In the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), Jesus used a specific formula to correct misaligned teaching in six key areas of kingdom life: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and relationships with one's enemies (Matthew 5:21-48). He reminded His audience of what they had been taught ("You have heard that it was said . . .") and then He corrected it, giving them the true spirit of what God intended in the law ("But I say to you . . ."). In all six areas, Jesus' correction of current Jewish tradition would have come as a shock to His hearers as they realized what a high standard God intended for His people to follow.
How to relate to one's enemies is an excellent example of how the law had been incorrectly taught. The people had been told that God's law said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matthew 5:43). But the law said no such thing concerning enemies. What Leviticus 19:18 actually said is, "You shall not take vengeance, . . . but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." The people had been taught the opposite of what God had said.
Ever since returning from captivity in Babylon, the Jews had been oppressed by their neighbors, by the Greeks and, at the time Jesus was teaching, by the Romans. Hating their enemies felt right and justifiable—but it was wrong. Instead of hating their enemies, Jesus told them to do what Moses had taught: Love your neighbor. And if your neighbor is your enemy, you are to love him, too. The idea of Jews loving the Samaritans, the Greeks, and the Romans was revolutionary.
And, Jesus said, we are to bless our enemies by doing good toward them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). God does not reward us when we love those who love us. But He does reward us when we love and pray for our enemies.Back to Matthew