Matthew Chapter 19

Gospel of MatthewHello.  As you read God’s word today, know that you are being prayed for.  As we read together as a church God is speaking to us about today about practical and relevant topics such as children, marriage, remarriage, divorce, possessions and the sacrifices and rewards of following Jesus.



19:1-2 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.NIV Both Matthew and Mark note the geographic shift in Jesus’ ministry from Galilee to the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.

Traveling to Judea from Galilee meant going through Samaria—a district that most Jews avoided. Jesus had traveled directly through Samaria before (see John 4), but this time he crossed the river and went into the region of Perea. John the Baptist had ministered there, and crowds had come to Jesus from the region earlier (see Mark 3:8).  

Jesus Travels toward Jerusalem

Jesus left Galilee for the last time—heading toward his death in Jerusalem. He again crossed the Jordan, spending some time in Perea before going on to Jericho.


Jesus was already well known, and on his arrival there, large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.  Jesus continued his ministry, but he was moving toward his death in Jerusalem,in the region of Judea. We know from the other Gospels that Jesus had already made several visits to Jerusalem, especially during key festivals. Matthew records only this final trip to the capital city of Jerusalem.

19:3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”NRSV John the Baptist had been put in prison and killed, at least in part, because of his public opinions on marriage and divorce. Divorce was a hot topic of debate among the Shammai and Hillel schools of the Pharisees. The Pharisees hoped to trap Jesus by getting him to choose sides in a theological controversy and incriminate himself in the process.

The debate focused on Moses’ words about divorce recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house . . .” (niv). The religious leaders’ controversy focused around the interpretation of the words “something indecent.” There arose two schools of thought representing two opposing views. One group (followers of Rabbi Hillel) said a man could give his wife a “certificate of divorce” for almost any reason, even finding another woman more attractive than his wife; “something indecent” could refer to anything that “displeased” him. The other group (followers of Rabbi Shammai) believed that a man could divorce his wife only if she had been unfaithful to him; that is, “something indecent” referred to adultery.

There was another issue, however. In ancient Jewish marriages, when a woman got married, her father gave her a dowry that reflected his wealth. The dowry—money, slaves, or other property—remained the woman’s throughout her marriage. If the husband divorced her, he had to return the dowry to her, unless she was guilty of sexual misconduct. To divorce his wife, a man merely had to write a document stating that the wife was free from him and could remarry. No court action would be necessary; it was a very simple process. As a result, some Jewish men were divorcing their wives and claiming infidelity in order to avoid returning a wife’s dowry to her.

The Pharisees asked the question to test Jesus. Perhaps they hoped that he might have very lax views about divorce (considering his apparent lack of concern for their laws about the Sabbath and fasting) and would depreciate the law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, or that he would condemn divorce and lose some of his popular following. If Jesus were to support divorce, he would be upholding the Pharisees’ procedures; they doubted that Jesus would do that. If Jesus were to choose sides in the controversy, some members of the crowd would dislike his position, for some may have used the law to their advantage to divorce their wives. Or, if he were to speak against divorce altogether, he would appear to be speaking against Moses’ law (which allowed divorce). The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus. They were serving their own desires, not seeking to know his view of God’s will based on God’s Word. As we examine the divorce issue, our motives must be to do God’s will, not to serve our own desires.

19:4-6 “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.”NIV Jesus’ answer began with the words “haven’t you read,” implying that they had not truly read their own Scriptures with any understanding (compare to the words “go and learn” in 9:13). They had certainly read the words many times, but they were unable to understand what the words meant. The Pharisees had quoted Moses’ writings in Deuteronomy; Jesus also quoted from Moses’ writings (Genesis 1:27; 2:24), but he went back to Genesis, the beginning. Jesus was referring to Moses’ words in Genesis about the ideal state of creation and particularly of marriage. In this answer, Jesus was using a rabbinic technique of arguing from the “weightier” text; in other words, an argument from creation was “weightier” than one from the Law because it had been written prior to the Law.

Jesus focused on God’s ideal in creating male and female. The Hebrew words for “male” and “female” reveal that the two had been created complementary to each other. God’s plan was that in marriage the husband and wife become one flesh, an intimate closeness that cannot be separated. The wife is not property to be disposed of but a person created in God’s image.

