“But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39, ESV). Jesus teaches us the will of God in the Kingdom of God. In the Law, you have the personal right to retaliate. But in the Kingdom, you renounce your personal right to resist evil.
This is quite shocking. It is quite the opposite of the Law. The Law says an eye for an eye. But Jesus says with divine authority—do not resist evil with evil. This means that in the Kingdom, the chain of evil action and reaction is broken by grace.
Look at v. 39, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” But in the Greek, reads, “not to resist the evil.” The Greek reads, me antistenai to ponero. It is translated literally, “Do not resist the evil.”
What is “the evil” thing here? Jesus gives five examples of evil against his listeners. Jesus then gives five different ways of NOT resisting the evil.
Let us look at Jesus’ first example in v. 39. “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It is the example of maltreatment and abuse. Jesus teaches that we should resist taking revenge.
Somebody once said that if somebody throws you a piece of stone, throw back a piece of bread. But the piece of bread should be inside a glass jar!
If someone slaps you on your right cheek with his right hand, which part of the right hand did he use? He used the back part of the right hand. In Jesus’ time, the back-slap of a right hand is a serious insult.
Now to turn to him the other cheek does not mean sadism or taking pleasure with pain. To turn the other cheek does not mean pacifism or not going to war.
But to turn the other cheek is to resist personal retaliation. To turn the other cheek is to renounce your right to revenge. To turn the other cheek is to become defenseless.
To strike back is the way of the world. But to turn the other cheek is the way of the Kingdom of God. That is the higher righteousness of the Kingdom.
Jesus Himself modeled this behavior. Matt. 26:67, “Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him.” 1 Pet. 2:23, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
The apostle Paul gave the same commands. 1 Cor. 6:7, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”