The True Meaning of Turn the Other Cheek

What is Jesus’ turn the other cheek meaning?

First, let’s look at how Jesus teaches in a specific pattern throughout the Sermon on the Mount.

  1. He starts with: “You’ve been taught {the old way of doing things}…”
  2. Then he explains: “But I say {the new way of doing things}…”
  3. And he finishes: “Here’s how {this topic} impacts your life…”

In today’s devotional verses, Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:38–39 ESV

He quotes Old Testament law from passages like Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21.

This law was not meant to be brutal. Instead, it was meant to limit retaliation to a proportional affect.

So if you were hurt, you couldn’t justly hurt the offender in a tenfold way—like killing them for it.

…but, Jesus is taking this “right” away. Saying that disciples have no right to retribution.

Commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “…for it is the second blow that makes the quarrel.”

Violence builds upon itself. Evil for evil is self-perpetuating.

In today’s passage, Jesus isn’t telling us to be doormats or passive objects of abuse. Instead, we’re called to a new standard: giving up personal vengeance.

The True Turn The Other Cheek Meaning

So what did Jesus really mean?

First, notice how curiously specific Jesus’ phrase is: “…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek…” (Emphasis mine.)

Here’s how it worked. Most people (70 – 95%) are right handed.

To be slapped on the right cheek meant someone would be hitting you with the backside of their right hand—or with their left hand, which was associated with weakness and even impurity.

Even more, in their culture any slap was considered an insult. It was a degrading action and a sign of great disrespect. And it was doubly so if someone backhanded you.

Surprisingly, pastor Keith Krell explains in this article that if a man hit you “with the back of his hand instead of punching you in the mouth, you could collect twice the damages because an insult was worse than an injury in Jesus’ honor-shame society.”

Jesus’ teaching was a sign of both brilliance and humility before God.

Turn The Other Cheek Meaning

Brilliance because he offered people a real solution for being abused.

And humble because he still called his disciples—which includes us today—to the higher standard of leaving vengeance off the table.

  • Do you seek revenge anywhere in your life?
  • Are you hanging onto a proverbial list of people who have wronged you, so you can get back at them?
  • Have you surrendered your right to retaliate to God? 
  • Where do you need to submit your thirst for vengeance to God?
  • Are you being abused? How can you remove yourself from the situation in a non-violent way? Pray for wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance here.
  • Finally, what is Jesus’ true turn the other cheek meaning to you?

Devotion by Jordan Loftis. Jordan is the editor of Short Daily Devotions and the author of The Men With Bare Feet: Discovering Intimacy With God Through Moses, Joshua, and Jesus.

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