Jesus again teaches on divorce. He places his hands on little children and blesses them. A rich man approaches him and asks about inheriting eternal life. He walks away, and Jesus says it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He tells the twelve that they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. If a follower gives up all, then he will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life. His teaching on the end times is also looked at here.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Teaches on Divorce (Matt. 19:1-12)
1 And so it happened that when Jesus finished those teachings, he went away from Galilee and went to the mountains of Judea beyond the Jordan River. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Then some Pharisees approached him, testing him and saying, “It is permitted for a man to divorce his wife for every cause?” 4 In reply, he said, “Haven’t you read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’? [Gen. 1:27; 5:2] 5 And he said, ‘For this reason a man will leave father and mother and will join together with his wife, and they will be one flesh’? [Gen. 2:24] 6 So then they are no longer two, but instead one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no person separate.”
7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of your hard heart, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not like that. 9 I tell you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual misconduct and marries another commits adultery. [And he who marries a woman who has been divorced commits adultery]”
10 His disciples said to him, “If the case of a man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone accepts this word, but to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who are born that way from the mother’s womb. And there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by people, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this accept it.”
It is imperative that you belong to a church and ask them about their divorce policy. I’m just a teacher with no pastoral oversight, but I merely teach what I believe the Scriptures tell us.
Let’s remember that Jesus’s teaching on divorce follows from his teaching on forgiveness (18:21-35).
So Jesus has been up in Galilee in the north, and then he went south to the mountains (or hills) of Judea, which is the province of Jerusalem, the capital. Yet he went to the east side of the Jordan River.
Jesus had a healing ministry, so large crowds followed him. Anyone who has seen a healing ministry up close knows that it is hard work. It is amazing to me that Jesus was tireless in “doing the stuff.”
“teachings”: It is the noun logos (pronounced lo-goss, and in the plural logoi, which is pronounced lo-goi). The noun is rich in meaning. It is used 330 times in the NT. Since it is so important, let’s explore the noun more deeply, as I do in this entire commentary series.
The noun is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level!) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Matthew’s Gospel has logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational and logical side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true.
Bottom line: Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
“healed”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.”
I like what commentator R. T. France says of biblical ethics and divorce:
The ethics of the kingdom of heaven, as we have seen them illustrated in 5:21-48, seek not primarily how evil may be contained and alleviated, but how the best may be discerned and followed. It would make a huge and beneficial difference to modern debates on divorce if this priority were observed, so that the focus fell not on what grounds for divorce may be permitted (as in the Pharisee’s question), but on how marriage may best be lived up to the Creator’s purpose for it. There will, no doubt, always be a need for trouble-shooting legislation and pastoral help when things have gone wrong, but it that is where our ethical discussion begins, the battle is lost before it is joined. Those who start from Deut. 24:1-4 will have as their basic presupposition that divorce is to be expected, the question being only how it is to be regulated. Those who start from Gen. 1-2 will see any separation of what God has joined together as always an evil; circumstances may prove it to be the lesser evil, but that can never make it less than an infringement of the primary purpose of God for marriage. (p. 714)
Perfect. Instead of beginning with Deut. 24:14 and looking to get away with as much as we can; let’s follow Jesus’s counsel and go back to God’s original intention in Gen. 1-2, which is maintaining a healthy marriage.
“Pharisees”: See this link to learn more about them:
This group, among others, was the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
However, Craig Keener notes in his commentary on this verse that the Pharisees were very loose about divorce, to the point of scandal. So righteousness was followed only when it suited them.
Now let’s move to the emotional topic of divorce.
Please note: Some of my comments are taken from my earlier clomments at Matt. 5:31-32, but with some edits for this pericope (pronounced pu-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture. You can click back there for different emphases.
Here in v. 3, the Pharisees use the phrase “every cause.” Where do they get it from?
The law of Moses has an ambiguous element in it.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house (Deut. 24:1, ESV)
That verse says that a man can write up a certificate of divorce and send his wife out of his house. Why? If he finds any cause of “indecency” in her. That’s the key word. Before Jesus lived, liberal interpreters (School of Hillel) said a man can divorce her for any cause (note those words). “Indecency” was stretched to include even bad food preparation. Strict interpreters (School of Shammai) said a man can divorce her only for sexual misconduct, because that is what “indecency” meant.
Jesus introduces the exception clause in divorce: except for the cause of sexual sin (porneia, pronounced pohr-nay-ah). (Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 do not have this exception).
To clarify further, the Pharisees asked him whether a man can divorce his wife for any cause. How would Jesus answer? He endorsed the Edenic model of one man and one woman, and they should stay together, because they made a covenant before God. He joined them together. The Pharisees replied by asking why Moses permitted the certificate of divorce. He said that Moses accommodated their hardness of heart, but at the beginning it was not so (vv. 7-8). Then Jesus revealed he was on the side of Shammai (up to a point)—divorce is allowed only for sexual misconduct, as he does here in vv. 3-6. However, Carson points out that Jesus was going his own way, siding with Mal. 2:16, which says, “I hate divorce.”
