We now come to the beginning of the Lord’s ministry in Judea (v. 1). As in Galilee, it is characterized by teaching the people. The first subject to be addressed in this section is the much-troubled question of divorce and remarriage. We see here, as elsewhere, the close connection between the two great commandments.
"And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again . . ." (Mark 10:1-16).
This question about divorce is not just an academic matter. John the Baptist had lost his life because of just this issue, and we have learned that the Pharisees were in league with the Herodians. Those who ask are not interested in learning, but rather in entrapment (v. 2). With that trap in mind, they ask if a man is allowed to divorce his wife (v. 2).
Christ seeks to settle the question upon the teaching of the Bible, and not upon rabbinic traditions. The school of Hillel (as opposed to that of Shammai) taught that a man could divorce his wife for virtually any reason. And further, according to rabbinic tradition, it was not possible for a man to commit adultery against his wife. A wife could commit adultery against her husband, and a husband could commit adultery against another husband by sleeping with his wife, but a man could not commit adultery against his own wife. But Christ appeals first to the law, and then to the creation order, but grounds it all in the Word of God, not the lusts of men. What does Moses say (v. 3)? They reply that Moses permitted divorce, provided there was a bill of divorce (v. 4).
On this issue, we should not read into it a difference between the Old and New Testaments. Rather, we have a difference between a sin and a crime. The law of Moses, the law of God, allows for sin (v. 5). That which is not allowed (under the threat of civil penalties) is a crime. That which is simply forbidden in the sight of God is a sin. The Pharisees had concluded that if divorce was not criminal, then it was not sinful. This was an enormous category mistake.
What was the creation order? Christ turns to the essential issue -- marriage which is pleasing to God. This is determined by His creation order, which is necessarily His redemption order (vv. 6-8). It is a sin to separate what God has not separated (v. 9). But this does not mean that we should seek to make all sinful divorce into a crime. Put another way, sometimes men and women should be allowed to do what men and women are not allowed to do.
This bothered the disciples. The answer which Christ gave to the Pharisees revealed that His disciples shared more than a few of the Pharisaical assumptions about marriage. So when they were in private, the disciples said, "What?!" In Christ's teaching, both sexes were involved. In Jewish law a woman could not divorce her husband, and in Roman law, that allowance had only been a recent development. This is either an anticipation of a future situation, or it refers to a woman, like Herodias, who deserts her husband and marries another. What matters is God’s approval; a central issue should not be missed by us, which is that "legal" does not mean righteous (vv. 11-12).
And on a related subject . . . our attitudes toward God and His Word are seen in our attitudes toward our wives, and in our attitudes toward the fruit of marriage -- children. Children were brought to Christ, indicating a young age. This is confirmed by the fact that Christ took them into His arms (v. 16). So we are talking about infants here. The disciples were not pleased with this intrusion, and so they rebuked those who were bringing the children for Christ to touch them and pray for them (v. 13). When Jesus saw this behavior on the part of His disciples, the text says that He was greatly displeased. The Greek word here is a strong one. We have already seen that Christ has threatened those who stumble little ones with destruction. But here we see something which should matter just as much to those who love Him -- what might His followers do that would incur His frown, His great displeasure? "Of such is the kingdom" -- our theology on this is too often upside down. We say that children must become like adults, when the Lord said that adults must become like children (v. 15). This issue is not just an exegetical issue; it is attitudinal. But notice His argument. Because we must become like little children, we must receive little children (v. 14).