© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2013


Mark reports that some Pharisees asked Jesus a direct question about divorce: ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ Jesus, in his hard-hitting answer, takes the question back to Moses, and then further back to the order of creation.

The Pharisees answered that the Law of Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away.

A.1 Divorce in the Law of Moses
To say that Moses ‘permitted’ a man to divorce his wife and send her away is not completely accurate.

[1] Leviticus 21:7 & 14 assume that the practice of divorce existed prior to the Law of Moses. Here Moses forbids the priests and the high priests to marry a divorced woman. This rule was in place because the priests and high priests were ‘holy’, and were to be ‘holy’.

[2] Moses prohibited divorce where a newly married man decided he didn’t like his bride so wrongly accused her of not being a virgin. Such a man is never allowed to divorce his wife as long as he lives [Deuteronomy 22:13-19].

[3] Similarly, a man who raped a virgin who was not already betrothed, had to marry her, and was not permitted to divorce her as long as he lived [Deuteronomy 22:28,29].

Both of these two commands had the intention of preserving the good name and the integrity of the Israelite woman [Deuteronomy 22:19,29].

[4] Both married men and married women guilty of adultery were to be punished by death, so the issue of divorcing an adulterous spouse was not in question [Deuteronomy 22:22].

[5] To put some constraints around the existing practice of divorce Moses laid down two stipulations to govern the divorce of a wife who for some reason had become unpleasing to her husband [Deuteronomy 24:1-4]. These constraints were (1) that the husband must write a certificate of divorce – a legal document properly drawn up; and (2) that the husband could not remarry this divorced wife if she had married another husband who subsequently either divorced her or died. This second constraint includes the information that a divorced woman who marries another man is ‘defiled’ by that marriage [24:4].

Jesus’ comment on the Pharisees’ reply about Moses permitting divorce is informative, explaining why the above regulation about divorce was given:

‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law’ [Mark 10:5].

It was not that Moses was ‘permitting’ divorce; rather it was Moses putting some boundaries in place to limit and regulate the existing practices of divorce and of remarriage after divorce. Moses’ regulation prohibits husbands divorcing their wives merely by saying the words ‘I divorce you’. Such a practice put every wife in a position of high vulnerability and insecurity. Such a practice evidenced the hardness and selfishness and capriciousness of the husband’s heart in which he thought only of his own pleasure and satisfaction and thought nothing of the well-being of his wife.

Task #1: Discussion

Suggest what actions and attitudes on the part of husbands Jesus was referring to when he said ‘because your hearts were hard’. [The inference is obviously that if their hearts were ‘sensitive’ they would not have been divorcing their wives so easily or so frivolously.]




A.2 Divorce and the order of Creation
Having explained the existence of Moses’ divorce regulations Jesus then referred to Genesis 1 and 2, where we find the marriage relationship as God intended it:

‘God “made them male and female”’ [Mark 10:6; Genesis 1:27].

‘”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”’ [Mark 10:7,8; Genesis 2:24].

From this Jesus concludes ‘So they are no longer two, but one’ [Mark 10:8] and gives the ultimatum ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’ [10:9].


Task #2: Questions

[1] What clear deductions about God’s intention for marriage can we make from Jesus’ words?


[2] What clear deductions about God’s opinion of divorce can we make from Jesus’ words?



A.3 Jesus’ comment on remarriage after divorce
Later, when the disciples privately questioned Jesus, he explained what it was that made divorce objectionable: that marriage to another person, after divorce, constituted committing adultery against the former spouse. In this, Jesus’ pronouncement parallelled, in principle, the Deuteronomy 24:4 statement that a divorced woman who married another man became ‘defiled’.

In the context of Mark 10:1-12 this ‘committing adultery’ against the original spouse, and this becoming ‘defiled’ by marrying another, issues from the Genesis perspective on marriage: that in the marriage union between husband and wife two become one. The obvious conclusion is that God considers the original marriage union to be permanent.  Marriage to another person, after divorce, violates the first marriage in the same way that adultery violates a marriage. The oneness of the marriage is adulterated/defiled/violated by sexual union with a third person – regardless of whether the offending spouse is divorced or still married.


Task #3: Questions

[1] What one exception to this strict rule outlawing remarriage after divorce is given in Matthew 19:9?


[2] Contrast Jesus’ perspectives with contemporary secular perspectives on marriage, divorce and remarriage.


[3] Compare or contrast Jesus’ perspectives with contemporary Christian perspectives on marriage, divorce and remarriage.


[4] From whom do you take you instruction: from Jesus? or from contemporary standards?



If you have further questions about the divorce/remarriage issue go here .

