There is valuable instruction in Matthew, chapter five, from the “hard sayings” of Jesus. Matthew 5:33-37 considers the matter of oaths. Most professing Christians have never given it a thought, or if so, they have considered it too impractical to employ in the modern world. Some regard this instruction as “too hard.” So, what did Jesus say that “goes against the grain”? He said: “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne” (vv. 33-34). Why did Jesus say this?
Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:12, which states: “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” Anyone familiar with Greek literature knows pagans swore oaths on a regular basis. The heroes of the mythical period routinely bound themselves by oaths in the names of their pagan gods. God admonished the Israelites not to use His name in any frivolous manner. He instructed them that if they were going to swear by His name, they had better speak the truth, and that they should not use His name lightly. God’s name was never to be used falsely. This instruction is directly linked to the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). Old Testament instruction forbade using one’s own name in an oath. Jesus carried this one step farther: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt. 5: 34-37).
The emphasis here is that a Christian’s word must be reliable. He need not invoke the name of God to assure that he speaks the truth, nor should he invoke his own name to convince others that he is truthful. He need simply affirm or deny, and that should be enough. The fact is: A man is only as good as his word. If one has to swear to be truthful, then one cannot be trusted when one is not swearing. One’s word should be good at all times, so it should never be necessary to invoke and use God’s name in an oath. Even the courts recognize this biblical injunction and allow witnesses to affirm rather than to swear.
The reason Jesus said not to swear by “heaven,” or by “God’s throne,” or by “the earth,” is because many Jews refused to pronounce God’s name. Instead, they used the substitutes mentioned in the previous sentence. Jesus said not to do even this (Matt. 5:34-35). Also, people today fail to heed this instruction by saying, “Oh, my heavens,” or “holy Jerusalem,” or “Oh, my goodness.” Consider, for example, that when testifying in a court of law, witnesses are asked to place their right hand on the Bible and swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The opposing attorneys then do everything in their power to “impeach the witness,” that is, to discredit his or her testimony, and to make the witness appear to be a liar. So, the whole practice of swearing in a court of law is meaningless.
Our next “hard saying” is found in Matthew 7:6. Before addressing it, we need to first look at Matthew 7:1. In the Bible the word “judge” has more than one meaning. “Judge” can mean to condemn, or it can mean to discriminate, that is: (1) One can sit in judgment and pass sentence upon another, either literally or mentally; or (2) One can evaluate and be selective in his choices of life. In Matthew 7:1, “judge” means to condemn others. Jesus said not to do this. He said those who are in the habit of condemning others are hypocrites. Why? Because we have all sinned and are deserving of condemnation. Then He made the seemingly strange statement in Matthew 7:6. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” What did Jesus mean by this?
During the Old Testament period, some of the sacrifices were shared between the people and the priest. The flesh was considered holy. It could not be given to dogs. When Jesus spoke with the Syro-Phoenician woman, He said it was inappropriate to share with the Gentiles that which God intended for the children of Israel (Mark 7:26-28). So, in Matthew 7:6, Jesus is referring to people, not to dogs. Here is where the meaning of the word “judge” means to discriminate. What Jesus is saying is that, as dogs cannot possibly appreciate the holy things of God, neither can the profane appreciate the spiritual things of God. Therefore, one must evaluate and be discriminating with whom one shares the truths and graces of God. Jesus likens this to casting pearls before swine. Could a swine possibly appreciate a valuable string of pearls? Of course not! The swine is likely to rend the one who gives the pearls. So Jesus said not to share the spiritual things of God with those who cannot possibly appreciate them.
This “hard saying” flies in the face of those who believe people will readily accept the true gospel. Many do not know the value of the true gospel and fail to appreciate its worth. It makes others downright angry. The gospel should indeed be preached, but the fact is: Those who accept it are those called of God. It is a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). The Bible tells us: “. . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39). Many who hear the gospel hate what they hear, and persecute those who preach it.
