First, we are liable to God’s judgment for the inner attitude of anger as much as the outer act of murder. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment’” (Matt. 5:21). The words, “You have heard,” means, “You have heard from traditional teaching.” You have heard from traditional teaching that you shall not murder.
Jesus adds, “Whoever shall murder someone shall be liable to judgment.” What is this judgment? In v. 22, Jesus says it is judgment by the “council” or the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of Judea, composed of seventy-one religious rulers. The Sanhedrin handled murder cases back then.
It is also judgment by the hell of fire. 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’” (Matt. 5:22). You have heard it, Jesus said, that whoever is angry with his brother shall be liable to the judgment of the Sanhedrin and the hell of fire.
Then in v. 22, Jesus says, “But I say to you.” The rabbis taught the Law on the authority of other interpreters. But Jesus interpreted the Law on His own authority. “But I say to you,” Jesus says. It indicates the absolute authority of Jesus, the Interpreter of the Law.
But I say to you, Jesus says, that whoever is angry with his brother is liable to judgment. Does this mean that we should no longer get angry? Wasn’t Jesus angry at the money-making mind-set of the Temple authorities? Paul said, Be angry but sin not.
Jesus is talking about a different kind of anger. What kind of anger is it?
I read about a woman who was bitten by a rabid dog, and it looked like she was going to die from rabies. The doctor told her to put her final affairs in order. So the woman took pen and paper, and began writing furiously. She wrote and wrote and wrote.
Finally the doctor said, “That sure is a long will you’re making.”
She snorted, “Will, nothing! I’m making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!”
The word, “angry” (Gk. orgizo) is a present participle passive. Whoever is being angry, whoever is filling with wrath at his brother, shall be liable to judgment. It is a continuing, ongoing, and enduring anger against someone. This kind of anger, Jesus said, is murder in your heart. This kind of anger, Jesus said, is a violation of the command of God. This kind of anger, Jesus said, makes you liable to judgment.
What kind of judgment? It is a temporal judgment by the Sanhedrin. It is also an eschatological judgment in the hell of fire. This anger is like murder. This anger is the root of murder. Murder is committed out of anger. Since anger is like murder, the penalty for murder is the penalty for anger—judgment by men and judgment by God—the hell of fire.
For Jesus then, the attitude is as liable as the act. The attitude of anger is as liable as the act of murder. You are as liable for your internal attitude of anger as the external act of murder. The inner attitude of hate is as liable as the outer act of murder. The murdering heart is as liable as the murdering hand.