The Rich Man
17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: 'You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.'"
20 "Teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young."
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven't done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22 At this the man's face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!" 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, "Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"
26 The disciples were astounded. "Then who in the world can be saved?" they asked.
27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God."
28 Then Peter began to speak up. "We've given up everything to follow you," he said.
29 "Yes," Jesus replied, "and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property - along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then."
Jesus is approached by a young man of some importance, probably a leader in his community, who asks Jesus how to be made right with God. In response, Jesus recites some of the ten commandments. When the young man says he has always kept them, Jesus tells him to get rid of his wealth and then follow him. The man refuses, and he leaves disheartened. Jesus then says how difficult it is for a person with material wealth to be made right with God. The disciples are amazed, and Peter points out how much he and the others have given up to follow Jesus. Jesus says anything given for the kingdom will be given back many times over - but not without difficulties and suffering.
A man (Mark 10:17)
At first all we know of this man is that he was eager ("came running") and tremendously respectful ("knelt down") (v. 17).979 Matthew and Luke tell us that he was "influential, wealthy, and young [cf. Matthew 19:20, 22; Luke 18:18]."980 In fact, he was "one of the officials who managed the affairs of the local synagogue," and "between 24 and 40" years old.981
The man addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher," and asked Jesus what he must do to "inherit eternal life." From what Jesus said to him, as well as what he (Jesus) said during a separate but similar exchange (see Luke 10:25-29), it seems clear that "Jesus believed that keeping the true spirit of the Law guarantees eternal life"982 - a spirit which, it must be noted, excludes the works-based righteousness (= earning a right standing before God through good works) upon which this man was relying. We know this was his motivation because he spoke in terms of doing something to get eternal life.983 "Sincere in both his desire for eternal life and his willingness to do anything to obtain it, the man did not understand that an inheritance need not be earned, only accepted."984 He "felt insecure about his future destiny."985 In fact, the man deeply desired both "peace of mind for the present and never-ending blessedness for the future."986 "The picture thus drawn of the young ruler is really pathetic: so eager to do the good thing, so desirous of life eternal (when so many young men are carried away by the world), so strongly attracted to Jesus - and yet so far from the right road to eternal life!"987
To be sure, from all outward appearances this man had indeed lived an exemplary life. As one Bible commentator notes:
Many would today be only too well satisfied with themselves if they were like him, and others would praise and perhaps envy him if they saw him in modern form. Picture him: an exemplary young man in early manhood, fine and clean morally as the phrase now goes, the son of wealthy parents but not spoiled by wealth, with a strong religious bent, an esteemed member of the church, in fact, one of its pillars, a ruler of the local synagogue who was more important than a member of the church council in our present congregations is. Where are the parents that would not be proud of such a son? Where the church that would not give him a prominent place? Where the young lady that would not be attracted by his position and his personal excellence? Yet all this is worthless in the eyes of Jesus. In fact, the man himself is not satisfied.988
Good (Mark 10:17, 18)
For all his seeming righteousness, the man had a faulty understanding of goodness, seeing it "as something measured by human achievement."989 What he needed was "to see himself in the context of God's perfect character"990 In challenging the man's understanding of goodness and reminding him of the source of absolute goodness (= God), in effect "Jesus is saying, 'Before you address me with such a title, you had better think soberly about what the implications are, and especially what they are for you.'"991 "Because only God is truly good, the man, without knowing it, was calling Jesus 'God.' He was correct in so doing, but Jesus preferred that people use such words only when they meant and understood them."992 It appears that the man saw Jesus as the ideal religious teacher who had found the key to eternal life - and he wanted to know Jesus' secret.993
