Matthew Chapter 19 Divorce and Rich Man

Outline of Chapter 19

  1. Jesus took his ministry out of Galilee and into Judea beyond the Jordon (called Perea), which is east of the Jordan River (Matthew 19:1-2). He taught Pharisees (Matthew 19:3), the disciples (Matthew 19:10, 13), a questioner (Matthew 19:16), and Peter (Matthew 19:26).
  2. Pharisees question whether divorce is lawful, and Jesus answers that it is lawful only for gross sexual sin (Matthew 19:3-12).
  3. Children (with their trust and humility) typify the kingdom of heaven people (Matthew 19:13-15).
  4. A wealthy young man asks Jesus how he may obtain eternal life. Jesus answers with man that is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:16-26).
  5. Peter asks Jesus about rewards for the disciples. Jesus answers that in the kingdom they will rule under him, and they will be rewarded many times more than they gave up (Matthew 19:27-30).


  1. Jesus took his ministry out of Galilee and into Judea, (Matthew 19:1-2).
    • Jesus move from east of the Jordan west into Judea
    • Crowds followed him because of his teaching and his miracles. He continued to heal people has he had up to this time. He was demonstrating his Messiahship.
    • He has been answering the question of Matthew 11:13 “are you the messiah” or do we look for someone else?
    • He comes under attack again through various questions that the Pharisees ask him.
  2. Divorce (Matthew 19:3-12). Pharisees question whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus answers that it is lawful only for gross sexual sin. To answer the question he goes to the foundational Scripture. This sets a good pattern for us to follow in order to answer biblical questions—go to the foundational Scripture if possible.
    • Question 1. The Pharisees begin their attack with a question about divorce in verse 3. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  They simply want to test him to put him in a bad light and to find a reason to reject him. “Test” is the Greek word peirazw peraizw, in the present active participle, probably circumstantial of purpose. This word can be used in both a good sense and a bad sense. Here the context shows that they want to bring out some reason to discredit him.
      • Answer 1. Jesus He answers from Genesis. He understands their attack. He goes to the foundational Scripture about marriage to answer them (Matthew 19:4-6).
      • Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 teach that God created man and woman in his image.
      • Genesis 2:24 teaches that the man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
      • Based upon this Scripture, he says that since the two are one and God joined them, then no man (the husband) should separate (from her) (Matthew 19:6).
    • Question 2. The Pharisees then refer to Moses’ command to allow divorce which was in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Jesus explains what Moses wrote (Matthew 19:7-8).
      • Answer 2. Jesus answers from Deuteronomy. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 24 because of the hardness of heart (sinful nature self-will) of the Jewish men. Deuteronomy addresses men who for some reason wanted to divorce their wives. Indecency in Deuteronomy 24:1. The word is עֶרְוָה     ervah, and means nakedness or pudenda (private parts) and the emphasis is on indecent exposure or activity. The man’s reason, not always clearly specified, was somewhere within this word meaning. Apparently the basic concern was that the man wanted to divorce his wife. Moses granted permission because the man’s heart was hard toward God and his wife. The man did not consider what Moses wrote in Genesis 1 and 2, nor did he think graciously in his situation.
      • Deuteronomy 24 did not refer to adultery because according to Deuteronomy 22:20-22 the penalty for adultery and premarital sex was death. Turn to Deuteronomy 22 for the divine view of rape, sex, marriage, and justice for Israel.
    • Jesus summarizes in Matthew 19:9-12. He said that divorce was not the way God designed marriage in the beginning.
      • Jesus continued his answer by saying if a man divorced his wife and remarried another—unless his first wife had committed immorality πορνεία 4202—he committed adultery 3429 μοιχάω (19:9).
      • Immorality is the word πορνεία 4202. It is used for various brands of sexual sins including fornication, incest (1 Corinthians 5:1), homosexuality (The context goes to Genesis 19, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Jude uses 1608 ἐκπορνεύω), adultery, and the like. The word is sometimes paired with adultery μοιχάω, as in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
      • Adultery is the word μοιχάω 3429. This word is usually related to marriage relationships—at least one of the parties is married to someone else.
      • The disciples understood that Jesus said that divorce was not acceptable and we know this by their answer in 19:10.  They said that it is dangerous to get married because of the prohibition against divorce.
      • In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus agreed that not marrying prevented the divorce problem, but he further added that it is difficult to remain unmarried and to abstain from sexual behavior. That ability to refrain is a God given ability to certain men. There are three classes of men who can refrain. These are all called eunuchs. Those born that way, those neutered by other people, and those who made themselves eunuchs so that sexual behavior would not be an issue and they might better serve the kingdom of heaven.
    • Divorce in found 28 times in 26 verses in the NASB. Especially helpful passages in the Bible include Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17. Other passages are Deuteronomy 22:19-29; Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8; Malachi 2:16.
    • Comments on divorce.
      • Divorce was not in God’s plan for mankind.
      • People fall on one side or the other of this discussion—no divorce at all or not much resistance to divorce.
      • Many strong fundamentalist believers place divorce among the very worst of all sins and often divorced people are rejected. This is wrong. It is not in the prominent lists of sins.
      • Divorce happens. It is part of life in a fallen world. This is not condoning it, but simply accepting reality.
      • Divorced believers can serve God as much as, and as successfully as, any other believers. The Christian life is a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in fellowship with God, under the word of God, and by faith. Divorced believers can live this way just like any other believer.
      • When in doubt, think grace and treat people graciously.
