Matthew 19

Matthew 19:3

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

Any reason. In the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, there was a law that said a man could divorce his wife if she no longer found favor in his eyes (Deu. 24:1). But what makes a wife indecent or unclean to her husband? Schools of Jewish thought were divided on this issue. The Beit or House of Shammai said uncleanness meant unfaithfulness. It was only lawful to divorce your wife if she had committed adultery. However, Beit Hillel said you could divorce your wife if she did anything displeasing, such as putting too much salt on your dinner (Mishnah Gittin 9:10). This issue divided the Pharisees, which is why they asked Jesus for his opinion.

Matthew 19:4

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,

Jesus initially sidestepped the debate by saying we shouldn’t be getting divorced at all. But when pressed to interpret Moses’ Law, he came down squarely on the side of Shammai (see Matt. 19:9).

Matthew 19:5


One flesh. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they create something new – a marital union (Gen. 2:24). The joining together of a man and a woman into one flesh or body has both a physical aspect (see 1 Cor. 6:16), and a spiritual aspect (1 Cor. 6:17).

Matthew 19:6

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

(a) They are no longer two, but one. The marital union symbolizes the unity the believers have with the Lord (see entry for Eph. 5:32).

(b) God. Most of the time when Jesus spoke about God, he called him Father (see entry for Luke 2:49). But when speaking to the religious leaders and those under law, he typically called him God (theos).

Matthew 19:7

They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”

Certificate of Divorce. Under the Law of Moses, a man who wished to divorce his wife had to do two things: (1) write her a get or certificate of divorce and (2) send her away. This created problems when men did the latter without doing the former (see entry for Mark 10:11).

Matthew 19:8

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.

Moses. God created marriage (Matt. 19:4–5); man invented divorce.

Matthew 19:9

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Jesus was not been asked if divorce was sinful, because divorce was permitted in the law of Moses (Matt. 19:7). Under the law, a man could divorce his wife if he found her to be unclean or displeasing (Deut. 24:1). What made a woman unclean and for what reason could a divorce be justified? There were two schools of thought. One side (the School of Hillel) said divorce was acceptable for any reason, while the other (the School of Shammai) said it was only acceptable in circumstances of infidelity (see entry for Matt 19:3). When pressed to take a side, Jesus came down on the side of Shammai. “Whoever sends away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” In other words, you can’t divorce your wife over a burnt or salty meal, but if she has taken another partner, your marriage may be over.

Further reading: “Why does Jesus hate divorce?

Matthew 19:16

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

(a) Someone. From Luke’s account we know this man was a wealthy Jewish official (Luke 18:18).

(b) What good thing shall I do. So many people are looking for a good thing to do, when the gospel declares a Good Thing has come and done a good thing for you. Jesus is the Good Thing who came from heaven (Heb. 10:1). Jesus is the Good Thing who satisfies the hungry (Luke 1:53).

Note that a similar question was put to Jesus by lawyer (Luke 10:25).

(c) Obtain eternal life? In the other gospel accounts, this question is phrased differently: What shall I do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17, Luke 10:25, 18:18)? There is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life – it’s an inheritance. You only get it when someone dies, and Someone did.

Like the person in this story, some people are confused about salvation. They think that if they are basically good people, God will have to admit them into his kingdom. Such people are truly lost for they are relying on their self-righteousness. Salvation comes to us by grace, like an inheritance or gift. You cannot earn it. You can only receive it by faith (Eph. 2:8).

(d) Eternal life is living forever in union with Jesus; see entry for John 3:15.

Matthew 19:17

And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

(a) Why are you asking Me about what is good? Jesus knew the ruler was self-righteous and considered himself a good man. Jesus cut straight to the heart of the man’s sin by immediately challenging his standard of goodness (Rom. 3:12).

(b) There is only One who is good. God alone is the definition of goodness and righteousness.

Self-righteousness is judging yourself by your own standard of righteousness. When you decide what is good and right, perhaps on the basis of your own moral judgment or the law, you are eating from the wrong tree and usurping God’s role as the Righteous Judge. True righteousness comes from trusting in Jesus, the Righteous One (2 Cor. 5:21).

Matthew 19:19


(a) Honor. Some believe they must hate their parents because of what Jesus said in Luke 14:26. But Jesus doesn’t want us to hate anyone (Matt 5:43–44), and our parents are worthy of honor.

(b) Love your neighbor. This law, which comes from the law of Moses (Lev. 19:18), was quoted by Jesus more than once (Matt. 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27). James called it the royal law (see entry for Jas. 2:8).