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”NRSV Jesus drew a distinction: God’s creation of marriage and his absolute command that it be a permanent union versus the provisions written hundreds of years later that tolerated divorce because of people’s utter sinfulness (their “hard hearts,” 19:8). God permitted divorce as a result of sin, but his command was that husband and wife be no longer two, but one flesh, describing an indissoluble union.

The Pharisees regarded Deuteronomy 24:1 as a proof text for divorce. But Jesus focused on marriage rather than divorce. He pointed out that God intended marriage to be a covenant—a permanent promise of love and faithfulness. The Pharisees regarded divorce as a legal issue rather than a spiritual one— marriage and divorce were merely transactions similar to buying and selling land (with women being treated as property). But Jesus condemned this attitude, clarifying God’s original intention—that marriage bring unity that no one should separate.

19:7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”NIV The Pharisees clearly understood that Jesus was denying the divorce laws with his statement “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (19:6 nrsv). If that were the case, they asked, why then . . . did Moses command divorce? Again, the Pharisees were summarizing the law recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. They wondered if Jesus was saying that Moses had written laws contrary to God’s commands. Such a comment would be considered heretical.

What does the Bible teach about marriage?
Marriage is a committed partnership between a man and a woman. God’s creative work was not complete until he made woman. He could have made her from the dust of the ground, as he had made man. God chose, however, to make her from the man’s flesh and bone. In so doing, he illustrated for us that in marriage, a man and a woman symbolically become one flesh. This is a mystical union of the couple’s hearts and lives. Throughout the Bible, God treats this special partnership seriously. If you are married or planning to be married, are you willing to keep the commitment that makes the two of you one? The goal in marriage should be more than friendship; it should be oneness.
Marriage is a cooperative effort between equal partners. God forms and equips men and women for various tasks, but all these tasks lead to the same goal—honoring God. Man gives life to woman; woman gives life to the world. Each role carries exclusive privileges; there is no room for thinking that one sex is superior to the other.
Marriage is a gift from God. God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve. They were created perfect for each other. Marriage was not just for convenience, nor was it brought about by any culture.
Marriage was designed by God. The marriage relationship that God designed has three basic aspects: (1) The man leaves his parents and, in a public act, promises himself to his wife; (2) the man and woman are joined together by taking responsibility for each other’s welfare and by loving the mate above all others; (3) the two become one flesh in the intimacy and commitment of sexual union that is reserved for marriage. Strong marriages include all three of these aspects.

Because sinful human nature made divorce inevitable, Moses had instituted laws to help its victims. Under Jewish law, only a husband could initiate and carry out a divorce. The civil laws protected the women, who, in that culture, were quite vulnerable when living alone. Because of Moses’ law, a man could no longer just throw his wife out—he had to write a formal letter of dismissal, a certificate of divorce, so she could remarry and reclaim her dowry. This was a major step toward civil rights for women, for it made a man think twice before sending his wife away. Moses’ words gave protection to the wife and limited abuses of divorce.

Jesus’ first word about divorce upholds the sanctity of marriage. Before considering all the qualifications and conditions that may necessitate or permit divorce, Jesus pointed to an overriding divine preference for stable, long-term monogamous marriage. So strong is the bond that the two persons in it should be regarded as if they are one.
Divorces will happen, some by flimsy choice and others dictated by basic human needs such as survival and avoidance of desperate harm. Some will occur because one partner became attracted to a third party, and then sexual relations outside of marriage spoiled the primary relationship. We need civil procedures for dealing with these troubles.
But above all that, marriage is good, strong, and endurable. That’s God’s intention and design. To that end we should pray and work. All else is unfortunate—the spoiled result of a good plan turned rotten by greed, lust, and selfishness.

19:8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”NRSV The change in verbs between these two verses is interesting—the Pharisees asked why Moses “commanded” divorce (19:7); Jesus explained that Moses only allowed divorce. The Pharisees had tried to make this concession into a divine law, but this was not God’s plan from the beginning. As in 19:4-6, Jesus was again arguing from the “weightier” position—the law versus what had been planned when God had created marriage.

