Having God’s Mind in Our Views on Natural Things
Matthew 19. We have had the unfolding of a new dispensation in ch.13-17 (the kingdom of heaven). Then in ch.18 we had the gracious character that ought to be found in believers, and how the kingdom would co-exist with the assembly Christ would build in His absence. In other words, we’ve learned how the kingdom is going to work with the future institutions of God, but not yet how it works with past institutions of God. We did have some of this already in ch.5-7… how the kingdom of heaven relates to the law of Moses; i.e. it establishes it, and even goes beyond it in standards of righteousness. Why? Because the law only gave the requirements for man to meet God’s minimum standard, but did not reveal His heart. In ch.19 we find the Lord going back past the law to reveal God’s original intentions when these institutions were given! Rather than set aside the previous institutions of marriage, children, and basic morality, these things were going to take on a higher and clearer value in the kingdom of heaven! Under the law, there was allowance made for worldly ideas and views to creep into these areas of life. Notwithstanding, if one was spiritual, the mind of God about moral issues could be discerned. But now, in the kingdom of heaven, all ambiguity about God’s mind with regard to marriage, children, wealth, and possessions was cleared up. The disciples speak up in each of the four sections in this chapter, and each time they convey the viewpoint and character of the world!
- Selfishness… “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (v.10).
- Austerity… “There were brought to him little children… but the disciples rebuked them” (v.13).
- Materialism… “They were exceedingly astonished, saying, Who then can be saved?” (v.25).
- Self-righteousness… “We have left all things and have followed thee; what then shall happen to us?” (v.27).
The theme of this chapter is that we are to have complete unworldliness in our thoughts and viewpoints about natural things in the kingdom of heaven. It is the reorientation of our minds from man’s view to God’s view. There is even a natural order seen in the chapter: first marriage (vv.1-12), then little children (vv.13-15), then young men (vv.16-26), and finally adults (vv.27-30)!
- A Proper View of Divorce and Remarriage (19:1-12)
- A Proper View of Little Children (vv.13-15)
- A Proper View of Material Wealth: The Rich Young Man (vv.16-26)
- A Proper View of Present Sacrifice: Rewards in the Kingdom (vv.27-30)
The Journey from Galilee to Perea (vv.1-2)
¶ And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, he withdrew from Galilee, and came to the coasts of Judaea beyond the Jordan; v.1 The “coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan” refers to the region known as Perea. The Lord had finished His Galilean ministry, having visited every major town in the region, and demonstrating that He was the Messiah. Having been rejected by the rulers of His own country, the Lord now marches toward His death, and on the way brings light and blessing to another region. This is a good lesson for us; the servants of God are not to leave one place until they have completed the work given to them by God (Rev. 11:7). But when the work is finished, we can feel perfect liberty to move on to a new sphere. He would not return to Galilee until after His resurrection.
- In Matt. 4:12 – 18:35 we have the Lord’s Galilean ministry.
- In Matt. 19:1 – 20:28 we have the Lord’s Perean ministry.
- In Matt. 20:29 – 27:66 we have the Lord’s Judean ministry.
2 and great crowds followed him, and he healed them there. v.2 In a certain sense, it is nice to see that the crowds followed the Lord into Perea. When Christ leaves a certain place, we ought to leave as well. And yet we find that is His healing they desired, not His fellowship. But even when His power is sought imperfectly, we find the Lord ready to help. Nor was this a stunt to gain popularity; if that was His motive He would have bidden the crowds to follow Him to Jerusalem before healing them.
Divorce and the Original Purpose of Marriage (vv.3-6)
¶ 3 And the Pharisees came to him tempting him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? v.3 These Pharisees evidently made a journey from Judea into Perea to bring this question to the Lord. There were two schools of thought on divorce at this time. One was very strict, the other was very loose. The Pharisees came to the Lord to try to get Him involved in the public controversy of the day. These ones were from the “loose” camp, and they well knew He did not support divorce “for every [or, any] cause”. These Pharisees claimed to be zealous of the law, but they really had no respect for God or His Word. The Lord had already declared His mind about divorce at an earlier time in Galilee (Matt. 5:31-32), but now they try to turn the people of a new region against the Lord by “tempting Him” to condemn the common practice of the Jews in that day, and be found in contradiction to the law of Moses. This would be akin to the liberal news media asking a conservative politician in New York State to discuss their views on gay marriage. The Lord does not swerve even a millimeter from the truth, and yet He carefully evades getting drawn into a political debate.
