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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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Matthew 19 - Jesus Teaches on Marriage, Divorce, Riches and Discipleship

A. Jesus teaches on marriage, divorce, and celibacy.

1. (1-2) Jesus is now on the way to Jerusalem, the visit to Jerusalem which will ultimately end in His death and resurrection.

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

2. (3) The Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus.

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"

a. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife: Divorce was a controversial topic in Jesus' day, with two main schools of thought, centered around two of its most famous proponents. The first was the school of Rabbi Hillel (a lax and popular view) and second was the school of Rabbi Shammai (a strict and unpopular view).

b. For just any reason: These words were the center of the debate. Each school of thought understood that the Mosaic law gave permission for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1: When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house. Each side knew and believed Deuteronomy 24:1; the question was, "What constitutes uncleanness?"

i. The school of Rabbi Hillel understood that uncleanness meant sexual immorality, and said that was the only valid reason for divorce. The school of Rabbi Shammai understood uncleanness to mean any sort of indiscretion, even to the point where burning the breakfast was considered valid grounds for divorce.

c. Testing Him: So in their question, the Pharisees are try to get Jesus to side with one teaching or the other. If He sides with the lax school of Rabbi Hillel, it is clear that Jesus does not take the Law of Moses seriously. If He sides with the strict school of Rabbi Shammai, then Jesus looses face before the multitude, who generally liked access to an easy divorce. They believe they have caught Jesus on the horns of a dilemma.

3. (4-6) Jesus' first answer to the Pharisees: get back to marriage.

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

a. Have you not read: The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce, but Jesus will talk about marriage, indeed the first marriage - between Adam and Eve. This emphasis on marriage, rather than divorce, is a wise approach for anyone interested in keeping a marriage together.

i. Divorce cannot be seen as an option when things are hard. Marriage is like a mirror; it reflects what we put into it. If one has divorce readily in their mind as a convenient option, divorce will be much more likely.

b. He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female": In quoting Genesis 1:27, Jesus indicates first that God has made men and women different, and that God is the one who joins men and women together in marriage. In this, Jesus asserts God's "ownership" over marriage; it is God's institution, not man's, so His rules apply.

c. What God has joined together: Next, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that marriage is spiritually binding before God. Marriage is not merely a social contract, and as God has joined, He expects man to honor that joining and to keep the marriage together.

d. By bringing the issue back to the foundation of marriage, Jesus makes it plain that couples must forsake their singleness (a man shall leave his father and mother), and come together in a one flesh relationship that is both a fact (they are . . . one flesh) and a goal (shall become one flesh).

4. (7-9) The Mosaic controversy: Jesus' second answer.

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."

a. Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away: The Pharisees wrongly thought that God commanded divorce where there was uncleanness. A Rabbinic saying of that day went: "If a man has a bad wife, it is a religious duty to divorce her." But Jesus noted the difference between "command" and "permitted" - God never commands divorce, but He does permit it.

b. Because of the hardness of your hearts: Divorce is never commanded, but permitted by God in certain circumstances, and God permits it because of the hardness of human hearts.

i. Sometimes the heart of the offending party is hard, and they will not do what must be done to reconcile the relationship. Sometimes the heart of the offended party is hard, and they refuse to reconcile and get past the offence even with there is contrition and repentance. Often the hardness of heart is on both sides.

c. Except for sexual immorality: Jesus interprets the meaning of the word uncleanness in the Mosaic law - it refers to sexual immorality, not just anything that might displease the husband. Therefore, divorce - and the freedom to remarry without sin - is only permitted in the case of sexual immorality.

i. The ancient Greek word for sexual immorality is porneia. It is a broad word, covering a wide span of sexual impropriety. One may be guilty of porneia without actually having consummated an act of adultery.

ii. To this permission for divorce, Paul adds the case of abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).

iii. We note that incompatibility, not loving each other anymore, brutality, and misery are not grounds for divorce, though they may be proper grounds for a separation and consequent "celibacy within marriage" as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 7:11).

d. And marries another, commits adultery: The reason why a person who does not have a legitimate divorce commits adultery upon remarrying is because they are not divorced in the eyes of God. Since their old marriage was never dissolved on Biblical grounds, that marriage is still valid and they are actually guilty of bigamy and adultery.

i. We must come to grips with the fact that marriage, as a promise made to God, our spouse and the world, is a binding promise, and cannot be broken at our own discretion.

5. (10-12) The disciples ask a good question: if marriage is so binding, is celibacy better?

