Jesus—His Life and Message: Jesus on Love (Part 1)

June 26, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

In each of the synoptic Gospels,1 Jesus quotes two commandments from the Old Testament. The first is from the book of Deuteronomy:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.2

The second is from the book of Leviticus:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.3

The Mosaic Law stated:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.4

The Jewish understanding of one’s “neighbors” was other Jewish people. As one author explains:

In Judaism, one’s neighbor was someone with similar religious thinking, not one who was opposed and hostile. In some movements in Judaism, the exact opposite was instructed, as at Qumran, where the right to hate one’s religious foes was a given.5 (Qumran is an archeological site less than a mile from the Dead Sea, which contains the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Some Bible scholars believe that a religious community called the Essenes lived at Qumran, and they had some beliefs which didn’t align with standard Jewish beliefs of the time.)

Seeing that some Jewish people had different interpretations of Scripture may help explain why, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes reference to a saying which isn’t found in Scripture:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.6

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus expands the concept of loving one’s enemies by giving examples of ways that His followers can implement that love. He says that the love that His followers demonstrate for others is to be above and beyond the way people usually love. The focus here will be on Luke 6:27–38, which covers different aspects of loving others.

Jesus starts with:

I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.7

He addresses those who “hear,” meaning those who are willing to listen and to apply what He teaches. There are some references to doing good to one’s enemies in some Old Testament teachings, such as:

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.8

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.9

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.10

While verses such as these in the Old Testament directed believers to show kindness to one’s enemies, Jesus went considerably further, instructing His followers to love and forgive them. He also practiced what He preached, as seen by the words He spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”11 His followers practiced this as well. Stephen, the first martyr, while being stoned to death, cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”12 The apostle Paul wrote, See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.13 The apostle Peter wrote, Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.14

After expressing the general principle of loving one’s enemies, Jesus moved on to specifics: do good to those who hate you.15 He’s speaking of taking positive action, doing things that benefit those who oppose you. He’s calling His followers to not just love their enemies in principle or in some passive manner, but to show them love through their actions.

Jesus called His disciples to bless those who curse you,16 meaning those who verbally attack you with insults, scorn, or verbal abuse. It’s natural to respond in kind, but Jesus taught His disciples to break that cycle of anger and hatred by blessing those who revile them. While at times we are right to respond to someone who is verbally attacking us, Scripture teaches us to do so wisely and lovingly.

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.17

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.18

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.19

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.20 (To “entreat” means to end a disagreement or someone’s anger by acting in a friendly way.)

He also said to pray for those who abuse you.21 The KJV translates this as them which despitefully use you, while other translations say those who mistreat you. The Greek word epēreazō is also translated as to insult, treat abusively, revile, and threaten. Jesus’ call for His disciples to pray for people who mistreat them goes against one’s natural instinct to respond in kind. It represents a supernatural form of love, a love which reflects God’s love for humanity. Of course, Jesus’ call to love and pray for those who mistreat or abuse us doesn’t mean that we should continually tolerate such mistreatment. Removing oneself from an abusive situation and taking necessary action to protect oneself doesn’t conflict with praying for those who treat you badly.

After telling His disciples to love their enemies, to do good to the haters, to those who curse them, and to pray for those who mistreat, insult, and threaten them, He then went on to give four illustrations of loving others in spite of actions which hurt you or result in loss. The first is: To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.22 In this case, the slap most likely refers to a slap with the back of the hand, which, in Jesus’ time, was considered a deliberate gesture of disrespect, a deep insult. By telling His disciples to offer the other cheek, He was stating that when they were insulted they should show love by remaining silent rather than attempting to even the score by returning insults. Part of love is not seeking revenge for affronts, slights, or insults. Rather than striking back, the disciple is willing to break the cycle of retaliation.

The second part of verse 29 is somewhat similar to the first: from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.23 Jesus was saying that if someone was demanding your outer garment, you should give him your undershirt as well. The scenario is one of a robbery, and like offering the other cheek in the first part of the verse, here Jesus is saying not to retaliate by seeking revenge, but rather to love one’s enemy by being willing to suffer the loss rather than retaliating.

Jesus then follows with Give to everyone who begs from you.24 Other Bible translations render this as Give to everyone who asks of you, which seems to be a better translation. Giving to the poor, known as almsgiving or the giving of alms, was a reflection of one’s piety. Jesus was referring to the poor and needy who didn’t have enough even to meet their basic needs. He pointed out that part of love was the readiness to help those in need without prejudice, as He states that all who ask should be helped. This of course touches on sacrifice and self-denial, as it refers to parting with possessions. Jesus is guiding His followers to express generosity toward others as part of love.

The fourth illustration of love is, from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.25 Here Jesus speaks to His disciples about not seeking retribution for wrongs which are done to them. Even if something is taken from them, they are not to insist on its return. We see this thinking reflected in the writing of Paul:

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?26 

Jesus speaks of generous self-denial.

Jesus’ teachings here are quite radical, as they are expressed in terms intended to shock those listening. He intentionally stated these commands in hyperbolic language, which exaggerates to make a point and isn’t necessarily meant to be taken literally.

Jesus’ reference to “enemies” may not have been directed only to who were opposed to His disciples. As one author wrote:

The category of “enemies” may include others … and not only those who deliberately oppose Jesus’ followers. Because the beggar is habitually defined as outside the circles of companionship of all but other beggars, they would not be classed as “friends” but as “enemies,” outsiders. Love is due them as well, as though they were comrades and kin, and in their case love is expressed in giving.27

Jesus was calling His followers to surpass the standard thinking, ethics, and actions of the Jewish people of His day and how they put limits on who were their neighbors, thus limiting who they needed to love. He calls His disciples across the ages to love in ways that are out of the ordinary; in ways that are difficult, yet greater. The love He proclaims is the kind of love that we, who have been forgiven for our sins, are meant to live. A love that is kind, generous, merciful, sacrificial, and forgiving.

(Continued in Part Two.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.

Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

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Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

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Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.

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Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

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McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

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Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

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Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2 Deuteronomy 6:5.

3 Leviticus 19:18.

4 Leviticus 19:18.

5 Bock, Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50, 588.

6 Matthew 5:43–45.

7 Luke 6:27–28.

8 Exodus 23:4–5.

9 Proverbs 24:17–18.

10 Proverbs 25:21–22.

11 Luke 23:34.

12 Acts 7:60.

13 1 Thessalonians 5:15.

14 1 Peter 3:9.

15 Luke 6:27.

16 Luke 6:28.

17 2 Timothy 2:24–25.

18 Ephesians 4:15.

19 Proverbs 15:1.

20 1 Corinthians 4:12–13.

21 Luke 6:28.

22 Luke 6:29.

23 Luke 6:29.

24 Luke 6:30.

25 Luke 6:30.

26 1 Corinthians 6:7.

27 Green, The Gospel of Luke, 272.