Matthew 19:1-12 Part 2

Last Lord’s Day we dealt with the immediate historical context, going back several chapters and reviewing all that has happened leading up to this point in the text and we also covered, to some degree, Israel and its leadership - being the alien seed over-sowed in the Garden of God.  Generations of ungodly perversion of the Truth (which has caused the impoverished condition of the people whom Jesus was healing) has led to this confrontation and testing of Jesus Christ by the Pharisees.

After today I think we might understand why this question that Jesus is asked is such an important issue; because now we have to explore the broader historical and Theological context – and then put this setting into it!  Then, and only then, can we understand this text and reasonably expect some answers to our other questions.

And as a “springboard” into that broader context, let’s all agree that Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, here in verses four through six, is a quote from Genesis one and two, and an expository statement as to its effect.  We’ll return to it later for an examination of it, but, far now, let’s understand that marriage was called into being by God and given great purpose and meaning.  It is a “Divine institution” (as some say it, although all “institutions” have divine origins).



But God “created them male and female.  On account of this a man shall leave father and mother and be attached to his wife, and the two shall be in one flesh.” 


That’s the quote from Genesis.  And then Jesus says,


“what therefore God did join together, let not man divide.” 


That’s the concrete foundation of marriage.  God said it.  And He filled it with meaning.

Now.  In connection with its being filled with such meaning, in the Older Testament, and in the New, marriage is an image, or a picture, of God and His people.  And fidelity, or infidelity, in marriage is used as an allegory, or an image, depicting what is going on with the Lord’s covenant people – especially with regard to their faithfulness and obedience.

And here I want to make sure that we are cognizant of the fact that man is prone to using the imagery of Scripture sinfully.  (I keep “sounding the alarm” about this.) But God is the one Who defines the imagery in His Own Word.  He sets the “boundaries” of the images, and that prevents us from fabricating imagined realities from the details of the images.

Let me give you an example.  With an eye toward the marriage imagery in the Scriptures concerning Christ and the Church, there arose Roman Catholic recluse asceticism – in the form of cloistering in monasteries and convents.

Shut away from the world, men and women could (they thought) devote themselves to their husband - Jesus Christ!  That’s an imagined reality fabricated from the Biblical imagery of the Scriptures with regard to the Church.  Here’s another:  a woman, divorced by her husband, refuses to put on the white clothing of righteous obedience to the commands of God.  Instead, she revels in the pietistic sensuality of her new husband – Jesus Christ.  In other words, since her old husband has left her she can now take on a new one with whom she can have that “carnal” and self-indulgent relationship that she never had with the old one!  A “fabrication” of the imagery of Scripture with regard to Christ and the Church.  It’s very easy for us to fail into these “entrapments” of our own making by misusing Biblical imagery.

These two examples, and others, are illustrations of what can occur when a given image is seen as the totality of the reality which is being imaged!  In the case in point, with Christ and the Church, is the Church’s identification with Christ to be completely defined by the total of the images having to do with marriage?   No.  It most certainly is not.  Most assuredly there are aspects of the connectedness between Christ and His Church which are well-served by the Biblical imagery of marriage; but by no means does marriage serve to say all there is to say about Christ and His Church.

So the danger here is for individuals to become narrowly focused on a single aspect of the work of Christ, using one, or a few, of the Biblical images to define the totality of the work of Christ.  Rather we, as mature sons of God, are to explore the height and depth and width of it all - which redounds to His glory and honor!

But before us today, in order for us to understand Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees over the issue of marriage and divorce, we need to highlight the Biblical imagery with regard to marriage – and how that reflects light upon God’s covenant with His people.  (We certainly can’t do it all, here, but we can do enough to prepare us for the words of our text.)

Skipping over a number of good ones, let me take you to two Older Testament passages that will serve us well.  The first one is the prophecy of Hosea.  Now, Hosea not only received the inspired, prophetic Word from God; and not only spoke and wrote the prophetic Word from God – but he, like other Old Testament prophets, personified the prophetic Word!  His life was God’s Word to Israel in the midst of her unfaithfulness and disobedience!

Here, at the beginning of the prophecy, is God’s command to Hosea: 


“Go, take unto you a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom.  For the land has committed great whoredom from the Lord.” 


So Hosea took the harlot, Gomer, and loved her, and married her.  But she continually turned away from him to return to her harlotry.

The prophetic imagery here, without getting too complicated with it, is the fact that God chose a people, and He redeemed her from slavery and spread His cloak over her and loved her faithfully.  But Israel proved herself a covenant-breaker by continually wallowing in harlotry!  And chapters four through thirteen of Hosea constitutes God’s indictment against her (Israel) and His prosecution of the charges in a writing of dismissal!

He lists the syncretism with the immoral and occult practices of neighboring countries, the disastrous foreign policies, the sins of the people and the leadership – especially singing out the civil and ecclesiastical “shepherds” of the people, apostasy and idolatry – all in specifics!  And the last verses of chapter thirteen describe the desolation which well be brought upon her because of her harlotry.

And then, in chapter fourteen, in the beautiful words reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, God prophesies His future redemption of Israel and His great love for her – all prophetic imagery of the Church to come.

At the same time Hosea was providing “personified” prophecy against Israel, Isaiah was also writing and prophesying.  And we find the marriage imagery in his prophecy of the Church as well.  Listen:


“Rejoice, unfruitful one that never bore; break out a song and shout, you who never travailed.  For the sons of the desolate one are more than the Sons of the married woman, says Jahveh.  Make the place of your tent larger, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings.  Do not spare, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.  For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left.  And your seed shall possess nations, and people will indwell ruined cities.  Do not fear, for you shall not be ashamed, for you shall not be abashed.  For you shall forget the shame of your youth; and shall not remember the reproach of your widowhood any more.  For your Maker is your husband; Jahveh of hosts is His Name; and your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth.  For Jahveh has called you as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, yea a wife of young men when she is rejected, says your God.  For a little while I have left you, but I will gather you with great mercies.  In a flood of wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but I will have pity on you with everlasting kindness, says Yahveh your Redeemer.”