Verses 3-6 also answer the question of polygamy or bigamy. The Torah assumes (but does not command) that a man can have two or more wives (Exod. 21:10 and Deut. 21:15), but restrictions were placed on him, so that he better think twice before getting involved in polygamy. And it seems wherever polygamy is practiced, trouble brews. So the Bible shows by example not to get involved in it.
Now let’s discuss another issue regarding marriage.
Even in the (sad) context of divorce, these verses embody a great statement and affirmation of heterosexual and monogamous marriage, which is especially relevant to the world today, where it is trendy to see two women or two men “get married.” However, Jesus says that originally God’s plan for marriage was one man and one woman, and they alone can have a union that makes them one flesh. Two women cannot, nor can two men. The physical union between male and female touches the core of the soul, and two women and two men cannot have this. Yes, they can have a certain level of intimacy because they can sexually stimulate each other, either at the same time or by taking turns, but only a man and a woman can have penile-clitoral sex, which is the most intimate and, yes, most pleasurable. So there is a hierarchy of sexual relations, and this is at the top. Same-sex couples cannot match or achieve it. God ordained through natural processes that there should be this hierarchy.
This pleasure is God’s gift to humanity by virtue of how he anatomically made them. Why? He intends them to have children or to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Yes, it is true that sometimes a couple chooses not to have children, and God gave them freewill to go in this direction. But it may not be the best for them or humanity in general, and let’s trust they are listening to God and not to their own egoism, but for most couples God wants them to be fruitful and multiply.
And yes, it is true that sometimes a couple cannot have children because something has gone wrong with the reproductive side of things. We can pray for God’s healing, either supernaturally or by treatment. But if they cannot have them naturally even after prayer or treatment, then we should not let these extreme cases set biblical norms. As the saying goes: extreme cases make bad policy. The good news is that this couple can adopt and give a wonderful home to needy children.
Now what about not dividing or splitting what God has joined together? Don’t go near a marriage and seduce one of the partners to commit adultery. And married partner, don’t you dare allow yourself to be seduced.
For v. 6, Osborne writes: “Jesus draws the natural conclusion from the Genesis quotes. By centering only on the Deut 24 passage, the Pharisees have missed the true teaching of the Torah. The purpose of creation is the God-given union of ‘male and female.’”
First, let me say that v. 9 has a dispute about manuscripts. The clause in brackets don’t appear in some manuscripts. I don’t want to discuss this complicated issue here, but I include the clause because I like a fuller biblical text.
In v. 7, the Pharisees use the verb “command,” but Moses did not command divorce; he permitted it.
“Thus in Matthew (in contrast to Mark), the Pharisees even exploit Moses’ concession as a command …. Jesus, by contrast, uses Scripture differently (cf. 12:7), here probably seeking to protect an innocent Jewish wife from her husband wrongfully divorcing her … Other Jewish teachers also recognized that by making divorce more difficult they would protect the woman ….” (Keener, pp. 465-66).
Osborne on v. 8: “The ‘indecency’ clause of Deut 24:1 is the key; divorce is always the result of a series of sins that a couple commits against each other. It is effected by going against God’s will time after time. It is better of two terrible options—continuing acts of ‘indecency’ against each other, or breaking the marriage vow. The fact is that divorce had attained epidemic proportions in the first century (as today!), and Jesus had to address the serious problem.”
Moving on to another observation, I like how Jesus restricted the law of Moses, when it was sloppily, loosely interpreted. He issued a reinterpretation of the text on the basis of the original Edenic model. We need to read Deut. 24:1 and his comments in vv. 7-9 in the light of their hard hearts.
We saw in my comments on Deut. 24:1 in vv. 3-6, which says that Moses allowed a certificate of dismissal in order to divorce, that the issue was divorce for all causes or any cause, which Jesus restricted to sexual immorality or sexual misconduct. He restricted it because easy divorce for “every cause” harmed the woman and marriage itself. Now let’s imagine a woman who was recently divorced for any cause. Her husband did not like the way she prepared the food. It is easy to imagine quarrels about silly things. Now she is divorced and goes back to her father’s house, a social embarrassment. On the way home, a man hears about the divorce. He sees her walking back to her father’s house with her bride price. Legally the man could send his first wife out of the house with a certificate of dismissal and marry the second woman who was recently divorced.
Apparently, in Jesus’s eyes, marriage had become much too cheap and sordid. He intended to put a stop to it. Siding with more with Shammai (up to a point), Jesus was tightening things up in order to help the woman who was unjustly turned out of her first husband’s house. In an easy divorce society, which Hillel’s views promoted, marrying and remarrying could potentially become a wife-swapping scheme, in pursuit of the latest and most attractive woman. “I like her! I’m bored with my wife now. She’s old! I know what I’ll do! I’ll write up a certificate of divorce on flimsy grounds, tell my current wife to go home, and marry this new woman who strikes my fancy!” Abandonment in a context of frivolous divorce permits remarriage.
Jesus’s goal is to protect women, not impose kingdom oppression on them, since Jewish law allowed only the man to initiate the divorce and thereby possibly victimize the woman.
Please see this link, where I discuss Matt. 5:31-32 and where I bring Paul’s counsel into the discussion (1 Cor. 7:15).
