Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 19
QUESTIONS ABOUT DIVORCE; JESUS RECEIVING LITTLE CHILDREN; THE RICH YOUNG RULER; JESUS' TEACHING CONCERNING RICHES
Verses 1, 2
And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words, he departed from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judaea beyond the Jordan; and great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.
This verse marks the end of the Galilean ministry and the beginning of the Peraean ministry, according to Robertson, who placed the time interval between these two chapters at about six months, F1 placing these events in the later Peraean ministry. Immense crowds continued to follow Christ, and countless healings took place.
And there came unto him Pharisees, trying him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
The Pharisees were not asking for information but in the hope of opening up a conflict between the teachings of Moses and those of Christ. This is actually an unconscious admission on their part of the weakness in Moses' permission of divorce because, if Christ had agreed with Moses, they would have had no case. The proof of weakness in Moses' position is that they instinctively knew Christ would not agree with it! Why? They knew in their hearts that Moses was wrong (or at least partially so); and, intuitively, those evil men recognized in Christ a higher purity and knowledge than existed in Moses and decided to take advantage of it if they could.
And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female.
As always, Christ referred the issue to higher ground, not to what Moses said, but to what God had said. Bypassing Moses altogether, he rested his case upon the word of God, appealing to Gen. 1:27 and Gen. 5:2.
Verses 5, 6
And said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Jesus' answer was plain, even blunt. God does not allow divorce. There's really no problem at all about knowing God's will. To be sure, problems and difficulties occur, but from what sinful men do, not from any ambiguity regarding what God commanded! "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Divorce is man's will, not God's will. How shocking this truth must have been to the Pharisees who not only allowed, but also practiced, divorce on a colossal scale. How shocking it is for many today! People have no trouble knowing the truth on this question, but they do have quite a problem trying to make what they do bear the light of this truth! See under Matt. 19:9.
They say unto him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away?
Convicted as they were by Jesus' words, nevertheless they strove to place Christ in conflict with Moses. They should have known from the Sermon on the Mount that Christ claimed greater authority than Moses, but what they were seeking in this instance was a cause celebre to aid their campaign against Jesus' popularity with the people.
He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so.
There was, in the case before them, no conflict with Moses. Christ set the record straight, correcting their false statement that Moses had "commanded" divorce. On the contrary, he only permitted it, or "suffered it," as an unwelcome choice between two evils. This is still the only possible justification of divorce, there being cases in which it must appear as the lesser of two evils but still wrong, permitted and yet not in harmony with the Father's perfect will.
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.
Christ's exception does no violence to God's word. Divorce is still an evil; but, in the case of adultery of one of the partners, it is a lesser evil than living with an unfaithful spouse. Permitted in such a case? Yes, but the dissolution of marriage is contrary to God's law. Paul's exception in 1 Cor. 7:15 is not an addition to the one given by Christ in this place but should be viewed as presumptive evidence of the condition named in Jesus' exception. Desertion by one of the marriage partners affords the strongest presumption of adultery also.
The law of God is easy to understand. Problems arise only from the complications that set in when people sin, giving rise to all kinds of fantastic situations. For those who find themselves entangled in such frustrations and contradictions rising out of violations of God's basic law, it is not recommended that they "solve" their problems in the dim light of human legislation, but rather by casting themselves upon the mercy of God. Vast numbers of situations exist today for which no proper or truly adequate solution is possible. Human laws, the opinions of ecclesiastics, the canon law of churches, the judgments of preachers, bishops, or popes, are all valueless in this area where only God has the right to legislate.
The disciples say unto him, If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.
The Pharisees were not the only ones shaken up by the Lord's teaching. The disciples too were surprised and even intimidated at the sanctity and inviolate nature of the marriage tie as expounded by Christ.
Verses 11, 12
But he said unto them, Not all men can receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
Eunuchs in ancient times were considered unworthy of being received in the work of God, but Christ opened the kingdom to eunuchs also, and allowed in this place, but did not command, celibacy. This was in answer to the disciples' suggestion that it was not expedient to marry. Christ sanctified and blessed the marriage covenant by being present and performing his first wonder at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. This passage shows that eunuchs were also to be admitted to the kingdom of heaven. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is significant in this context.
