Matthew 19:1-2 These first two verses of chapter 19 mark a significant transition in Jesus’ ministry. The focal point of ministry moves from the Galilee to Judea in the south. This begins the final stage of his ministry leading to his crucifixion. This is what he forewarned his disciples about in Matthew 16 and then again in Matthew 18.
His journey to Jerusalem was not the most direct He went south into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. This region later came to be called Petra, a name taken from the Greek “Peran”, which means “beyond”. From Mark 10:1 we know that great multitudes in this area followed Him and He healed many there. The Pharisees’ question regarding divorce was an attempt to trap Jesus and use His answer against Him we see this at the end of Mark 10:2, with comment “testing Him”.
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,” No Old Testament law deals comprehensively with the issue of divorce. In the texts that mention it, the focus is to place limitations on the practice as in Deuteronomy 22:19, 29. These verses do not institute, encourage, or approve divorce, but treat it as a practice already operating.
The precise meaning of “indecent” is no longer clear. It may refer to “improper behavior.” It could not include adultery, which was punishable by death except in cases where, for lack of evidence, a wife’s guilt was only indicated by the curse of barrenness. In any case, if the man had presented his wife the bill of divorcement, and she left his house, remarried, and then found herself divorced again, she could not return and be reunited to her first husband Deuteronomy 24:4.
Without restriction and legislation, divorce could become “legal” polygamy or “sanctioned” adultery. There were two schools among the Pharisees who disagreed over their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. The school of Shammai believed that “indecent” meant a moral fault, such as adultery.
The school of Hillel believed that “indecent” meant just about anything the husband found distasteful. Again, Jesus’ answer is a rebuke of the Pharisees’ total disregard for the intent of the law. He answers that God’s intent was that marriage be a permanent arrangement and that divorce was only a concession to human hard‑hardheartedness (stubborn refusal to obey).
Divorce (apostasiou, Greek) is literally “to remove either spatially or from the center of a state or relationship” or “to break fellowship.” The biblical teaching on divorce can only be understood against the background of Jesus’ view of marriage. Marriage was a sacred concept to Jesus. The permanence of the contract of marital union is stressed by the fact that two people become one flesh. No one would contemplate severing even a limb, much less half of his torso.
Yet, this is precisely the emotional and spiritual result of the fracturing of marriage. Furthermore, divorce is a device of men created to annul, as it were, the authority of God. Moses allowed divorce as a concession (an effort to protect ill‑treated Hebrew wives), sin encouraged the practice (polygamy brought murder and revenge), and human nature coerced it (the hardness of hearts, cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
The Pharisees sought to trap Jesus on the divorce question (Matthew 19:3). The followers of Shammai were the conservatives in that they believed divorce should be granted only because of unchastity, adultery, or something scandalous. On the other hand, Hillel, the more liberal, argued for divorce for any reason, i.e., “if she finds no favor in your eyes.” Jesus refers to neither rabbi, nor does He directly refer to Moses. Rather, He goes back to the beginning, quoting the divinely inspired words of Adam (Matthew 19:4-6), because the answer to this problematic issue does not lie in legal codes or traditional practices but in God’s design in creation (Genesis 2:24).
God does not condone the corruption of divine ordinances, nor does He accommodate or compromise His morality (Matthew 19:4). The Pharisees had made the “permission” of the Law a “command,” giving way to human stubbornness instead of divine plan and purpose. Why then does God reject divorce?
(1) Marriage is a divine institution (Matthew 19:4).
(2) Marriage is by express command (Matthew 19:5).
(3) Marriage makes two people become one flesh (Matthew 19:6).
(4) The first couple show unbroken unity of lives (Matthew 19:8).
(5) There are evil consequences in separation (Matthew 19:9).
Matthew 19:10-12 – The Pharisees seem to have disappeared and Jesus is now alone with His disciples and they respond to Jesus’ teaching that it would be better not to marry. They were raised in a society where divorce was quick and easy. The Rabbi’s taught “a bad wife is like leprosy to her husband. What is the remedy? Let him divorce her and be cured of his leprosy.” No wonder when Jesus uttered these words their response was such. His response was to agree with them, but to remind them that not all men can accept that statement.
This does not mean that He did not regard marriage as sacred and blessed, but that it took away from one’s devotion to the Lord. This is what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 7. Matthew 19:12 does not value celibacy or asceticism over the normal relationships of family life. Some are excluded from marriage by natural causes (Matthew 19:12a) and others by the violent action of men, i.e., they “were made eunuchs by men” (Matthew 19:12b).