Here is an illustration of the marriage covenant, which Jesus teaches in vv. 3-6:
This illustration shows that God oversees the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. God ordains the covenant, as Jesus said, referring to the original couple in vv. 3-6. So marriage is not limited to two persons (man and woman) but between three persons (God, man, and woman). However, if a man divorces his wife for an unbiblical reason, this does not mean that he necessarily breaks his standing in the New Covenant, but he does break his covenant with his wife, a covenant that God set up. So divorce, even for a biblical reason, must be done with utmost caution and with the kingdom community’s guidance or pastoral guidance.
Bottom line: Marriage is a covenant not only between the man and the woman, but between God, the man, and the woman. Involve God in your marriage. If you do not, then sin may enter and destroy the covenant, and civilly legal divorce may ensue.
Go to church, get counseling, and pray! Divorce—breaking the three-person covenant—is the last resort!
Also see: Matthew 5 (scroll down to vv. 31-32), where the topic of divorce is also taught.
The disciples draw the reasonable (but incomplete) conclusion because easy-divorcism ruled back then in many quarters, so why get married if divorce is restricted to sexual misconduct? However, they miss the point of the blessing of the creation of marriage back in Genesis (vv. 4-6).
Next, Jesus mentions three classes of eunuchs, which in one category seems to be celibacy. Believe it or not, the implied better path is to get married and have children.
(1). Eunuchs were born this way, presumably without sexual organs or malfunctioing ones;
(2). Eunuchs who were made this way by people, presumably to watch the harem in royal courts;
(3). “Eunuchs” who gave up sex or lived the celibate life for the kingdom of heaven, much as Jesus and Paul were doing and Paul recommended, with reservations (1 Cor. 7:7-9). The verb “it is given” is in the passive, so some scholars (Turner) say this the divine passive or an understatement of God working behind the scenes, giving power to be celibate.
Nevertheless, it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:9).
In a Jewish context, it would be impossible for Jesus to advocate self-mutilation, because it would engender horror to the Jews of his day. It was against God’s law of nature. Therefore, Jesus simply means celibacy, like the Essenes, a group not mentioned in the Bible, though they lived during Jesus’ times, but who favored celibacy.
As noted, Jesus is affirming heterosexual marriage. The above three categories are rare and outside the mainstream of kingdom life. And Jesus already taught how God viewed marriage in vv. 4-6. God ordained the institution. No man should split up in a frivolous divorce what God has joined together.
As for “born a eunuch” = homosexuality, France is again on target:
Most references to homosexual behavior in the ancient world are to what we now call bisexuality, the choice of some who are capable of heterosexual intercourse to find sexual fulfillment also (or instead) with member of their own sex. Such a choice could hardly be described as being “born a eunuch,” and the idea of an innate and irreversible homosexual orientation belongs to modern Western psychology rather than to the world in which Jesus lived (p. 725).
As for making oneself a eunuch, it is not to be understood literally. It means to renounce marriage (New International Version) or not marry. This category represents those who have voluntarily chosen celibacy. “Their choice is not ascribed to disinclination but to their perception of God’s will for them: the “kingship of heaven” means God’s sovereign authority, and it is obedience to that authority that they have been prepared to stand apart from normal expectation of marriage and fatherhood” (France, p. 725).
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
GrowApp for Matt. 19:1-12
A.. If you were abandoned by an unjust divorce, how did you recover? How has God redeemed your life?
B.. If you divorced your spouse for an unbiblical reason and now regret it by repenting and reconciliation is no longer possible, how has God redeemed your life?
C.. Have you witnessed someone going through divorce? How did you pray and minister to him or her?
Jesus Blesses Little Children (Matt. 19:13-15)
13 At that time, they brought to him little children so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Allow the little children and don’t prevent them to come to me, for the kingdom of heaven is made of such as these. 15 After he placed his hands on them, he left from there.”
In the context of divorce and remarriage, Jesus demonstrates his love for children. There is a connection. Don’t degrade children with your dysfunctional relationship or drag them down with your divorce. Always support the children, not use them as pawns to punish the offending spouse.
We come to another demographic who might be oppressed or neglected: children. (Women were the first ones, in the previous pericope, pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea or unit or section). Jesus wants to show that he protects women from cheap divorce and bless children. They are treasured in God’s sight.
The parents brought their children to Jesus because the parents knew something special was happening in his life. Every reader of this commentary right here should bring their children to church and dedicate them to the Lord and have the pastoral staff pray for them. If the kids are too old now, then maintain your prayer life for them. Ask Jesus, from heaven, to bless them.
“pray”: Let’s take an expansive look at the verb (and noun). It is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) and appears 85 times. The noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) is used 36 times, so they are the most common words for “prayer” or “pray” in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God; they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we can also pray with our Spirit-inspired languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). Pray!
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
The disciples miss the boat again, not catching on. Why were they so protective? Were they tense because they were on their way to Jerusalem, and the crowds didn’t know anything about his mission? Jesus did repeatedly predict that he was about to be tried and executed (Luke 5:35; 9:22, 43-45; 12:50 13:32-33; Matt. 16:21; Mark 2:20). So the disciples were afraid, maybe. Or maybe they were simply obtuse. It’s difficult to read the inner thoughts of a person, when the text does not disclose them.
