The Messiah Prepares For His Kingdom. . .Matthew 5:31-32 On Marriage And Divorce

By Ron Halbrook

As soon as sin entered the world, the promise of salvation entered. God promised to send the seed of woman to crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15). In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Adam (1) “a land,” and (2) to “make of thee a great nation.” God revealed that in this prepared land and out of this prepared people He would bring salvation for all men: (3) “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

When God’s people suffered in Babylonian captivity “for all her sins,” Israel was comforted by the assurance that even in this God was working out the purpose of salvation. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God . . . . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:3; this prophecy was given before the captivity, but served its purpose of comforting Israel during her captivity). In closing the Old Testament revelation, God reminded Israel of this great promise: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare that way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1). The last admonition of that revelation is: Remember the Old, “the law of Moses” – and Prepare for the New. “I will send you Elijah” to prepare the heart of Israel for her long-awaited salvation.

“The Time Is Fulfilled”

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mk. 1:1-5).

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mk. 1:14-15). Jesus did not have to begin by telling the Jews about the true and living God; they had known Him since the days of Abraham. They only needed to turn their hearts back to God and hear the message of The Messiah.

“I Am Come Not to Destroy, But to Fulfill”

In Christ, the promise to Abraham was fulfilled. Why then was the Law of Moses “added” to divine revelation, over 400 years after “the promise”? “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:15-19). Had the prepared people of God been engulfed in the rampant sin of their day, the Savior could not have been born of a prepared people in a prepared land – God’s promise of salvation would have ended! God never planned to make “the inheritance of the law,” for He “gave it to Abraham by promise” (Gal. 3:18). But the law made God’s people conscious of sin and guided them through a world of sin, until the promise could be fulfilled.

When the Law of Moses was given, murder was very common, life was cheap. Adultery was widely practiced, morals were shameless. Unlimited divorce of wives by men was accepted; women were unprotected from the selfish and lustful whims of men. Profuse swearing with breaking of oaths was widespread, the word of men was unreliable. Blind, heartless retaliation for the smallest injuries was practiced – the absence of justice, mercy, and equity. The Law of Moses accordingly dealt with all these (Ex. 20:13, 14; Deut. 24:1-4; Lev. 19:12 and Num. 31, cf. Deut. 23:21-23; Lev. 24:17-22, cf. Ex. 21:24). God’s holiness was reflected in His holy law. His people were taught to be holy as He is holy.

But now Jesus began in His ministry to teach principles of the gospel which were higher and holier than even the great Law of Moses. Not that He wishes to destroy the principles of truth the Law contained nor its types, promises, and prophecies; but, He does underscore the temporary nature of that Law. Further, He began to show Himself, His gospel, and His kingdom to be the fulfillment of all the good embodied in the Law.

In Matthew 5, Jesus shows the spirit or attitude necessary for the reception of Himself, His gospel, and His kingdom (vv. 3-12). Notice that He is laying down principles applicable to His own kingdom; He refers to the willingness to suffer “for my sake” (v. 11), not for the sake of Moses and His law. Next, He shows the impact for good to be exerted by those in His kingdom (vv. 13-16). Then, He shows the superiority of His law and rule over that of Moses (vv. 17-48). Notice He begins this latter section, not by saying He will teach Moses’ Law, but that He will teach things to which Moses’ Law pointed or look forward: I am come to fulfill Moses’ Law!

No wonder that when He finished developing this lesson on the mount, “the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Remember the scribes were skilled in explaining Moses’ Law, and in that regard Jesus said, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe that observe and do” (Matt. 23:2-3). But the teaching of Jesus went further and deeper than the Law of Moses, manifested the fulfillment of that Law, and prepared the hearts of men for His own kingdom.

The very things Jesus taught then, preparing hearts for His kingdom, are applicable now in molding our hearts for faithfulness in His kingdom. At times He taught those under the Law to obey the Law (Matt. 23:2-3), but at other times He taught principles and precepts which were higher and mightier than anything contained in the Law alone. This latter work was not only done on the mount when the lilies and birds could be seen, but also at night in private when men like Nicodemus came inquiring, drawn by the force of One Who spoke with divine authority (Jn. 3; notice what He taught applies today, as vv. 3-5).

With these things in mind, notice now that Jesus protects Himself from the charge of hatred for, or abuse and destruction of, the Law in Matthew 5:17-20. He urges no one to break even the smallest part of the Law, and, further, condemns the hypocrisy of those who can so easily explain the Law but who do not obey it themselves (cf. chap. 23). Jesus is not about to destroy the Law as an angry rebel, but is about to present Himself and His teaching as its fulfillment. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill,” he explains.

Now the importance of that introductory explanation is seen in what follows. Jesus is about to speak, not merely as the scribe who explains the Law, but as one possessing supreme authority – authority greater than Moses!

