What does Jesus say about divorce and marriage? Are you helping or hindering children from coming to Christ? Are you receiving the Kingdom of God with childlike trust? Do you think you can gain eternal life by what you do like the young rich man? Are you seeking greatness? Today’s chapter covers these topics and more!
Jesus Teaches about Marriage and Divorce / 10:1-12
10:1 After a quiet time of teaching his disciples, Jesus continued his journey southward toward Jerusalem. They crossed into the area east of the Jordan River, arriving in the region of Perea. John the Baptist had ministered there, and crowds had come to Jesus from the region earlier (see 3:8). Jesus was already well known, and on his arrival there, crowds of people came to him, and he taught them.
10:2 The Pharisees hoped to trap Jesus by getting him to choose sides in a theological controversy and incriminate himself in the process. They came with a hot topic: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” If Jesus supported divorce, he would be upholding the Pharisees’ procedures; they doubted that Jesus would do that. If Jesus chose 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 spoke against divorce altogether, he would appear to be speaking against Moses’ law (which allowed divorce).
10:3 With these words, Jesus removed any possible condemnation of laxity about divorce or ignorance of God’s law. Jesus turned the Pharisees from their wrangling about his possible answers and sent them directly to the Pentateuch (the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy). He asked, “What did Moses say about divorce?” From their answer in 10:4, the Pharisees thought Jesus was referring to Moses’ writing in Deuteronomy 24:1-4; but Jesus’ response reveals that he was referring to Moses’ words in Genesis about the ideal state of creation and particularly of marriage.
10:4 In their answer, the Pharisees summarized the law recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Moses permitted divorce, recognizing its presence and giving instructions on how it should be carried out. Because sinful human nature made divorce inevitable, Moses 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 an official letter of divorce so she could remarry and reclaim her dowry. This was a radical step toward civil rights, for it made a man think twice before sending his wife away. Moses’ words gave protection to the wife and limited abuses of divorce.
10:5 In Moses’ day, as well as in Jesus’ day, the practice of marriage fell far short of God’s intention. Jesus said that Moses gave this law only because of the people’s hard-hearted wickedness; in other words, they were completely insensitive to God’s will for marriage. 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. But God wants married people to consider marriage to be permanent.
10:6-8 The Pharisees quoted Moses’ writings in Deuteronomy; Jesus also quoted from Moses’ writings (Genesis 1:27; 2:24), but he went back to Genesis, the beginning of creation, to God’s ideal in creating male and female. God’s plan was that in marriage the husband and wife are united into one, an intimate closeness that cannot be separated. The wife is not property to be disposed of, but an equally created person. Jesus was drawing a distinction: God’s creation of marriage and his absolute command that it be a permanent union versus the human injunction written hundreds of years later tolerating divorce because of people’s sinfulness.
10:9 The Pharisees saw divorce as a legal issue rather than a spiritual one, regarding marriage and divorce as 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 oneness that no one should separate, especially not the husband by simply writing a “letter.”
Jesus recognized Moses’ law, but held up God’s ideal for marriage and told his followers to live by that ideal. Jesus also was saying to the self-righteous Pharisees who had hoped to trick him with the question, “True followers of God will hold his ideals above any laws—and especially those laws written as a concession to hard-heartedness and sin.”
10:10 Mark continued his theme of the disciples’ misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching. Once they were again in privacy in the house, the disciples asked Jesus what he had meant in his answer to the Pharisees’ question. Matthew records their comment that the standard Jesus upheld was so impossible that it would be better for people not to get married than to get into the unbreakable covenant of marriage (Matthew 19:10).
10:11-12 Jesus had clearly explained that divorce dissolved a divinely formed union. These people were divorcing in order to get remarried. Here he explained that marriage after divorce is adultery. To say that a man could commit adultery against his wife went beyond Jewish teaching and elevated the status of the wife to a position of equality. Women were never meant to be mere property in a marriage relationship; God’s plan had always been a partnership of the two becoming “united into one” (10:8).
The rabbis’ interpretation of Moses’ law permitted remarriage after divorce, but Jesus said that was committing adultery. Matthew recorded the same words of Jesus but added that he gave one exception: “unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9, see also Matthew 5:32). Scholars agree that Jesus’ words refer to both husband and wife; that is, the unfaithfulness of one could be grounds for divorce by the other, because Jesus then added, “And if a woman divorces her husband and remarries, she commits adultery.” These were earth-shaking words to Jewish ears. In Jewish society, only men had the right to divorce. Mark alone recorded these words, probably with his Roman audience in mind. They would not have been shocked, for in Roman society a woman could initiate a divorce.