In Moses’ time, as well as in Jesus’ day (as well as today), the practice of marriage fell far short of God’s intention. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce only because the people were so hard-hearted; in other words, they were insensitive to God’s will for marriage. “Hard-heartedness” refers to a stubborn, willful attitude (for example, see Deuteronomy 10:16). Many refused to follow through with their marriages as God had intended, so God allowed divorce as a concession to their sinfulness. Divorce was not approved, but it was preferred to open adultery. The Ten Commandments include two statements relative to this situation: “You shall not commit adultery . . . [and] you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:14, 17 niv). Jesus explained that divorce was never God’s intent; instead, God wants married people to consider marriage to be permanent and to control the desire for someone else’s spouse.

Jesus turned the Pharisees’ “test” question back on them by using it as an opportunity to review God’s intended purpose for marriage and to expose their spiteful motives in testing Jesus.

The union of husband and wife merges two persons in such a way that little can affect one without also affecting the other. “Oneness” in marriage does not mean that a person loses his or her personality in the personality of the other. Instead, it means caring for the spouse as oneself, learning to anticipate his or her needs, and helping the other person become all he or she can be. The creation story tells of God’s plan that husband and wife should be one (Genesis 2:24), and Jesus also referred to this plan (Matthew 19:4-6). Are you experiencing oneness in your marriage? Are you caring for your spouse as you should? What can you do to work toward God’s perfect plan of oneness with your spouse?

19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”NIV Jesus had clearly explained that divorce dissolves a divinely formed union. Some men were divorcing in order to get remarried. The rabbis’ interpretation of Moses’ law permitted remarriage after divorce, but Jesus explained that marriage after divorce is adultery. However, he gave one exception (see also 5:32).

The Greek word translated “marital unfaithfulness” is porneia. As noted in 5:32, it has a broad range of definitions (see commentary there). Scholars agree that Jesus’ words refer to both husbands and wives; that is, the unfaithfulness of one could be grounds for divorce by the other, because Mark recorded that Jesus then added, “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12 niv).

While the application of Jesus’ words requires interpretation to specific situations, one truth is inescapable: God created marriage to be a sacred, permanent union and partnership between husband and wife. When both husband and wife enter this union with that understanding and commitment, they can provide security for each other, a stable home for their children, and strength to weather any of life’s storms or stresses.

19:10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”NIV The disciples believed Jesus upheld such an impossible standard that it would be better for people not to get married than to enter into the covenant of marriage. It seemed better not to make the vow than to make the vow and not be able to keep it.

Churches and Christians struggle to understand the Bible’s tolerance for divorce and remarriage. Is unfaithfulness the only acceptable condition, or do the conditions here point to additional conditions not explicitly mentioned but nonetheless valid?
 First, Jesus spoke to a specific cultural situation: divorce as a husband’s prerogative. This was only true of the Jews. Women could sue for divorce in the Gentile world. Today many divorces are initiated by women against their husbands.
 Second, in Matthew’s account, Jesus addressed the remarriage question from a man’s point of view—those were the people in his audience. Should we extend his precept to women as well? (See Mark 10:12.)
Third, Jesus mentioned one condition that allows for divorce, but there may be others. Jesus was dealing with the traits of these specific Pharisees. What about a husband who abuses his daughter or habitually beats up his wife, or who is missing and declared legally dead by the state, or a number of reasons more reflective of the twentieth century than the first century? Might Jesus’ allowance of one condition permit the church today to allow others?
Married people who want to follow the Lord through a thicket of questions like these are advised to seek counseling rooted in the Bible and keep their eyes open to the hurts of human life. Churches struggling with what to do need prayer, wisdom, compassion, and a dose of tolerance for others who come up with different answers.

19:11-12 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”NRSV Views differ on which “teaching” Jesus was referring to when he said, “Not everyone can accept this teaching.” If he meant the disciples’ words in 19:10, he was saying that their proposal of celibacy was a good one, but not everyone can be celibate, only those to whom it is given. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus would have been setting celibacy above marriage as a “higher ideal,” and this would contradict his teaching in 19:3-9 (and the high ideal of marriage). A second option is that “this teaching” referred to his own words in 19:3-9 regarding the high ideal of marriage, a demanding one, an ideal to which not everyone is called “but only those to whom it is given.” Those “given” that responsibility are expected to adhere to it, as Jesus described above. This second interpretation fits best.