4 But he answering said to them, Have ye not read that he who made them, from the beginning made them male and female, v.4 The Lord sets a clear example of how to respond when someone tries to draw us into a debate. He doesn’t comment on what the rabbis said or taught. He goes straight to the scripture; “have ye not read?”. There is beautiful humility in the expression “he who made them”… it was the Lord who made them (Col. 1:16)! As the One who created husband and wife, He is the One who can set the standard for marriage, and define conditions for divorce and remarriage. He goes back to what was “from the beginning”. This is a great principle. Sin comes in and complicates, and twists up the practice of what God originally set forth. If we want to know how to walk in a day of declension, regardless of the subject, we are to go back to the beginning and get God’s mind about it. He made them “male and female”; i.e. God created a single pair composed of a man and a woman. That was His mind for marriage; one man and one woman. How these things have been twisted up!
- Today a person’s gender is a topic for debate, and even changeable through surgery and hormonal treatments. God says “No, every person is either male or female”.
- Today homosexual marriage is not only accepted but celebrated. God says “No, marriage is between a man and a woman.”
- Today sexual relations with multiple partners is widely accepted. God says “No, sexual relations are to be between married couples only (monogamy)”.
The point here is that God’s ideal was a single pair… He never intended them to be each the only one for the other. Adam could not divorce his wife, because there was no other woman to take!
5 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?” [Gen. 2:24] 6 so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. vv.5-6 Here we have the scriptural definition of marriage. A marriage does not merely consist of a piece of paper issued by the government. A marriage occurs when a man leaves his parents’ household and becomes united to a woman (his wife) in a purposeful way. At that time, physically and in God’s sight, they become “one flesh”. Just as Eve was made from a rib taken from Adam’s side, so the wife is like the “missing piece” that makes a man whole again. For a married man to put away his wife is to put away a piece of himself! The marriage occurs the moment the two make that special commitment, and is sealed when they perform the act of marriage. However, we who are living under a government with laws, are required by scripture to “be subject unto the powers that be” (Rom. 13:1). Therefore, a couple must obtain a legal marriage license (issued by the government) to maintain a good conscience. The couple is joined together “by God” when they are actually married, and joined together “by man” through obtaining a legal marriage license. The marriage bond is so real that it cannot be broken except by two things. In both Matt. 5 and 19 the Lord makes it clear that the only just cause for a man to put away his wife (or vice versa) is fornication. In that case divorce is not required, but allowed by God without sin. Fornication breaks the marriage bond before God, because the act joins a person to someone outside their marriage (1 Cor. 6:16). However, through reconciliation the marriage may be repaired (1 Cor. 7:11), and that option is available to the wronged spouse, who might well remember that the Lord hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). The only other thing that would break the marriage bond is the death of one partner (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39). In God’s purpose, marriage is “until death do us part”. But in the case of fornication, the union is broken before death by sin. Legal divorce is only the outward recognition that the marriage is broken before God. Obtaining a legal divorce without the marriage bond being broken is illegitimate! That is why He says “what therefore God has joined together” (i.e. the marriage before God), “let not man separate” (through an unjustified divorce). Legal marriage and legal divorce are needed because of the governments we live under. But the bond of marriage (“one flesh”) is a thing that stands before God, regardless of what the paperwork says. If a marriage doesn’t work out, two people can’t say “I guess we weren’t joined by God.” Every marriage is joined by God, and cannot be dismissed for frivolousness causes. Note: this is not the highest view of marriage (c.p. Ephesians 5), but it is the fundamental definition of it.
The Old Testament: Divorce Allowed in View of Hardheartedness (vv.7-8)
7 They say to him, Why then did Moses command to give a letter of divorce and to send her away? 8 He says to them, Moses, in view of your hardheartedness, allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not thus. vv.7-8 It is always the tendency of man in the flesh to mistreat any institution of God, especially one that is a type of Christ and the church. In the Old Testament, God allowed for divorce if there was some uncleanness with the wife was discovered shortly after marriage (Deut. 24:1). God had allowed it “for the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so.” God had an original intention for marriage, and divorce has not part of that purpose. Divorce is a convention of man, but marriage is an institution of God. God allowed divorce because He knew the “hardness of their hearts” that infidelity would occur, and it was a greater evil in His sight to have ongoing extramarital affairs, than to have divorces occurring without just cause. Therefore, the provision for divorce was allowed to prevent a greater evil, but it was not God’s ideal and it was being abused. We should not be surprised that the law would allow something that wasn’t God’s mind, “for the law made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19). Yet, it was a twisting of the scripture to say that Moses gave “a command”. Divorce was something that God forbore with under the law, but when Jesus came revealing the Father’s heart, the practice could not be condoned “for every cause”. The Pharisees had the practice of divorcing wives quite frequently, and were interpreting Deut. 24 so largely as to make any little dissatisfaction the ground of divorce; e.g. “she’s not a good cook”. Often the motive was lust; the desire for another woman. By writing “a bill of divorcement”, they thought that were justified in remarrying. Jesus went right to the heart of the matter and showed that this was an adulterous practice (v.9)!
