Matthew 19
Matthew 19 Kingcomments Bible Studies

From Galilee to Judea

This chapter speaks even more about the spirit of humility that is appropriate for the kingdom of heaven. This spirit is brought forth by the Lord in three encounters. These three meetings are about what comes from God and what dominates human nature: marriage, the child and the character of a young man. With the young man the condition of the heart of the human being is also exposed. It is about what is of God in the old, or first, creation that is totally corrupted by man’s sin. At the same time they are things that keep their validity in the kingdom of heaven, where the Lord indicates how they should function according to the will of God.

The Lord Jesus finishes “these words”, which are the words He spoke in the previous chapter about forgiveness, words of eternal life. He has spoken and finished them, but their value remains, is eternal and necessary to put them into practice in the present. They are words of blessing, but also of warning.

Then His service in Galilea, His third round trip in that area, is also finished. He crosses the Jordan – the Jordan is a picture of His death and resurrection – and enters the area of Judea. There too, many crowds follow Him and heals them there. He reveals His grace to all who need it.

Marriage: Inseparable

While the Lord works in grace, the Pharisees try to test Him in order to accuse Him. They want to eliminate Him at all costs. How hardened their heart is! They come to Him with a question about divorce. Their question is intended as a trap for Him to walk into. But their intent failed completely because they dare to measure themselves against Divine wisdom.

The Lord refers them directly to the Word of God. Did they not read how God made it in the beginning? Scripture answers all questions, including those of unbelief. That is why we too must always ask ourselves, with every question: ‘What does Scripture say?’ The Lord, as always, sets a perfect example here too.

He does not wait for an answer. He does not let them look the answer up. Nor does he appeal to their memory to quote it, but He Himself quotes the Word of God completely. As the perfect Interpreter, He also gives the unambiguous explanation of the verse He quoted and the attached fixed conclusion. There is no doubt that marriage unites two people into a perfect unity. That is how God made it. That is the clear explanation. His equally clear conclusion is: do not let man take it into his mind to separate that unity made by God! God hates divorce (Mal 2:16).

The Pharisees do not give in. It seems as if they have taken His answer into account. They think they’ve got Him stuck now. Triumphantly they refer to Moses. Who would dare to oppose Moses? Didn’t Moses command that a certificate of divorce should be given and she should sent away? Then it is possible to send her away, isn’t it? They fold their arms with great self-satisfaction. They have this nicely done.

The fools. They are dealing with Divine wisdom that also knows the hardness of man’s heart. In view of this hardness, Moses “permitted” – and did not give a commandment, as they suggest – to divorce their wives. Then the Lord again refers to the beginning. Never will it be possible for a sinful act of man to destroy what God has given in the beginning.

The Lord speaks of ‘permitted’ and not of ‘did command’ as the Pharisees have said. Moses permitted something. The law is good in itself, but cannot communicate goodness. The law is perfect for the purpose for which God has given it, but it cannot bring anything to perfection. Through the law the hardness of man’s heart has become apparent. This hardness is also evident in his marriage. In view of this hardness, Moses allowed someone to send his wife away. But then he had to give her a certificate of divorce with the reason for the divorce.

With the words “and I say to you,” in which the divine authority of His Person resounds, the Lord continues His teaching on divorce. Divorce or sending away is a bad thing. Anyone who thinks he can rid himself of the inextricable bond of marriage and therefore also thinks he is free to enter into that inextricable bond with another person, is very wrong. He commits adultery. The same goes for someone who marries the divorced woman, because this divorced woman is still inextricably linked to her husband.

The exception “except for immorality [or fornication]” concerns the case of someone who is betrothed. An example of this we have with Joseph and Mary who were betrothed. When Joseph notices that Mary is pregnant, he considers to secretly send her away (Mt 1:18-19). If someone is betrothed, there is a permanent connection, but the official marriage has not yet taken place. In the case of Joseph and Mary, who were betrothed, sending away was permitted. God does not blame Joseph for this, but lets him know what is really going on. Then he doesn’t send her away.

There is a misunderstanding that I would like to point out. This is the idea that someone who marries someone who is divorced lives continuously in adultery. This error is based on a misinterpretation of what is written in Mt 19:9. In practice, this teaching causes great spiritual distress, as I have seen in contacts. I therefore asked a New Testament expert in Greek what is literally in Greek.

He writes:
The texts we talked about in our telephone conversation tonight are Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9. Both places state ‘moichatai’, or ‘commits adultery’. In the vision that you and I reject, one concludes from the present tense ‘moichatai’ that the man or woman in question is permanently living in adultery and therefore permanently sinning.

This is a misunderstanding. It is based on an erroneous view of the significance of the aspect of the present tense, namely that this form of tense would indicate something permanent, something continuous. However, the present tense is without aspect to the extent that it is always marked / limited by / the direct context.

This means that in Mt 5:32 the form ‘commits adultery’ is limited by the immediately preceding ‘who marries a divorced woman’ – the conclusion is therefore that the marriage may not take place because it has the character of adultery. In Mt 19:9 it says that whosoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [or fornication], and marries another woman commits adultery. Again the same: this specific marriage may not take place, because it has the character of adultery. In short: such a marriage is not allowed, but it is possible.

