Chapter 13


The Great Temptation



(Matthew 19:3-12)


"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: And they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."



"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him" (v. 3). At the outset of our Lord's earthly ministry, He was led of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. However, Satan was thoroughly frustrated in his futile attempt. Yet, and as is common to him, he did not give up. This time he came to tempt, veiled in human flesh. Mark also emphasises the fact that this question about the permanence of marriage is a temptation. There is no other matter in human affairs that cuts so close to the bone. Israel's leaders had long since succumbed to this temptation and had cunningly devised concessions to what God had said. As earlier mentioned, any man seeking popular acclaim would commit political suicide by insisting upon the permanence of marriage as part of his platform. With few exceptions, Israel's leaders had turned to mammon which is based upon the popular acclaim of man coupled with the security that tangible riches seem to bring. The acclaim of God and that security which comes by faith alone only attracts despite and rejection from this world which is at enmity with God. Man being dead in sin and refusing to admit it, plays right into Satan's hands. The devil masterfully exploits man's ill-founded faith in the government of the five senses. Thus he captivates man to work with him in his hatred of and rebellion against God.

Down through the ages, religion has often been used by unregenerate man as a vehicle for his carnality and fleshly desire. Such were the Pharisees who fed upon the acclaim of man and worldly security, so becoming ambassadors of Satan in his attempt to tempt the Lord. The church too is similarly plagued, the difference being that instead of Christ being tempted, now it is His body. Only those born again of the Spirit of God into that body would and could dare subject themselves to the scorn and rejection of this present world and the apostate church, to walk the narrow way of faith and obedience. Well may we examine ourselves and meditate upon these words written for us by the beloved Apostle. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:15-17).



The Lord Jesus did not in any way try to humour the humanism of the Pharisees. He always pointed straight back to the beginning and the One who made them one. Look again at verse 6 above. When the Lord declares, "they are no more twain," He adds no ifs or buts. "No more" simply means "no more!" Nothing done subsequent to the two becoming one can add or take anything from the Master's "no more." "Ah," said the Pharisees, "now we have him. The people will not tolerate Moses being contradicted like that." Gleefully, they fired the loaded question: "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and put her away?" The Lord was not intimidated in the slightest by their satanically inspired question and immediately turned the tables upon them by linking the Mosaic concessions to their hard hearts. We have already in an earlier chapter explained these concessions and the fact that they were designed to keep a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people in some semblance of order. These concessions though had nothing to do with the household of God, for the circumcised of heart never did live by concessions, "but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Christ emphasised this fact with the words "from the beginning, it was not so" (v. 8). He didn't say: "in the beginning," but "from the beginning". That means that it had never been any other way, nor would it ever be. Hard-hearted people may have forced concessions from Moses, but the truth stands eternally and is unchangeable. The Pharisees were forced to back off as they wilted under that irresistible authority which comes when the truth is spoken. "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (v. 9). Here the exceptive fornication clause is mentioned for the second and final time by our Lord. However, He adds additional information here in verse 9, naming the man who puts away his wife and marries another for any other cause than pre-marital unfaithfulness, an adulterer. We repeat: the wordfornication” as Christ uses it denotes sexual sin without the marriage covenant, while the wordadultery” denotes sexual sin within the marriage covenant. We have dealt with this subject in our eleventh chapter.


Now think carefully about this. If verse 9 truly includes the grounds of marital rather than pre-marital unfaithfulness, as numerous modern translations of the Bible would have us believe, how can it be that the man who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery? For the concessionists claim that her divorce and the remarriage of her husband would set her free for remarriage herself. Our adversaries have no leg to stand upon; they are in trouble whichever way they turn. If they say: “Only if she had been divorced without the grounds of adultery would adultery be committed by the man marrying her,” they would have to abandon their “innocent party” doctrine. On the other hand, if they continue to insist that adultery breaks a marriage, then the remarriage of the husband should indeed have freed the wife for remarriage. To the concessionist, there is no such thing as adultery in the remarriage of the divorced woman, and yet the Lord declares: "whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." The only two verses (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9) upon which the enemies of the permanence of marriage base their entire doctrine are indeed further substantiation of the very truth which they vainly seek to deny. Fornication and fornication alone left partners free for marriage to another. Outside this one clause of fornication or pre-marital sex, so clearly governed and understood in Israel, there remained absolutely no grounds for divorce and remarriage. Any remarriage subsequent to the two becoming one is called adulterous by God. Death and death alone can bring release from the marriage bond, and this is in God's hands, not man's.


The disciples well understood the fornication clause, but having grown up in an Israel where divorce and remarriage were common, they were initially shocked by their Master's seeming severity. "His disciples say unto him, If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" (v. 10). Far from being left to weigh up their options, their spontaneous reaction revealed their understanding that Christ upheld the permanence of marriage unconditionally. Seeing that marriage was indissoluble while husband and wife were alive, the disciples questioned the wisdom of getting married at all. However, the Lord went on to explain to them that celibacy was a God-given gift that not all men enjoyed or something that man forced upon himself for the sake of the Kingdom of God, or had forced upon him by others (verses 11-12). So we see again here that though the Lord upheld the fornication clause before His Jewish audience, He did not leave them in two minds as to the permanence of marriage. When our Lord employed the word "whosoever", he meant any man and every man who puts away his wife and remarries shall be called by God an adulterer. When He employed the word "whosoever", He meant that any man and every man who married a divorced woman, while her husband yet lived, would also be called an adulterer by God. There are no exceptions to this rule. Even so, the Lord Jesus who is the Eternal Word resisted the devil and his temptations. He didn't win many friends that day among the Pharisees. No concessions, no politics, no ifs and no buts.



The world, the flesh and the devil call this God's hardness. We know better, for we know that “…his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3), but they are true love. We have seen the confusion and grief that follows in the wake of the concessionists and their ill-advised constituency. God sees all the agony and grief that divorce and remarriage bring with them not only to the grandparents, but in particular to the children, to the third and fourth generation. Through short-sightedness, man is easily tempted to justify concessions. Through faith, we are kept safe from such foolishness. It will yet be wisdom to us who trust and obey God in this adulterous and sinful generation, for so shall both we and our households be kept safe from the destroyer. 



How peaceful was this teaching to the disciples once they grasped the rightness of it. It was an end of all strife in their hearts and minds in regard to this fundamental subject. We too, who teach the unconditional nature of the marriage covenant, have great peace, for was not this truth written in the hearts of the disciples, in our hearts, indeed in the hearts of all men? Why should we lie against this truth that God has written upon the fleshly tables of our hearts, a truth confirmed to us also by His dear Son? Oh dear Heavenly Father, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4).


"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever: the judgements of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer." (Psalm 19:7-14)