“Children were low-status dependents; they had to trust adults and receive when they provided … Low in status, they could not be permitted to deter a teacher like Jesus from ‘important’ matter—at least, this was the view of the disciples (19:13). Disciples, who owed great respect to their teachers, typically sought to avert other interruptions for them (2 Kings 4:27) … Jesus responds like Elisha to disciples seeking to shield him from others’ supplications: ‘Let the person alone’ (2 Kings 4:27)” (Keener, p. 473).
“rebuked”: the verb is epitimaō (pronounced eh-pea-tee-mah-oh), and it could be translated as “scolded,” “warned,” “censure.”
“allow”: it is the verb aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee), and it could be translated “release” or “let (them) go” to come to me. But “permit” or “allow” is best here.
“kingdom of heaven”: see vv. 10-12 for more comments.
GrowApp for Matt. 19:13-15
A.. If you have little children, did you dedicate them to the Lord in public, at church? What was that like?
B.. If your children are big now and you did not dedicate them, do you still maintain your prayer life for them and ask Jesus to bless them from heaven? Share your story.
The Rich Young Man, Salvation, and Judgment (Matt. 19:16-30)
16 Then look! One man, approaching him, said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do so that I may have eternal life? 17 He said to him, “Why do you inquire of me concerning the good? There is one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and mother’ [Exod. 20:12-16; Deut. 5:16-20] and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Lev. 19:18] 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all of them. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” 22 Hearing this word, the young man was grieved and left, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth: A rich person with difficulty will enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very surprised, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But he looked at them and said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Then, in reply Peter said to him, “See, we have left everything and have followed you. What then will there be for us?” 28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: you who have followed me, in the age of renewal, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother and children or fields for my name’s sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
30 Many who are first will be last and the last first.
Have you ever met a missionary or seen his story online or in church, who has given up everything to follow Jesus and spread the good news (v. 29)? This pericope is about him. If you choose to stay at home and maintain your wealth, in order to be salt and light in affluent society, to be missionaries of a different kind, then please be generous in your support of the work of the gospel abroad—in the work of someone who has given up all his human comforts for Jesus.
In the parallel account in Luke 18:18-30, the man is identified as a rich ruler. Mark 10:17-31, the other parallel passage, says a man, without identifying him as young. All three accounts say he was rich. However, Mark and Luke say, “Good teacher.” And Jesus tells the man that only God is good. Theologically, this cannot be the logic: Only God is good. Jesus is not God. Therefore, Jesus is not good. In Matt. 19:16-22, Matthew clarifies what is meant: “Teacher, what good thing shall I do to inherit eternal life.” The man is asking what is good, and how do I use it to enter the kingdom of heaven. So in Matthew’s version the good thing that the man is asking for is human activity, and this can only be applied, in an absolute sense to God. Jesus is challenging the man for careless theological language; he is reminding him that the best efforts of human activity are inadequate. See v. 17 for more comments.
“eternal life”: it is also made up of two words in Greek, which can be translated as “life of the new age” or “life of the age to come” or “life in the next life” or “eschatological life” (eschatology is a fancy word for last or final things). But God offers people who love and know him eternal life in the here and now, so it means both life now and life in the age to come. The kingdom breaking into the world system through the life and ministry of Jesus brings life right now.
Now let’s look at the noun life more closely. It is very versatile.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
I believe the man really means in his context “life in the age to come” (v. 28), which in God will last forever—only in God, not by virtue of our having a soul.
We need to be careful about over-reading this verse Christologically (doctrine of Christ). By claiming God is good (“there is one who is good” refers to God), Jesus does not confess that he is sinful. From a Jewish perspective, Jesus is simply saying God is good. Further, he could indirectly refer to himself, who is good. In other words, God in the flesh stands before you.
Or Jesus is simply pointing out that the rich man must depend on God alone. All the commandments that are about to be listed won’t cut it. It is about a personal knowledge of the God who is good.
Here is Blomberg’s explanation:
Jesus apparently is probing the young man to see why he is not satisfied with the obvious Jewish answer to his question, namely, that a person must do the good things that the only good God, Yahweh, has already commanded. Jesus is not admitting his own sinfulness or hinting at his deity. The rich man would have appreciated neither of these points. Rather, he is diverting attention from the young man’s inadequate criteria for entering into life and focusing on the standard of divine goodness. (comment on 19:17)
So Jesus is redirecting the man’s attention to the deeper question. (See my comments on Mark 10:18.)
In v. 20, Matthew calls him a “young” man, and Blomberg says it encompasses the age of twenty to forty (comment on 19:16)
Jesus quotes the second table of the Ten Commandments, which deal with a person’s relations with another person. The five Jesus quotes are more objective and can be used as a checklist (so to speak) for the man’s behavior. In fact, the man uses them in v. 20. Those commandments accurately summarize the conventional Jewish definition of good behavior. And sure enough, it is not so hard to keep them, if you think about it. How many of us have stolen articles (let’s not mention time at work!)? It’s possible not to steal objects, particularly if you’re rich. Very few have murdered. Very few have borne false witness in a law court. Some people—though not everyone—get along really well with their parents, so it is easy to honor them. Paul said that in his old religion of Judaism he was blameless under the law (Phil. 3:4-6). The rich ruler said the same. It is likely a truthful self-assessment.