Authority above and beyond the Law! “. . . He spoke as if He Himself were an authority . . .” (Alfred Plummer, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, pp. 75-76). He spoke not merely as the messenger of God, but as the very Son of God. He spoke as only the Messiah Himself could speak – as the one to whom the Law pointed and for whom it awaited for fulfillment! “Could any one else speak in this quiet majestic way of `fulfilling the Law,’ or side by side with the Law place His own declarations: `But I say unto you”‘ (Ibid.). Six times Jesus states something the multitudes had heard read from the Law (w. 21,27, 31, 33, 38, 43), and six times He asserts His own majestic authority with these words: “But I say unto you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).

“It Hath Been Said”

In the series of teachings from the Law which Jesus discusses, is this one: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.” Deuteronomy 24:1-5 restrained the practice of unlimited divorce enjoyed by men who made women expendable on the least excuse. Divorce required under the Law:

(1) A legal document, thus precluding oral divorce which pushed the woman out of her home on the basis of sudden anger, changing moods, and the selfish whims of her husband.

(2) A rational, stated reason – “a deliberate statement of the grounds,” a requirement which in itself puts brakes on the frequency of divorce by forcing the man to meditate upon the serious question of whether he is acting intelligently or capriciously.

(3) Finality of separation, thus offering the woman one form of protection from “man’s caprice; she was not to be lightly sent away, and,, when sent away by the husband after deliberately writing her divorce,” she could never be called back again after her marriage to another. Among other things, this also protects her second marriage necessitated by her first husband’s action – from destruction by the first husband who might decide on a whim to try to regain her.

(4) She was further protected by a prohibition of civil interference with the first year of marriage, i.e., the husband could not be called into military service during this time. Here, the new wife’s interests are set before those of the State. She is guaranteed both the joys of her husband in the early months of marriage, and, therefore, the time to secure her husband’s affections, “so preventing inconstancy” (quotations from homilies by J. Orr and R.M. Edgar, Deuteronomy in The Pulpit Commentary, pp. 383-386).

Some people argue that Moses allowed divorce only on grounds of adultery; this error is exposed by passages like Leviticus 18 which require the death of the adulteress. Deuteronomy 24 envisions cases of divorce on grounds which do not require the women’s death.

“But I Say Unto You”

In spite of the striking advances in respect for marriage and for woman guaranteed by the Law, Jesus claims divine authority and speaks as only the Messiah could in further elevating the sanctity of marriage. “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

The necessity of answering extremists who would obliterate the exception – “saving for the cause of fornication” -forces us at times to stress the exception. “Saving for the cause of fornication” means, “Whosoever shall put away his wife for the cause of fornication on her part is not responsible for her subsequent adultery.” In other words, he is free to put away an adulteress. When she goes to another man, the original husband bears no guilt in her pattern of sin.

But to dwell on the exception exclusively obscures another rich, important point. Against the backdrop of Moses’ time, the Law God gave Israel was a wonderful protection of marriage. But against the backdrop of that progress, the law of Jesus Christ is higher and holier still. Moses elevated the sanctity of marriage in His time, but Jesus Christ elevated it more abundantly! We may omit the exception for a moment, in order to stress the normal rule required under the reign of Christ: “Whosoever shall put away his wife . . . causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

True vs. False Liberation

Marriage, the home, and woman are all exalted under the reign of Jesus Christ! In stark and cruel contrast to the holy power of His law, the world degrades the woman by destroying the home through allowing easy dissolution of marriage. Christ said He would send the Spirit of truth to convict the world of just such sin as this. The Spirit guided the apostles in writing such passages as Matthew 5. That testimony of the Spirit to the teaching of Christ truly convicts “the world of sin” – the sin of disobeying Christ (Jn. 14:26; 16:8, 13).

Yes, the easy and unlimited divorce of today is sinful. “The world” is held accountable for such, must be rebuked for it, and must be convicted of such sin . . . in order to be converted to Christ. Yes, brethren, the world is accountable for sin – contrary to the theory that the unconverted cannot be convicted of sin on the marriage law of the Monarch of the Gospel Age.

Sadly, what is popular in the world spills over into the church. The increasing divorce and remarriages on the part of saints, not for the cause of adultery, are sinful! Such is sinful and shameful, a blot upon the church. Let us hold high the high and holy law of Jesus Christ. This will exalt and protect both man and woman. It will exalt and protect the married life, making the home a healthy haven, as God intended, for husband, for wife, and for children alike.

When Satan’s servants appeal to men, “they promise them liberty,” but, “they themselves are the servants of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:19). But when we seek freedom from sin through obedience to the Son of God, “ye shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). Much that is called “liberation” today is simply bondage to sin.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 397-399
July 7, 1983