Matthew 5:21-26 – Do Not Murder

John Carter – February 4, 2018

{ESV} [1]

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.


You have heard it said that it was said in the beginning, “do not murder, but the one who does murder is guilty in judgment.”

Now I say to you, that each one angry with his brother [or sister]—he is guilty in judgment. Or, the one who says to his brother, “Idiot” is guilty in the Sanhedrin [highest local court]. Or,  the one who says, “Stupid” is guilty in Gehenna of fire [firey final judgment].

Therefore if you bring your gift up-to the altar and you remember that your brother has something [an accusation] against you,

Leave(!) your gift in front of the altar and go up (!), first being reconciled to your brother. And then, coming back, bring (!) your gift.

Befriend your accuser quickly while you are with him on the way, lest the accuser hand your to the judge, and the judge to the bailiff [helper], and you are thrown into prison.

Truly I say to you, you will certainly not come out from there until you paid the last cent.



The law that has been heard is a synopsis of the OT. What Jesus quotes is not an exact quote of the OT, rather it is a summary of the commands and demands of the law as a cohesive whole.  The OT teaches that murder is an assault on the image of God. And as we will see here, murder can by physical, verbal, or attitudinal. Rember, God created a physical universe with just the spoken word. Jesus takes this OT command and makes a fairly straightforward command and turns it into an impossible standard to achieve.  As R.T. France points out, “this section of the discourse (21-47) poses formidable problems for those who wish to treat it as a straightforward code of conduct.”[2]


As “Jesus thus assumes a tone of superiority over the Mosaic regulations”[3] he presents a list of illustrations which demonstrate not just the high standard of righteousness according to the kingdom living, but also how easy it is to fail in obey this higher command. Until we can see that Jesus is looking beyond moralism and self-righteous compliance we will miss what Jesus is doing in this greater command. “Jesus does not merely offer advice; he insists that the sixth commandment points prophetically to the kingdom’s condemnation of hate.”[4] Jesus’ vision is not that of a murderless and friendly kingdom, but of a time when hearts are totally and faithfully turned towards God. Just think of the length Jesus goes to make this point.

First in v.21 Jesus reference that this law of no murder has been around since the beginning. This should draw our minds to Genesis 4 where Cain kills Able. Even before Cain rose his hand against his brother, Able, God warned him of his sinful heart. But this warning from God was still not enough. Cain still chose to let his murderous heart manifest into the violent act of murder.

Next in v.22 Jesus says that simply calling someone a fool or an idiot warrants being called into court to stand before a judge. What a frenzy this would cause if it was found out that courts were hearing cases of name calling! How much more offensive it would be if we meditated on the fact that we are each worthy of hell simply because we called someone a dummy? The term translated ‘fire of hell’ could also be translated as ‘Gehenna of Fire’. “The valley [of Gehenna] came to symbolize the place of eschatological punishment.”[5] This is the valley where the Israelites were offering their children to the god Molech to be burned alive. SO the prophets of old used this place to describe the punishment coming to those who reject  God. And then Jesus uses the same place to describe the destination of those who are simply frustrated with their neighbor.

Thirdly, Jesus sets up this strange scenario of a worshiper in the temple leaving his sacrifice at the altar to go and make amends with his accuser before he is thrown into prison. Unfortunately, we neglect to consider the logistics of this scenario. Remember, when Jesus was teaching the temple was still erected and people were still offering bloody sacrifices on the altar. So, while your animal lies dead and bloody in front of the altar, waiting to be burned—if you remember your brother (or sister) is at odds with you—you MUST  set you bloody sacrifice down and go to be joyfully reconciled to your brother or sister in Christ. Why?  At least two reasons can be observed in the text.

3a.) In v.24 the word ‘leave’ sounds like the word forgive in greek. So it’s as if Jesus is saying, Forget Forgiveness From your heavenly Father until you Find Forgiveness From your offended brother. Just at the moment when you expect to receive forgiveness from your heavenly Father, you must first find forgiveness from those whom you have sinned against.

3b.) The second reason for seeking immediate reconciliation is seen in v.25-26. How can a worshiper seek justice and mercy from God when there refuse to contribute to the justice and mercy that their brother seeks? God cannot accept an accept an act of worship that is steeped in hypocrisy.