The New Testament: Remarriage after Unnecessary Divorce is Adultery (v.9)
9 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. v.9 The Lord now gives a moral principle that goes beyond what Moses said in the giving of the law. Paul refers to this in 1 Cor. 7:10 as a “command” not from Paul, but from “the Lord”. The command is this: remarriage after a legal divorce is an adulterous practice if the divorce was not justified. If a person makes another union before the old one is truly broken, the new union is adultery in God’s sight! The only justification for remarriage after divorce is “for fornication”. It doesn’t matter whether it was the one “putting away” or the one “put away”, if either marries someone else, God counts it as “committing adultery”. Time doesn’t change the state of the sin either. Notice that one put away without the cause of fornication, remains in that condition (“having been dismissed” is the perfect verb participle) until either reconciled to their spouse or until fornication makes the divorce legitimate. You can just say, “well, I guess enough time has gone by now”. No, the Lord takes this very seriously. The couple is “one flesh” until the bond is broken by fornication or death. In 1 Cor. 7:10-11 Paul affirms this, and teaches that separation is improper under normal circumstances (v.10), but if separation has come in (v.11) there are two options; first, be reconciled, and second, remain unmarried. Remarriage is not an option. Later, Paul does go on to address cases not in the scope of Matt. 19 (vv.12-16), so he prefaces it with “to the rest speak I, not the Lord”; but that is another subject.
Continual Adultery. A question has been raised about the continual state of a marriage where a person has remarried after an unjustified divorce. Some believe that the new marriage is null and void, because the first marriage was not broken by fornication or death. Some hold that adultery is being freshly committed night after night by those who remarry after an unjustified divorce. Others believe that the act of remarriage, though it is adultery (Matt. 19:9), does indeed break the old marriage, and therefore God recognizes the new marriage, while He condemns the way it began. Both sides on this issue have reasons which they draw from scripture. I feel strongly one way, but I will try to present evidence on both sides and try not to speak down about those who have a different view. First, the arguments for continual adultery.
Intricacies of the Continual Adultery View. Those who hold the continual adultery position on Matt. 19:9 do not all agree on the the proper course of action for one in such a marriage that repents. Those who are consistent in their view agree that to divorce the new spouse is the right path, because it would be wrong for a Christian to continue in sin. How could we recommend otherwise? We could never recommend a believer to continue in a path of continual sin. Some feel that the new marriage vows were made in the sight of God, and therefore the sin of putting away the new spouse would be worse than the sin of continuing in adultery, so the new marriage should remain intact. I do not bring those situations up to throw hypothetical objections against the continual adultery position. If the continual adultery position is correct, we cannot blame God for the complications our own sins have raised.
I personally do not hold the continual adultery view, for a number of reasons, although I know, love, and respect many godly brethren who see it that way. I do not which to speak against them, or put them down. Now, the arguments for singular (one-time, not continual) adultery.
- The Bond is Broken. It is a mistake to say that God still sees the old marriage bond as in-tact, because it has been broken by the more recent adultery. The act of remarriage implies fornication, which Matt. 5 and 19 say breaks the first marriage. Therefore, the act of remarriage is adultery… in fact it is a deeper, darker form of adultery than what we might traditionally think of, because it is an attempt to justify self-will by the law. However, to say the old bond remains unbroken after the remarriage is to go beyond scripture. You can’t on one hand say the old marriage is broken for the innocent spouse, but not broken for the other. I do not bring this out to say we should go easy on those who put away their spouse to marry another. That is wicked, evil, adultery… period. Like other sin, it must be judged and repented of before God. I do believe in “continual adultery” in the sense that the guilty party continues in their sin until repentance takes place.
- Rebuttal of Argument “The Present Tense”. The action of “marrying” the one put away, and the result of “committing” adultery are both in the present tense. The point is moot, because when the cause is in the present tense, we expect the result to be in the present tense also. An example of this is in John 8. A woman was brought to the Lord “taken in adultery” (perfect verb participle). It was certainly not going on presently, she was standing in the midst of the council. But the effect of what she had done was still on her. She was verily guilty of that sin. The Pharisees say “this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act” (here the present verb participle is used). When they interrupted the couple in the very act, that was the action ongoing, but later before the council it was the effect ongoing.