Now take a look at Matthew 10:5-6. This is a “hard saying” that is difficult to understand. It reads: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This text can be understood only in the light of history and prophecy. It is generally believed the “house of Israel” refers to the Jews, and that Jesus was instructing His disciples to preach to them. Knowledgeable students of the Bible know better. They know that during the reign of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the 12 tribes of Israel divided into two nations. A tax revolt was the ostensible reason, but the real reason was because of Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 12:13-15). Three tribes-Judah, Benjamin, and Levi-remained faithful to the house of David under Rehoboam and were called the kingdom of Judah, while ten of the tribes formed a kingdom in the north, under Jeroboam, and were called the kingdom of Israel. These two nations were often at war with one another. The idea that the Jewish people represent the 12 tribes of Israel is a fallacy. They represent only three of the tribes. The fact is: All Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. Certainly the Jews were included in Jesus’ instruction above, but it was not intended for them only.
Notice again Jesus’ instruction. He told the Apostles: “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). Because of national sins, the kingdom of Israel was taken into national captivity and deported from their land by a series of Assyrian invasions. This took place from 721-718 BC. About 130 years later the Babylonians took the kingdom of Judah captive and deported the people to Babylon. A segment of these Jews returned to Palestine during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, but vast numbers never returned. Most historians are at a loss to explain the location of the deported tribes of the house of Israel, and often refer to them as the “lost ten tribes of Israel.”
The Apostle James wrote to the 12 tribes that were scattered abroad (Jas. 1:1). These people were not in the environs of Palestine. Historians are also at a loss to explain why most of the Apostles are not mentioned after the first few chapters of the book of Acts. There is sufficient evidence to show they had traveled to most of the known world of that day-to locations where the ten tribes were living. The Jewish historian, Josephus, said that in his day (around AD 175) there were only three tribes in subjection to the Romans, and that the ten tribes-a vast number that could not be counted- were located beyond the Euphrates River. This is exactly where the Assyrians had deported them 800 years earlier. Later, during the historical period known as “the wandering of nations,” these tribes migrated into Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. Today they comprise the descendants of the house of Israel. Many Jews are mixed in with them.
When Jesus said go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” this is exactly what the Apostles did. But there is yet another consideration found in Matthew 10:23. Jesus said: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” (Matt. 10:23). Is this a prophecy? Yes, indeed! The Greek text reads: “. . . until comes the Son of man.” This is clearly a reference to Christ’s second coming! In brief, Christ said that the true gospel would not be preached to all Israel completely (both houses of Israel) before His second coming. What does this tell us? It tells us that the lost ten tribes of Israel are very much in existence today. They will be extant on the earth when Christ returns! This “hard saying” in Matthew 10:5-6, is easily understood in the light of history and prophecy.
Another “hard saying” of Jesus is found in Matthew 12:31-32: “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy [Spirit] shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy [Spirit], it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” This is a very hard saying, and it is imperative to understand what it means.
The verses leading up to this text tell us the Pharisees had just accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In brief, they attributed the power of God, manifested by the Holy Spirit, to be the power of Satan. This was a serious and dangerous accusation. Jesus said it placed the accuser in danger of eternal damnation.
These Pharisees may not have realized it, but they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Why? Jesus said the Father dwelling in Him did the works (John 14:10). The Father did so by means of the Holy Spirit. Jesus carried out the works of God by that very means. So, in effect, the Pharisees were blaspheming God-speaking impiously or evil of, slandering, abusing the Father. They denied that they were actually witnessing the work of God. In brief, they denied the work of God! They either did this knowingly or were close to it. Now, what must be understood is this: One is resurrected to eternal life only if he or she has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11). God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32); He does not give it to those who reject and blaspheme Him. This is why these Pharisees were in mortal danger. Jesus said the blasphemy against the man who did the works of God could be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees had attributed the work of God to the Devil.
What Jesus was saying is that one should be very careful in making accusations against what He sees being done in the name of God. A false accusation, done knowingly, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This “hard saying” of Jesus should be carefully cons