1When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.
1When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.
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 ends “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 He reveals His grace to all who need it.
3[Some] Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful [for a man] to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created [them] from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5and 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’? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND [her] AWAY?” 8He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
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 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 2:1616For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”).
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 divorce letter should be given and she should sent away? So 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 – their wives to be sent away. Then the Lord again refers to the beginning. Never will it be possible for a sinful act of man to destroy what God did in the beginning.
The Lord speaks of ‘permitted’ and not of ‘commandments’ as the Pharisees have said. Moses has allowed 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 divorce letter with the reason for the sending away.
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 dismissal is a bad thing. Anyone who thinks he can rid himself of the inextricable bond of the home 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 rejected woman, because this rejected woman is still inextricably linked to her husband.
The exception “except for adultery” 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 put her away (Mt 1:18-1918Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.19And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.). 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, rejection was permitted. God does not blame Joseph for this, but lets him know what is really going on. Then he doesn’t put 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 verse 99And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”. 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.
The texts we talked about in our telephone conversation tonight are Mt 5:3232but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for [the] reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. and Mt 19:99And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”. 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 present aspect, namely that this form of time would indicate something permanent, something continuous. However, the present is aspectless to the extent that it is always marked / limited by / to the direct context.
This means that in Mt 5:3232but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for [the] reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 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 19:99And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” it says that whosoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, 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 a 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 7:10-1510But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.12But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.15Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such [cases], but God has called us to peace.). [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, returns to 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 8:31-3231So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, [then] you are truly disciples of Mine;32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”).
10The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11But He said to them, “Not all men [can] accept this statement, but [only] those to whom it has been given. 12For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are [also] eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept [this], let him accept [it].”
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 start, 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 grasp 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 7:3737But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin [daughter], he will do well.).
13Then [some] children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
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 punish 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 18:11At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”). 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 puts His disciples right. 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 anger 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.
16And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is [only] One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18[Then] he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; 19HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go [and] sell your possessions and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
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 “Master”. The young man calls the Lord Jesus ‘Master’ 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 Master, 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 133:33It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.; Dan 12:22Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace [and] everlasting contempt.). 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 in deed by keeping the law. The summary of the law is: ‘Do this and you shall live’ (Lk 18:55yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”; 10:25-2825And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”26And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”27And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”28And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”). 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 2:1010For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point], he has become guilty of all.). 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. The Lord promises a great thing. He asks to give up everything, but he gives back an incredible amount 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 saddens 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 desire, 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 doctrine 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.”’
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 2:1919For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.). In his life thereafter he has shown what the Lord asks of the young man (Phil 3:4-104although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.7But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,9and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith,10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;).
23And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again 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.” 25When the disciples heard [this], they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26And looking at [them] Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but 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 the attention of the public with a sharp example.
The eye of a needle was at that time the smallest imaginable opening, and the camel the largest imaginable animal. So 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 (verses 10,13,2510The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”13Then [some] children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.25When the disciples heard [this], they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”). 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 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 panther cannot change anything about his spots (Jer 13:2323“Can the Ethiopian change his skin
Or the leopard his spots?
[Then] you also can do good
Who are accustomed to doing evil.
). 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 8:99For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.). This is not possible with people, but it is possible with God!
27Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30But many [who are] first will be last; and [the] last, first.
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. It 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 11:99They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea.
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 rebirth of the earth. When creation is freed from the curse of sin (Rom 8:19-2119For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.), the earthly realm is renewed, born again (Psa 104:30b30You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the ground.
Whoever gives away something to follow Christ will receive it a hundredfold. 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.