Critics ask Jesus about divorce
Is it okay to divorce for whatever reason?1 When Jesus finished talking, he left the region of Galilee. He went down to Judea and crossed to the other side of the Jordan River. 2 Large crowds followed him and he healed people there. 3 Some Pharisees came to test him with a trick question. They asked, “Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he wants to give?” 4 Jesus said, “Haven’t you read that the one who created humans ‘made them as man and woman?’ It has been that way since the beginning.” 5 ‘That’s why a man leaves his parents for a woman. The man and woman become part of each other. 6 They are two people, yet one.’ So they’re no longer just two people. They’re united as one. No human should break up what God put together.” 7 The Pharisees asked, “Oh, is that so? Well then why did Moses order that it was okay for a man to give his wife a written note saying she was divorced, and then to send her on her way?” 8 Jesus said, “Moses gave you that commandment because you people have a heart problem. Your heart’s too hard. But what you’re talking about is not how it was in the beginning. 9 I’m telling you this, you commit adultery if you divorce your wife for any reason other than sexual immorality and then marry someone else.”
Jesus: Stay single if you can10 The disciples told Jesus, “Well if that’s the case, a man is better off not to get married.” 11 Jesus said, “Not everyone can live that way, though. 12 Some men don’t get married because they were born impotent. Others have been castrated. Others decide not to get married so they can give the Kingdom of Heaven their priority. Anyone able to live this way should do it.
Kids own the Kingdom13 Some people brought their children to Jesus so he could place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples stopped the people and criticized them. 14 Jesus told his disciples, “Let those children come over here to me. Don’t try to stop them. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like them.” 15 Jesus put his hands on them and then went on his way.
Too rich for the Kingdom16 A young man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good do I have to do to make sure I get to live forever?” 17 Jesus answered, “Why are you asking me about something good? There’s only One who is good. If you want to live forever, obey him. Keep his commandments.” 18 The man asked, “Which ones?” Jesus answered, “Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about others. 19 Treat your mother and father honorably. Love your neighbor like you love yourself.” 20 The young man said, “I’ve kept all these laws. What else do I need to do?” 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to get it perfectly right, go and sell everything you have. Then give the money to the poor. If you do that, you’ll have treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.” 22 When the young man heard that, he turned and walked away, deeply disappointed. He had a lot of assets. 23 Jesus told his disciples, “I’m telling you the truth, it’s incredibly hard for a rich person to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 Let me say it this way. It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of God.” 25 That astonished the disciples. They said, “My goodness, if that’s true, who could possibly ever get saved?” 26 Jesus looked right into the eyes of the disciples and said, “For humans, it’s impossible. But for God, everything is possible.”
Disciples in charge in the Age to Come27 Peter said, “Look at us. We have left everything to follow you. What’s going to happen to us?” 28 Jesus told the disciples, “Here’s the truth. In the new age that’s coming, when the Son of Humans sits on his magnificent throne, those of you who have followed me will sit on 12 thrones. You’ll be in charge of the 12 tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left their home or brothers or sisters or father and mother or children or property out of devotion to me will receive 100 times more. And they will live forever. 30 But many people who were last and least in this world will be first and foremost in the world to come."
Divorce became a hot topic in the region of Galilee. That’s because Herod Antipas I, the ruler of Galilee, divorced his wife so he could marry his brother’s wife. This woman, also, divorced her husband, Philip, so she could marry Herod. Herod’s ex-wife fled to her father, king of a neighboring region called Nabatea. The outraged father declared war on Galilee. John the Baptist criticized Herod’s marriage because it broke Jewish law and was considered incest. Herod’s new wife did not like being described as a sex sin. In time, she managed to get John’s head served to her on a platter (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29).
Some servants and officials in palaces were castrated so they could be trusted to work in the presence of a queen and the king’s daughters. The Bible refers to one such man, an Ethiopian eunuch who was a court official of Candace, the queen. (Acts 8:27). Jewish law prohibited a man like this from becoming fully integrated into the Jewish community (Deuteronomy 23:1). He was considered damaged goods.
Examples: John the Baptist, Jesus, along with Paul, who said, “I’m a bachelor, and I wish every man could live that way. But we all have our own gifts from God” (1 Corinthians 7:7).