Now, without a lengthy exposition of this text, let me just say that the imagery here is that The God of all the earth espoused Israel to Himself; and because of her uncleanness and her harlotries He has cast her off.  But the holy One of Israel would redeem a people to Himself and wash her clean and reconcile her to the God of the whole earth.  And He would thereafter shower her with everlasting kindness and mercy, and decorate her with beautiful stones.  And her seed would possess the nations and populate the desolate places of the earth!  What magnificent language of the covenantal espousal of the Church to God by Jesus Christ!

Now having received just a “taste” of that from the Older Testament Scriptures, let’s go into the New Testament, seven hundred and fifty years later, as Yahveh is about to complete the “casting off” of His “espoused” nation.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, would provide the clean blood-sacrifice for redemption and reconciliation; the old nation would receive the just rewards for her covenantal harlotry – desolation; the God of the whole earth (as Isaiah writes) would look upon His people in union with Christ – clean and virginal – and be pleased; and the Spirit would hover over her and bring forth seed in all the nations of the earth – as promised to Abraham!

The imagery is carried through from the Older Testament to the New.  Listen to John in the Revelation, chapter nineteen:


“And… I heard a great voice of many people in the heavens, saving, ‘Alleluia; salvation and glory and honor and power unto the Lord our God.  For true and righteous are His judgments; for He has judged the great harlot which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and has avenged the blood of His servants at her hand… Alleluia:  for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb did come, and His wife has made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  And (the angel) says unto John, ‘Blessed are they who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.’  And he says unto me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’”


So the imagery here is the same as in the Old Testament; the judgment of the harlot nation which had violated her espousal to God; and the sacrificial redemption of the people of God – the Church by the Lamb of God!  Notice here that the clean, white, linen in which the virginal Church is dressed is the righteous deeds – the holiness – of God’s people!  It is not involved in harlotry – It obeys the Law of God, and that is its wedding vesture!

Now, the apostle Paul also picks up on the Older Testament imagery of marriage in several places in his letters to the Churches.  In the eleventh chapter of his second letter to the Church at Corinth, he says this:


“Would to God you could bear with me a little in my folly; for I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present a chaste virgin to Christ….” 


He wishes the Church at Corinth to be dressed in the white, virginal vesture of holiness – not involved in, or corrupted by, any other Gospel!

And in that great passage in chapter five of the letter to the Ephesian Church, he says:


“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church:  and He is the Savior of the body.  Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so the wives to their own husbands in every thing.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.  He that loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it even as the Lord the Church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.  This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.  Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife that she reverence the husband.”


So Paul, as the Older Testament Scriptures did, and as Christ Jesus did, connected the Genesis two institution of marriage between a man and a woman with the union that exists between Christ and the Church!

So the marriage imagery of Scripture reaches its consummate reality in the destruction of the harlot, Israel, and in the union that exists between the people of God and their Redeemer.  God created them male and female; and, in the union of marriage, the two become one flesh.

Whereby Christ gave Himself for the Church in order to present her without any uncleanness.  And we are members of His body – flesh of His flesh and bones of His bones – identified with Him and in union with Him as our second Adam.

The Genesis two constitution of a faithful, one-flesh marriage between a man and a woman is Biblically, covenantally connected to the union that exists between Christ and the Church!  Therefore a faithful Christian marriage is the very institution by which God truly images the reality of Christ and the Church!

Do you see now why God hates divorce – as He says in His Word?  What does it signify when there is adultery and other forms of fornication, and uncleanness, and iniquity and divorce?  If God imaged the Church in its identification with Christ by those things (which He doesn’t), what would it say about the nature of the body of Christ?

Israel and its leadership, for over seven hundred and fifty years before the events of our text, had been a harlot from the covenant of God.  Rather than being faithful to the One Who had espoused her to Himself, she had been a whore with other nations, other religions, other philosophies – syncretizing with the world order.

Her leadership – the kings, elders, priests and scribes – had re-interpreted God’s Law for the benefit of their own self-indulgence.  And contrary to the terms of the covenant, and contrary to the image of Christ and the Church yet to come, the generations of Pharisees had turned the Law of God “upside down” with regard to marriage and divorce.

Where God had said that the faithful, one-flesh marriage of a man and a woman was the image of God and His espousal of the nation, the Pharisees decreed and promoted divorce for any reason (especially so that they could pursue other sexual attractions)!  And, in doing so, they promoted their own dismissal from God – their own divorce from the covenant!

And that’s the broad context of our text as Jesus comes into the regions of Judea.  And that’s why the Pharisees question is so important.  It is time for reconciliation and redemption.  And it is time for the divorce – and for the sanctions of God’s Law to be carried out against the harlot.  The hypocrites have left the people blind and deaf and dumb and lame and crooked and leprous and impoverished because of the harlotry.  And their adultery would now result in “gain” for all the pagan nations of the world.  For the Lord would now espouse to Himself a people who had never known Him.

The Pharisees were the leaders (for generations) of national fornication.  And their personal divorces and remarriages (by their own perverted law) were microcosms, or miniature characterizations of the national adultery!  Their sin militated against the very image used by God for His espousal of the nation – the one-flesh, faithful marriage of a man and his wife!  At the very time that Jesus is about to execute the terms of the divorce, they show up to contend with Him about divorce!  Do you now see why the question is so important?

As we contemplate the value that God places on our own marriages, and those that are to be joined later, we will also prepare to hear the particulars of the Pharisees’ question and our Lord’s answer – next week.