Back to the scenario that Jesus is painting it is lost on us the aspect of time. And in this, we see the depths of the impossibility of faithful obedience apart from God’s grace.  We all have the idea that to go to the temple was a short drive and if the sermon was short, we’d be back home by lunch. But Jesus is drawing on the idea of a worshiper who traveled a week or more, one-way, only to have to return home to make amends with his accuser. “The improbability of the scenario emphasizes Jesus’ point, that the importance of right relationship demands decisive action.”[6] Jesus asking a worshipper to leave their sacrifice at the altar would be asking for the worship to make their trip to the temple twice as long, and possible even spoil their sacrifice thereby costing the worshipper twice as much.

Jesus did not just make the command to not murder harder, he made it infinitely harder. None of us could, can, or even would live up to this standard of kind words, right thoughts, and sacrificial worship apart from the sacrificial empowering of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father so that we might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Holy Spirit here are three (3) reasons for pursuing obedience to God through the power of the Holy Spirit.


                I’ll come right out and say it. Reconciliation is your responsibility. It is not the other person’s responsibility. Even if they won’t come to you, you must go to them. Do not justify your sin. Do not justify your anger. If you refuse to pursue reconciliation then you will remain in condemnation until the debt is paid. Humble yourself before you find yourself under the judgment of God. For how can you claim to love someone you have never seen but refuse to love someone who you can see that is made in the image of the one you claim to love. ! John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Theodore of Heraclea (circa 355) writes, “for the one who hates is akin to a murderer; such a person ought especially to have had love for these on account of their shared faith, even though their common human nature should have been reason enough to unite them in friendship.” In other words, stop falling short of true worship and love your neighbor. To love instead of hate is to offer true worship to the living God.

Some of you at this point will ask, “how do I know if a brother has something against me?” But this question is to ask for anti-christ measurement that will allow you to justify your position of sin. You very well know who has something against you. And when you become aware of it, immediately, you are responsible for resolving the broken relationship. Every moment of unresolved anger – even the slightest anger—is a full-scale assault on the kingdom of heaven, the law of love, and the Holy God.


                Worship and reconciliation are not two isolated events. You cannot worship God and honor him with your worship if you are at odds with your brother or sister; especially your brother or sister in Christ. Chrysostom (circa 344-407) accurately points out that God “does not even receive the sacrifice of worship without the sacrifice of love.” Take this in connection with 1 John 3:21 which reads, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (ESV).  With a very careful rebuke, I want to point out that it is flat hypocrisy to seek grace, mercy, and justice from our heavenly father while refusing these very things from those whom we have victimized by or whom we have victimized. Once again, every moment of unresolved anger – even the slightest anger—is a full-scale assault on the kingdom of heaven, the law of love, and the Holy God


                Jesus said, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 – ESV). Later, John the Apostle wrote, “by this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10 – ESV). Christian, when you harbor anger you are declaring to the world that Jesus’s death burial and resurrection were sufficient to provide forgiveness for your greatest sin, but not sufficient to forgive your brother or sister in Christ. While God is dividing the children of God from the children of the devil, the world is doing the same. When you refuse love to love your brother, God refuses you, and the lost refuse the Gospel. If I haven’t said it enough, every moment of unresolved anger – even the slightest anger—is a full-scale assault on the kingdom of heaven, the law of love, and the Holy God.


  • Your Anger achieves nothing…
  • You are permitted to embrace anger if you do not sin. Good luck.
  • Matthew 15:11 – Not what enters but what exits…
  • Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is utterly wicked…
  • Psalm 139 – Search my heart…
  • Matthew 21:12-13 – “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (ESV)
  • (Theodore of Mopsuestia – circa 350-428) “But if it is not permissible to call somebody a fool, why does the Lord himself employ the expression fools (Mt. 23:17)? It is not fitting to call one’s particular brother a fool, for such a word issues from anger and not from righteousness. It is even more impious when it is spoken against someone who is holy. But the Lord justly terms as fools people who are in no way righteous and in no way what he is. He does this not out of anger but for the sake of truth.”
  • “Merely to suppress all anger fails to recognize that scripture also mandates, not least by the example of Jesus, righteous anger—and still love for our enemies.”[7]
  • If I haven’t said it enough, every moment of unresolved anger – even the slightest anger—is a full-scale assault on the kingdom of heaven, the law of love, and the Holy God.

[1] – Retrieved 2/1/18

[2] P.195 – NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

[3] P.44 – A.T. Robertson (1930)

[4] P.182 – EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)

[5] P.182 – EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)

[6] P.203 – NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

[7] P.182-3 – EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)