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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Matthew 19

 

 


Verses 1-30

7. Departure from Galilee.

Concerning Divorce. Little Children Blessed and the Rich Young Man.

CHAPTER 19

1. The Departure from Galilee. (Matthew 19:1-2.)
2. Concerning Divorce. (
Matthew 19:3-12.)
3. The Blessing of Little Children. (
Matthew 19:13-15.)
4. The Rich Young Man. (
Matthew 19:16-26.)
5. The Rewards in the Kingdom. (
Matthew 19:27-30.)

In the first part of the nineteenth chapter we find a continuation of teachings concerning the kingdom. This, we repeat, is not the same kingdom promised to Israel, as it was preached by the Lord and His disciples, in the first part of this Gospel, but it is the kingdom in its condition during the absence of the King, that condition which we saw revealed in the thirteenth chapter. The teachings given now by the Lord concern the institution, which the Creator in His infinite wisdom had established in the beginning. Are the relationships of nature to be given up in the kingdom? Is there to be a change from that which God originally instituted? We shall learn that the Lord teaches that these natural relationships are not to be dissolved or set aside in the kingdom. We shall find, however, that we have here not the fullest teaching concerning these earthly relations. In the Epistles are given the exhortations to husbands, wives and children; and always after the Christian believer’s position and standing has been clearly defined. To be in the kingdom does, therefore, not free from natural relationship. Indeed, it is just in these that the life of Christ in love, patience, meekness and forbearance is to be manifested. The exhortations in Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, Titus and other Epistles teach this most positively.

“And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, He withdrew from Galilee, and came to the coasts of Judea beyond the Jordan ; and a great multitude followed Him, and He healed them there. And the Pharisees came to Him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:1-3). Galilee is left now behind and He nears Judea and Jerusalem ; and again He is followed by a multitude and many are healed by His loving hands and His divine power.

The subject of the earthly relationship instituted by God before the fall, called marriage, is brought into the foreground by tempting Pharisees. We have heard nothing of these enemies of the Lord since the beginning of the fifteenth chapter. These traditionalists and strong ritualists are now coming upon the scene again. Once more it is a question about their oral law, their man-made rules. He had silenced them about the Sabbath day and declared that He, the Son of Man, is Lord even of the Sabbath. When they came with the ridiculous tradition of the elders about the washing of hands, He had boldly declared, “Ye hypocrites!” and that they teach as doctrines the commandment of men. And now they are going to tempt Him once more. How awful this attempt appears when we consider the dignity of the person whom they try to tempt! He is the Wisdom, the Lord, who created all things; the one who instituted marriage and whose fingers wrote upon the tables of stone. Instead of worshipping Him and taking their place at His feet, to be taught by Him, they try in their blindness to ensnare Him. But why do they bring this special question about putting away a wife for any cause? Most likely the utterance of the Lord in the fifth chapter was reported to these men. There the Lawgiver Himself had declared: “It has been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a letter of divorce. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife except for cause of fornication makes her commit adultery, and whosoever marries one that is put away commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32). This word must have been a very hard saying for those men, for it flatly contradicted the rabbinical sayings. And now they think they have a fine case against Him. If He but commits Himself on some of these fine rabbinical distinctions about the cause for divorce (later collected in the talmudical tract Gittin) they would have an accusation against Him.

Two great opinions divided then the Pharisees about divorce. Some held to the views of Hillel and others to the views of Shammai. Hillel had taught that indeed for almost every cause a wife may be put away. We care not to fill our space with a record of all the different causes for divorce and the rules, which the elders had laid down and which, at least among the extremely orthodox Jews, are still conscientiously followed. (It has often been our experience to talk with some poor Jewish woman, left by her husband, who got a divorce from the rabbi. We remember one case where a man got a “Gett” -- a bill of divorcement from his wife for an insignificant cause and came to this country to marry again. His divorced wife followed him here. These conditions have been quite a problem in New York courts.) The school of Hillel declared openly, and practised this, that if the wife cooks her husband’s food badly, by over salting or over roasting it, she is to be put away. The school of Shammai, to which other Pharisees held, permitted not divorces except in the case of adultery. This will shed more light on the temptation of these Pharisees.