- Rebuttal of Argument “The Bond is Until Death”. The scriptures affirm that the marriage bond continues until death, but scripture also says that fornication breaks the marriage bond  . It seems to me, this argument takes these scriptures out of context, and denies the teaching of others. Neither 1 Cor. 7:39 nor Rom. 7:2-3 speak of the state of the old marriage after remarriage has occurred. How many times does a wife (Rom. 7) need to commit adultery to be “called an adulteress”? One time. The scriptures are in perfect agreement. The epistles (1 Cor. 7, Rom. 7) tell us that death breaks the marriage bond and any relations before death is adultery, and the gospels (Matt. 5, 19, etc.) tell us that fornication breaks the marriage bond. We need to remember that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). We need the light of Matthew/Mark, Romans, and 1 Corinthians combined to get God’s full mind on this subject. Just because fornication as a justification for divorce isn’t brought out in Romans and 1 Corinthians, we cannot built a doctrine based on its omission. While all three are in perfect agreement, the Spirit of God is bringing out different points in each passage.
- Rebuttal of Argument “The Government of God”. Certainly, I affirm that God has not designed His government to reward sin. But who would really say that one who has remarried in adultery has avoided the consequences of their sin? No, instead they have made shipwreck of their first marriage, potentially messed up their children, missed out on unspeakable joy, inherited unspeakable heartache, and now are remarried to one who is probably opposed to their repentance. Just because something was conceived in sin doesn’t mean that God cannot bring blessing out of it. Take our own salvation for an example. I would suggest that this argument is very dangerous indeed, and when taken to its logical conclusion. Of course, not all who hold this “continual adultery” position use the Gal. 6 argument.
- Rebuttal of Argument “The Awkward Situations”. These situations are the perfect occasions for Christian grace to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). What a testimony it would be to the world to see a husband who had so wronged his wife and children to humble himself in repentance. What a testimony to the grace of God for a wronged wife to forgive an adulterous husband, and genuinely desire his blessing. Now, the repentant husband may choose to attend another gathering out of care for his first wife, if that would make her feel more comfortable. I do not see “awkward situations” as a valid argument for continual adultery.
To summarize, scripture does not address the case of one who repents after getting remarried in adultery, but I do feel that scripture teaches their old marriage is broken. I respect those who hold the “continual adultery” position, although I think the weight of scripture is against it. Yet I hasten to say that we should never treat sin lightly, and affirm that the guilty party (in remarriage after an unjustified divorce) continues in their sin until repentance takes place.
Note: On this website I try to stay consistent with the teaching of the brethren used by God to recover much of God’s truth in the mid-1800’s. However, those brethren are silent on this particular issue of continual adultery. There is not one article, letter, etc. that deals with precisely this case. As these situations began to come up with more frequency in the mid to late-1900’s, some brethren took (and still hold) the continual adultery position. I do not write the above paragraph to be controversial, or dogmatic. When faced with these very real situations, we must have scripture to stand on. I would be very willing to have my mind changed… but it must be on the basis of God’s word. I’ve considered pulling this section down, for the fear of being divisive. If you feel this is divisive please contact me.
The Wisdom of Celibacy (vv.10-12)
10 His disciples say to him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. v.10 The solemnity of the marriage bond begins to sink into the disciples. The practice of dismissing a wife “for every cause” was so common, it seemed almost impossible to stay married to one woman for life. Indeed, it would be impossible apart from the grace of God. Would it be better not to marry? This thought stems from selfishness. But technically, it would be better not to marry than to commit adultery by illegitimate remarriage. The Lord takes advantage of the opportunity to speak of singleness. Far from degenerating the sanctity of marriage, the Lord now reveals that there is power from God that can lift a person above the need for marriage altogether!
11 And he said to them, All cannot receive this word, but those to whom it has been given; v.11 A path of singleness is not only an option, it is “given” to certain ones… singleness is a gift from God. The Apostle Paul is an example of one who was given the gift of singleness, and used it for the Lord. Christians sometimes make marriage the pinnacle of the Christian life. That is not what scripture teaches! Actually, singleness for the purpose of devotion to Christ is the highest calling (1 Cor. 7:7); “every man hath his proper gift of God; one after this manner, and another after that”. There are two ditches here. We can make marriage the pinnacle of Christian life, or we can make singleness the rule for every spiritual person (monks, etc.). A person has to be given a special gift to remain celibate “standing steadfast having no necessity” (1 Cor. 7:37); otherwise “it is better to marry than to burn”. Generally speaking, the majority have the “necessity” and will be married, but not all. There are works to be done for the Lord that are better suited to those who are single.
12a 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 made eunuchs of themselves for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens. v.12a Three kinds of eunuchs are mentioned. Of the three, only the third is voluntary celibacy, and that is the path the Lord is speaking about.