Many Christians are single, chaste, and happy. Marriage is not a prerequisite for a fulfilled life. The question raised here is whether diligent Christians should choose singleness as a way of better serving Christ.
Clearly, the Roman Catholic tradition promotes this. Priests and nuns are single in order to enhance their devotion to Christ. In other traditions, some have chosen singleness for spiritual purposes. Here’s some help:
Jesus’ comment on singleness, like his comment on divorce, comes in the context of God’s overriding approval of stable marriage. A serious Christian should not, therefore, feel “less spiritual” because of a desire to marry.
 A decision to be single should never be forced (by parents or pastors or anyone) on anyone. Such a decision touches so deeply our personal lives that pressure or guilt should never be imposed.
Vows of chastity are advisedly taken with an escape clause, in the event that, down the road, the vow becomes a source of deep sadness. Just as we would advise a friend, “Don’t marry just to marry,” so we would also advise, “Don’t set yourself up to burn with emotion, passion, and regret, should God lead you to that special person.”

There are some to whom this gift of marriage is not given. A “eunuch” is an emasculated male—a man with no testicles. Some are eunuchs . . . from birth, who perhaps had physical limitations that prevented their marrying. Others were made eunuchs by others, such as those servants who, in ancient cultures, were castrated in order to serve the master without sexual distractions or without the ability to create offspring (such as the men who presided over the king’s harem). Those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven are those who voluntarily remained totally abstinent, choosing not to marry because, in their particular situation, they could serve God better as single people. They did not literally castrate themselves. Jesus himself would be in this category, as was the apostle Paul. Some believers throughout history have interpreted this wrongly as a command to remove their testicles. Origen (a.d. 184-254), a Christian scholar in Alexandria, did this in order to give himself more fully to teaching young women, but he later regretted this act. Jesus was not teaching that believers should avoid marriage because it is inconvenient or takes away freedom. That would be selfish. He was teaching that a good reason to remain single would be to use the time and freedom to serve God. Paul elaborates on this in 1 Corinthians 7.

Although divorce was relatively easy in Old Testament times (19:7), it is not what God originally intended. Couples should decide against divorce from the start and build their marriage on mutual commitment. There are also many good reasons for not marrying; for example, single people can focus their energies on working for God’s kingdom. Don’t assume that God wants everyone to marry. Many may be better off unmarried. Be sure that you prayerfully seek God’s will before you plunge into this lifelong commitment.


19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.NIV It was customary for people to bring their children (the Greek word paidia could refer to children ranging in age from babies to preteens) to a rabbi for a blessing. Thus people were bringing children to Jesus so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples, however, thought the children were unworthy of the Master’s time—less important than whatever else he had to do. In the first century, Jewish households were patriarchal—men came first, followed by women and children. Adult men were the key members of society, women quite secondary, and children were to be seen but not heard. The disciples apparently viewed these parents and children as an intrusion and a drain of time and energy. So they rebuked those who brought the children.

19:14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”NKJV When Jesus saw his disciples rebuking the people for bringing their children, he spoke to his disciples, telling them in a double command to let the little children come and do not forbid them. The implicit command is that the disciples should never forbid anyone from coming to Jesus, especially children. Why? Because, Jesus explained, of such is the kingdom of heaven. The disciples must have forgotten what Jesus had said about children earlier (see 18:4-6). Jesus wanted little children to come because he loves them and because they have the kind of attitude needed to approach God. He didn’t mean that heaven is only for children but that people need childlike attitudes of trust in God. The receptiveness of little children was a great contrast to the stubbornness of the religious leaders who let their education and sophistication stand in the way of the simple faith needed to believe in Jesus. Anyone of any age who exhibits such faith and trust is promised access to Jesus and to the kingdom. The kingdom of God is God’s universal, dynamic rule over his people. The trust displayed by children represents the trust that all true disciples need to have. The children came to Jesus in humility and received his blessing as a gift. They had no authority or rights, but they came to him in trust and love.