Later on, Jesus, after he ascended, will direct his church to draw a sharp distinction between righteousness that comes by law keeping—practical principles—and righteousness that come by faith in him—a living person. How did Paul in his old life know he was keeping faith in God? By his law keeping. How does he know this after his conversion to Jesus? By his faith in the Messiah, Jesus himself. The difference is huge. One is guided by the law, while the other is guided by a living person.
However, let’s not overlook the fact that Paul wrote that a man who behaves impurely cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). So the bottom line is that there is no contradiction between Jesus and Paul. Luke knew this because he had followed Paul around and heard him preach. And Jesus constantly talks about entering the kingdom and then living righteously inside it. Paul talks about getting saved (entering the kingdom) by confessing Jesus as Lord for salvation and then living righteously inside it. Paul would definitely agree that the man should follow Jesus, because to follow Jesus is to proclaim him to be Lord by demonstrating allegiance to him. That’s what Paul did. Never overlook the fact that right behavior is important to God and demonstrates surrender to him and his kingdom.
Blomberg has a balanced comment on applying Jesus’s command to the rich man to the entire church, drawing on teachings in Luke’s Gospel:
As in the dialogue with the Pharisees on divorce, Jesus tailors his remarks to a specific situation. We may generalize from v. 21 even less than from v. 9, inasmuch as Jesus is addressing just one man in his unique circumstances. In Luke two stories follow closely on the heels of this episode (Luke 18:18–30) that prove Jesus makes different demands of different individuals. Zaccheus gives away only half his income and uses some of the rest to pay back those he had defrauded (Luke 19:1–10). The parable of the talents encourages God’s people not to give money away but to invest it wisely for their Master’s use (Luke 19:11–27). But in each of these passages, Jesus commands Christians to use all their possessions, not just some fixed percentage of them, for kingdom priorities. (comments on 19:20-22)
So in the two parables in Luke, kingdom citizens are to use their money to invest in God’s kingdom priorities. In other words, Jesus is Lord over all things in our lived.
“perfect”: it means “complete” and “whole” in Greek. It does not necessarily mean moral perfection on the same level that God is good. It corresponds to the question: “What do I still lack?” Jesus is about to tell him how he can get rid of the lack and to be complete or whole. Picture of cup that is 90% full. Does the man want to be whole, filled to overflowing?
Further, lack ≠ perfect. The man lacked one thing which prevented him from following Jesus: attachment to wealth and the status that came with it. Don’t overload the term “perfect” with moral perfection and sinlessness in the area of systematic theology called “sanctification,” produced by being born again and living in the Spirit. That’s not the issue here. What’s at issue is the initial call to discipleship.
Carson points out that in the OT “perfect” frequently means undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience. Is the rich man ready for that (comment on this verse)?
He was not ready for it. He did not want undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience. It was required of him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.
He was possessed by possessions. They crowded out God in his heart. The whole context of this command to him is the life in this age contrasted with life in the age to come. To enter the life in the age to come, he had to sell his possession and distribute them to the poor. This was a radical call to discipleship. After the resurrection and ascension, Paul acknowledges that rich Christians lived in the churches (1 Tim. 6:17-19). He told Timothy to remind the Christian rich that they should not be haughty nor set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches—it is here today and gone tomorrow. But they must do good, to be rich in good works and be generous and ready to share. In doing that, they will store up a treasure for the future. In that very same chapter he also said the love of money is the root of all evil (v. 10). We should be content with food and clothing.
Further, during Jesus ministry on earth, the women mentioned in Luke 8:3 supported Jesus and his ministry by their resources. He never told them to sell everything they had and give to the poor. They had to remain wealthy or have a steady flow of money, if they were to support him. So Jesus saw that possessions did not possess the women, while possessions did possess the ruler.
So what about the ruler? Something was missing in his heart that he had filled up with money. It needed to go. If he had followed the command personalized for him and his deep need, he would have treasure in heaven. He was unwilling. He left sad.
Wealth and political power often went hand in glove, in the ancient world. To give up wealth meant to give up power and influence. He would have become a laughingstock to his fellow rulers, if they had come across him traveling with the itinerant preacher named Jesus of Nazareth. Too undignified. The ruler adhered to this social status and walked away sad. He was hoping for an easier way. “Yes, you kept those commandments, so now go in peace, and keep on allowing possessions to maintain their grip on you, to possess you. You’ll inherit life in the age to come and right now!” That makes no sense, from the kingdom’s perspective.
“disciples”: see v. 13 for more comments.
“kingdom of heaven”: see v. 14 for more comments.