- Some “born thus from their mother’s womb”; are those who are born with birth defects.
- Some “made eunuchs of men”; are slaves that were castrated by their masters.
- Some “made eunuchs of themselves”; are those who chose a life of celibacy that they might better serve the Lord in the time of His absence, and further the interests of His kingdom.
12b He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. v.12b Again, the path of singleness is a privileged path, but not for everyone. We are not to make this a law. This is precisely what the Church did in the early centuries of its history. “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Nothing has created so many problems for the Roman Catholic Church than to force celibacy on the clergy. It is a fundamental denial of God’s wisdom in creation, and if the clear teaching of scripture. In most cases, “marriage is honourable in all” (Heb. 13:4). However, if a person “is able to receive it” they should! What a loss, for one who could have been used by God on a global scale, to reject this gift.
An anecdotal story of sacrifice. John Darby was a single man all his life, but at one time he was engaged to marry the wealthy, beautiful, yet spiritual Lady Theodosia Powerscourt, who had previously been widowed at the age of thirty-two (both were born in the year 1800). During their engagement, the Lord began to speak to each of them about John’s usefulness in service to the Lord. Lady Powerscourt wrote Mr. Darby a letter telling him that she felt it was a worthy sacrifice to give up marriage for a life of single devotion to the Lord, in order that John might more fully take up his work of writing and teaching. Unbeknownst to her, John had written her a letter to the same effect, and the letters crossed paths in the mail! They were of one mind in that sacrifice, without even speaking. Many years later, Mr. Darby was in the home of Walter Potter. The Potters were working together to prepare a meal. While they worked Mr. Darby sat nearby holding one of the children on his knee. As he held the child, he felt a sense of loneliness, and he knew down deep that he was missing something. He gave verbal expression to these feelings by quoting a verse, in German so the Potters would not understand, “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Mr. Darby didn’t know it, but the Potters knew German, and understood perfectly what he said. When we make a sacrifice for the Lord, if it is real, it is not a lame animal (Malachi 1:8); it is not giving up something we wouldn’t miss anyways if it were gone. The cost is deep, and we feel that loss. But we can go through that loss in fellowship with the Savior who sacrificed everything, and now is set down at the right hand of the majesty on high! Can the Lord use our sacrifices? Lady Powerscourt lived in a mansion. She left the Anglican Church and gave up her mansion; not because she had to, but because she wanted to. She died at the young age of thirty-six. Mr. Darby died at the age of eighty-two, after touring North America seven times, as one writer put it “living out of a suitcase for decades”. Through his work in America, dispensational truth and the pre-tribulation rapture fell into the hands and the heart of many like C.I. Scofield, who, along with D.L. Moody and others, caused the mid-night cry to sound out across America, and the world; and the Church woke up as to the imminent return of Christ. But it is not the results of our sacrifice that make up for the loss, rather it is the fellowship of Christ in it. One year before his death, when Darby was eighty-one, he wrote to a newlywed, “You have a helpmeet, and I have trod it alone; but all [this] is lost, so to speak, in His grace and faithfulness.” May God give us hearts willing to make sacrifices, that we may in some small degree, return Christ’s love to Him again.
- Letters and Papers of Viscountess Powerscourt: edited by Robert Daly
- The History of the Brethren: Napoleon Noel
- John Nelson Darby: Max S. Weremchuk
- The Origins of the Brethren: Harold Rowden
A Proper View of Little Children (vv.13-15)
¶ 13 Then there were brought to him little children that he might lay his hands on them and pray; but the disciples rebuked them. v.13 This section takes up little children in a literal sense (c.p. 1 John 2 where it is in a spiritual sense). It could include infants, toddlers, and school-age children. Their parents had brought them in faith to the Lord that He might touch them and pray for them. As Christian parents, we should do the same; bring them to the Lord in prayer, bring them to the assembly meetings, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord… even if they don’t understand what we are doing. The disciples manifest the world’s character of austerity or hardheartedness toward them. Perhaps they viewed these children as an annoyance; a distraction to the Lord of the universe. They actually “rebuked” them; essentially saying “get lost”. They had not learned the lessons of Matt. 18:1-14! They simply did not think much of little people. The world is like that. For all their talk about tolerance and acceptance, the western world is responsible for the outright murder of children every day. The United States allows unborn children to be killed at the astonishing rate of 2500 per day. The leading reason for abortion in the United States is inconvenience (93%). People want to live in sin and do not want to accept the responsibility of a child. Their solution? Murder the child. How can they justify murder? They must steel their hearts against basic, natural affection (Rom. 1:31), and they must deny that unborn children are full-fledged human beings! This is the spirit of the world, and it is no surprise to us that it is found out there. But can such an attitude come into our hearts as believers? Do we have a care to make ourselves accessible to little children? How about a care to bring the truth of God before them at a young age? What about the example we are setting for them? Are we directing them to the Lord?