Is there marriage or not? Yes, there is a marriage, and that should not have been taken place. That marriage was the mistake, and it must be confessed as sin. But that does not mean that this wrongly concluded marriage must be dissolved. Compare it to a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever: it should not have been made, but it is in force; it may not be dissolved (see the teaching on this subject + on divorce in 1Cor 7:10-15). [End of quote]

This answer is illuminating and can free you from a spiritual struggle or compulsive situation. A person who, through this wrong doctrine, is in spiritual distress because of the situation in which he finds himself, can experience, by accepting the truth of God’s Word, that the truth sets free (Jn 8:31-32).

The Unmarried

Time and again it becomes clear how the disciples are still under the influence of thinking by legal standards. They think the Lord is only radical. If marriage is so coercive and restrictive, you better not marry, they argue. There must be a little room to put an end to it if there really is no other option. That’s what the disciples think and so also many Christians today. They will not say it in this way, but the exception clause is for them an alleviation of what they consider to be the overly major implication of the inviolability of marriage.

It is also a word that is not easy to understand. Not all can accept it. Only those who have to do with it will understand what the Lord means. He proposes three situations in which someone does not get married:
1. A person may be unfit to marry by birth, for example because of a certain physical or mental disability.
2. Someone may also have been made unfit by people to marry. These are those who have been castrated or dismembered.
3. The third category remains unmarried on the basis of a personal, voluntary choice. Someone does this to serve the Lord with soul and body, without needing to worry about the obligations of marriage (1Cor 7:37).

Children Blessed

Following on from what the Lord Jesus said about marriage, children are brought to Him so that He might bless them. Marriage and children belong together. Children are a blessing. They are brought to Him for the purpose of His laying hands on them and praying. Mothers come to the Lord Jesus because they see in Him the great Friend of children He really is. The disciples do not share in His feelings for children. They rebuke the mothers as if they were busy with the wrong work, a work of the evil one.

How far the disciples are from the heart of Christ. They have more important pursuits and experience children as a disturbing element in their important work for the Lord. The disciples reveal the spirit of the world because they want to send the children away as meaningless beings. They have not yet understood the Master’s earlier lesson (Mt 18:1). Even today, Christian couples may believe that children are an obstacle to serving the Lord. That is why they take measures not to have children. But by rejecting the blessing of children, they – possibly unconsciously – act against the spirit of Christ.

The Lord reprimands His disciples. He says once again how important children are, for it is they who will be in the kingdom of heaven where He reigns. In the previous section we saw the Pharisees. They are led by evilness and hatred. Here we see the disciples. They are guided by self-interest and ignorance about Him.

The Lord blesses the children. Those children will not have been aware of it, but what must their lives have been affected by that blessing. Eternity will reveal it.

A Request for Eternal Life

In the third story of this chapter we see a young man with a sincere character. A sincere character is something that we can appreciate as a goodness from God, even though – and that goes for anyone who reveals this sincere character – he is by nature a sinner. The young man who comes to the Lord with a question has such a character.

He introduces his question with “Teacher”. The young man calls the Lord Jesus ‘Teacher’ because he sees in Him Someone from Whom he expects to be able to learn something. But despite acknowledging in the Lord One Who stands above him, he sees in Him no more than a man. If He is no more than Teacher, the young man falls short. The Lord therefore does not accept the title of address. He rejects it and refers to God as the Good. He is that Himself in Person.

The young man’s question shows that he believes that by doing something he can earn eternal life. For him, eternal life is what the Old Testament means: to live forever on earth (Psa 133:3; Dan 12:2). However, he must find out that this can only be obtained by faith.

He receives the appropriate answer from the Lord, who refers to the commandments of the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, eternal life can be earned indeed by keeping the law. The summary of the law is: ‘Do this and you shall live’ (Lev 18:5; Lk 10:25-28). If the young man kept the law, he would enter life, that is, he would enter the atmosphere where eternal life is experienced.

Then he asks which commandments he should keep. This question betrays an approach to the law that the law does not allow, namely that there are important and less important commandments. James says that whosoever stumbles over one commandment is guilty of all (Jam 2:10). To meet the young man, the Lord mentions a number of commandments. However, it is precisely those commandments that a human being can by nature keep. They are commandments that relate to the relationship with one’s neighbor. Although loving one’s neighbor should be a matter of the heart, it can be kept as an outward commandment, without saying anything about what is inside.

In all sincerity, the young man answers that he has kept all the commandments mentioned by the Lord. It seems that he is not presenting himself better than he is, for the Lord does not dispute that he has kept these things. Yet the young man says he still lacks something. Keeping these commandments has not given him what he really seeks. When asked what he still lacks, the Lord does not answer with another commandment from the law, but with a test that makes it clear that he cannot keep the law. It is the commandment: You shall not covet. This test will reveal what is really in his heart for his neighbor. This test is about his possessions.