And now the Lord speaks in answer to their question: “But He, answering, said unto them, Have ye not read that He who made them from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, On account of this a man shall leave father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh? What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-7). The Lord passes over all their scholastic reasonings; He ignores all their different opinions and has not a word to say about the law as given through Moses. He goes to the very beginning and shows marriage to be a divinely instituted relationship. And marriage, as instituted by the Creator, is an argument against both polygamy and divorce. Blessed institution indeed, and blessed fact, two shall be one flesh. In the new creation the relationship of marriage has a still deeper significance. The second half of Ephesians 5:1-33 acquaints us with what the believing husband and wife represent. Christ and the church and the love of Christ, the obedience of the church, the oneness which exists between Christ and the church, all practically to be seen in the relationship of husband and wife. “For no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as also the Christ, the church; for we are members of His body; of His flesh and of His bones. Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak as to Christ and as to the church” (Ephesians 5:29-32). But the Pharisees have an answer ready. “They say to Him, Why then did Moses command to give a letter of divorce and to send her away?” But even in this they were erring. It was not a “command,” but something which Moses allowed. The law had much to say about the suspicion of adultery, in which case the wife had to undergo a trial by the bitter waters (Numbers 5:1-31). Actual adultery was punishable by death. And so the Lord has His answer for their objection. “He says, Moses, in view of your hardheartedness, allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not thus. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, not for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and he who marries one put away commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9).

Moses but allowed them divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1). Adultery, however, such was the divine law, meant death. The Lord, now in His divine authority as the great “I am,” gives a law about divorce, which is binding. Divorce, putting away a wife is wrong, except in case of unfaithfulness, adultery. All divorce for other causes is sin, and whosoever marries such a wrongly divorced person commits adultery. Many questions which arise here, difficulties in individual cases, complications of different nature, we must pass by. And yet we cannot conclude our meditation on these verses, without calling to mind the condition, which prevails about us, in professing Christendom, on these very things. The sacred institution of marriage has never been so misused as in these days. Society, so called, is corrupt in morals. Divorces and scandals are becoming almost fashionable. The frightful increase of unlawful divorces and prostitution is alarming to the moralist and reformer. We know, however, that it will be so in the last days, for He said, “As it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be when the Son of Man cometh.”

“His disciples say to Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. And He said to them, All cannot receive this word, but those to whom it has been given; for there are eunuchs, which have been born thus from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs of men; and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs of themselves for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens.” He that is able to receive it, let him receive it (Matthew 19:10-12).

The disciples, with their question, lay bare their own hearts. If such was the case, they think, that the best thing is not to marry at all. He speaks then of what incapacitates for marriage. Some are unfitted for this divinely instituted relation by nature, others have been made so by wicked men, a custom still largely prevailing in the Orient. There is a third class who are exempt, and these are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens. This does not mean mutilation. It means, no doubt, living in an unmarried state for the sake of the kingdom. It is not a law, not an obligation, nor a “sacrament.” Celibacy is a man-made and wicked doctrine, contrary to Scripture. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” It is then something to be received, a gift from above. The grace and power of God is able to lift some to whom it is given, above the natural things of life. Paul undoubtedly was such a one to whom it was given. “For I would that all men were even as myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.... But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh; but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short, it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.... But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 7:28-32).

And now the scene changes once more. The Pharisees with their temptation had been silenced by the Lord and their question resulted in definite teachings from the lips of the great Teacher concerning the institution of marriage in the kingdom. Another question is now to be answered by Him, the question of the relation of children to the kingdom. In the eighteenth chapter the Lord had put a little child in their midst and had said “Unless ye are converted and become as little children, ye will not at all enter into the kingdom of heaven;” but here little children are brought to Him.

“Then there were brought to Him little children, that He might lay His hands on them and pray; but the disciples rebuked them” (Matthew 19:13). It was an old custom among the Jews to bring children to an acknowledged teacher and pious man, that he might pronounce a blessing upon them. The laying on of hands was done to symbolize the fulfilment of the blessing upon the head of the little one. These little ones were, therefore, not brought to Him for healing of any bodily disease, but they were brought to be blest by Him. Whose children they were is not stated. However, it is very improbable that they were the children of unbelieving Jews; these were rejecting the Lord and would hardly bring their little ones to Him. They must have been children of such, who believed in the Lord, and bringing these little ones to Him they manifested their faith that He would be willing to bless them and occupy Himself with them. Most likely the act of the Lord in putting the child in the midst of the disciples, and his previous teaching about the little ones, was an incentive to bring boldly the children to the Lord for a blessing. How strange once more the behavior of the disciples! The disciples rebuked them. They had listened to His gracious declarations about the little ones and how He told them, that he who humbles himself as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom, and yet they understood Him not. Did they want to keep an annoyance from the Lord? Was it a selfish motive which prompted them to act in this spirit? Perhaps they thought these little ones too insignificant, too unworthy for Him to bless. What could He do with these little ones?