If your past actions have put you in a position outlawed by the Scripture do not allow that situation to undermine your understanding of the grace of God by which your sins are forgiven.  Read the final section of  this study .


B. LIKE A LITTLE CHILD – Mark 10:13-16

Task #4: Questions:

[1] What was the disciples’ attitude to the little children?

[2] How did Jesus feel about this?

[3] What is it about a little child that Jesus referred to when he said ‘the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’? [Think in terms of their essential weakness, dependence, etc.]



[4] What did he mean when he said that ‘anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’?


Matthew Henry points out that these little children were not brought to Jesus for healing; nor were they old enough to be taught. What the parents sought for them, and what Jesus gave to them, was blessing. ‘He took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them’ [verse 16].

[Note: When we read that Jesus ‘blessed them’ we should not understand this being blessed by Jesus in physical, material terms. This is evident in the next section of Mark’s gospel.]

This is what he wants to do for us all: to embrace us and to bestow on us the blessing of God. The heart of God longs for us to come to him, to return to him, to believe in him, and thus to be blessed:

‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon’ [Isaiah 55:6,7].

‘Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’ [Ezekiel 18:31,32]

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28].

‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’ [Luke 13:34]

God is willing to forgive us, to enfold us in his love, to bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing [Ephesians 1:3]. But we are not willing.

Our pride gets in the way. We do not want to be so totally dependent on God. We do not like the thought of grace, we would rather not be saved by grace. We would rather earn, merit or deserve God’s blessing.

Our guilt gets in the way. We credit our sins with more power than God’s forgiveness. We consider our sins bigger than God’s forgiveness. We magnify our sin and minimize God’s grace. We exalt our sin and despise God’s love.

Our twisted, self-centred, legalistic mindset misinterprets God, ourselves, and the relationship between us. Because of this God tells us:

‘”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts …”’ [Isaiah 55:8,9].

And commands us:

‘… be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ [Romans 12:2].

‘I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking … be made new in the attitude of your minds’ [Ephesians 4:17,23].

‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’ [Colossians 2:8].

Here in Mark 10:15 Jesus confronts all of our twisted religious thinking with his simple statement:

‘… anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’


C. THE RICH YOUNG MAN – Mark 10:17-22

Jesus has just told us that to enter the kingdom of God we must do so ‘like a little child’ – totally dependent and helpless, not counting or even contemplating our own merit. But this rich young man wasn’t present; he did not hear that. He comes to Jesus asking the very question that Jesus has just answered: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Note: the Pharisees believed in resurrection; the Sadducees didn’t. This young man appears to have been influenced by the Pharisees, both in his belief in life beyond the grave and in his strict adherence to the Commandments. Prior to his conversion the apostle Paul had similar confidence in his legal righteousness, but when he met the risen Christ he considered his perceived personal righteousness worthless [read Philippians 3:3-9].

Notice the young man’s mindset: he believes that he has to do something to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus answered him in terms of his own mindset: he listed the final six of the Ten Commandments. In addition, Jesus also told him ‘no one is good – except God’.

But the young man, having addressed Jesus as ‘good teacher’, now promotes his own goodness, and declares that he has kept all of these commands since he was a boy. And most likely, in terms of external obedience to these commandments, he had. Jesus does not correct him. Nor does Jesus point out, as he did in the Sermon on the Mount, that behind the actions prohibited by these external commands are the heart attitudes from which these actions arise and which incur the same guilt and condemnation as the external actions [Matthew 5:21-30]. An external, Pharisaic righteousness is not enough to secure admission to the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:20.

Rather than discuss the young man’s claim to obedience, Jesus moves the conversation to a deeper level. For there are four other commandments, commandments focused on our attitude to God. In particular there is the first commandment in which God commands ‘you shall have no other gods before me’. Jesus challenged the young man at the very centre of his being. What he asked him to do was, in effect, a challenge to put God first and to value eternal life with God, to value admission to God’s kingdom, more than he valued his earthly wealth and possessions, to value God more than he valued himself.

Here Jesus makes him think:

Is his desire for life with God greater than his desire for physical and financial comfort?
Is his desire to be in the kingdom of God greater than his desire to hold on to his wealth?
Will he submit to God, regardless of the cost?
Is his desire actually for God, or is his desire for ‘eternal life’ as self-centred as his love of his wealth?

Mark tells us ‘His face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.’ The word translated ‘face fell’ means to become gloomy, like a darkening sky.

It would seem that at this point his love of his possessions was greater than his desire to have eternal life, and that his wealth was more important to him than God. We do not hear that he ever believed and followed Jesus.

There is great irony and pathos in this encounter:

This man wants to know how to inherit eternal life: he who is ‘the life’ stands before him, and he does not see it.