Just as Jesus took time for the sick, the poor, and the hungry, so he also took time for little children. Jesus clearly enjoyed the company of the weak. We never read of him courting the favor of the powerful.
With whom do you like to spend time?
Without idealizing children (who are not always perfect company!), give them time. They need many other things from you, too, like discipline, provision, and health care. But don’t forget to give them time. Hold them, hug them, tell them you love them. Today.

19:15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.NRSV One by one, Jesus laid his hands on them and blessed them. Jesus took time with each child, blessing each as he or she was brought to him. This certainly took time, but Jesus did not rush through the process or pass it off as unimportant. It probably brought him great joy to spend time with little children whose faith and trust were so pure and simple. Only after he had blessed each child did he then continue on his way.


While the children came readily to Jesus, a rich young man had difficulty. He wanted to get close, but he wanted to do so on his own terms. Jesus reached out in truth and love; unfortunately, the rich young man turned away.

19:16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”NIV Jesus continued on his way from Perea, moving south toward Jerusalem. On his way, a man ran up to him (a “young man,” see 19:22; Luke referred to him as a ruler in 18:18). This was a relatively young man who was both wealthy (Mark 10:22; Luke 18:23) and of prominent social standing. He called Jesus teacher (not the more common “rabbi”) and eagerly asked a pressing question. This rich young ruler wanted to be sure he would receive eternal life, so he asked what he could do to get it. He viewed eternal life as something that one achieves. While the man had kept the commandments (or so he thought, 19:20), he still had some concern about his eternal destiny. He thought Jesus would have the answer.

To this man seeking assurance of eternal life, Jesus pointed out that salvation does not come from good deeds unaccompanied by love for God. The man needed a whole new starting point. Instead of adding another commandment to keep or a good deed to perform, the young man needed to submit humbly to the lordship of Christ.

19:17-19 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”NIV At first, Jesus did not address the man’s question but, instead, challenged him to think about God. Goodness is not measured by one’s works; in fact, there is only One who is good—God alone. Jesus wanted the man to turn his attention from himself and instead think about God’s absolute goodness. In Greek the word “me” in Jesus’ question to the man is emphasized. Jesus asked why the young man needed to ask Jesus in particular about what is good. As a learned Jew, the young man should have already known “what is good.”

In response to the young man’s question about how to have eternal life, Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The young man then said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”NKJV Jesus responded by listing five of the Ten Commandments (numbers five through nine) and adding Leviticus 19:18—all referring to relationships with others. The last command to love your neighbor as yourself is not one of the Ten Commandments but was a command that the Jews believed summed up the last six. By rehearsing the commandments, Jesus illustrated that keeping God’s commands merely points us to the One who is truly good. People’s obedience merely reflects God’s goodness.

The life insurance industry is selling a misnamed product. Life insurance is a hedge against the economic hurt of a person’s inevitable death. But if we could, we would all buy insurance against death itself. That’s what this man was looking for.
He went to the right place. Jesus has the agency on real life insurance, long-term and secure. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said (John 11:25). The young man sought the right goal, for Jesus had said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 niv).
Yet the young man muffed on the crucial play. That’s because he wanted a mere policy, not a life; he wanted only insurance, not a Lord and Savior.
When you shop around for life, go to Jesus. When you hear his offer of eternal life, take it. When he says, “Follow me,” do it.

19:20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”NRSV The man sincerely believed that he had not broken any commandments, yet he felt that something was lacking. The powerful lesson here is that even if a person could keep all these commandments perfectly, which this man claimed to have done, there would still be a lack of assurance of salvation. The answer was that keeping the commandments perfectly could not save anyone—for obedience is not a matter of law keeping, it is a matter of the heart. This was a mind-bending revelation to this young man and to all of Jesus’ listeners. Such is the condition of one who tries to attain eternal life or a relationship with God by his or her own merit. Even if it seems that the person has kept all the laws perfectly, he or she still needs assurance. Jesus would reveal to this man what he lacked.