It’s unclear why Jesus bristles at the man’s reference to goodness: whether the man is talking about a good deed, as Matthew reports it, or whether the man is describing Jesus as a good Teacher, as Mark reports it (Mark 10: 18). Suggestions include that, in Mark’s account at least, Jesus detected some insincere flattery, or perhaps Jesus was hinting that he really is good because he really is God. The goodness of God is a common theme in the Bible. For example: Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 25:8. The man may have simply intended to offer Jesus a genuine and remarkable show of respect. It was rare for anyone in the first century to get addressed as a “Good Teacher.”
Jesus was quoting from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20).
Many Jews seemed to think that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and approval. But given what many Bible writers have to say about wealth and the wealthy, the opposite is often the case. “Hey, you rich people. The clock is ticking. Misery is coming… Your gold and silver are crusted in tarnish…You are so bloated with sin that you’re like an animal that has been fattened for slaughter” (James 5:1, 3, 5).
Jesus may have been referring to Daniel 7:9, “I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge” (New Living Translation).
Divorce and remarriage was a politically charged controversial matter in the time of Jesus, because Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, had divorced his wife so he could marry the ex-wife of his brother, Philip. The father of Herod’s ex-wife, a ruler himself, launched the war against Galilee. A group of Pharisees tried to drag Jesus into the debate by asking him what he thought about divorce. He said, “No human should break up what God put together” (19:6). And he said that any person who got divorced for a reason other than sexual immorality and then marries another is committing adultery (19:9). Since so many people got divorced then and get divorced now, how do you think we should interpret what Jesus said? Which idea below best represents what you think about this?
- Jesus was referring to the divorce and remarriage of Herod Antipas I and his new wife.
- Jesus was using hyperbole—exaggeration intended to discourage people from the all-to-easy divorce practice common among Jewish men. They simply wrote a note confirming their divorce, and sent their wife away.
- Jesus meant exactly what he said. No exaggeration.
Jesus said that Moses allowed a man to give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away “because you people have a heart problem. Your heart’s too hard” (19:8). What do you think Jesus may have meant by that?
Jesus said some people “decide not to get married so they can give the Kingdom of Heaven their priority. Anyone able to live this way should do it” (19:12). The apostle Paul said much the same thing: “I’m a bachelor, and I wish every man could live that way. But we all have our own gifts from God” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Throughout this chapter, Paul encourages unmarried people to stay unmarried. He says unmarried people have fewer spiritual distractions and are better able to focus on doing the Lord’s work. Which option below do you think might best explain why Paul would say something like that—and why Jesus might have agreed with him?
- It worked for him.
- Perhaps he has seen this illustrated in the lives of his traveling associates.
- It’s simple math, based on how many hours we have in a day to get our stuff done.
- Paul thought Jesus was coming back very soon (7:31).
- God’s Spirit told him to say this.
When the disciples tried to stop some parents from taking their children to see Jesus, Jesus told the disciples, “Let those children come over here to me. Don’t try to stop them. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like them” (19:14). That could sound like a pretty vague thing to say. What do you think Jesus might have meant by this?
When a man approached Jesus with a question about eternal life, the Gospel of Mark says he addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” (10:17). But Matthew says the man, instead, asked Jesus “What good do I have to do to make sure I get to live forever?” (19:16). In either case, Jesus responded by saying that only God is good (19:17). What do you think is going on with that exchange? It’s as though Jesus is trying to make a point, but it’s tough to know what that point might be.
A rich man came up to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to live forever. With the answer Jesus gave, the man might have preferred a dropkick to the face. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have… Come and follow me” (19:21). Frankly, that doesn’t sound like an enticing invitation. Sell all your assets and follow a man who’s going to God knows where because you have no idea where he’s going. And if you knew, the invitation would seem even less enticing. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would get crucified. Do you think the man made a wise choice by walking away?
Jesus says, “It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of God” (19:24). Well, it’s impossible for a camel to survive a trip through the eye of a needle, given that a camel would have to make that journey one thin hair at a time. Is that how rich people are going to make it into heaven, by a hair? If at all.
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus quotes what was his Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, by saying that when two people get married they “become part of each other. They are two people, yet one” (19:5-6). What do you think that looks like in marriage? Other than in the physical intimacy of marriage, in what other ways do you think the two partners become one?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Jesus told the disciples how hard it was for rich people to make it into God’s Kingdom, they were “astonished” (19:25). It was a common misperception among Jews that rich people were rich because God was pleased with them, and that poor people were poor because God was not happy with them. Do you think people still wonder about that, and suspect it might be true?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus said it takes some sacrifice to follow him. Peter told Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you” (19:27). What do you think Christians in our neck of the world give up to follow Jesus?