The commandments (Mark 10:19)
Jesus responded to the man's inquiry by recounting five (possibly six994) of the Ten Commandments, all of which have to do with one's relations with other people (see Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20). The man was Torah-observant and thus had lived a morally upright life. All his life he had "wholeheartedly obeyed" (NET version, meaning "carefully guarded"995) all the laws Jesus had mentioned. "The man sincerely believed that he had not broken any commandments; now 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."996
Perhaps the rich young man was expecting "Jesus to prescribe something meritorious that he needed to do to make up for any lack."997 Good intentions notwithstanding, the rich young man was relying on his conduct and his possessions, his "[m]oney represent[ing] his pride of accomplishment and self-effort."998 While he "was probably being sincere when he insisted I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws, he had confined his righteousness to external obedience. The rich man's response to Jesus' command to give away all he had revealed that internally he loved money more than God." 999 In effect, material wealth had become his god, causing him to break the first and greatest commandment, "Do not worship any other gods besides me" (Exodus 20:3).1000 ("Money, fame, work, or pleasure can become gods when we concentrate too much on them for personal identity, meaning, and security."1001)
A comparison of the commandments (NASB):
Exodus: "12 Honor your father and your mother ..." (Exodus 20:12) 1002
Matthew: "18 ... YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER" (Matthew 19:18)
Mark: " ... DO NOT MURDER" (Mark 10:19)
Luke: "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY" (Luke 18:20)
Exodus: "13 You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13)
Matthew: "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY" (Matthew 19:18)
Mark: "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY" (Mark 10:19)
Luke: "DO NOT MURDER" (Luke 18:20)
Exodus: "14 You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)
Matthew: "YOU SHALL NOT STEAL" (Matthew 19:18)
Mark: "DO NOT STEAL" (Mark 10:19)
Luke: "DO NOT STEAL" (Luke 18:20)
Exodus: "15 You shall not steal." (Exodus 20:15)
Matthew: "YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS" (Matthew 19:18)
Mark: "DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS" (Mark 10:19)
Luke: "DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS" (Luke 18:20)
Exodus: "16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16)
Matthew: "19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER" (Matthew 19:19)
Mark: "Do not defraud" (Mark 10:19)
Luke: "HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER" (Luke 18:20)
Exodus: "17 You shall not covet ... anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17)
Matthew: "and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF" (Matthew 19:19)
Mark: "HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER" (Mark 10:19)
Another important lesson to be learned from this passage has to do with the connection between our abundance and other people's needs. The commands that Jesus listed could be summed up in what he elsewhere referred to as the second greatest commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (When viewed from this perspective, defrauding can be understood as withholding from our neighbor the love we owe him/her.1003) By saying that he had kept all the commands Jesus noted, the rich young man was in effect saying that he loved other people as much as he loved himself. Jesus put his love for others to the test by telling him to sell everything he had and then donate the proceeds to charity. The young man's unwillingness to do so revealed that he in fact did not love other people as much as he loved himself. Jesus most certainly was not saying that the man could earn his salvation through good works1004 - through either "philanthropy or poverty."1005 When it comes to the triangle of God, ourselves, and others, the point was (and is) that being right with God will result in our using what God gives us to help others in need. In that way we prove that we value both God and people more than we value material wealth. Conversely, failing to help others in need proves that we are not loving God as we should.
