The issue of adultery closely links to idol worship as evidenced in Israel’s history (Ezekiel 23). This theme is also reflected in the New Testament (Revelation 2:20–24). Idolatry is linked to sexual immorality because the two work together mutually to provide a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that leaves Christ out totally. The simple definition of idolatry is anything that one puts in the place of Christ as a means of finding satisfaction. A believer must always search his heart with the question, is Jesus everything to me? If I were to lose everything—family, friends, possessions, health, or whatever—is Jesus enough for me? This is the basis of His radical requirements for all who would follow Him (Luke 9:23–26).
The section before us (Matthew 5:31, 32) presents a similar twofold message. Marriage is very sacred to God, so the breaking of that bond is very serious. What must be kept in mind as we read these verses is the key verse; “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). Verse 31 refers to the Mosaic permission (Deuteronomy 24:1): “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house.” Technically, this permission is not a permission at all but an attempt to control a practice learned in Egypt. It actually limits the man who would divorce his wife and forbids him to remarry her if she has become another’s wife after the divorce. It also gave some protection to the divorced wife, limiting the reasons for divorce and necessitating legal procedure in it.
When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the legality of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9), Jesus pointed them to the original design for marriage (Genesis 2:24). They immediately reacted, arguing that Moses gave them permission to divorce. Jesus replied that Moses permitted them due to the hardness and sinfulness of the heart. The rule is simply put; “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Divine design for marriage actually relates to God’s kingdom purposes, as demonstrated in Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ response. Marriage was originally instituted make possible the divine mandate to fill the earth with those created in God’s image. Sin spoiled this mandate. Jesus came to fulfill the original mandate to people the kingdom with those created in His image. He presented a higher calling that only those so gifted are able to fulfill—“There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12). The issue of divorce is very difficult and much debated. It is a hard saying, but Jesus never said following Him would be easy.