  3. Children (with their trust and humility) typify the kingdom of heaven people (Matthew 19:13-15). Jesus teaches that children are important to him and that the kingdom of heaven will be led by people with childlike humility and faith. He spoke of this in greater detail in Matthew 18:1-5. Apparently children were looked down on by many people in the ancient world. Jesus gave the biblical viewpoint on children. Pentecost thinks that it is not the faith of the children, but that of the parents that Jesus is commending because Jesus takes the children in his arms and therefore they are too small and too young to exercise faith. Whichever way one interprets this, the principle of faith and humility still is prominent. Jesus praised their willingness to believe him. He also praised their humility. Both of these characteristics were somewhat lacking in the disciples. Furthermore, both of these characteristics become lost in those who attempt to gain authority and human praise. The disciples also had these weaknesses.
  4. A wealthy young man asks Jesus how he may obtain eternal life. Jesus answers that with man that is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:16-26). Luke 18:18 calls this man a ruler and therefore he was probably an official of a synagogue or even a member of the Sanhedrin.
    • The question is found in verse 16. He asks “what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
    • Verse 17. Jesus’ first answer is that the man is wrong about good. God’s view says that God is ultimate good and man cannot do good that satisfies God’s standard for good. Jesus then goes to the man’s real question about gaining (ina ecw) eternal life or life in the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus must first clear up the man’s misconception about works or human good. A good place to start the discussion is with the commandments, so he begins with the commandments found in the Mosaic Law (Matthew 19:17).
    • Verse 18-19. Jesus is both instructing and teaching the man. The Pharisees had developed an elaborate system of commandments. The man was wondering which he needed to keep. Jesus went to the Mosaic Law. He listed, from Exodus 20, commandments 5-9 and added the inclusive command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39).
    • Verse 20. He said he had kept all these. This is doubtful, but in his mind it was likely true. He still sensed he needed more. Even a relative righteousness cannot give comfort when put along side of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. Something was missing to the man.
    • Verse 21. Jesus now gives him a plan. This was the place to start. The man needed to follow Jesus in order to get all his answers. In order to follow Jesus he needs to sell off his property and become like the disciples. Get rid of the distractions.
      • The command to sell illustrated that he did not love his neighbor as himself, and it showed that other things were more important than God—he broke the first commandment of having no other gods.
      • Jesus is not teaching works salvation. He is setting the man up to learn the answers to his questions. He will find the answers by following Jesus.
    • Verse 22. The man left. He wanted to keep his wealth.
    • Verses 23-26. It is impossible to gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven by one’s own devices. The camel and the needle are real illustrations. Impossible to do. The disciples were astonished. We wonder if they had listened at all to previous lessons.
      • The fundamental principle: eternal life, salvation, life in the kingdom is impossible for people to gain. God makes it possible (Matthew 19:26).
    • Jesus did not give a clear gospel message. But, he laid the groundwork. He put up the frame and will fill it in as he goes along. Impossible for mankind. Possible for God. Therefore eternal life must be a gift from God because mankind is unable to do anything about it. Remember that John’s gospel is parallel to Matthew’s gospel. John has a different purpose and emphasis, but the way to eternal life was the same: faith in the Son of God.
  5. Peter asks Jesus about rewards for the disciples. Jesus answers that in the kingdom they will rule under him, and they will be rewarded many times more than they gave up (Matthew 19:27-30).
    • Verse 27. Peter says, we have done what the rich man would not do. Will you reward us?
    • Verse 28. Jesus addresses the disciples. They have been following him. In the coming kingdom the Son of Man, Messiah, will rule on the throne of David. The twelve disciples will rule on subordinate thrones. That is the great reward for them.
      • Son of man is used 195 times in the NASB. It refers to mankind or a man many times (Numbers 23:19), for Ezekiel many times (Ezekiel 2:3), for Daniel (Daniel 8:17), for Messiah (Daniel 7:13), many times for Jesus while on earth (Mark 10:33), for Messiah seated at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69), for Jesus in resurrection glory (Revelation 1:13). In this verse it takes on the Daniel understanding—the Messiah ruler who rules for God the Father.
      • Regeneration refers to the kingdom of heaven, the Messianic Kingdom. This is the time that things will be changed (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Acts 3:21). Josephus used this word for the new birth of the nation after the return from Babylon. This is the new messianic age after Messiah comes to rule.
    • Verse 29. Everyone refers to other disciples, beyond the close knit circle. They too shall be rewarded—many times over what they gave up. Eternal life probably refers to the great quality of life in the kingdom. It does not mean that one works for what sometimes is called “eternal salvation.”
    • Verse 30. Those who put themselves first will be last in the kingdom and those who put Jesus and his ministry first will be part of the first or honored group in the kingdom.

Summary of lessons from Matthew 19

  1. Divorce is against God’s original intent for mankind. There are very limited reasons for divorce and remarriage: immorality (porneia) (Matthew 19.9), the unbeliever member leaves (cwrizw, afiemi) (1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Divorce without remarriage seems to be the case when a believer woman leaves for some reason unstated such as abuse (1 Corinthians 7:11).
  2. Open and honest humility and faith, such as that of a child, pleases the Lord. He welcomes children to come to him.
  3. Residence in the kingdom of heaven cannot be gained by man. It is impossible. This is the work of God through Jesus.
  4. Apparently, Jesus is telling the rich young man to follow him so he may learn more about him. As he learns about Jesus first hand, he would likely come to believe in Jesus as Messiah. If this is so, then possibly a parallel today would be evangelistic Bible studies, discussion times with unbelievers, and possibly what today is called friendship evangelism.
  5. The 12 disciples will be greatly rewarded for their service to the Lord. In fact, every disciple who put aside normal human activities to rightly serve the Lord will be greatly rewarded. Those who in human terms and human opinion will often be the lowest in the kingdom, while those lowest will be highest in the kingdom.