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.
Jesus Blesses the Children / 10:13-16
10:13 It was customary for people to bring their children to a rabbi for a blessing. So, people were bringing children to Jesus so that he could touch them and bless them. The disciples, however, thought the children were unworthy of the Master’s time. In the first century, Jewish households were patriarchal—men came first, women and children next. Considering their inability to have any quiet time together, the disciples may have viewed these parents and children as another intrusion and drain of time and energy. So they told the parents not to bother Jesus. Once again Mark emphasized that the disciples misunderstood both Jesus’ compassion and his mission.
10:14-15 When Jesus saw his disciples rebuking the people for bringing their children, he was very displeased with their insensitivity. They thought children were a waste of time, but Jesus welcomed them. He, in turn, rebuked the disciples, giving them in a double command to let the children come and don’t stop them. Jesus explained that little children have the kind of faith and trust needed to enter the Kingdom of God. Anyone of any age who exhibits their kind of faith and trust is promised access to Jesus and to the Kingdom. Children represent the essence of discipleship, coming to Jesus in humility and receiving his blessing as a gift. Unless we can completely trust in God, we will never get into the Kingdom of God.
10:16 One by one, Jesus took each child into his arms, placed his hands on their heads (rather than just “touching” them as he had been asked, 10:13), and blessed them. Jesus took time with each child. 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. The receptiveness of these 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, and the dullness of the disciples, whose self-centeredness continued to blind them to Jesus’ true mission.
Jesus Speaks to the Rich Young Man / 10:17-31
10:17 Jesus was continuing his journey toward Jerusalem when a man came running up to him. He called Jesus “Good Teacher” (not the more common “rabbi”) and eagerly asked a pressing question. This rich young man wanted to be sure of eternal life, so he asked what he could do to get it. He viewed eternal life as something that one achieves. While he had kept the commandments (or so he thought, 10:20), he still had some concern about his eternal destiny. He thought Jesus would have the answer.
10:18 Jesus did not at first address the man’s question, but instead challenged him to think about God. Goodness is not measured by one’s works; in fact, only God is truly good. Jesus wanted the man to turn his attention from himself and from Jesus (whom he thought was merely a “Good Teacher”) and think about God’s absolute goodness. If he truly did so, he would conclude that he could do nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus was also saying, “Do you really know the one to whom you are talking?” Because only God is truly good, the man, without knowing it, was calling Jesus “God.”
10:19 Having established the nature of true goodness (and recognizing that the man did not have a real understanding of God and how he gives eternal life), Jesus rehearsed six of the Ten Commandments—those dealing with people’s relationships with one another. That the man kept these laws was the easily verifiable outward proof—an answer to what the man could do. Jesus’ list showed that he was focusing on the man’s actual lifestyle and not just his knowledge of these commandments. But Jesus would show the man that the law had far deeper meaning than just a list of rules to be kept.
10:20 The young man replied that he had obeyed all the commandments since his childhood. The man sincerely believed that he had not broken any commandments, so he wanted Jesus to guarantee his eternal life. 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.
10:21 Jesus lovingly broke through the young man’s pride with a challenge that answered the question of what the man lacked: “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” This challenge exposed the barrier that could keep this young man out of the Kingdom: his love of money. Money represented his pride of accomplishment and self-effort. Ironically, his attitude made him unable to keep the first commandment, one that Jesus did not quote: “Do not worship any other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3; see also Matthew 22:36-40). The young man did not love God with his whole heart as he had presumed. In reality, the man’s wealth was his god, his idol. If he could not give it up, he would be violating the first commandment.
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 disciple. Jesus’ words 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. 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.
10:22 This man’s wealth 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. He could not meet the one requirement Jesus gave—to turn his whole heart and life over to God. The one thing 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 sadly away. How tragic—to be possessed by possessions and miss the opportunity to be with Jesus.
10:23 Jesus looked at his disciples and taught them a lesson from this incident with the rich young man. Jesus explained that it is hard for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God (not impossible, but hard). This is true because 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.
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.
10:24 Jesus’ words amazed the disciples, and so he repeated them. As Jews, these disciples regarded wealth as a sign of God’s blessing (see, for example, Job 1:10; 42:10; Psalm 128; Isaiah 3:10). So, they thought wealth came from God and would bring a person closer to God; it certainly did not pose an obstacle. The rich young man, with all his advantages, probably seemed like perfect “Kingdom material.” Yet he went away empty-handed. What kind of Kingdom was this if those most blessed and advantaged would have difficulty entering? What did that mean for the disciples? It seemed to them that if the rich had a hard time, the disciples would never make it.
