“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because ...” (Matthew 19:8-9)

“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

Why is Jesus teaching this?

This is Jesus’ response when the Pharisees asked him:
“Why then, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt. 19:7)
The Pharisees were responding to Jesus' instruction that discouraged divorce (Matthew 4-6)

This illustrates clearly that time and circumstance is a critical point in the teachings of God's representative. We cannot take these teachings out of the context of who the instructions are being given to. We can see that Moses' instructions were specific to people whose "hearts were hard." A hard heart - taken from the Greek phrase, σκληροκαρδία (sklērokardia) - relates to a person who is proud and stubborn.

This opposes a person with a soft heart - someone who is humble and empathetic.

By Jesus' statement, we can also know that his teachings were also intended to a specific audience and people. He often spoke directly to his students and disciples. Other times he spoke to a large public gathering. And we find the content of his teachings different for each.

Why does a hard-hearted person need the opportunity to divorce?

Because when people are stubborn and proud, they will often disagree about the most mundane issues. And sometimes these disputes can significantly interfere in spiritual growth. Why? Because they become more focused upon their marital relationship than they will about their relationship with the Supreme Being.

Because we are not these physical bodies, our marital relationship ends at the time of death of the physical body. It is not as though we stay married after the body dies. This was confirmed by Jesus:
"Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matt. 22:24-30)
The phrase "they will be like the angels in heaven" confirms as Jesus has elsewhere, that we are not these physical bodies. When the body dies, the spiritual self leaves the physical body.

If a person has re-developed their loving relationship with God they will return to the spiritual realm - as a spiritual person - an angel - while their physical body decomposes.

What did Jesus mean by 'not this way from the beginning'?

This illustrates that others - before Moses' time - were soft-hearted and were able to maintain their marital vows. They were more agreeable because they were more focused on their relationship with the Supreme Being.

One who knows the temporary nature of the physical world and knows their relationship with God is eternal has the perspective to understand how marital disagreement is so trivial in comparison.

This perspective allows a person to be more understanding of their mate and be able to work out their marital disagreements.

Does someone who remarries commit adultery?

Jesus' statement indicates that time and circumstance are significant when it comes to following the recommendations of great teachers. It relates to what is practical and what kind of society we live in. 

Certainly, following every recommendation of an ancient teacher will be impractical should we try to live within the society we live in.

One might consider how some groups will cut themselves off from general society in order to uphold certain rules set down in their laws. The Amish are one such group, for example.

The problem with this sort of separation is that it becomes difficult to reach out to and help others. Besides, will giving up our automobiles and riding horses necessarily help us achieve love for God?

We can also consider the difference between Jesus' missionary work and John the Baptist's. John stayed in the country and throngs of people came out to hear his sermons. Jesus, on the other hand, traveled the land and stayed in towns and villages, even eating with villagers from time to time - which he was criticized for.

This illustrates that Jesus wanted to reach out into the modern society of his times, in order to teach people love of God. By doing so, he made a number of compromises in terms of who he mingled with and traveled with.

Just as Moses adapted his teachings to the time and circumstances, Jesus is also doing that with his teachings. Both assessed what was practical in terms of people being able to live in society and try to grow spiritually at the same time.

And yes, there is significantly more hard-heartedness in modern times, though Jesus indicates there was plenty of hard-heartedness at that time.

Yet Jesus also clearly lays down a standard that can be applied from a sense of integrity. The point he is making is that in every case we should be determined to work out our differences with our spouses.

In other words, divorce should not be something that is done whimsically. If the other person has been unfaithful, divorce is practical, because the other person has broken their commitment. We can still be forgiving to such a mate. But if the other spouse wants to continue to not honor the marriage then what marriage is there?

Divorce is also practical if the marriage is not conducive to spiritual growth. Marriage is a system that allows two people to help each other learn lessons of love and mercy, and help each other grow spiritually. If it doesn't, then there is little purpose for continuing it.

We must not confuse marriage with finding our "soul mate." The Supreme Being is our soul mate. The reason we look for a soul mate is that we have forgotten our relationship with God.

Why do many people divorce?

The reason that many people divorce is because the marriage was based on the assumption that our spouse would fulfill us somehow, either sexually or otherwise. We thought they would complete us. We thought they were our perfect mate.

We were wrong. We found out after a while that they didn't fulfill us, and they didn't complete us. This is because none of us are perfect mates to each other. God is the only Perfect Mate. He is our Soul Mate and Best Friend. He is our Perfect Match.

The central criteria anyone should have in marrying another and in staying together is whether the two help each other grow closer to God, and help each other serve God. This is the intended purpose of marriage.

Two people can assist each other on a practical level as they help each other remember our Best Friend. They can share spiritual insights and share prayer, and glorify the Supreme Being and His Holy Names together. This type of relationship pleases the Supreme Being and Jesus.

Sharing our relationship with the Supreme Being with our spouse makes gives our marriage spiritual context.