Sell all ... follow me (Mark 10:21)
"For the wealthy, the thought of poverty is frightening."1006 Jesus loved the man enough to tell him the hard truth that we must rid ourselves of whatever prevents us from following Jesus.1007 In essence, Jesus told the man to "decide between wealth in this life and wealth in heaven."1008 The problem was not that he possessed money; the problem was that his money possessed him. "He wanted to have the kingdom, but as it turned out, he wasn't ready for the kingdom to have him."1009 While Scripture does not condemn owning or accumulating material wealth, it does very strongly condemn relying on wealth rather than God.1010
This man's love for his possessions was preventing him from demonstrating the childlike humility and obedience that Jesus said is absolutely necessary for entering God's kingdom.1011 "The way to eternal life was in turning from trust in self-attainments and earthly securities to trust in Jesus."1012 Jesus' call was (and is) both an invitation and a command to imitate him - which goes far beyond the mere "theological instruction" the rich young man had come seeking.1013 We can almost hear the man saying to himself as he walked away: "'This requirement is not fair. None of the other rabbis would have demanded this much of me.'"1014
"Jesus' words to this rich young man 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."1015
In one respect, Jesus' instructions to the rich young man to sell everything and give the money to the poor were uniquely for him and thus "not a requirement for all prospective disciples."1016 Hence this passage cannot "be used as proof for the abolition of personal ownership of wealth."1017 That said, we must be very careful lest we overlook two truths of vital importance: 1) Radical self-denial is demanded of every true disciple. 2) What's more, salvation itself is impossible without "true and saving faith in Christ. That is why Jesus adds the gospel call to come and follow him to the selling and giving away. This would be the evidence of true faith in him."1018
Jesus offered the rich young man a lesson in spiritual mathematics.1019 Salvation does not mean adding something to what we already have in order to make ourselves good enough for God. Rather, it begins with subtracting any sense of our own goodness, as such only creates division between us and God. We must accept in faith the finished work of Jesus Christ, and then God will give us a new nature that desires above all else to know, love, and serve him. God then multiplies our efforts at living a righteous and holy life. The end result equals peace with other people and, most importantly, peace with God. As one source puts it: "Jesus tells this man that he really needs the one essential and vital thing. He has thus far attained only an outward obedience to the law and has not even discovered that this is utterly useless for salvation; he still thinks that all he needs is to add something to this outward obedience. The thing he lacks begins with this discovery, with the realization that all his work-righteousness is in vain, that what he needs is a complete inward change."1020
Hard ... impossible ... possible (Mark 10:23, 27)
"22 The man's face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. 23 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, 'Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who "have it all" to enter God's kingdom?' 24 The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: 'You can't imagine how difficult. 25 I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for the rich to get into God's kingdom.' 26 That set the disciples back on their heels. 'Then who has any chance at all?' they asked. 27 Jesus was blunt: 'No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it'" (vv. 22-27, The Message). "The failure of what perhaps had looked like a promising recruit" prompted Jesus' discourse on the distraction of riches.1021
"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. Because money represents power, authority, and success, wealthy people often have difficulty realizing their need and their powerlessness to save themselves. Those rich in talent or intelligence suffer the same difficulty. It is difficult for a self-sufficient person to realize his or her need and come to Jesus. It's hard to give away the control over life that money provides."1022
The disciples were "amazed" (v. 24) and "astounded" (v. 26) at Jesus' teaching. Why were Jesus' words regarding the wealthy such a shock to his disciples? "[B]ecause in Judaism riches were a mark of God's favor and thus an advantage, not a barrier, in relation to God's kingdom."1023 And so, "[i]f the rich - those who from the disciples' vantage point seemed to be first in line for salvation - cannot be saved, then who can be saved?"1024 As another source puts it: "[M]any people drew the wrong conclusion that individual prosperity was a sign of God's favor and of virtue, and individual adversity a sign of God's disfavor and of perversity."1025 The truth both then and now is that, while God's kingdom in its fullness will indeed include material abundance, "too much health and wealth in the present age act as a distraction and a deterrent."1026 But, said Jesus, while "salvation is impossible with men - beyond their human merit or achievement," it is not impossible "with God. It is not beyond His power to bring about because all things necessary for people's salvation - rich and poor alike - are possible with God. What people cannot effect, God can and does by His grace."1027Hence salvation is a gift to be accepted, not a right to be earned. "At every point, beginning, middle, end, man is completely dependent on God for salvation."1028
Eye of a needle (Mark 10:25)
Today it is common to hear that the "eye of the needle" mentioned by Jesus was actually "a small gate somewhere in the walls of Jerusalem, through which camels may pass, but with great difficulty."1029 However, "[t]he so-called 'needle gate' that the locals show to gullible pilgrims to the Holy Land cannot be dated any earlier than the Middle Ages (usually to Theophylact [a church official and Bible commentator1030]; eleventh century)."1031 As one source explains: "The humorous comparison employs a memorable Jewish proverb to depict the impossible. It is easier by comparison for a camel, the largest animal in Palestine at that time, to go through the eye of a common sewing needle (the smallest opening) than for a rich man who trusts in his riches to enter God's kingdom."1032 While "speaking rhetorically," 1033 Jesus was indeed referring to a literal camel, a literal needle, and a literal truth: "[A]part from God's intervention, salvation is impossible."1034 We cannot earn our salvation; we can only humbly accept it as God's free gift. "No one is saved on merit; but all are saved who humbly come to God to receive salvation."1035
A hundred times as many (Mark 10:30)
Peter took it upon himself to remind Jesus that, in contrast to the rich man who refused to give up his riches, Peter and the other disciples had given up everything in order to follow Jesus.1036 "It occurs to Peter that he and the Twelve had done exactly what Jesus required of the rich young ruler and so thinks he ought to remind Jesus of this fact. Peter thinks that this their act was no small thing."1037 As Matthew makes clear, Peter was actually demanding to know how they would be compensated for their loss (see Matthew 19:27).1038 Peter was again thinking in merely human terms, "the old spirit ... of human claims and merit" - that is, the false belief that "[t]he more we do, the more we earn, and the more God owes us."1039 In reply Jesus assured the disciples that "'everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property - along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then'" (vv. 29-31). What did Jesus mean?