This event brings out a very important and alas! too often forgotten declaration from our Lord. The declaration is that the little ones are recognized as the subjects of His kingdom, the kingdom of the heavens. There is a place for little children in the kingdom; they are a part of it is the emphatic teaching of the passage before us.

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children and do not hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of the heavens is of such; and having laid His hands upon them, He departed thence.” With such a definite word it seems next to impossible that anyone could doubt the love of God for the little ones. Still it has been done; there is an interpretation of the gracious words of our Lord, which makes the little children types of believers, and that only such who have believed are meant. In Mark and in Luke (Mark 10:13; Luke 18:15) the Lord adds, “Verily, I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein,” but here no such addition is given by the Holy Spirit, because it concerns the relation of actual little ones to the kingdom. The Lord takes up these little ones and approves of the faith, which had presented them to Him for a blessing. He puts His hands upon them and declares that these little ones are a part of the kingdom. How much like Him who loves to take up that which is weak and lowly! The passage is sufficient to teach believers that the Lord Jesus Christ has a loving interest in the little ones, looks upon them as belonging to His kingdom and is ready to bless them. But where is the faith from the side of believing parents, fully entering into His thoughts and looking upon the little ones as in the kingdom presenting these to Himself? Alas! how great the failure! He tells us of His willingness to receive them, that they are subjects of His kingdom and faith should act upon this and put them into His loving hands. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Faith should take hold of this gracious family promise and claim it. Of course, this does not say that personal faith is unnecessary from the side of children.

In the epistles we find children mentioned. In the epistle, which contains God’s highest revelation, Ephesians, children are treated as belonging to the Lord in the believing family. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just. Honor thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment which has a promise, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest be long-lived on the earth. And ye fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4). The last means to instruct them in the things of the Lord. We have come occasionally in touch with good Christian people, who declared it wrong to teach a child to pray and who refused to tell little ones to pray to God. As far as certain forms of prayers are concerned we are, of course, fully agreed that a parrotlike repetition of prayers is to be avoided and harmful. But to teach the child prayer, the expression of weakness and dependence on God, as well as confidence in Him, is the first lesson to be taught. We think it a wrong, where this is not done. No day should pass in the home of believers, where the Word is not read and the knees of all bow before Him, who is the Head over all, the Lord Jesus Christ. And if through the grace of God the sweet instructions of Ephesians 5:22-32 are carried out in the Christian family, the home will become a place of fragrance, influence and blessing.

But now we behold another one appearing, one who had been a little one, a young man, and he is asking the way to eternal life. “And lo, one coming up said to Him, Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have life eternal? And He said to him, What askest thou me concerning goodness? One is good. But if thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments. He says to Him, Which? And Jesus said, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man says to Him, All these have I kept; what lack I yet? Jesus said to him, If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me. But the young man, having heard the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions” (Matthew 19:16-23).

This is a most instructive incident. It is a striking portrayal of many who are in the professing sphere, in Christendom, their natural and moral condition; and the teaching of the incident is, that salvation is not of man, not depending on the deeds of man, but salvation is of God.

The young man is a typical religious, moral and natural man. In the Gospel of Mark we read, that he came running and kneeled down and that the Lord loved him; and in Luke we find that he was a young ruler, holding an ecclesiastical position. The question is the all important one for the religious man, the question of how to obtain eternal life. He is in ignorance about eternal life. In spite of all his religious observations, his position, his good moral qualities, he had no certainty, no assurance of life eternal; though a member of the professing people of God, he gropes in the dark. And is this not the case of the so-called Christian masses of our day? He furthermore expects eternal life from God as the reward of having done some good thing. He wants to earn eternal life, “do and live,” as the law demands. He is ignorant of the great fundamental fact, that he is with all his religiousness and good moral qualities a guilty and lost sinner. He does not know (the blindness of the natural man) that he never did a good thing, which pleased God and that he can never do any good thing from himself. And this is equally true of a large number of subjects in the kingdom of heaven, who are mere professors of Christianity and who are unsaved and strangers to the grace of God. And now the Lord’s dealing with him. He gives him, first of all, to understand that only One is good and that One is, of course, God. “Good master,” said he, according to the other record. He looked upon the Lord as a good man merely, and this He at once repudiates. God alone is good, and the One the young man addressed is “God manifested in the flesh.” He was ignorant of His person. The Lord then meets him on his own ground. The ground upon which he stands is the law, and with the law the Lord answers his question. How else could He treat him? The first need for him was to know himself a lost and helpless sinner. If the Lord had spoken of His grace, of eternal life as a free gift, he would not have understood Him at all. The law was needed to make known to him his desperate condition and to lay bare his heart. And the Lord who searches the hearts does this for him. With a few sentences he uncovers the true state of the young man, who leaves Him grieved, full of sorrow; he had many possessions and he would not part with them. He had declared that he loved his neighbor as himself; had he done so he would have readily sold his possessions, given them to the poor and followed the Lord. As a natural man, he could not and would not do it.

