realized here on earth, use these words of Christ to guide us in understanding what the goal of our life ought to be as we do our part to establish this earthly kingdom. Violence must be repeatedly done to the entire passage if such exegesis is imposed on this sermon of our Lord. For example, Jesus’ injunction to enter at the narrow gate (7:13-14) can in no way be applied to the calling to seek the kingdom of Christ here in the world. And this is only one example.
Jesus is giving instruction in the fundamental precepts of life in the kingdom of heaven. That kingdom is invisible, not visible; it is heavenly, not earthly. It is established by God’s power through the cross, not man’s might. It has its foundation in the righteousness of God revealed at Calvary, not in the present earthly structures of society, governed by man’s moral precepts. It comes not with observation (Luke 17:20), but by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of God’s people. It is realized fully only at the time of the second coming of Christ when, in His fierce wrath, He shall smash all the kingdoms of this world.
But the citizens of the kingdom are called to stay in this world until Christ calls them home through death. While they are here, citizens of an earthly kingdom, they are nevertheless to walk as citizens of the kingdom of heaven in all the relationships of life. This walk of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven is governed by the perfect law of God as fulfilled in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
That is a crucial element in the context, which we cannot ignore. The admonitions and principles of Christ’s sermon are meant for citizens of the kingdom only, not for all men.
The second element in the context arises out of the fact that Jesus is setting forth the principles of law-keeping within the kingdom—in distinction from the teaching of the Pharisees. They too claimed they were citizens of the kingdom of God, but never wanted anything to do with Christ, who had come to establish the kingdom. They interpreted God’s law as being a set of external precepts, which they, in turn, explained to their own advantage. This is the reason why Jesus repeatedly says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time ... but I say unto you ...”
In the verse we consider, Jesus is talking about the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Pharisees had applied that commandment exclusively to outer conduct. Murder is wrong! But Jesus points out that there is more to the law than its outward injunction. After all, it was revealed already in the Old Testament that the law was a matter of the heart and, therefore, of inward perfection. Did not the law demand that Israel love God? And that the people love their neighbour as themselves? And so Jesus teaches that in the kingdom of heaven, the inner perfection of the law is as important, if not more important, than outward observance of the commandment.
Some interpreters have said that the sins described in Matthew 5:22 have a rising scale of importance. To say to a brother “Raca” is worse than to be angry with him, and to call a brother a fool is worse than saying “Raca.” In harmony with that, these same commentators (including Calvin) say that the judgment described is worse in each instance. It is worse to be brought before the council or Sanhedrin than to be judged in a lower court, and it is obviously worse to go to hel l than to be judged by the Sanhedrin.
The difficulty with this explanation is that the first two judgments are, apparently, references to earthly courts, while hell is God’s judgment upon the sinner.
Therefore, I personally would prefer the interpretation suggested by Lenski, that all three of the sins described here are equally serious; and the references to the judgments described are intended to remind one of the judgment of God that ends in hell.
Jesus is referring here to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” And He is saying that for citizens of the kingdom that commandment refers not only to the outward observance, but to the inner attitude of the heart. All three sins of which Jesus speaks imply a lack of love. To be angry with a fellow citizen of the kingdom without a cause is to fail to love him. To call a fellow citizen “Raca,” a word that means something like “empty-head,” is not loving our neighbour. To say to him that he is a fool is a gesture of disdain, contempt and hatred; it is surely not an expression of love.
We are to love our neighbour, and those who are our neighbours are more numerous than the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Here the reference is to our fellow citizens in the kingdom of heaven. If we cannot love them, there is no hope of our getting around to loving our neighbour. The “easier” of the two is to love our neighbour who is a brother; the hard part is to love our neighbour who persecutes us.
But in any case, the end of sinfully angry people is hell.
- Volume: 11
- Issue: 23
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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