We should start by reminding ourselves that "[t]his promise is for all true followers of the Lord. ... It is for all who have chosen Christ above all else, even above their dearest relatives and most cherished possessions."1040 Jesus was saying that following him demands "a break with old ties - home, loved ones, or property (fields), as the case may be. But to everyone who makes the break Jesus promised that all these things will be replaced a hundredfold by new ties with fellow disciples in this present Age, the time period between Jesus' First and Second Advents. Then in the Age to come, the future Age following Jesus' return (from a NT viewpoint), each will receive the ultimate recompense - eternal life."1041Thus "Jesus assured the disciples that anyone who gave up something valuable for his sake would be repaid a hundred times over, although not necessarily in the same form. It is difficult to say whether Jesus had in mind material as well as spiritual blessings; although in light of 10:17-31 it probably means that God will give spiritual blessings for material sacrifices."1042
Jesus also said that our "compensation" will include persecution. "These persecutions are really the butter on the bread, for by them we are more strongly assured that we are God's children than by the other blessings that he sends us. Persecutions alone are able to lift us into the company of the prophets to share their high rewards (Matthew 5:10-12)."1043 Jesus' statement regarding the greatest versus the least is a reminder that "[r]ewards in God's kingdom are not based on earthly standards such as rank, priority, or duration of time served, personal merit, or sacrifice, but on commitment to Jesus and following Him faithfully."1044And so, believers "who still seek status and importance here on earth will have none in heaven. Jesus may have been speaking to the disciples' mixed-up motives. They had given up everything and hoped for rewards, for status in God's kingdom (whatever that would be). ... Jesus, so unimpressed with worldly prestige, holds places of honor in reserve for faithful disciples who see beyond trophies and blue ribbons to what the Bible elsewhere calls a 'crown of glory.'"1045
"No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money as well." - Margaret Thatcher1046
"Money is a marvelous servant but a terrible master." - Warren Wiersbe1047
"He who serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages." - English Proverb1048
"Money is like manure: If you spread it around, it does a world of good; but if you pile it up, it stinks to high heaven."1049
"To get money is difficult, to keep it more difficult, but to spend it wisely most difficult of all."1050
On the one hand, the Bible teaches that material wealth is a blessing from God and a sign of his favor. On the other hand, the Bible repeatedly warns of the misuse and abuse of material wealth. The fact is that money is a tool that can and should be used to help ourselves and others. We should feel free to use and enjoy it - but only as we also and always guard against making it an idol. "How much to enjoy, to invest, to spend on family; how much to give to church, charities, individuals in need - these are matters for a lifetime. What really matters, however, is that our economic lives spring forth from souls neither too withered for delight nor too hard for compassion. In that harmony we seek the right rhythm for seeking first the kingdom of God."1051
??? The man who approached Jesus was young, eager, morally inclined, and rich. Most churches today would be hard pressed not to accept his application for membership. What does that say about the current state of the Church?