14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of the heavens is of such: v.14 The Lord displays the opposite character; kindness instead of hardheartedness. We are to “suffer” little children, which means to tolerate them, being patient with whatever inconveniences are involved. The inconveniences might be real, but they fade away in the presence of divine love. “Do not hinder them from coming unto me”… the disciples were acting as interceptors, but they were really misrepresenting the Lord’s heart. They were making the Lord out to be an austere Person, without “the time of day” for insignificant ones like children. This is not true! What a Person; infinite in greatness, He despises none. The Lord goes on to say “of such is the Kingdom of heaven”, meaning that to save each one of us was an inconvenience for the Lord. Whether you be the Queen of England, or the child of a peasant, both are not worthy to be compared to the Lord of Glory. But since all are as dead dogs before Him, they are thus qualified to be the objects of His sovereign grace; “for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Cor. 5:14). What a rebuke for the disciples’ pride!
15 and having laid his hands upon them, he departed thence. v.15 The faith of these parents was rewarded. The Savior’s heart having been revealed, and the disciples’ pride rebukes, at last the hands of the Lord are laid upon the little ones. “He departed thence” on His way to the cross, where those same hands would be nailed to a cross of wood.
¶ 16 And lo, one coming up said to him, Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have life eternal? v.16 Here we have one, a young man (v.22), that comes to the Lord on the basis of works; “what good thing shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He was a man of remarkable energy, for in Mark 10:17 we find that this young man came running. Furthermore, he must have been of excellent character, for we read in Mark 10:21 that Jesus “beholding him, loved him”. This love spoke of the admiration the Lord had for the young man’s natural character, similar to how you might appreciate the beauty of a sunset. In spite of all that, there was not an ounce of faith in him! He came to the Lord looking to find out what he could do to have “eternal life”, not in the New Testament sense (John 17:3) but in the Old Testament sense (Deut. 11:21; Lev. 18:5; Psa. 133:3), of living long upon the earth though keeping the law. This young man had it pretty good, and he didn’t want the party to end. He was looking to “lock in” to this lifestyle for good.
17 And he said to him, What askest thou me concerning goodness? one is good. But if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments. v.17 This young man had come to the Lord as a “teacher” who was known for His goodness. The man came to him concerning the question of “goodness”; i.e. how good does one have to be to live forever on earth. In Mark the young man actually calls the Lord “Good Teacher”. Surely, the Lord was a good man (the only perfect One) but He decries this mistake of coming to Jesus as merely a good person. All men are sinners (Rom. 3:12), and if Jesus were only a man, He would not be good. He rejects being called a good man where His deity is denied. If we look out in Christendom, this is precisely with the liberals have done; reduced Jesus into being merely a moral superhero; the best a man can be. That is not what Jesus came for! If all Jesus does for us is set the perfect example, how much more miserable our condition as depraved, but now in light of His perfection! This man had not learned the first lesson of faith; I am lost. He thought he was good. He had never smelled his own stench. The Lord would not allow Himself to be called good in this way; He points instead to God… “One is good”. But the Lord takes this man up on his question. If you want to live forever, do as the scriptures say, and “keep the commandments”.
18 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, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother,” [Exodus 21:12-16] and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” [Lev. 19:18] vv.18-19 His legal attitude is manifest by asking for specific commandments. If he had a clear conscience about all the commandments he wouldn’t have asked “Which?”. The Lord lists the five man-ward commandments, and another commandment not of the ten, but which summarizes the five. The ten commandments are divided into two parts. The first four commandments have to do with fidelity toward God, summarized by the Lord as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding” (Deut. 6:5). The last six have to do with conduct toward our fellow man, and the Lord summarized them as “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). Read Matt. 22:36-40. Man’s responsibility toward God is greater than his responsibility toward his fellow man (a principle very backwards today), and therefore the second group of commands was called “these least commandments” (Matt. 5:19).