In v. 23, entering the kingdom is the same as salvation in Paul’s writing. Jesus has used the phrase entering the kingdom several times (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; cf. 18:8-9). Both Paul and Jesus preached repentance, surrender, and the Lordship of Jesus—yes, Jesus told people to follow himself as Lord. Jesus and Paul used different words, but the reality is the same. The resurrected and ascended Jesus was guiding his church to shift the focus, as the apostles, particularly Paul, went out to the Greco-Roman provinces, beyond Israel, not that Paul neglected this important doctrine of the kingdom (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:24, 50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:12-13; 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:1; 4:18). In all of those passages, he proclaimed it.
Notice that Jesus did not say it was impossible, but extremely difficult, to enter the kingdom. The eye of the needle is a sewing needle, not a gate into Jerusalem, a legend that emerged in the Middle Ages. This gate did not exist at the time when Jesus spoke those words. The idea that a rope cannot go through the eye of the needle is not right, either. Osborne is on target: “Such attempts [to find these alternative explanations] water down the imagery are unnecessary; this is rabbinic hyperbole (e.g. ‘straining at a gnat and swallowing the camel’ in 23:24), a stylistic device Jesus uses often. It depicts the largest animal in Palestine (a camel) going through the smallest hole (the eye of a needle) to illustrate how ‘difficult’ it is for the wealthy to know God” (comment on 19:24). It is the eye of a sewing needle.
The main point is that Jesus says God must intervene for a rich man to be saved because for humans it is impossible to persuade people to give things up without the help of the Spirit wooing the reluctant would-be disciple.
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
“I tell you”: this clause also denotes and authoritative and solemn pronouncement that may surprise his listeners and make them uncomfortable.
This is a general statement, which, as we already saw in v. 22, allows for exceptions. We should not interpret the statement as an iron law without even one exception. The statement warns us that we have to be vigilant about wealth causing us to lose our own soul (Matt. 16:26).
“very surprised”: This may be a gentle translation. Maybe it should be “utterly astonished” (Olmstead).
“saved”: The verb is sōzō: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
As I will note throughout this commentary, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “humans.”
“See”: it is usually translated in the older versions as “behold.” Normally I translate it as “look!” But I thought it would be too strong for Peter to tell Jesus. So I opted for “See.” You can even go for the mental translation “Consider.”
“What then will there be for us?”: it could be translated as “What, then, shall we have?” (Olmstead). It would be pressing things too far to say that Peter means, “What’s in it for us?” Or maybe it would not be pressing things too far. You can decide.
In any case, Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen and had a business in Capernaum (Luke 5:1-11). James and John, two brothers, were their partners. They left behind their humble business, by which they earned their way in society. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter had a wife to support, and so did the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers, and they brought their wives with them on the missionary endeavors (1 Cor. 9:5). So the missionaries did not abandon their wives, but they did abandon their old way of living. They had truly crossed the boundary line between the old kingdom and the new kingdom, the old life and the new life. Their wives went with them, and I assume that if they had children, they went with their parents.
The man exercised his freedom to reject the call of Jesus himself. It is possible to reject salvation throughout one’s entire life. The gospel of grace is indeed resistible. This makes the man a Pelagian and Arminian! But let’s not impose those anachronistic labels on this biblical text.
Yes, the twelve apostles (minus Judas who was replaced with Matthias in Acts 1:12-26) will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes had been scattered long ago, but God knows those who belong to this nation and can sort them out by tribe.
One interesting, small detail. Jesus will sit on his glorious throne (or throne of glory), while the twelve will sit on thrones (nothing said about glorious thrones). This difference made me smile.
“renewal”: when the Messiah comes and ushers in his Messianic Age, he will renew or restore all things. Olmstead expands the translation thus: “at the renewal of the world.” It will be great!
Let’s discuss what Jesus taught about the end times, about This age and That age.
As I noted at Matt. 13:36-43: In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, particularly Matt. 13:39-43; and in the Parable of the Net, particularly Matt. 13:49-50; and in Matt. 16:27; and in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus clearly teaches that the end of This Age and the new Messianic Age (or Kingdom Age or the Age to Come) are ushered in right after the Second Coming; and the judgment of the righteous and the wicked happen at the same time.
We can depict things in this flow chart:
___________← This Age –——⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
The Second Coming (Parousia) stops This Age. Then there is one big judgment, in which the righteous and wicked are judged together. One can even say that the final judgment happens during the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come. All three terms mean the same thing. Finally, the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished at his Second Coming (Parousia), after judgment. And so after God sweeps aside the wicked and Satan and demons, the New Messianic or Kingdom Age can begin in true and pure and undisrupted rulership.
Bottom line: All of the New Testament (outside of a few contested verses in the Revelation) fully and clearly and consistently teach this flow chart:
___________← This Age ———⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom —→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
What about the Church? The Father and the resurrected and ascended Son and the outpoured Spirit, by means of the inaugurated kingdom, created the church at Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-4). It exists in This Age and preaches the gospel of the kingdom. It will be snatched up or raptured at the Second Coming, meet Jesus in the air, descend with him, go through judgment, and then finally will last forever in the Fully Realized Kingdom Age.