10:25 Jesus used a common Jewish proverb describing something impossible and absurd. With all their advantages and influence, rich people may find it difficult to have the attitude of humility, submission, and service required by Jesus. 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.
10:26 The disciples were astounded almost to the point of exasperation. Again, they wondered what Jesus meant. If the rich—those who from the disciples’ vantage point seemed to be first in line for salvation—cannot be saved, then who in the world can be saved?
10:27 In reality, it is not just the rich who have difficulty, for salvation is impossible for anyone from a human standpoint. No one can be saved by his or her wealth or achievements or talents. But the situation is not hopeless, for God had an entirely different plan: Everything is possible with God. No one is saved on merit; but all can be saved who humbly come to God to receive salvation.
10:28 Peter, once again acting as spokesman for the Twelve, contrasted the disciples with the rich young man. The disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus; they had done what the rich young man had been unwilling to do. Matthew recorded Peter’s question to emphasize this fact: “What will we get out of it?” (Matthew 19:27). They had done the ultimate in self-denial and had followed Jesus’ call. Wouldn’t they then receive some great reward for having done so?
10:29-30 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 (10:28) to follow him, Jesus assured them that anyone who gave up something valuable for his sake would be repaid a hundred times over, although not necessarily in the same form. 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.
Along with these rewards, however, persecutions must be expected because the world hates God. Jesus emphasized persecution to point out to the disciples that they must not selfishly follow him only for the rewards. This fact was also important for Mark’s Roman readers who may have been facing persecution, or would soon be. The pressure of persecution did not mean that God wasn’t keeping his promises or that the disciples had been wrong in putting faith in him. Rather, during persecution, God still blesses all those who believe in him.
Here was the answer to the rich young ruler’s question about how to obtain eternal life (10:17). Jesus explained that by giving up anything that hinders following him, each person can have eternal life. 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?
10:31 In the world to come, the values of this world will be reversed. Those who have desired to be Christ’s disciples and have humbly served others are most qualified to be great in heaven. Rewards in heaven are given not on the basis of merit or “time served” or other earthly standards. What matters in heaven is one’s commitment to Christ.
Jesus Predicts His Death the Third Time / 10:32-34
10:32 Jesus and the disciples continued toward Jerusalem. This is the first mention in Mark of their destination. Jesus had just spoken to them about facing persecution and had told them of his impending death twice before. The disciples were filled with dread that he so steadfastly headed toward Jerusalem. This was the third time Jesus told the disciples about his impending death (see also 8:31; 9:30-31). This time he gave much more detail about what was coming.
10:33-34 Jesus’ death and resurrection should have come as no surprise to the disciples. Here Jesus clearly explained that he would be betrayed (someone who had loved him would turn on him) to the Jewish leaders who would hand him over to the Romans. Because Israel was occupied territory, they had to submit to Rome’s authority in cases of capital punishment. They could punish lesser crimes, but only Rome could execute an offender. The Romans would show great contempt for their prisoner, mocking and beating him before killing him.
Jesus repeated that after three days he would rise again, but the disciples heard only his words about death. Because Jesus often spoke in parables, the disciples may have thought that his words on death and resurrection were another parable they weren’t astute enough to understand. The Gospels include Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection to show that these events were God’s plan from the beginning and not accidents.
Jesus Teaches about Serving Others / 10:35-45
10:37 The disciples, like most Jews of that day, had the wrong idea of the Messiah’s Kingdom as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. They thought Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom that would free Israel from Rome’s oppression. As the disciples followed Jesus toward Jerusalem, they realized that something was about to happen; they certainly hoped Jesus would be inaugurating his Kingdom. James and John wanted to sit in places of honor next to Christ in his glory. In ancient royal courts, the persons chosen to sit at the right and left hands of the king were the most powerful people in the Kingdom. James and John were asking for the equivalent of those positions in Jesus’ court. They understood that Jesus would have a Kingdom; they understood that Jesus would be glorified (they had seen the Transfiguration); and they approached him as loyal subjects to their king. However, they did not understand that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world; it is not centered in palaces and thrones, but in the hearts and lives of his followers. None of the disciples understood this truth until after Jesus’ resurrection.