This man wants to know how to enter the kingdom of God: he who is the King stands before him, and commands his allegiance, and he does not realize it.

This man seeks to be accepted by God: he who is God stands before him, loving him, and he does not know it.

He wants to know the way to life: he who is ‘the Way’ says to him ‘follow me’, and he turns and walks away from him.

A little child, unencumbered by perceived worthiness, unencumbered by wealth, unencumbered by self-sufficiency, would have run straight into the arms of Jesus. Not so this rich young law-abiding man.


Jesus’ comment to his disciples when the young man walked away was ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ [verse 23].

D.1 The disciples’ amazement
This amazed the disciples. When Jesus repeated his statement, he added that ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ [verse 25]. This amazed the disciples ‘even more’.

Task #5: Discuss why the disciples were so amazed by what Jesus said.




Popular religious perceptions, both in Jesus’ day and now, equate wealth with the blessing of God. Those who were rich were considered blessed by God. Some people base this perception on, and justify it by reference to, selected Old Testament verses. They fail to understand that Old Testament perceptions of material blessedness are symbolic and prophetic of the New Testament spiritual blessedness believers have in Jesus Christ. They also fail to recognize that there are other scriptures that give us quite a different understanding.


D.2 Jesus’ perspective on wealth
Jesus himself was not at all in agreement with this ‘wealth equals blessedness’ perception. Not only did he teach his disciples about the extreme difficulty of a rich man entering the Kingdom but he also

Disparaged the large amounts cast into the temple treasury by the rich [Mark 12:41-44].

Pronounced ‘woe’ on the rich [the opposite of blessing], because they had already received their consolation [Luke 6:24,25].

Told a parable about a ‘rich fool’ whose preoccupation with his wealth caused him to ignore God [Luke 12:13-21].

Told a parable about an exceedingly rich man who, totally insensitive to spiritual realities when he was alive, ended up in hell when he died [Luke 16:19-31].

Wealth, rather than being a sign of God’s blessing, frequently replaces or inhibits faith in God:

‘… the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful’ [Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:18].

‘… godliness with contentment is great gain. … if we have food and clothing, we will be contented with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs’ [1Timothy 6:6-10].

‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God …’ [1Timothy 6:17].

D.3 The disciples’ concern
The disciples, brought up with the understanding that wealth is indicative of God’s blessing, are now puzzled, even indignant. If it is so difficult for the wealthy [those assumed to blessed by God] to be saved, how is it possible for anyone to be saved? [verse 26]

Jesus did not back track. Rather he reinforced what he had already said by affirming the offensive conclusion they had reached: that, if it depends on man, it is not possible to be saved. But he immediately relieved the situation by adding: ‘but not with God; all things are possible with God’.

They have just encountered the rich young man. From the human viewpoint this young man should surely qualify for blessedness and salvation: He was young. He was rich. He was morally good. He acknowledged the spiritual dimension of life. He came seeking an answer to a significant spiritual question. But he did not get the eternal life he sought. Depending on his own human resources he could not be saved.

The disciples are now concerned, unsettled. If it is so impossible for anyone to be saved, are they themselves saved? Peter, remembering what Jesus told the young man to do, says, hopefully, fearfully, ‘We have left everything to follow you’ [verse 28]. They may not have been rich, they may not have left as much as the rich young man was commanded to give away, but they had left all they had to follow Jesus? Is this enough? Are they saved? Are they blessed by God?

On the basis of Jesus’ statement in verse 27 the disciples’ renunciation of their livelihoods and their following Jesus is the result of the work of God. It was nothing to their credit, it was God’s work from beginning to end.

Jesus’ answer is reassuring:

God recompenses those who follow him. In this world with multiplied replacements for all they have left. [The inclusion of ‘brothers, sisters, mothers, children’ alerts us that Jesus is not speaking precisely literally – it is obvious that these additional relatives speak of the close and loving relationships that exist between believers, not of additional blood relatives; one can, after all, only have one blood mother. Given this non-literal meaning we must be careful then how we understand the other items Jesus’ promises ‘homes … fields’ and not assume Jesus means that all who follow him will become property magnates.]

[There will, however, be persecution in this world for those who follow Jesus.]

God gives eternal life to those who follow him.

The values of the kingdom invert the values of man. Those considered ‘first’ will be ‘last’; those considered ‘last’ will be ‘first’.

Task #6: Research.

[1] Research the ‘prosperity gospel’. Make a list of its teachings that encourage Christians to expect and pursue wealth.





[2] Make a list of popular preachers, evangelists and mega-churches who teach the ‘prosperity gospel’.







[3] For an interesting statement on prosperity teaching coming out of the African chapter of the Lausanne Theology Working Group, read this.