19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”NKJV Jesus’ words “if you want to be perfect” parallel his words in 19:17, “If you want to enter life.” Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the word “perfect” (teleios) here and in 5:48, “Be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There, as here, the word “perfect” can be translated “mature” or “full-grown.” The young man said he had never once broken any of the laws Jesus mentioned, so he may have felt that he had attained a certain level of perfection. But Jesus never asked for strict and flawless obedience to any set of laws as the foundation for “perfection.” Instead, he called for an understanding of how the law pointed to the heavenly Father who is himself perfect. The law was not the standard of perfection, God was. Those who loved God and desired eternal life would keep his laws as he required.

So Jesus lovingly broke through the young man’s pride by pointing out that despite his self-proclaimed obedience, he still had a long way to go in understanding what God desired. Jesus told him, Sell what you have and give to the poor. This challenge exposed the barrier that could keep this young man out of the kingdom: his love of money. Money represented the young man’s pride of accomplishment and self-effort. Ironically, his attitude made him unable to keep the first commandment, one that Jesus did not quote:

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 nrsv; see also Matthew 22:36-40). The young man did not love God with his whole heart as he had presumed. In reality, his many possessions were his god, his idol. If he could not give these up, he would be violating the first and greatest commandment. The way of salvation is the way of downward mobility. It is the call to give up our privilege and power and to identify with the poor. But it is good news, not bad news. It is bad news only for those who worship Mammon.

Art Gish


The task of selling all his possessions would not, of itself, give the man eternal life. But such radical obedience would be the first step for this man to become a follower of Jesus. The emphasis is not so much on “selling” as on “following.” Jesus’ words to this rich young man were a test of his faith and his willingness to obey. The man thought he needed to do more; Jesus explained that there was plenty more he could do, but not in order to obtain eternal life. Instead, he needed an attitude adjustment toward his wealth. Only then could he submit humbly to the lordship of Christ. Follow Me was a stipulation that required more than mental and spiritual commitment. Jesus was asking this man to abandon his present career and join Jesus’ itinerant group as a disciple. By putting his treasure in heaven and following Jesus along the road of selflessness and service to others, the man could be assured of his eternal destiny.

In this story, we see clearly the essence of the gospel—repent and believe. Jesus told the rich young man to turn his back on his past (repent) and to begin following him (believe). The young man may have wanted to believe, but he was unwilling to repent.

19:22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.NRSV This man’s many possessions made his life comfortable and gave him power and prestige. When Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, Jesus was touching the very basis of the man’s security and identity. The young man did not understand that he would be even more secure if he followed Jesus than he was with all his possessions. He could not meet the one requirement that Jesus gave—to turn his whole heart and life over to God. The one assurance he wanted, eternal life, was unattainable because he deemed the price too high. The man came to Jesus wondering what he could do; he left seeing what he was unable to do. No wonder he went away grieving. How tragic—to be possessed by possessions and miss the opportunity to be with Jesus.

Jesus told the rich young man to sell what he had and to give the money to the poor. Should all believers sell everything they own? No. We are responsible to care for our own needs and the needs of our families so as not to be a burden on others. We should, however, be willing to give up anything if God asks us to do so. This kind of attitude allows nothing to come between us and God and keeps us from using our God-given wealth selfishly. If you are comforted by the fact that Christ did not tell all his followers to sell all their possessions, then you may be too attached to what you have.

19:23-24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”NRSV Jesus looked at his disciples and taught them a lesson from this incident with the rich young man. Jesus explained that it was very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (not impossible, but difficult). Jesus was explaining that wealth can be a stumbling block on the path to discipleship because it engenders self-sufficiency.

The rich, with most of their basic physical needs met, often become self-reliant. When they feel empty, they can buy something new to dull the pain that was meant to drive them toward God. Their abundance and self-sufficiency become their deficiency. People who have everything on earth can still lack what is most important—eternal life. They have riches, but they don’t have God’s kingdom. Most Christians in the Northern Hemisphere simply do not believe Jesus’ teaching about the deadly danger of possessions. . . . An abundance of possessions can easily lead us to forget that God is the source of all good. We trust in ourselves and our wealth rather than in the Almighty.