20 The young man says to him, All these have I kept; what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said to him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. 22 But the young man, having heard the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions. vv.20-22 The young man replies that he has kept all these commandments. This was not true, as the Lord is about to show. The Lord had left out the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet”. This tenth commandment is special in that it prohibits an inward desire, not merely an outward action. It is the most basic commandment, and everyone has broken it. Paul said that if it weren’t for the tenth commandment, he would have not been convicted of sin (Rom. 7:7). A few could keep the other nine out of ten commandments, but lust is one thing that gets all of us in different ways. This young man loved his possessions more than the Lord, and it was the “one thing” lacking. He was not “perfect”… he did NOT love his neighbor as himself, otherwise he would have given up his wealth that the poor might be fed and clothed. Not only does the Lord respond to the young man’s question about earthly blessing, but He offers to this young man something he had never considered; “treasure in heaven”. But this man valued treasure on earth more than treasure in heaven; a mark of the absence of faith (Heb. 11:13-16). Furthermore, the Jew who really had faith would recognize the Messiah when He came. If this man truly wanted a heart that was right with God, he would abandon all and “come, follow me”. Finally, this young man “went away grieved”. He came to the Savior not looking for salvation, but a way to hold onto his riches. He went away sorrowful; holding onto that which he could not keep, and having failed to gain something that he would never lose. Three things mark the absence of faith; (1) a covetous heart, (2) earthly-mindedness, and (3) no love for Jesus.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, Verily I say unto you, A rich man shall with difficulty enter into the kingdom of the heavens; 24 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. vv.23-24 This provided an opportunity for the Lord to bring out an important principle. Under the law, material riches were viewed as a sign of God’s approval, and there are scriptures to support that belief to some degree. But in the new dispensation, material riches were going to be a positive hinderance in spiritual things! A rich man could “with difficulty” enter the kingdom of heaven (i.e. be saved). The more resources we have (money, houses, cars, position) the more difficult it is to come to Christ. Then in v.24 the Lord takes it a step farther; just how difficult is it? It is easier for a natural impossibility to occur (“a camel to enter a needle’s eye”) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It’s not that salvation for the rich is absolutely impossible, but that it is humanly impossible. Notice the change of language; in v.23 it was “the kingdom of heaven” entered “with difficulty”. The kingdom of heaven is a literal kingdom on earth, and it requires an active energy of faith to enter it (Matt. 11:12). Now in v.24 is it “the kingdom of God” impossible to enter by human effort. The kingdom of God is a moral kingdom, in which God is reigning in the hearts of all those who have divine life. In John 3:5 we find that one must “be born of water and of Spirit” in order for him to “enter into the kingdom of God”. When it comes to new birth, whether for the rich or for any person, it requires a sovereign action of God! The point the Lord is making here is that material riches form a natural barrier that is humanly impossible to cross. What a different viewpoint than the disciples had under the law! See note below on the eye of a needle.
25 And when the disciples heard it they were exceedingly astonished, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus, looking on them, said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. vv.25-26 The disciples, as always in ch.19, give the natural response. Under the Law, material wealth was taken as a sign of God’s blessing, and it often accompanied the devout Jew. The Lord had just rocked their world with the “camel” statement. To them, the rich had the best chance possible of being saved, and if they couldn’t be saved, then who could? They had really missed the Lord’s point. He wasn’t saying that the rich have the greatest opportunity, He was saying that – humanly speaking – the rich have the greatest hindrance! As in each section in this chapter, the Lord does not answer the natural bent in their response, but takes the opportunity to give a higher principle. Although the salvation of the rich (and the poor, for that matter) is impossible with men, yet “with God all things are possible”! We have a similar thought in 1 Cor. 1:26; “For consider your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to flesh, not many powerful, not many high-born.” The sovereign call of God does not fall along the lines of nature. Instead, generally speaking God sovereignly elects those who are poor, despised, uneducated, etc. Very few of the elect are: well-education, wealthy, or important in this world. But not all. A nice example is Queen Victoria, who was a godly woman. She used to sow the letter ‘M’ on all her clothes. She said “I love the letter ‘M’ because of this verse; ‘not many noble’. If it weren’t for that ‘M’ I wouldn’t have been saved.” It is God’s sovereign prerogative and delight to call and to save the most unlikely (e.g. Saul of Tarsus). In Matthew we often have the sovereignty of God rising over the failures of men.
What is the eye of a needle? Perhaps no verse has been more abused than Matt. 19:24. Based on the simple reading of the text, there shouldn’t be any confusion about what it means for “a camel to enter a needle’s eye” (see also Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25). At face value, this appears to mean fitting a massive pack-animal through the small hole at the end of a sewing needle. I suggest this is exactly what it means. You might protest, “but that’s impossible!” Exactly, it’s humanly impossible, and that is our Lord’s very point (v.26).