The Lord tells him to sell his possessions. He should not keep the money he receives for this, but give it away to the poor. Then his relationship with the poor, the love of his neighbor, will be as God intended. The question is whether the young man wants to have eternal life at all costs and wants to have that in connection with following a rejected Lord. By the way, the Lord promises a great thing. He asks to give up everything, but He gives back incredibly more in return. If he were to do what the Lord says, he would get even more than eternal life on earth, namely a treasure in heaven. As for the earth, the Lord invites him to come to Him and follow Him.

Indeed, the condition mentioned by the Lord reveals what is really in His heart. This word grieves him and makes it clear that his heart hangs on his possessions. A rich person can be honest and yet be attached to earthly things. He chooses for his possessions and thus against the Lord, for he goes away from Him. The Lord has exposed the selfishness, the covetousness, in the heart of the young man. His request was to do something great, but it was a matter of personal interest. All the benefits of the flesh that this young man possesses become a reason not to follow Christ. He loves his possessions more than the Lord.

This uncovering of the heart can only be done by the Lord. He does this not only with this young man, but with each of us. Thus we are by nature, without connection with the grace of God. The apostle Paul shows us how we are saved from it, both in his teaching and in his practice. Like this young man, he was in relation to the law irreproachable. He said, ‘I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, You shall not covet’ (Rom 7:7b).

This last commandment of the ten made him realize what was in him. It showed that however impeccable he was in appearance, inside he was corrupt. Nothing could save him from this depravity but the death of Christ. By grace he has seen this, as he says to us: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God” (Gal 2:19). In his life thereafter he has shown what the Lord asks of the young man (Phil 3:4-10).

With God All Things Are Possible

Following the young man’s departure, the Lord addresses His disciples with a word about being rich. He tells them that for many rich people, having many possessions is an obstacle to entering the kingdom of heaven. It is oh so difficult for a rich man to renounce his wealth. How difficult that is is shown by the fact that He wants to bring this to their attention with a sharp example.

The eye of a needle was at that time the smallest imaginable opening, and the camel the largest imaginable animal. Therefore it was unrealistic to think that something very big – a camel – could go through the eye of something very small – a needle. This would only be possible if there were a miraculous change, in which the camel would become smaller or the eye of the needle larger. Christ uses a typically oriental picture and it is precisely because of this contrast that he depicts an impossibility.

When the disciples hear this, they are surprised. For them this means that no one can be saved. A rich man lives for them clearly in accordance with God’s law, for his wealth proves that God’s favor is on him. Wealth is a proof of Divine blessing in Judaism. Therefore the disciples do not understand the scope of the Lord’s words and cannot hide their amazement about them.

In this chapter they always show their difficulty with His teaching (Mt 19:10; 13; 25). Their difficulty arises because He places the Jewish views of His disciples on marriage as well as on children and property in a different light, namely the light of the kingdom of which the King is rejected.

The Lord does not answer their question of who can be saved by saying that it is difficult for people to be saved, but that it is impossible. It is not possible for people to work on their own salvation. But that is not why it is hopeless, because with God it is possible. There must be a work of God to make this happen. Man always reveals his nature and it is impossible for him to change anything about it, just as an Ethiopian cannot change anything about being black and a leopard cannot change anything about his spots (Jer 13:23). It is their nature. But God can make that change.

In other words: it may be impossible for a person to come to God, but this does not mean that God is not able to come to man. In Christ He came, and on the cross Christ accomplished the work that no man could ever accomplish. Our Lord Jesus Christ was actually rich and became poor for us, that we through his poverty might become rich (2Cor 8:9). This is not possible with people, but it is possible with God!

The Disciples’ Portion

The event with the young man reminds Peter that they have left everything and followed the Lord. He is curious about the reward and asks Him about it. The Lord assures His disciples that their choice to follow Him will be richly rewarded. Now there is still rejection, but soon He will reign and then they may reign with Him. The throne and the twelve thrones speak of this. His throne is the throne of His glory, the throne that shall be established on earth in the glory of the kingdom of peace, when His glory shall cover the earth as the waters cover the bottom of the sea (Isa 11:9).

The thrones they will sit on relate to their reigning over Israel, that is to say their government over Israel. They will be distributors of blessings to Israel. That time of His reign and of their reign with Him the Lord calls “the regeneration”. This is seen in the regeneration of the earth. When creation is freed from the curse of sin (Rom 8:19-21), the earthly realm is renewed, born again (Psa 104:30b).

Whoever gives away something to follow Christ will receive many times as much. It is not a question of compensating, a reimbursement of costs, but an abundant wealth as a reward for the little that has been abandoned. That will be enjoyed in the atmosphere of eternal life. That will be their life. That is the life that the rich young man wished for, but that he turned his back on because he did not follow Christ.

The Lord teaches that those who claim the blessing through external privileges will not receive it because of their wrong attitude towards Him. On the contrary, the blessing will go to those who had no part in it. They will inherit the blessing by sovereign grace. The Lord elaborates on this lesson in the following parable.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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