hen Jesus considered how people regarded the commandments of God, He said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” Did what He had to say about God have that distinctive mark of being a departure from previously held ideas?
Predominantly Jews thought of God as holy—totally different and separated from humans. His purity is so intense and severe that it will not tolerate any contamination. Approaching the holy Presence was punishable by death (Ex. 19:11-13). Though Moses is described as the man who conferred with God face to face (33:11), when Moses asked to see God’s glory he was told that he would not be able to survive seeing God in all His glory, and so God would show him only His retreating glory (vv.18-23). From generation to generation Jews thought of God as the Most High God who was so fearfully unapproachable that they dared not even take His Name even though God had given it to Moses and was written in their Scripture.
Into this Jewish world, Jesus entered. His life spoke for God. “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father… No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” (John 1:14, 18, NET). In Moses’ day anyone straying onto the mount of God’s presence was punished with death, but in Christ ordinary folks got to gaze on His holiness and jostle God and they lived to tell of it, and His enemies even got to “manhandle” Him without being struck dead immediately (1 John 1: 1-4).
In Moses’ day anyone straying onto the mount of God’s presence was punished with death, but in Christ ordinary folks got to gaze on His holiness and jostle God and they lived to tell of it.
While the essential thrust of Christ’s teaching was about growing aware of the Kingdom of God being “next door” (“at hand”, KJV) to where we are in life and about the need to bring ourselves into alignment with the rule of God while we still have the choice, He did what He could to dispel the ignorance and/or the misconceptions about God.
One definitive statement about God that Jesus made is that “God is spirit” (John 4:24). In line with this, Jesus taught that what God was interested in is the state of the heart-life of people. He emphasised that scrupulously keeping the letter of the law was not the kind of morality that God wanted. People shouldn’t break the laws of God in their hearts. Not enough that a person desists from murder, but he mustn’t even harbour hatred in his heart. It wasn’t enough that a person didn’t commit adultery, he shouldn’t even have lust in his heart (Matt. 5: 21-32).
Jesus also ridiculed the Jews for their practice of showing off how religious they were by conducting their devotional life in public view. He said that whenever anyone did that, the only thing the person really wanted was human approval and he would surely get it. But if a man wanted God’s approval then he had to do all his praying, fasting and charity only for God’s exclusive viewing pleasure (6: 1-18).