Some who serve the kingdom may discover themselves in circumstances in which they refrain from marriage or a second marriage by their own choice (Matthew 19:12c). Paul had the gift of celibacy and strongly exhorted others who had the gift to be content with it. (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Matthew 19:13-15 – Little children were brought to Jesus for Him to bless them but the disciples rebuked the parents. For two years the disciples were with Jesus and they still did not understand his heart for children. Only a few days earlier Jesus took a little child in His arms in their presence. The context was who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The fact is that no church or movement of God’s will be blessed without ministry to children. Children have a natural love and faith in God. His response is to be angry with his disciples telling them not to hinder the children from coming to Him. His anger was based on a number of things in all likelihood:
1) for their spiritual dullness.
2) angry that they didn’t realize that all are welcome to come to him.
3) for the disciples presumption of who could or could not approach Him.
Matthew 19:16-22 – A young wealthy man approaches Jesus asking what can he do to inherit eternal life. His request seems to be a genuine one. By eternal life, he wanted to know what it would take to enter the Messianic Kingdom. To ask Jesus “what must I do”, is not out of line. Some respond that the young man did not understand that we are saved by faith and not by works.
But how would he know any different considering the domination by the pharisees. But note that Jesus does not rebuke him for that question. In fact Jesus goes on to tell him what he must do. The fact of the matter is that there are some works that we must do to be saved. The work of faith in Jesus as our sin bearer, and the only one who can bring us to faith.
Jesus responds to his question, with another question that is most startling, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” This question was asked to get the young man articulate what was on his heart, and to realize that the One he was asking was the source of all that was good. The young man wanted what was good but not the One who was good. In other words the young man wanted a better life for himself rather than seeking what God wanted of his life.
So in response to the requirements for blessing on one’s life he tells him to keep the commandments. To which he asks “Which ones?” There were many commandments (613) and on top of that there were many different schools of interpretation on what and how the commandments were to be followed. Jesus responds by quoting six of them. He said that he had kept those commands, which was one of the basic problems of the day, the lack of understanding of how needy they really were.
In response to this, Jesus tells the man to sell all of his possessions and give it to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus here in not teaching that salvation is achieved by divesting oneself of all possessions, even for charitable purposes. However, this young man had one concern that was far greater than his desire to have life eternal. His possessions occupied the position of primary devotion in his life. Until he could persuade himself to be willing to seek God regardless of the cost, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33), he could never discover eternal life.
Matthew 19:23-29 – It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, that is to come under the rule of God. The reason is because wealth and the conservation of it takes up so much of our time. Jesus consciously uses hyperbole (exaggeration) to stress His point. The “eye of a needle” is thought by some to refer to a narrow gate in the wall of Jerusalem through which a beast loaded with a burden could not pass.
Others hold that by changing one letter of the word “camel,” the Aramaic word for “rope” appears. Most likely this is simply a proverbial saying underscoring the impossibility of putting something large through the eye of a needle, and thus illustrating the impossibility of entry into the kingdom for a man who worships wealth. Jesus was not separating the rich as being further from the things of God than the poor, but that their money poses a barrier to walking with the King.
The disciples were appalled at this answer. They were raised with the understanding that wealth was a sign of blessing from God. If these who are apparently mightily blessed of God are not suitable for heaven, who then is? He then teaches that with men heaven and the things of God are impossible, but with God all is possible. (John 6:44).
Here Jesus attributes the initiation of the salvation experience not to man, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God‑‑ children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13), but to the drawing power of God. Human response is always dependent upon God’s initiative. Theologians call it “preventive grace,” the grace which provides revelation and conviction, and directs a man to repentance and faith.
Peter responds by asking since they have left all to follow Jesus, what will they gain? He was wondering if he and the apostles would receive eternal life. Jesus did not rebuke Peter but acknowledged that indeed they had left all and were following Him. In fact He goes on to tell them that at the regeneration they would be judging the 12 tribes of Israel. The word “regeneration” (palingenesia, Greek) is used in Titus 3:5 of personal regeneration or New Birth. The only other occurrence in the New Testament is this one, which speaks of a universal regeneration.
The idea, however, is certainly found elsewhere in the New Testament. The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:21-22). The time of the regeneration mentioned here is evidently the millennial restoration period prior to the forming of the new heaven and new earth in the eternal state (Revelation 20:1-6).
The key to that identification is the position accorded to the disciples of “judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Therefore, this prophecy refers to the millennium. Matthew 19:29 further declares a hundredfold reward, in addition to everlasting life, as the benefit given to the disciples.