His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: "For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

a. If such is the case . . . it is better not to marry: The disciples understood Jesus' teaching on marriage and divorce clearly. They understood that it was not a commitment to be entered into quickly or lightly, and considered that since marriage is so binding before God, then maybe it is better not to marry.

b. All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: Jesus recognized that celibacy is good for some, for the one who is able to accept it (such as the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9).

c. For there are eunuchs who were born thus: The term eunuch was used figuratively for those who voluntarily abstain for marriage. Jesus doesn't necessarily mean biological eunuchs, though He certainly includes them among those who abstain from marriage.

6. (13-15) Jesus blesses little children.

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.

a. Then little children were brought to Him: How marvelous that in the midst of Jesus' teaching on marriage, parents bring their children to be blessed. Today, parents should still bring their children to Jesus; He wants to bless them and welcome them into the kingdom of heaven.

b. Let the little children come to Me: This also shows us something remarkable able Jesus' character. He was the kind of man that children like - and children are often astute judges of character.

B. Jesus teaches on riches and following Him.

1. (16-17) A man asks Jesus the most important question one can ask.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

a. What good thing shall I do to inherit eternal life: This question demonstrates that this man, like all people by nature, has an orientation towards a works-righteousness.

b. Why do you call Me good? In this, Jesus does not deny His own goodness. Instead, He asks the man, "Do you understand what you are saying when you call Me good?"

c. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments: Jesus' answer to the man's question is straightforward. If you want to gain eternal life by your doing, you must keep the commandments - all of them, and in the fullest sense.

2. (18-20) Jesus tests him by "the second table of the law" - the aspects of the Mosaic Law that deal with man's relationship to men.

He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"

a. You shall not murder . . .: Jesus asked the man about the commandments which primarily deal with a man's relation to man. In response, the young man claimed All these things I have kept from my youth - claiming to fulfill all God's commands regarding how we must treat other people.

b. All these things I have kept from my youth: It is fair to ask if this man really had kept these commandments. It is likely that he actually did keep them in a way that made him righteous in the eyes of men - in the sense that Paul could say concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless in Philippians 3:6. But he certainly did not keep them in the full and perfect sense in which Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount.

i. We can also know that this man had not perfectly kept the law, because he still knew that there was something missing in his life (What do I still lack?) There was still something lacking in his life, reflecting a lack in his relationship with God.

c. Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus loved him in reply. Jesus has compassion on this man, so misguided as to think that he really could justify himself before God.

3. (21-22) Jesus tests him by "the first table of the law" - the aspects of the Mosaic law which deal with man's relationship to God.

Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

a. Sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me: The call to forsake everything and follow Jesus is a call to put God first in all things. It is full obedience to the first table of the law, which dealt with a man's relation to God.

b. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions: In this, the wealthy questioner fails utterly. Money is his god; he is guilty of idolatry, and this is why Jesus, knowing the man's heart, asked him to renounce his possessions.

c. Both tables of the law will test every person before God. It isn't enough to do good by our fellow man and be decent folk; we must do right by God, and give Him the glory and honor He deserves

4. (23-26) Riches are an obstacle to the kingdom.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

a. Assuredly, I say to you: We should not diminish the strength of Jesus words, nor fail to see their application in our own affluent society. Who among us would not be considered richer than this rich young ruler was?

b. It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven: Riches are a snare because they tend to make us satisfied with this life, instead of longing for the age to come. As well, often riches must be acquired at the expense of acquiring God.

c. They were exceedingly amazed: The great amazement of the disciples is based on the assumption that riches were always a sign of God's blessing and favor.

d. With God all things are possible: However, God's grace is sufficient to save the rich man; we have the examples of people like Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas - rich men who still were able to put God first, not their riches.

5. (27-30) Peter's blunt question: what do we get for following You?

Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

a. Therefore what shall we have? In contrast to the rich young ruler, the disciples did leave all to follow Jesus - so what will be their reward? Jesus tells of special honor for the disciples: you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The disciples will have a special role in the future judgment, probably in the sense of administration in the millennial Kingdom.

i. As well, the apostles had the honor of helping to provide a singular foundation for the church (Ephesians 2:20), and have a special tribute in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20:14).

b. Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters: But there will be universal honor for all who sacrifice for Jesus' sake; what ever has been given up for Him will be returned to us a hundred times over - in addition to everlasting life.

i. Hundredfold is obviously not literal in a material sense. Otherwise, Jesus promises a hundred mothers and a hundred wives. Jesus will do more than make up what we have given up for His sake, but the return may be spiritual instead of material. Hundredfold certainly is literally true in the spiritual sense.

ii. The principle stands: God will be a debtor to no man. It is impossible for us to out-give God.


Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Matthew 19". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=019>. 1997-2003.  

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