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should lay his hands on them and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
We agree with J. W. McGarvey that "The fortuitous coincidence of these two conversations is a happy one." As he said,
The little children, the offspring of
happy wedlock, and a source of
constant happiness to faithful
husbands and wives, were brought into
notice at the close of a conversation
about divorce and about the supposed
inconvenience of an indissoluble
marriage bond. The pleasant incident
served as a comment on the discussion,
and left a better impression in
reference to married life. F2
Christ's love of little children was spontaneously abundant and overflowing. Mark notes that he took them in his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:16). The conduct of the disciples in this instance of rebuking the people who wanted to bring their children to Christ may be explained by their desire to shield the Master from what they considered to be a waste of his time or unnecessary tax on his strength. Jesus had already made little children the models of faith, trust, humility, teachableness, and freedom from malice; and in this case he declared that to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.
Verses 14, 15
But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
Does this verse teach infant baptism and membership in God's church? Certainly, this is the allegation of those who hold those views; but it is significant here that Christ did not say that little children were "in the kingdom," but that "to such belongs the kingdom"! There is a world of difference. The emphasis is upon child-like behavior and character. However, due to the widespread error in this area, we shall note more particularly the entire subject of infant church membership.
There are no recorded cases of infant baptism in the New Testament. The "household" baptisms are nowhere said to have contained any infants among the number baptized; and any argument from "household" baptisms must be classified as an argument from the silence of the Scriptures.
Furthermore, the basic outline of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31 which is emphatically identified with the current dispensation in Hebrews 10:16, makes infant membership in the kingdom impossible. Jeremiah taught that no untaught person shall be in God's kingdom. It will not be necessary (in the days of the new covenant) for people to say "know the Lord," for ALL know him already. Why? Because they must know him BEFORE they can enter that new relationship. Infants cannot and do not know the Lord in the manner required of all who truly accept Christ.
The baptism of infants is neither commanded nor allowed in the New Testament, a truth which was remarkably emphasized by events in the Anglican church in 1964, and published in the New York Times (Dec. 16, 1964, p. 16) where it was reported that many distinguished vicars of that faith would no longer baptize infants, affirming that to do so was contrary to Scripture. The report quoted the clergymen as saying, "We are denying adults the right of baptism" by baptizing infants. Of course, they were correct in that allegation. To baptize infants does "deny" baptism to adults. Peter commanded people to repent and "have yourselves baptized" (see Vine's Greek Dictionary), and people cannot do this if the church recognizes a ceremony practiced upon them in infancy, contrary to their will, or at least without their consent, and makes that imposition the true baptism. Such is only another instance in which people have made the word of God of none effect by their tradition (see on 15:9ff).
If an infant is "saved" by baptism (so-called) in infancy, such a person is saved without repentance, without confession, without knowledge of the Lord, without consciousness of sin, and without any intention of living right. There cannot be anything "from within" in infant baptism. This is contrary to the Lord's statement that a man "must be born again" before he can see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3-5). The baptism and acceptance of infants into the church constitutes the open gate through which all manner of evil and unrepentant people are associated with the church as members. It is precisely this that has destroyed, in large degree, the very character of the church.
Verses 16, 17
And behold one came to him and said, Teacher what good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good: but if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments.
THE RICH YOUNG RULER
The model character of this rich young man, his high social position, the love which he inspired in the Master, and the supremely important question upon his lips, all arouse special interest in this incident. Mark's account of Jesus' words sheds light upon their true meaning. He asked, "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, even God" (Mark 10:18). This, to be sure, is one of the passages seized upon by Arians in an effort to show that Christ did not claim to be God in the flesh. Their argument, however, is false. "The Good was one of the many Judaic titles of God. The point of our Lord's remark is that a word with such hallowed association should not be used in a merely conventional manner." F3 (See Psalms 145:9). In fact, it is easy to detect in this conversation a definite leading on the part of Christ to elicit an acknowledgement from that young man that Christ is God. It is as though the Lord had said, "I see you recognize me as Good; since only God is Good, do you thus receive me?" This thought appears plausible in the light of what immediately ensued when Jesus would have enlisted him as a disciple, perhaps even as an apostle.
Christ's declaration, "If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments," shows that salvation is conditional upon respect and obedience of God's word.
Verses 18, 19
He saith unto him, Which? And Jesus said, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honor thy father and mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The omission of certain commands of the decalogue in this summary by Christ may be significant. Certainly the words, Thou shalt not covet, touched an area where the young man might not have been so sure of himself. Thus, it appears that Christ may have mentioned his strong points with a view to encouraging him to make the full sacrifice the Lord was about to propose.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I observed, what lack I yet?