Until and before the Second Coming, we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit, coming after Jesus’s ascension in This Age, though happening during the inaugurated Kingdom, are so powerful that saved and redeemed kingdom citizens can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives in This Age. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies and minds in The Age to Come. The Second Coming stops This Age, which is replaced and displaced with the fully realized Messianic or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come.
There is no word on a literal thousand-year reign with two comings and “several first” resurrections. And there is no separate rapture that makes the church disappear, before the Second Coming. If Jesus believed in a separate rapture, he would have taught it here; he missed his chance. However, he did not miss his chance and he did not teach it. Therefore, he did not believe in a separate rapture. All of it is too convoluted. Instead, the Gospels (and Epistles) present a streamlined picture of salvation history and God’s dealing with his human creation and the return of Christ.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with the Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes (note, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and its slow growth in Matt. 13:31-32); Satan is not literally bound with chains (as if a spirit being could be), even though Jesus did teach that he bound the strongman (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). So what this binding means is that Satan cannot now fully stop the advance of the kingdom (as Satan did to the ancient Israelites, except a remnant). Before Jesus came, every nation was bound by satanic deception. However, after Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, even under Islamic and communist regimes, the gospel has a way of infiltrating societies, even if underground. Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did before Jesus came. Instead, kingdom citizens, surrendered to the Kingship of the King and following him, are plundering Satan’s domain of This Age and rescuing people out of it and transferring them to the inaugurated kingdom of God. The final victory over Satan will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In contrast, based on his interpretation of a few verses in Rev. 20, one chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible, a premillennialist believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown in flow charts) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony. And Satan is literally bound in chains until the end of the thousand years. He will not deceive the nations. During the literal millennium, people will still die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated after all, at the Second Coming (even though Paul said death would be defeated, in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 51-56). However, the theory of a literal thousand years says that death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium, when another resurrection and another judgment will take place.
Never mind, however, that in John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46, Jesus teaches that the wicked and righteous are judged together at the end of This Age, as indicated in the above flow charts. Interpreting literally a deliberately and intentionally symbolic book (Revelation) runs aground quickly. Things soon become convoluted and complicated, in comparison with the nonsymbolic, streamlined Gospel and Epistles.
So then where does the rapture fit in? When all peoples are called out of their tombs and those who are alive also respond to Christ descending from heaven at the Second Coming, they will be “caught up” (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Then they will descend with Jesus to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated, renewed, renovated or reconstituted. They will be judged, and the wicked will be sent away to punishment, and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come (as distinct from This Age). In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to overthink and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, in my study of the Gospels and Epistles, I have now accepted amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation, the most symbolic book of the Bible (after Chapter 3), to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that. And I have now done that.
This guidance in interpreting Scripture is called the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not break fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Now let’s move on.
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
Jesus promised them a whole new family of people in the Christian community (cf. Luke 18:30 and Mark 10:30). Of course a certain teaching, called the Word of Faith, latches on to this verse (and Luke 18:30 Mark 10:30), which includes receiving “fields” or “lands” in return. “See! This proves that God will give me lots of property if I follow him!” However, none of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers received a hundredfold more physical land than they had before they followed Jesus wholeheartedly. Church history teaches us that they became landless missionaries. Jesus is speaking about the land in the new kingdom—the territories that the missionaries would take from the devil and bring into the kingdom of God. How do we know he was spiritualizing things? He said we would receive many fathers and mothers (Mark 10:30). We normally have one biological mother and one biological father. So receiving many of them speaks of the fathers (plural) and mothers (plural) in the kingdom. If we had to leave behind our biological parents, then God promises us many new parents in the kingdom community. We have a new family, a much bigger family.
One last point here: we will have many responsibilities as we serve the enthroned Son of Man. We will not sit on clouds playing harps.
Mark 10:30 says “with persecutions.” Church history says all the twelve disciples suffered persecution.
Here is just one fulfillment of the persecutions against the twelve apostles.
40 Summoning the apostles, they flogged them, ordered them not to speak about the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. 41 And so they left the presence of the High Council, rejoicing that they were considered worthy to be dishonored because of the name. 42 And every day they did not stop teaching and spreading the good news in the temple and households that the Messiah is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42, my tentative translation)
Note how they had a new community family (v. 42). They were also taking new land for the kingdom. Soon they will leave and preach in many places and take more territory.
Paul, not one of the twelve, suffered it too, particularly. He even lists his hardships, in this passage:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (1 Cor. 11:23-29, NIV)
As he traveled around and planted churches, Paul got a new family, filled with all sorts of brothers and sisters and mothers and new territories for the gospel.
Church historian Eusebius (AD 260/265 – 339/340) says that Peter was crucified upside down, in Rome (Ecclesiastical History III.1). He also reports that Paul was beheaded in Rome under Nero (II.25).
Beware of super-rich preachers who claim these verses, particularly about landed property or book sales pumped up by their TV platforms and large church purchases of those books, for themselves.
This is proverbial statement that Jesus repeats elsewhere (e.g. Matt. 20:16, Mark 10:31 and Luke 13:30). It fits the earlier pericope (18:1-6) that the ones who want to be prominent in the kingdom must be like children. It also introduces the next parable about the workers who get hired last receive the same pay as the ones who were hired in the morning (20:1-16, particularly v. 16).
