Matthew 19

Divorce and the Rich Guy 

Jesus finally begins His journey to Judea, south toward Jerusalem. Matthew points out that it was after He had taught others regarding His own death, taxes, who was greatest in the Kingdom, and forgiveness that He then began His quest toward the city of Jerusalem. Matthew also notes that large crowds followed Him (1-2). 

Jesus Tested on the Issue of Divorce (3-9) 

The question of divorce was a question which divided the Jews. Some held to the teaching of Hillel (a person who helped with the development of much of the Mishnah, a bit over a century before Christ) who taught that a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason. Others held to the teaching of Shammai (a scholar who lived about a half century before Christ and continued the development of the Jewish Mishnah) who thought divorce could only be the result of sexual immorality. (Mishnah was a term used for the other things God spoke beyond Scripture, or the Oral Tradition which was written down for the Rabbis to explain how the Jews could obey Old Testament Scripture.)  

During Jesus’ day, many of the Rabbis had exalted the Mishnah to rival Scripture in its importance. Hillel and Shammai were two opposing theological camps at odds with each other regarding divorce during the time of Christ. The Pharisees had come to Jesus to solve the much-debated divorce issue, hoping He would offend one group or the other (3). 

Jesus ignored the controversy and appealed to the law of first mention. The law of first mention is a principle of interpretation which defines the first teaching on a subject as the seed to the truth. This means all other subsequent teaching on the subject cannot disagree with the original truth. We know Jesus appealed to this law for He said "from the beginning."  

Here is what the first mention teaches us: 

1. God created each person as either a male or a female. Everyone was born with a specific gender (4). 
2. Marriage begins with a man leaving his parents as the highest and most important of all relationships until he is joined by God in marriage.  
3. Marriage was the act of a man committing himself to his wife in a life-long, exclusive covenant where their relationship to each other was preeminent to all other earthly relationships.  
4. Marriage was no less than making two distinct people into one individual—no longer were they two separate bodies but they were physically joined by the act of sex (5). 
5. The marriage covenant was sacred, no longer human. God had created sex with the purpose of making two bodies one flesh, and that union belonged to God. Because God joined the couple through sex and because the marriage belonged to God, no one was to ever separate it for any reason (6). 

The Pharisees gave Jesus their follow-up question, not appealing to the Mishnah but to the Scripture. Why did Moses authorize a certificate of divorce? (7)  

Jesus did not defend for a moment Moses' cause for divorce as being justification for any divorce on any level. Jesus then revealed that there were people so unloving, so hard-hearted and resistant to Yahweh that they would refuse to listen to Yahweh and forgive their wives, even under the most trying circumstances such as immorality. Further, there would be those so insensitive toward their mates that they would have sex with someone else outside their marriage. Rather than have civil confusion, Jesus made it clear that Moses allowed for divorce (8), but from the beginning it was never Yahweh's purpose for divorce to occur. A married couple was to remain intently loving and sensitive to God, not allowing themselves to cheat on each other or to be unforgiving of a fallen mate who had cheated and repented. 

There is argument over the translation of these verses. Some say these verses read that whoever divorces his wife "except for sexual immorality" and marries another commits adultery. Some translate it "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."  

It is likely the latter is meant based on the comments the disciples made: "it is better not to marry" (9-10). 

Jesus was seeking to keep marriage protected from hardness of heart. 


a) a heart so hardened it wouldn’t turn away from sex outside of the marriage
b) nor a heart so hardened it wouldn't forgive the repentant mate who had sex outside of marriage
represented a heart sensitive and committed to following Jesus.     

Jesus then told His disciples that not everyone could receive what He had said; it was reserved or given to those who treated marriage with life-long and exclusive commitment (11). 

The Gift of Being a Eunuch (12)  

Then Jesus explained the sacred calling of being a spiritual eunuch. Some were born such, others were made such being castrated, and others made themselves such to give themselves for the Kingdom. Jesus' point was that only those gifted and called should consider not getting married.  

Those who were not eunuchs should marry and then fulfill their commitment by remaining life-long and exclusive, leaving their marriage exclusively belonging to Yahweh.   

Children: Let Them Come (13-15) 

After Jesus' wise words on divorce, the parents began to bring their children to Jesus so He could lay His hands on their heads and bless them. Oddly, the disciples tried to keep them from bothering Jesus (13). Jesus commanded His disciples not to hinder the children from coming to Him, for He noted the Kingdom belonged to those who were faith-dependent. Humble and faith-dependent children of God were exactly the ones who Jesus had purposed to bless whenever they come to Him (14). He then blessed them (15). 

The Rich Young Man (16-22) 

A rich young guy came to Jesus asking Him what good thing was required for him to gain eternal life (16). Jesus asked the rich guy why he had called Him good when there was only One Who was good. In other words, Jesus was asking the rich guy what he was really seeing in Jesus. Then Jesus told the rich guy that to enter life he would need to keep the commandments (17). 

The rich young man wondered which commandments. Jesus listed off commandments five through nine (Exodus 20:12-16) listed in the law (18-19). 

The rich guy boasted that he was a commandment-keeper and to his recollection had kept them all but still had no sense of assurance regarding eternal life (20). 

Jesus told the rich guy that if he wanted to experience a complete sense of eternal life, he needed to sell what he possessed and give to the poor. In other words, the rich guy needed to do anything and everything necessary to treasure the heavenly Kingdom more than the material world, following Jesus above anything else (21). 

The rich guy left in sorrow because he couldn't imagine treasuring what he couldn't see more than what he could see (22). 

Jesus on the Rich Entering (23-26) 

Jesus then began His teaching on those who were rich:  

a) The rich could only enter the Kingdom with difficulty (23). 
b) It was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than the rich to enter the Kingdom. The eye of a needle was the actual sewing needle, not the small gate within the gate. Jesus was trying to make the point that it is impossible for a rich person to love what they can't see more than what they can see (24). 

The disciples were shocked, wondering if it was possible for anyone to enter the Kingdom and experience eternal life, and a third word is added, be "saved." Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life, and being "saved" as the same experience (25). 

Jesus told His disciples that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, but with God it was possible for He possessed the power to transform the heart, and through death in Jesus, the soul can go through and enter anything (26). 

Those Who Have Sold Everything (27-30) 

Peter then posed a question, having left everything to follow Jesus: what would they have or get when they entered the Kingdom, received eternal life, or experienced salvation? All three terms were referring to essentially the same experience (27). 

Jesus promised His disciples that they would sit in the new (re-birthed) world on twelve thrones judging Israel. Jesus’ promise: His disciples would greatly benefit from their treasuring heaven above the material world. There was a special reward given to those who treasure heaven above possessions (28). 

Then Jesus turned His attention to the benefit. Those who gave up all would receive in this life a hundredfold in richness of relationship. Jesus was saying that those who had left all would find a brand new family of relationships which would have a hundredfold blessing in this life, above owning an abundance of riches. They would also have eternal life added to them (29). Instead of having one birth mom and dad in the Kingdom of Heaven, they would inherit many more. Instead of just a few brothers and sisters, they would inherit many Kingdom brothers and sisters who would be 100-times more enriching to their lives than their own riches.  

On the other hand, Jesus made it clear that those who clung to being first would end up being last, and those who were last would end up being first (30).