Let’s read Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (NKJV). In this passage the Lord Jesus “expanded upon the Law” by informing the Jews of His time that not only was “actual murder” a punishable offense, but so was an “angry attitude” towards a brother. In this teaching He is going to the “root cause” of murder, for anger is the emotion that leads one to commit murder.

In verse 22 He brings out three examples of ANGER, with each case being more serious and deserving of a greater punishment. We will examine each one briefly.

1) To be “angry with his brother without a cause” speaks of holding inner resentment against one for no valid reason. There are only two scriptural reasons for being angry (we often call it “righteous anger”). The first one is when someone is dishonoring the Lord. We have a perfect illustration of this in John 2:14-16, “And He (Jesus) found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise”.” The second reason would be if someone was doing something wrong against another person. It becomes “unrighteous anger” when we are seeking personal vengeance for something that was said or done against ourselves. One who is guilty of this type of anger “shall be in danger of the judgment,” which back then meant they could be taken to a “lower court in a local synagogue” to be judged.

2) To say “to his brother ‘Raca’” is when one insults another person. The word literally means “empty one” and thus it is a form of slander where you show utter contempt for your fellow man. Sometimes I hear people calling someone an “air head,” and I think that conveys the same meaning, for you are suggesting that they have “no brains.” This form of anger would meet with a more serious form of punishment, for Jesus said they would be “in danger of the council.” This refers to the “highest Jewish court, known as the Sanhedrin” where the person would be put on trial and then sentenced.

3) To say “You fool!” was the worst thing one could say of another, for the word “fool” implies that one is a “reprobate who deserves to go to hell.” Today we hear people wishing “God would damn someone to hell” and this is the moral equivalent of what we are considering in the word “fool.” In this case, Jesus said the guilty slanderer “shall be in danger of hell fire.” He was no doubt referring to the “fiery valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem where the bodies of criminals who had been stoned were burned.” To a Jew, being cremated as a criminal was the worst form of punishment imaginable. But the name of this place was called GEHENNA, the word used to describe the “lake of fire” (see Revelation 20:14-15), the place of “eternal punishment.” So, they would also be in danger of going to Hell!

As we stated at the beginning, the Lord is tracing the actual act of murder to its root cause. When we speak against another person with anger in our hearts, we are guilty of committing “character assassination,” for we are trying to “kill their reputation.” And sometimes our words turn into acts and this can lead to murder. May the Lord give us grace to judge “unrighteous anger” in our hearts and then allow the Spirit of God to replace it with kindness and love for our brother (see Ephesians 4:31-32). (276.3) (DO)