The Harsh Penalties under Law

Matthew 18:7-9

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

I have always struggled with this scripture. Here, Jesus commands those who sin to cut off their hand or foot, or tear out your eye. These is incredible. What does he mean by this? It is literal or an hyperbole? Or, something else?

One of the key revelations that have changed me is that fact that when Jesus was alive and teaching, grace was not in effect. The Law still held jurisdiction over the Jews. Jesus came to fulfill the law and usher in the age of grace.

A lot of what Jesus does in the gospels is lay down the foundation of what life under the Law is like. Under the Law, sin will send you to hell. It’s better to live life maimed rather than go to hell. Sin will destroy you both in this life and the life to come, if you die in your sins.

He is laying the foundation of what life is like under the requirements of the Law. He is preparing the hearts of people to receive the grace they so desperately need, and cannot earn themselves. And, he’s comparing it to a life headed to hell. Eternity separated from God is far worse than losing a limb or an eye.

Matthew 18:23-35

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

This is another scripture that on the surface looks like God’s forgiveness is conditional. But again, we have to read this in the light of who Jesus is speaking to. Under the Law, this “wicked servant” will have to pay the price for his unforgiveness. Torment awaits those who do not forgive because while Jesus was alive, God’s anger and wrath had not been satisfied in Christ yet.

And, I would even say that this is a message to those under grace that if you don’t forgive, you will be tormented emotionally and mentally until you “pay all” your debt. There is value in forgiveness towards others. It frees us up. Under the Law, God would judge unforgiveness harshly, but under grace, it’s a different story. All of his wrath and anger have been resolved through Christ’s death on the cross.

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