I like to apply the proverb to rich TV platform speakers. They are getting their treasure down here on earth (see v. 21). They live like kings on the offerings of Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper. Joe and Jane could never afford the luxurious lifestyles of the TV preachers. In the Messianic Age at least, the flashy preachers will be pushed toward the back of the massive crowds, while others, like martyrs and believers who gave up everything (the twelve or eleven), will move toward the front. Please make the connection between the twelve (or eleven) giving up everything and their sitting on the twelve thrones in a place of prominence in the Messianic Age. If one of the twelve had walked away and pursued worldly business interests, he would have lost his reward and throne. Think of Judas.
GrowApp for Matt. 19:16-30
A.. Have you given up any material possessions at all, to follow Jesus? Tell your story.
B.. Do you know someone who has, like a missionary? How have you supported him or her?
Summary and Conclusion
This chapter can be read with great emotion. A major section is about divorce, and this dysfunction runs rampant throughout society. My comments were copious on that passage, for that reason.
But before we get there, Jesus moved southward, to the hill country, east of the Jordan River. He was about to enter Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11). Large crowds followed him. He healed them all. Let’s not treat his healing ministry casually. It was part of ushering in the Messianic Age or the beginning of the kingdom of heaven. Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and New-Charismatics) believe healing miracles happen today and often pray for them and see them happen right before their eyes.
Now let’s talk quickly about divorce in Jesus’s teaching.
Basically, Jesus was interested in protecting the one party who had the fewest rights—womankind. She could not even initiate a divorce; only the man could. Divorce was frivolous back then, especially among the Pharisees. So Jesus restricted the reason to divorce: sexual misconduct. (Paul later added abandonment.) If modern interpreters don’t understand his heart—to protect the vulnerable—then they have not interpreted the passage properly or in the right spirit. Also, everyone knew that Roman and Jewish law permitted remarriage after a divorce, and the three Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) would also know this law. All Jesus was doing was to restrict the reason for divorce, sexual unfaithfulness. And he prohibited cheap divorce and remarriage, which could add up to wife-swapping. Taking all the passages on divorce together, when this (sad) condition of sexual sin was met and the divorce happened, then remarriage was permitted, but it was not permitted for selfish divorces, like finding a woman who strikes a man’s fancy. Anyone who remarried for that reason was committing adultery. But when the reason for divorce was proper and permitted, remarriage was also permitted. We should not violate the original context by denying divorcees today this basic need and right, merely because certain hard-core, restrictive, and austere Christians interpret the texts on divorce out of context.
Next, a rich man approached Jesus to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Greek word that is frequently translated as eternal could also be translated “next-age” or “new-age” or even “Messianic-age.” In other words, the man was interested in knowing how he could live on in the Messianic Golden Age. Jesus told him to keep the commandments. The man replied that he had been doing this from his youth. Paul testified that he was blameless in righteousness based on law-keeping (Phil. 3:6). The rich man’s assessment was surely accurate. Jesus told him he lacked one thing more: giving it all to the Lord and following him. Paul would also agree, so there is no contradiction in this passage and Paul’s theology throughout his epistles. It is possible to not inherit the kingdom of God by immoral living (1 Cor. 6:9-10), so faith in Christ and then works (not works before faith in Christ) was the same in Jesus’s conversation with the rich young man. The rich man refused to give it all to Jesus, and thereby making Jesus Lord of his entire life. The man walked away sad. This was a discussion about the Messianic Age, and the Messiah, standing in front of him, lay down the rules for entering it. Everyone must be willing to surrender his or her whole life to Jesus’s Lordship and Messiahship. That’s the only way to eternal life.
Here is Blomberg quoting two earlier commentators on the rich man not willing to give up his wealth possessing him:
True Christian stewardship will examine mortgages, credit, giving, insurance, investments, and a whole host of areas of life not often brought under Christ’s lordship. Ridderbos’s remarks should cause some soul searching: “The man of course did not think that his riches were worth more than eternal life, but he must have told himself that he did not really have to give up his wealth to gain it.” Or, with Gundry, “That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.” (comment on vv. 20-22)
Then the conversation switches over to salvation. Who then can be saved? It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Only God could reach out and save the rich. This may be impossible for humans, by persuasion, but God can work a miracle of salvation even for the most stubborn.
Peter said that he and the eleven had given up everything to follow Jesus. What will happen to them? Jesus promised them that they will be in a position of prominence in the Messianic Age. Jesus will sit on his glorious throne, while the twelve (Matthias in place of Judas) will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus said this, after the tribes over the centuries had been scattered. God will be able to sort out who belongs to which tribe.
Sidebar comment: It is humorous that he sits on a glorious throne, while the twelve sit on thrones—it made me smile. Jesus is always preeminent. He is the Messiah, after all.
Jesus’s eschatology is surprisingly streamlined. It is not convoluted, as I have observed in many end-time prophecy teachings which still dominate the American church even now and for many decades. I prefer Jesus’s teaching and now reject theirs (the bulk of it).
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. Their commentaries are enlightening for me, but also complicated for the laity. I hope that I have simplified things. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. Edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).