Ron Sider


Jesus used a common Jewish proverb describing something impossible and absurd to illustrate how hard it will be for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven by saying, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”NRSV With all their advantages and influence, rich people may find it difficult to have the attitude of humility, submission, and service required by Jesus. Because money represents power, authority, and success, wealthy people often have difficulty realizing their need and their powerlessness to save themselves. Thus, Jesus explained that it would be easier to get a camel (the largest animal in Palestine) through the eye of a sewing needle than for a person who trusts in riches to get into the kingdom of God.

Some commentators have suggested that the “needle” refers to a certain gate in the wall of Jerusalem, a gate that was too low for camels to get through. However, the Greek word refers to a needle that is used with thread, and the Needle’s Eye Gate didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. It was put in later when the city was rebuilt after its destruction by the Romans. Thus, Jesus’ image was for hyperbolic effect.

This young man may have been very wealthy, but any of us who own anything could also be considered wealthy by someone else’s standards. Whatever you own could become a barrier to entering the kingdom if it comes between you and God. Because it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, it appears impossible for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God. Jesus explained, however, that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 nkjv). Even rich people can enter the kingdom if God brings them in. Faith in Christ, not in self or riches, is what counts. On what are you counting for salvation?

19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”NRSV The disciples were greatly astounded, almost to the point of exasperation. Again, they wondered what Jesus meant. The Jews looked upon wealth as a blessing from God, a reward for being good, a sign of his special favor. The lives of David and Solomon encouraged this view. If the rich—those who from the disciples’ vantage point seemed to be first in line for salvation—cannot be saved, then who can be saved?

19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”NKJV The answer to the disciples’ question, “Who can be saved?” turned out to be quite simple. In reality, it is not just the rich who have difficulty, for salvation is not possible for anyone from a human standpoint. No one can be saved by his or her wealth, achievements, talents, or good deeds: With men this is impossible. But the situation is not hopeless, for God has an entirely different plan: With God all things are possible. The Greek word order stresses the contrasts between the words “men” and “God,” and between the words “impossible” and “possible.” Salvation cannot be earned; God gives it to us as a gift. No one needs money, talent, or advantage to obtain it. Instead, it is offered to all people equally. No one is saved on merit; but all are saved who humbly come to God to receive salvation. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 nrsv).

Jesus was forever turning the tables. The last would be first, children are the kingdom, the wealthy would have to squeeze through an impossible gate to heaven. Rightly, the disciples were dazzled. What’s going on here? Who changed the rules? they must have been thinking.
Whenever you’re puzzled about the eternal destiny of a loved one or exasperated at a friend’s hardness of heart toward God, remember Jesus’ assurance that God has the power to save anyone. Trust God to change and soften people’s hearts.

19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”NIV Peter, once again acting as spokesman for the Twelve, contrasted the disciples with the rich young man. He refused to give up what he had, but the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. The Greek word aphekamen is in the aorist tense, signifying a once-for-all act. They had done what the rich young man had been unwilling to do. They had abandoned their former lives. Peter’s question, “What then will there be for us?” emphasizes that the disciples had done the ultimate in self-denial and had followed Jesus’ call. So their natural question would seem to be, “Won’t we receive some great reward for having done so?” While Peter’s question seems somewhat selfish, he was merely thinking about rewards from the standpoint of his Jewish background. In the Old Testament, God rewarded his people according to his justice, and obedience often brought reward in this life (Deuteronomy 28). But Jesus explained to Peter that obedience and immediate reward are not always linked. If they were, good people would always be rich, and suffering would always be a sign of sin. The disciples’ true reward (and ours) was God’s presence and power through the Holy Spirit. The reward also includes the assurance of salvation and eternal life (an assurance that the rich young man lacked, 19:20). Later, in eternity, God will reward his people for faith and service (see 5:12).

Jesus turned the world’s values upside down. Consider the most powerful or well-known people in our society—how many got where they are by being humble, self-effacing, and gentle? Not many! But in the life to come, the last will be first, if they came in in last place by choosing to follow Jesus. Don’t forfeit eternal rewards for temporary benefits. Be willing to make sacrifices now for greater rewards later. Be willing to accept human disapproval, knowing that you have God’s approval.

