43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
love your neighbor (v.43) — Leviticus 19:18-34
Hate your enemy (v.43) — not in Scripture as such (although it had become part of the thinking of the day (and is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls), but maybe based on Deuteronomy 23:6
tax collectors (v.46) — Jews, employed by Rome, who collected taxes and exploited their countrymen for their own gain. They were hated and despised by all.
As I expected by this point, the failure to view this passage in context led to incorrect conclusions. Jesus was still demonstrating how God’s standards are so much stricter than the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law. “The law says … But I say …” He sums up this section in verse 48 by stating that if they love as God loves, then (therefore) they will be perfect as God is perfect.
Exactly. If they live by God’s standard of perfection, they will be perfect and righteous as God is perfect and righteous and will not be in need of salvation. But they don’t, and they can’t, and that’s the point.
Here are some of the commentaries views:
Since the New Testament makes it clear that even the believer is capable of sin, the term “perfect” here is not to be taken as absolute sinless perfection. Rather, it is used in relation to the matter of love in this context. “As God’s love is complete, not omitting any group, so must the child of God strive for maturity in this regard.” — King James Bible Commentary, page 1182
But that’s not what it says. That’s just redefining “perfect” to fit what he thinks it should day.
Perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character with the thought of maturity in godliness or attaining the goal of conformity to the character of God. While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable. — Walvoord, page 51.
“Attaining the goal of conformity to the character of God …” As believers, we are given the righteousness of Christ, which is perfect. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). But that wasn’t a truth that was ever revealed to this audience — or to anybody until after the resurrection.
The perfection of God is the standard for entrance into Messiah’s kingdom. Pharisaic precepts, concerned as they were with the externals of the law, could not make the individual perfect and acceptable to God. Only Jesus Christ can purify the mind and heart so that the life is transformed, making the individual acceptable to God. — Pentecost, page 181.
“Making the individual acceptable to God.” I’m thankful I never have to stand before God on the basis of my own righteousness or purity, hoping I’ve achieved a level that is acceptable. BUT, even if I’m being picky about words and Pentecost is saying we are acceptable in Christ, this wasn’t a truth revealed to this audience. Nobody who heard the Sermon on the Mount could have possibly come to this conclusion.