(c) As yourself. “Loving others as yourself” can be contrasted with “Loving others as I have loved you” (see entry for John 13:34).

Under the old covenant, you provided the love and whatever else was needed to fulfil the law. But in the new covenant, we are able to love others because of the love we have from God (1 John 4:19). Under the old, you were the supply, but in the new, God supplies all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:19).

Matthew 19:21

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

(a) Give to the poor. Stop investing in worldly wealth that fades away and store up heavenly treasure.

The Jews understood that giving to the poor was a pathway to blessing and a way to store up heavenly treasure (Deu. 15:10). “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed” (Pro. 19:17).

(b) Treasure in heaven refers to people.

People are the treasure that moth and rust can’t touch and thieves can’t steal. When the Bible talks about spiritual offspring or eternal friends, it is referring to the only treasure you can take with you. Why did Jesus give up everything he have? To win you. You are his treasure.

See entry for Heavenly Treasure.

Matthew 19:23

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

(a) It is hard. Jesus doesn’t make it hard for people to enter the kingdom; trusting in riches makes it hard (1 Tim. 6:9, 17). Jesus is lamenting the allure of worldly wealth. One can either serve God or mammon (Matt. 6:24). To run after wealth or let it rule you is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).

(b) To enter the kingdom of heaven is to enter new life. See entry for Matt. 19:17.

(c) The kingdom of heaven; see entry for Matt. 3:2.

Matthew 19:24

“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

(a) A camel. Scholars debate whether the original word meant camel or rope. Either way, Jesus is describing something that is essentially impossible (see Matt. 19:26). It is difficult for those who have been ensnared by the love of money to enter the kingdom.

(b) The kingdom of God is synonymous with the kingdom of heaven (see previous verse).

Matthew 19:25

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

(a) Astonished. The disciples were amazed and bewildered to hear this. Under the law-keeping covenant, those who were rich were thought to be blessed by God (see Deut. 28:1–8). To hear that the rich were disadvantaged and poor were blessed when it came to the kingdom was a great turnaround (Luke 6:20, 24).

(b) Who can be saved? “If rich people, who are blessed by God, can’t be saved, what chance do the rest of us have?”

Matthew 19:26

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

(a) Impossible. Under the old covenant, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s favor. It was a blessing given to those who obeyed the law. But all the wealth in the world would not get you into the kingdom, said Jesus. You could keep all the laws perfectly and you would still not get in. Which is bad news for those who were relying on the law.

(b) Possible. What the law fails to do, grace accomplishes. Grace qualifies poor and rich alike, which is why the New Testament church had rich people like Zacchaeus the tax collector, Joseph of Arimathea, and Barnabas the apostle.

Matthew 19:27

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”

What then will there be for us? Jesus does not rebuke Peter for asking such a question but he outlines the incredible rewards of the Christian life.

Matthew 19:28

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Truly I say to you. Jesus is about to make an astonishing claim about the rewards of the Christian life (see next verse).

Matthew 19:29

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.

(a) Everyone who has left. There is a cost in following Jesus. You will have to leave your old way of life and that could mean losing friendships. You might even be rejected by your family. But there is a handsome return to this investment.

(b) For My name’s sake means on account of faith in Jesus. Mark and Luke in their respective renderings of this verse add for the gospel’s sake and for the sake of the kingdom of God (Mark 10:29, Luke 18:29). There is no difference. We turn our back on the world for the sake of the gospel of King Jesus. Jesus is the reason; the rewards are incidental.

(c) Farms or fields imply businesses. Matthew ran a tax collection agency for the Romans but gave it up to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew gave up a fishing business. Barnabas sold a field (Acts 4:37). Sometimes following Jesus incurs a substantial financial cost. But God takes care of us. He gives us new fields for old (John 4:35). The business of the kingdom is far more rewarding than any worldly enterprise business. It is the only business that offers eternal rewards.

(d) Will receive many times as much, and indeed, a hundred times as much. See entry for Mark 10:30.

(e) Inherit eternal life. Eternal life is an inheritance to receive and not a wage to be earned, and in Christ we have it.

In Christ we are heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14), heirs of eternal life (Matt. 19:29, Mark 10:17, Eph. 1:14, Tit. 3:7), and heirs of blessed and gracious life (Eph. 1:3, 1 Pet. 3:7, 9). See entry for Inheritance.

(f) Eternal life is living forever in union with Jesus; see entry for John 3:15.

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