In type this young, religious man “touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless,” stands for the self-righteous Jewish people, turned away from the Lord with sorrow and yet loved by Him.

“And Jesus said to His disciples, Verily, I say unto you, a rich man shall with difficulty enter into the kingdom of the heavens, and again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to enter a needle’s eye than a rich man into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). The verse tells us that the natural man, like the rich ruler, burdened by his possessions and under the control of the world and the god of this age, cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The illustration of the camel and the needle’s eye was a well-known Jewish phrase in the days of our Lord. It is an impossible thing that a camel laden down with goods could pass through the eye of a needle; just as impossible is it for the natural rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In astonishment the disciples now turn to the Lord with the question, a question perfectly in order after such a solemn declaration. “And when the disciples heard it they were exceedingly astonished, saying, Who, then, can be saved? But Jesus, looking on them, said, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26). Here is a bright and glorious flashing forth of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. His words are a blessed indication of what His loving heart knew so well, that salvation is of God. With men salvation is impossible, to get into the kingdom of God an impossibility, but God, in His marvelous grace in Christ Jesus has made it possible. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And now the last paragraph of this most interesting chapter.

It is Peter once more who steps into the foreground as mouthpiece of the disciples. Again he acts and speaks in the flesh. Indeed, all through this Gospel Peter shows himself self-centered and self-seeking and intruding in that spirit into the things of the Lord. Only once was this not the case, and that was when the Father in heaven had given to him the revelation concerning His Son (Matthew 16:1-28). With what self consciousness and feeling of superiority Peter must have looked upon the young ruler as he sneaked away with hanging head. And then, instead of bowing in silence and wonder after the Lord had flashed forth His grace and truth, he thinks of himself. “Then, Peter answering said to Him, Behold we have left all things and have followed Thee; what then shall happen to us?” Self is here prominently before us. But the Lord in His graciousness is far from rebuking Peter; He makes the self-gratifying question the basis of still further teaching by speaking of the future rewards of His own who follow Him and share His rejection.

“And Jesus said to them, Verily, I say unto you, That ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit down upon His throne of glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life. But many first shall be last, and last first” (Matthew 19:28-30). Here is the declaration of an important principle, the principle of rewards in glory. Whatever a disciple, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ has done or suffered for His sake will not be forgotten. This, however, does not mean that we can earn a position in glory; it is grace and grace alone, which has brought us there. Service and self-denial of a believer are the results of grace, and so the rewards are mercies, nothing else. But it is glorious to think, He remembers all, yea even the cup of cold water given in His name and for all we shall find in His presence a recompense.

Besides the principle of rewards we have here dispensational teachings. The Lord speaks of the time of regeneration. There is a time of regeneration coming, when all things will be made over, when groaning creation is delivered and the reign of Satan and of sin ends. It is the millennial age. Throughout the Old Testament the prophets declare this great regeneration, in the promises, which are so universally spiritualized in our day. This regeneration is not yet; and it cannot come as long as the Son of Man does not occupy the throne of His glory. He will not occupy that throne as long as His fellow heirs are not with Him. Everything then in its order. The completion of the church, as to numbers, the removal of the church to meet Him in the air, His coming with His saints in glory, His own throne, which He will occupy and then, and not before, the regeneration.

The promise here to the disciples is a specific one for them, and does not mean other believers. In the kingdom, the reign of Christ over the earth, the disciples will hold a glorious position in connection with the government of the earth through Israel and occupy twelve thrones. The saints will judge the world. As He received of His Father, so shall the overcomer receive from His hands. (Revelation 2:26-28.)

We have gone through a most blessed chapter in which all is connected by the Holy Spirit. The teaching is continued in the next, and the last sentence of the nineteenth chapter belongs to the twentieth chapter. “But many first shall be last, and last first,” its meaning is explained by the Lord in a parable.

 


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Bibliography Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 19:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/matthew-19.html. 1913-1922.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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