10:38 Jesus responded to James and John that in making such a self-centered request, they did not know what they were asking. To request positions of highest honor meant also to request deep suffering, for they could not have one without the other. He asked first if they were able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow that he would drink. The “cup” to which Jesus referred was the cup of suffering that he would have to drink in order to accomplish salvation for sinners. Then Jesus asked if they were able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering he would face. The reference to “baptism” picks up an Old Testament metaphor for a person being overwhelmed by suffering. The “cup” and the “baptism” refer to what Jesus would face on the cross. In both questions, Jesus was asking James and John if they were ready to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom.
10:39-40 James and John replied confidently to Jesus’ question. Their answer may not have revealed bravado or pride as much as it showed their willingness to follow Jesus whatever the cost. They said they were willing to face any trial for Christ. Jesus replied that they would indeed be called upon to drink from Jesus’ cup and be baptized with his baptism of suffering: James died as a martyr (Acts 12:2); John lived through many years of persecution before being forced to live the last years of his life in exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).
Although these two disciples would face great suffering, that still would not mean that Jesus would grant their request for great honor. Jesus would not make that decision; instead, those places were prepared . . . for the ones he has chosen. God’s omniscience is revealed in the statement that he already knew who would gain those places of great honor.
10:41-42 The ten other disciples were indignant, probably because all the disciples desired honor in the Kingdom. The disciples’ attitudes degenerated into pure jealousy and rivalry. Jesus explained to them the difference between the kingdoms they saw in the world and God’s Kingdom, which they had not yet experienced. The kingdoms of the world (an obvious example being the Roman Empire) have tyrants and high officials who lord it over people, exercising authority and demanding submission.
10:43-45 Jesus’ Kingdom had already begun right there in that group of twelve disciples. But the Kingdom was not set up with some who could lord it over others. Instead, the greatest person would be the servant of all. A real leader has a servant’s heart, willingly helping out others as needed. Servant leaders appreciate others’ worth and realize that they’re not above any job. They aren’t jealous about someone else’s gifts, but gladly fulfill their duties. The disciples could not mistake Jesus’ explanation that they were to serve sacrificially. Only with such an attitude would the disciples be able to carry out the mission of sharing the gospel across the world. Jesus was their perfect example of a servant leader because he came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give [his] life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ mission was to serve—ultimately by giving his life in order to save sinful humanity. His life wasn’t “taken”; he “gave” it, offered it up as a sacrifice for people’s sins. A ransom was the price paid to release a slave from bondage. Jesus paid a ransom for us, and the demanded price was his life. Jesus took our place; he died the death we deserved.
Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar / 10:46-52
10:46 Jesus and the disciples arrived in the city of Jericho. The Old Testament city of Jericho had been destroyed by the Israelites (Joshua 6:20). But during Herod the Great’s rule over Palestine, he had rebuilt the city (about a mile south of the original city) as a site for his winter palace. Jericho was a popular and wealthy resort city, not far from the Jordan River, about eighteen miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (10:32), and after crossing over from Perea, he would naturally enter Jericho. Jesus passed through the city, accompanied by his disciples and a great crowd (probably made up of Jews also on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover). They came upon a blind beggar sitting by the roadside. Beggars often waited along the roads near cities, because that was where they were able to contact the most people.
10:47 The blind man could not see, but he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was at the head of the approaching crowd. Bartimaeus called Jesus Son of David because he, along with all Jews, knew that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David (see Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6). This blind beggar could see that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, while so many who witnessed Jesus’ miracles were blind to his identity, refusing to open their eyes to the truth. Seeing with one’s eyes doesn’t guarantee seeing with the heart.
10:48 The crowd tried to get the man to be quiet. It was most natural for the people, even Jesus’ disciples, to attempt to shield Jesus from being harassed by beggars. But this only caused Bartimaeus to shout louder in an attempt to gain Jesus’ attention. And it worked.
10:49-50 Although Jesus was concerned about the coming events in Jerusalem, he demonstrated what he had just told the disciples about service (10:45) by stopping to care for the blind man. Blindness was considered a curse from God for sin (John 9:2), but Jesus refuted this idea when he told the people to call the man to him. Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
10:51-52 Obviously Jesus already knew what Bartimaeus wanted. Jesus’ question was not to gain information, but to allow Bartimaeus to specify his need and, in the process, to declare his faith that Jesus could meet that need. “I want to see” is literally “I want to recover my sight.” The blind man had at one time been able to see. The result of Bartimaeus’s request was that he could see. His faith (evidenced in his persistence) had made him well. Bartimaeus then followed Jesus.
We’ll look at chapter 11 tomorrow. Praying that you will GROW more like Christ,
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