Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus has entered into Judea, and the Pharisees come out to “test” Him… and away we go. Their test concerns the issue of marriage and divorce. They begin with an interesting question, one that can possibly be taken more than one way. Jesus in His reply takes it in a way they hadn’t expected, for instead of quoting the Law of Moses, He goes to Genesis instead quoting Genesis 1:27 in verse 4, and to Genesis 2:24 in verse 5; it would seem that Jesus placed a higher priority on the way marriage was originally intended to be than He did on the compromise God made with the fallen state of the people in Deuteronomy 24.
The Pharisees are all about keeping the Law, and as ironic as it may sound, this was their downfall in the end, so they ask Jesus about this in verse 7. (For them, Moses = Law).
Jesus replies in 19:8-9, with an explanation similar to His teaching on the subject in chapter 5, and for more on that, see my comments in that section. Rather than rehashing that here, I hope you will concentrate on Jesus and His orientation on the whole issue: He goes right back the point in time where God ordained marriage, and not on what came later; even the Law of Moses. While the scholars argue about the details and modern day politics, we can gain an amazing insight into Jesus’ mission and ultimate purpose in these verses, for in going back to the beginning, mentioning only in answer to their specific question any “exceptions” or concessions God may have granted, Jesus tells us about His mission: can you see it?
Jesus didn’t come with the idea of maintaining the status quo of their day, not even of the Law itself, for in His fulfillment of the Law, and establishment of an entirely New Covenant between God and His people, Jesus was taking the view that the Kingdom of heaven was not only near at hand, but already a reality, with no concession to the sin that He would take away for good. Thus, the message in this passage is not about what loopholes there might be in marriage, but on how we are to live in the Kingdom. There might be a loophole or escape clause, there might be problems in the present evil age, but in its ultimate fulfillment, we will be taken all the way back to way things were before sin had entered into the picture, for sin will be entirely done away with, along with all evil, and even death itself.
For us to say that His was an apocalyptic view would be an understatement for certain; certainly it is a view filled with hope and good news in that the day will come when all of these problems are gone. Yet, here we are, still living in a sinful and wicked world; filled with heartache and pain, what do we do in the here and now? Do we take the Pharisees’ viewpoint and debate the loopholes, or do we take the view of Christ and do our best to live according to the way God intended for us from the beginning?
Clearly that is a choice each of us should carefully consider. For the disciples, it was also a complex and bewildering prospect, and they had questions for Jesus about this. We’ll see the questions and answers when we get back together next time!