19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”NRSV Peter and the other disciples had paid a high price—leaving their homes and jobs and secure futures—to follow Jesus. But Jesus reminded them that following him has its benefits as well as its sacrifices. Although they had to leave everything (19:27) to follow Christ, they would be paid back in this present age (the time period between Jesus’ first and second comings, see Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30) as well as at the renewal of all things in the age to come (after Jesus’ second coming). Mark and Luke stressed both present and future rewards; Matthew, perhaps due to persecution of the church in his own time, stressed only the future side. The word for the “renewal of all things” is found only here and in Titus 3:5, where it is translated “rebirth”. It seems to refer to the creation of the new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22). The Jews looked forward to this restoration as the messianic age at the end of the world based on Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). They believed that a golden age similar to the days when David ruled the kingdom would be restored. This would occur when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory. Jesus made it clear that this was an event still in the future. The disciples had been hoping that it would happen immediately, but Jesus’ constant talk of his coming death made them wonder what would happen to them in this whole scenario and who would rule in Jesus’ absence.

Jesus clarified that the time would come when he would rule. They, in turn, would also rule with him. First Corinthians 6:2-3 stresses that all believers will rule the world and the angels. In Luke 22:28-30, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus assured the disciples that they would have a certain role. The twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes can be understood in different ways.

  • If taken literally, the twelve apostles will rule the tribes of Israel at Christ’s return (although this leaves open the question of Judas’s betrayal, the addition of Matthias as a disciple to replace Judas, and the role of Paul’s apostleship). The exact time and nature of that role is not specified.
  • If not taken literally, then the disciples will oversee the church, which will have a prominent place in God’s plan.
  • This may be a promise to Jesus’ closest disciples (probably Paul would be included) who will have a special place of authority in the messianic kingdom. But the entire church, meaning all believers and not just the Jewish branch of God’s people, is included (because of the constant juxtaposition of the disciples and the church, 16:17-19; see also 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; James 1:1).

The second understanding (the disciples will oversee the church) seems likely because the “Son of Man” imagery ties to Daniel 7:13-14. The prophet Daniel recorded his vision for the future: “But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever. . . . The Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom” (Daniel 7:18, 22 niv). The “saints of the Most High” are the true Israel, the people ruled by the Messiah. Jesus Christ gave the kingdom to the new Israel, his church—all faithful believers. His coming ushered in the kingdom of God with all believers as its citizens. God may allow persecution to continue for a while, but the destiny of his followers is to possess the kingdom and be with him forever. This amazing teaching not only answered Peter’s question about future rewards but also revealed God’s will regarding his people.

19:29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.”NRSV Jesus assured the disciples that anyone who gave up something valuable for his sake would be repaid a hundred times over, although not necessarily in the same form. It is difficult to say whether Jesus had in mind material as well as spiritual blessings, although his statement probably means that God will give spiritual blessings for material sacrifices. For example, someone may be rejected by his or her family for accepting Christ, but he or she will gain the larger family of believers with all the love it has to offer.

Here is the answer to the rich young ruler’s question about how to obtain eternal life. Jesus explained that by submitting to his authority and rule, making him top priority over all else, and giving up anything that hinders following him, each person can inherit eternal life. For the rich young man, that meant giving up money as his idol. For each person the sacrifice may be different, though no less difficult. We may have little or much, but are we willing to give it all up in order to have eternal life?

19:30 “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”NRSV Jesus had already shown that the “greatest” are like “little children” (18:1-4). In the world to come, the values of this world will be reversed. Those who believe but who still seek status and importance here on earth will have none in heaven. Jesus may have been referring to the disciples’ mixed-up motives. They had given up everything and hoped for rewards and for status in God’s kingdom. Jesus explained that yearning for position would cause them to lose any position they might have. Christ’s disciples who have humbly served others are most qualified to be great in heaven. Rewards in heaven are not given on the basis of merit or “time served” or other earthly standards. What matters in heaven is a person’s commitment to Christ. Radical discipleship—a willingness to follow totally and accept the consequences, a willingness to surrender everything to and for the service of Christ—is the only path to reward.

Source:  Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.


About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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