No wonder Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21). He was a model of moral excellence and integrity. If human righteousness could have saved anyone, this young man was already saved. Like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-6), he manifested virtue in a dissolute age, faith in an age of infidelity, and deep spirituality in an age of materialism. Most important of all, he recognized the void in his soul, that he was yet unsaved, saying, "What lack I yet?" Many in all ages, having the possessions of this young man, would have felt that they needed nothing. It is, therefore, a credit to his perception that he recognized the deep and vital lack within his heart and brought the problem to the Master.
Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
For all his youth and beauty, a cancer was eating away at his heart; and Christ made a move to eradicate it. "Sell all that thou hast!" How shocking is that command! What did it mean? What it meant for him we know; but what does it mean for us? Are Christians now commanded to sell all that they have and give it to the poor? For many, these are hard questions. Nevertheless, in the New Testament it is abundantly clear that selling all one's possessions was never made a universal condition of discipleship. Mary's house in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Philip's great house in Caesarea Palestina (Acts 21:8), and the statement of the apostle Peter that Ananias and Sapphira were not under compulsion either to sell their property or give the money when they did (Acts 5:4) make it very clear that ownership of property was not proscribed in the early church. Furthermore, the Lord's teaching in the parable of the pounds, the parable of the talents, and many other passages suggest and even demand that ownership of property was not condemned by Jesus nor forbidden to members of his kingdom. Why, then, did Jesus thus command the subject of this interview? Two possible reasons appear: (1) Covetousness had reached such a degree in the young man's heart that only by divesting himself of his wealth could he truly turn to Christ. (2) Christ, in all probability, was calling him to a place in the apostleship, an office that did require forsaking all that one had, just as Peter and the others among the Twelve had forsaken all that they had to follow Jesus. The fact that Jesus said, "Come, follow me!" shows that at least he was invited to accompany the Twelve, who themselves had forsaken all, and where his presence would have been an embarrassment to all concerned if he had been exempted from the requirement they had fulfilled.
But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions.
This is an unhappy ending of a very interesting and exciting story, especially if it is supposed that the young man continued in his rejection of the Christ. The sorrowful countenance indicated the struggle going on in his heart; his going away from the Lord shows what his final decision was. Projecting the life of this young man, as it probably developed, into the historical period following his interview with Jesus, reveals some intriguing possibilities. If he continued in covetous rejection of Jesus, and if he lived to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the soldiers of Titus and Vespasian, there is every possibility that his wealth and all his posterity perished in that awful siege, described in such horrible detail by Josephus (see on Matt. 24:21). Whether such was true or not, it would have been far better for that young man to have sold all, given it to the poor, and followed Jesus. Christ knew literally what was best for him. It will be recalled that no Christian lost his life in the siege. It is also true that Christ knows what is best for every man, for you and for me, and that one stands against his own temporal and eternal interests when he departs from following Jesus.
And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily, I say unto you, it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Why, then, do we all strive to be rich? Is it that we desire to impede our soul's entry into the kingdom of God? Do people really wish to do it the hard way? Then let them get rich. That will provide an acid test that most people cannot pass. No wonder an apostle warned against ambition in that quarter (1 Timothy 6:9,10), and that Jesus taught people to seek his kingdom "first"! (Matthew 6:33). The rich are not hopeless. Christ did not say they cannot be saved, only that it is "hard" for them to enter.
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
All attempts to make such a thing possible must appear ridiculous in the light of Christ's statement, a moment later, that such is "impossible" for human beings. Only the power of God can bring a man of wealth to quit trusting in his riches and to place his hope in God through Christ, or to possess his possessions instead of being possessed by them. People of affluence should always remember that only the power of the Eternal can empower them to force their wealth to subserve the purposes of God and His kingdom.
And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, Who then can be saved?
McGarvey very properly pointed out that the amazement of the disciples was intensified, not so much by the statement about a rich man's chances of being saved, as by the evident application of this principle to such an honorable and altogether lovable rich man as the one who had just appeared before the Lord. It is amazing even yet, that all personal excellence cannot avail anything unless there is a total surrender to the will of Jesus. The truth is clear. Christ will be ALL or NOTHING in the lives of people.
And Jesus looking upon them said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
The difficulty, not the impossibility, of salvation for the rich is what Jesus taught. Added to the teaching on the marriage bond which came a little earlier, these strict words of Christ must have appeared as "hard sayings," even to the Twelve.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?
