Matthew’. Marriage, Mammon and the Age to Come.
Key Notes: The Genesis passage on marriage. Conditions of divorce and remarriage. Become like a child to enter the Kingdom. Hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom. The Age to Come.
Chapters eighteen and nineteen and the first part of twenty contain “ hard sayings” of Jesus. We say they are particularly hard because they are addressed to disciples. We are not so troubled by the hard words of chapter 23 directed to the Pharisees and other leaders. Severe warnings against hurting children and commanding forgiveness on pain of damnation are harder for us to take. Chapter nineteen is no easier. This has led interpreters to question whether Jesus’ instructions were binding or advisory. We accept that He was the Law-giver in the Sermon on the Mount, upgrading Moses, but we expected the commandments to be ended then. However, if we do not accept these words of Our Lord Jesus’ as binding on us, then whose words will we accept? The object of God’s grace is not to allow us to do whatever we want, but to enable us to do what He wants.
19:1–2 This passage concludes the advanced training of the disciples of chapters 14–18.
19:3–12 The Pharisees came to test Jesus on a question about divorce. They asked Him to comment on Deut.24:1–4. There were two schools of interpretation of the phrase in Deuteronomy-- “because he has found some indecency in her”. Rabbi Shammai said that only adultery was “indecency.” Rabbi Hillel thought that anything that upset the husband was grounds for divorce, even burning his dinner. Others taught that the man could divorce his wife if he found a more attractive woman.
Jesus went back to Genesis 1–2 to teach them and the disciples the basic principles of marriage. The will of God at creation precedes the Law, so the Law is subject to it. We saw that in Romans 4, where Abraham’s faith and circumcision preceded Moses’ Law.
- He made them male and female. (Gen.1:27). Jesus brings the woman into the argument and establishes their essential equality. The three rules of Genesis protect the woman:
- “For this reason” means that the next three points follow from creation.
- "a man leaves his father and his mother". (Gen.2:24). This breaks the hold of the extended family and assures that the woman is not the slave of her mother-in-law as is the custom in traditional societies. In her own home, she will be in charge of her children and household.
- "and cleaves"—is joined—is glued to his wife. This assures the woman that she does not have to deal with rivals, second wives, concubines and mistresses. She has the exclusive rights to her husband's time and affections.
- "so they are no longer two but one flesh." This final provision of sexual union assures the woman of the high probability that there will be children, her reward and insurance for the future.
- He concluded with the warning that "therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder". The conclusion is that God has a hand in marriages, not just in the institution of marriage. Humans are warned against interfering,: "He doesn't love you. Dump him."
The Pharisees wanted Him to explain how it was that Moses “commanded” a certificate of divorce. Jesus pointed out that Moses “allowed” divorce, a concession to their hard hearts.
IV. Then Jesus made His final point. Whoever divorces his wife except for unchastity and marries another commits adultery. The word used is broader than adultery (Gr. “moicheia”) and covers all kinds of sexual sin
including adultery. The disciples were shocked and doubted that marriage was a good thing. Jesus responded that marriage was not for everyone. Some are sexually incapable of procreating, and some have chosen to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom.
The questions about divorce revolve around the question about remarriage. In Matthew the exception is for unchastity. Paul grants another apparent exception for the Christian whose non-believing spouse deserts the marriage. (ICor. 7:15). The believing spouse is “not bound.”
Others have seen another implied exception in “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; and behold the new has come.” (IICor.5:17). Thus, any divorce contracted before the person became a Christian may entitle that person to another partner. These exceptions have to do not with divorce, but the permission to remarry. There are many reasons why separation from a spouse might be necessary, such as destructive behaviors that endanger the spouse, the children, or the house.
The need for companionship, protection, child discipline, and financial support militate against a woman remaining single, so that remarriage occurs without regard to Biblical rules. What would Jesus say about our times? Our is an adulterous generation, divorce and remarriage aside. We are left with the question of why Jesus is setting such a high, virtually impossible standard which will leave so many people in a guilty and sinful state.
19:13 In the next episode Jesus spends time blessing little children. There is a connection to the lesson on marriage and divorce.