The Needle-Gate Theory emerged hundreds of years ago as a “comfortable” way to sidestep this statement of impossibility. The theory goes like this. In the city of Jerusalem there was a narrow entrance into the city, and that gate was known locally as “the eye of the needle.” The passage was so small that a camel could enter only “with great difficulty” (v.23). The camel would have to be unladen of all its burdens, representing material wealth. It would have to be squeezed through on its knees, which depicts how a rich man must humble himself to come to the Lord. It sounds nice, and it really softens the force of the Lord’s words, but I believe it to be a false interpretation. Here are three reasons why:
- Exegetical. The interpretation counts on extra-biblical information that alters the fundamental meaning of the text. This is something to beware of. The Bible in general, and especially the words of Christ, are plain enough to be understood without archaeological and cultural studies. Those details are nice to have, but it is a red flag when extra-biblical data is used to change the meaning of what is otherwise plain and straightforward.
- Historical. There are no records indicating that such a gate ever existed until the 9th century A.D., and references to a gate called “the eye of a needle” do not appear until a few hundred years later. Furthermore, a similar proverb used to convey impossibility was common among the Persians; it would be easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle. The Jews, who had no Elephants in their land, picked up the proverb and substituted the largest animal common to Palestine, a camel. This is consistent with contemporary references by Jesus to camels (Matt. 23:24).
- Common sense. What camel driver would unload everything and force his massive, stubborn companion through a small corridor? This is not a practical solution. Perhaps in an emergency it could occur, but never with the frequency required to make it become a common proverb.
The Misspelling Theory. Cyril of Alexandria claimed that the Greek word for “camel” [‘kamelos’] was a misspelling. His claim was that the original word was ‘kamilos’ (very similar), which means “rope” or “cable”. If this were true, it would read more like this; “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” On one hand, this interpretation doesn’t alter the plain teaching of the passage, but on the other hand it does raise questions about the inerrancy of Scripture.
Summary. The clear teaching of the passage conveys the thought of impossibility, and this is verified by our Lord’s words in v.26. Sadly, stories like the Needle-Gate Theory have a strange appeal to us, and can spread like wildfire when they are really unfounded.
27 Then Peter answering said to him, Behold, “we” have left all things and have followed thee; what then shall happen to us? v.27 Having heard the Lord’s warning against the hindrance of riches, and the lost opportunity of “treasure in heaven”, Peter thought it might be a good time to remind the Lord of the disciples’ sacrifice. It was a very natural urge, and rather self-righteous. The Lord gently rebukes the concept of “reward-mongering” briefly in v.30, and more fully in the Parable of the Vineyard. But first the Lord is kind to speak to the hearts of the disciples. What would happen to them?
28 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. v.28 The reward for the twelve apostles was magnificent. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name” (Heb. 6:10). The rewards would have to wait for the day of manifestation, called here “the Regeneration”, or the Millennium. Regeneration means “to give a new and more vigorous life to something” or “to give a new lifestyle”. The believer’s regeneration is a total change of lifestyle that a person undergoes when they are born again and sealed with the Spirit (Titus 3:5). The world’s regeneration is a moral transformation that will occur in the Millennium. The world today is overrun by evil, and when Christ returns, He will judge the evil and set up a kingdom where He will “reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). This will be a complete contrast to the world today when believers “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (1 Pet. 3:14; Matt. 5:10). In the administration of the Millennial earth, Christ will reign supreme, but He will have partners reigning with Him. The church will reign with Him (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 21:9 – 22:5), and all His heavenly saints (Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs included) as well. But the privilege of “judging the twelve tribes of Israel” is especially reserved for the twelve apostles.
29 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 life eternal. v.29 Now the Lord extends the principle of reward out to all His disciples, not just the twelve. Our faithfulness and sacrifice in this time of Christ’s rejection determines our reward in the time of Christ’s public vindication. We may have to leave things (houses, lands) and relationships (brothers, sisters, parents, a spouse) in order to be faithful to Christ. Of course, the Lord is not justifying divorce or abandonment of a spouse or child. The point is, you may lose the natural sweetness of those relationships it they are not willing to follow Christ with you. All this sacrifice is “for my name’s sake”; i.e. our association with a rejected Christ will result in sacrifice. To those faithful ones who appear to this world as utter losers, they will be the true gainers; “shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life”. What the rich young man had desired so badly, but which he could not keep, will then be given eternally as a reward to those who are willing to lose their life presently.
30 But many first shall be last, and last first. v.30 A gentle correction to Peter’s attitude is finally administered by the Lord, along with an encouragement. Not all rewards will be the same. Those who vaunt themselves even in a spiritual way, and think highly of themselves, will suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ. We are not to have our own position and reward in mind as we labor. We must serve with a humble attitude, and leave the subject of reward to God. The day of manifestation will hold many surprises; this is precisely the subject of the following similitude!
- Kelly, William. Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew. Loizeaux Brothers, 1943. pp.136-137; 374
- Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940. p.141