38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
it was said (v.38) — Exodus 21:24 — This instruction was included in the law to prevent excessive vengeance and end feuds. The Pharisees evidently used it to exact strict payments for all wrongs.
tunic (v.40) — undergarment
cloak (v.40) — more expensive outer garment worn over the tunic
one mile (v.41) — In order to transport goods from one place to another, a Roman soldier had the right to requisition a person to carry his things. But to protect the conquered citizens from injustice, the Roman law said that a soldier could compel one to carry his burden for only one mile. But Christ said if one is conscripted to carry a burden, righteousness will compel him to carry it two miles. The believer was not to stand on legal rights and stop when the law had been satisfied. — Pentecost, page 181.
The commentaries hedge here by saying that these are attitudes we are supposed to have today to be effective witnesses, but that they are to be taken figuratively. Walvoord does say:
In the millennial kingdom, such high standards could be literally enforced. It is not clear whether Jesus expected immediate compliance. Jesus Himself was unresisting as He went to the cross. Paul, however, claimed his rights as a Roman citizen when falsely accused. The principle should probably be construed as being illustrated here but not applicable to every conceivable situation. What might work with the King present in the millennial kingdom might now work in the mystery form of the kingdom with the King absent. — Walvoord, pages 50-51.
I’m glad he sees the connection between this message and the millennial kingdom. And I’m glad he doesn’t try to apply it to the church age (the mystery), since there was no hint of the mystery in any of the Lord’s preaching — as revealed by Paul who repeated affirmed that it had been completely hidden before it was given to him.
Yes, Jesus was speaking of the millennial kingdom which He taught was at hand. And yes, the high standards He’s demanding in this passage will be kept in the kingdom because Israel then will have the law written on their hearts.
But there’s no reason to separate this section from the verses that come immediately before. Once again, Jesus was taking the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law as outward observance and ramping things up to show that God’s standard was righteousness of the heart. A truly righteous man would behave by these principles, BUT THERE IS NO TRULY RIGHTEOUS MAN and, therefore, nobody could possibly live up to God’s standards. Jesus was proving that all men are sinners.
Much later, this was all revealed to Paul who wrote: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
And while this truth hadn’t yet been revealed when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, an honest listener in the crowd that day would be driven toward the same conclusion — “Wow, I can never live up to that standard. I better listen to this man and see if there’s any way out of my predicament.” And there was — to place faith in Him as the prophesied Messiah and trust Him to save while observing the law as much as humanly possible.