The disciples did not think bringing children to Jesus was a good use of His time. Jesus reminded them again that the Kingdom belongs to children like these. “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.18:3). He laid His hands on them and prayed for them.
To summarize this section, we note that Matt.18:1–14 is about the protection of children. Anyone who offends them or leads them astray would be better off with a mill-stone around his neck and thrown into the sea. (Matt.18:6). After confrontation and forgiveness are discussed, Jesus teaches about marriage with emphasis is on the protection of the wife. And then He blesses the children. So the passage begins and ends with children, packaging marriage and conflict resolution in the middle. Children are the principal product of marriage. I think that is one reason why Jesus comes down so firmly against divorce.
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world….”
19:16–22 The young ruler who came to Jesus was discontented with his spiritual life and was concerned enough about his destiny to ask Jesus about a good deed he might do to have eternal life. That sounds like the right question, so rarely asked. How would we have answered him?
Jesus startles us first by asking what he meant by “good.” Only God is good. As in the previous interview with the Pharisees, Jesus at once put God in front of the questioner. The implication is that there are no “good” persons or deeds that will win eternal life. He must come to God first.
Jesus startles us again by telling him to keep the commandments. Our immediate reaction is to question such an approach. We expect Jesus to offer him forgiveness and grace. But the young man was not asking for forgiveness. He had done everything right as far as he knew. He asked what to “do to have eternal life.” Jesus corrected him. ” If you would enter life…” Jesus listed five commandments and the general rule of loving your neighbor as yourself and he said he had observed them all. What more?
Jesus put the Law before the young ruler on purpose. If we understand the Gospel, Law comes before Grace. Sin comes before Salvation. "The Law was our school-master to bring us to Christ that we may be justified by faith." (Gal.3:24. KJV). When we communicate the Gospel, we must include the bad news as well as the Good News.
Jesus startles us a third time by telling the young man to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor and come to follow Him. That will gain him treasure in heaven. Which of us could meet these conditions? He could not. The young man was not sitting on a chest of gold. He had vineyards, olive orchards and wheat-fields, a villa in the mountains for summer and one by the Dead Sea for winter. He had a merchant ship, and girl-friends and political allies, contracts made, servants to pay, and harvest schedules to complete. Being rich isn’t just about having money; it is a life-style with visibility, influence and prestige. Would we give up such an exciting and fulfilling existence to become a penniless itinerant missionary? Many have. (C.T. Studd is one of the famous.)
Then he decided he did not want eternal life that badly after all. He perhaps had hoped to assuage his conscience by doing some good deed with his spare money, perhaps making a grant to some worthy institution such as a school or synagogue.
What would Jesus say to our generation about wealth? It is a sensitive subject.
19:23–30 Jesus did not stop him. He remarked that it is essentially impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom. We are astonished for a fourth time, as the disciples were. Who can be saved? Jesus fixed His gaze on them. With men it is impossible. Salvation comes from God. With Him all things are possible.
Why didn’t Jesus go after him? Why didn’t He offer him some concession? There was another possible ending. The young man could have gone on a few steps, then turned back and come to Jesus again. “How can I be saved? I cannot do what you demand. Please help my unbelief.” Mk.9:24
Peter broke the silence “Behold! We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have? “ There must be rewards for following Jesus. Jesus was gracious. Sure enough, there are rewards now and in the Age to Come.
In the New World, (in the Age to Come; the literal Greek is “Genesis again”)
"…when the new world is revealed", there will be a new heavens and a new earth; Rev.21:1.
"…when the Son of Man shall sit on His glorious throne", Rev.20:11 then the Kingdom will look like the kingdom they were expecting.
"…you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel". Rev.20:4
The Age to Come is a new concept for us in the study of the Kingdom. In addition to the New World, Christ on the throne and the apostles as judges, we can find rewards in other references--our resurrection, eternal life, forgiveness and Christ supreme.
“…those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection….” Lk.20:35
“…and in the age to come eternal life.” Matt.19:29; Mk.10:30
“…forgiven…in the age to come.” Matt.12:32
“…Christ…above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” Eph.1:20–21
(” The Gospel of the Kingdom.” G.E. Ladd; Eerdmans,’59. p. 26–35 is a good discussion of the Age to Come.)