Barker suggested that Peter was here suggesting preferential treatment for himself and others of the Twelve who had "left all" to follow Christ; and, in view of the parable with which Jesus followed this question, the view seems tenable. He said, "Peter self-righteously reminded Jesus of the sacrifices the disciples had made, then hinted for preferential treatment, asking, `What then shall we have?'"<4> Whatever element of self-righteousness may have been in Peter's question, it was a valid one; and Jesus answered it in the most emphatic manner possible.
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
This was not a reference to literal thrones but to spiritual thrones of eminence and authority in Christ's kingdom, from which they should exercise influence, not over fleshly Israel but over the spiritual Israel which is the church (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 3:29). Note that no preference was given Peter. There was not to be one throne, occupied by Peter and his successors, but twelve thrones, implying the equality of the Twelve. The word of the apostles, that is, the New Testament, is the instrument through which they exercise the authority that Jesus granted them in this promise. "Times of the regeneration" refers to the times of the new birth, namely, the time of the present dispensation when men are hearing the gospel, obeying it, and being born again. Efforts to apply this passage to some kind of literal return of Jesus to the earth and which envisions Christ and the apostles actually occupying literal earthly thrones must surely be rejected in the light of the truth that Christ and the Twelve are NOW reigning in his kingdom. The reign will continue until all enemies have been put under foot (1 Cor. 15:24-28). When death, the last enemy, is destroyed, Christ will not initiate a reign but will end it, delivering up the kingdom to the Father.
And every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.
What a promise of blessing for God's children is this! Two things, yea three, are promised here: (1) First, there is the multiplication, on a vast scale, of the wealth that people may forsake to follow Christ. (2) Second, there is the multiplication, on the same vast scale, of loved ones, however near and dear, who may be forsaken for his name's sake. (3) Third, there is the promise of eternal life. But, looking beyond this magnificent triple promise, WHO is he that made it, and how shall he fulfill it? The answer is GOD, and God is able to do all things. Here then is another passage that must be placed in the category of teaching that Christ is God. Words like these must be counted sheer nonsense if spoken by a mere man; but, when spoken by Christ, they warm the hearts of men in all generations. Spoken by any other, such words would only evoke scorn and laughter; but, spoken by Christ, they strengthen the faithful in all ages. And the testimony is this: NO MAN EVER TRIED THE PROMISE BUT FOUND IT TRUE!
But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.
The application of these words to Peter's question is thus: God does not allow any system of seniority to determine ultimate rewards in his kingdom. The seeming implication of Peter's words to the effect that some preferential treatment might be in order for the earliest disciples who had given up so much to follow Christ finds its emphatic answer in this, that it is not how long, but how faithfully, men have served that determines destiny. Again, to quote Barker:
How often do we think that because we are "old timers" in a congregation we have proprietary rights over the program and property! Everyone has met the superchurchman who lets it be known that "I've been coming to this church for ___ years," meaning that he has been promoted to Senior Vice President to God, Inc.!F5
Judas, of course, was one of the first; and, as regards the lives of the apostles, Paul was one of the last. Every generation finds its own fulfillment of the Saviour's words. Shortly afterwards, in fact immediately, Jesus gave a parable illustrating this principle even more clearly.
Footnotes for Matthew 19
1: A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Four Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), p. 141, footnote.
2: J. W. McGarvey, The New Testament Commentary (Delight, Arkansas: The Gospel Light Publishing Company, reprint of 1875), p. 167.
3: F. F. Bruce and William J. Martin, a tract published in England, from a portion reprinted in Christianity Today (Dec. 16, 1964), p. 17.
4: William P. Barker, As Matthew Saw the Master (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1964), p. 96.
5: Ibid., p. 96.
6: James Macknight, A Harmony of the Four Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), Vol. II, p. 177.
7: J. W. McGarvey, New Testament Commentary (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1875), Vol. I, p. 159.
8: William P. Barker, op. cit., p. 89.
9: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersay: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 155.
10: Ibid., p. 164.
11: Ibid., p. 165.
12: R. A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907), p. 109.
13: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 135.
14: Revised Standard Version.
15: Emphatic Diaglott.
16: Goodspeed, New Testament in Modern Speech.
17: Williams, The New Testament.
18: Moffatt, The New Testament.
19: Paul Blanchard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press), pp. 138-139.
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: Ibid., p. 16.
22: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, Volume 5 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 20.
23: Robert Milligan, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: World Vision Publishing Company), pp. 73-74.