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The Rich Young Ruler

Bible Characters

The Rich Young Ruler

Bob Yandian

Mark 10

vs. 17 “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

The story of the rich young ruler who knelt before Jesus and asked this question.  While this question may sound spiritual, it is actually ill-informed. A person doesn’t do anything to be worthy of an inheritance. He is born an heir.

Jesus’ reply in Mark 10:18, “… Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” He seemingly ignores the original question. However, if this rich young ruler had told Jesus that he called Him good because he realized that Jesus was God, this confession would have given him the eternal life he sought. As we can see, Jesus did answer the young man’s question, but the youth was not sincere and missed it.

If he wasn’t truly seeking eternal life, why did he pose the question? To show how religious he was. This comes out in the next verses when Jesus says to him,

vs. 19 “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”

(Matthew includes a quote from Leviticus 19:18, “… thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself …”).

The young man answered Jesus and said, “… Master, all these have I observed from my youth” (Mark 10:20). He was “religious” and thought that would impress Jesus so much that He would say: “I’ve never met anyone like you. Why you’re tremendous! Disciples,  come  meet  this  unusual  man  who  has  kept  the  commandments  from  his youth!” (Have you ever noticed that religious people are the most difficult to get born again? This is because they have lulled themselves into believing they will get to heaven because of self-righteousness, by being good people, by attending church, and by doing other proper things. Unfortunately, there are going to be a lot of moral sinners in hell.)

So for the rich young ruler, we know Jesus was not impressed because He knew that no one could keep all the commandments 24 hours a day for a lifetime. If this were possible, Jesus would not have had to go to the cross and die. But, it’s not possible and we are saved by God’s mercy, not by our own works of righteousness.

vs. 21 “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

This verse makes it clear why Jesus quoted Leviticus. If the young man truly loved his neighbor as himself, he would have been able to sell his goods and give the money to the poor – that is, to his neighbor. But, he couldn’t do it because he loved his possessions more than he loved his neighbor. And so, “… he was sad at that saying, and walked away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). Perhaps a more accurate rendering of this scripture would be that the only way he could free this man from his possessions was to have him voluntarily give them away.

Jesus Did Not Preach Against Having Riches

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, Jesus was not preaching against having riches. That would have been in opposition to His will and would have negated the stature of some of the great men of God – Solomon, David, Abraham – all very rich men. Furthermore, if the wealthy couldn’t get into Heaven, these men would have been doomed to Hell. You see, God is not against our having possessions; He’s against the possessions having us.

vs. 23 “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”

vs. 24 “And the disciples were astonished at his words…”

Matthew 19 says that they were “exceedingly amazed.” Why were they amazed? They were not poor! Tradition portrays Jesus and the disciples as poor, but the Bible portrays them as being wealthy enough to give to the poor and have a treasurer to take care of their money. In fact, Jesus wore such fine garments that the soldier gambled for them. No wonder they were astonished. Did this mean that they could not get into heaven?

“…But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!”

vs. 25 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Verse 26 tells us that the disciples again were “… astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?”

A camel going through the eye of a needle sounds pretty astonishing to us too. Because we live in a different culture, we try to imagine shoving a 2,000 pound camel through the eye of a sewing needle and so logically conclude that it is not merely hard, but is impossible for a rich man to get into Heaven.  However, in Jesus’ day the eye of the needle was a small door within the door to the gate of the city. During the day a watchman could spot approaching armies and the large gates could be closed to prevent their entering the city. On the other hand, since the enemy could not be seen at night, the gates were kept closed for protection. In order to let travelers into the city, the gatesman would open a very small door within the gate. This allowed only one person to go through the gate at a time and if the city were attacked, any soldier coming through the door could be picked off.  The only problem occurred when a traveler needed to take his goods-laden camel through the door. The camel had to be unloaded on one side, squeezed through the door on its knees and then re-packed on the other side. This wasa long, tediousjob, but it could be done.

Through the use of this illustration Jesus was saying that just as the camel could not get through the eye of the needle while burdened with goods, the rich young ruler could not get through the “door” of eternal life as long as he was clinging to his possessions and giving them utmost priority in his life. What this young man didn’t realize was that everything he gave up on one side of the door he would get back on the other side! In fact, verse 29 tells us that he would get it back one-hundred fold.

vs. 29 “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,”

vs. 30 “But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”

This brings to mind another often maligned scripture concerning prosperity, Philippians 4:11.  Paul is saying, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Although Paul was not destitute at the time he spoke those words, he had been poor; however, his financial status was not the issue. The points he was making were that first, contentment is learned. Secondly, a person can learn to be content despite outward circumstances. Since circumstances change, contentment must be based on something that is immutable – something that does not change. Money fluctuates, possessions fluctuate, everything in the world fluctuates, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Though heaven and earth pass away, God’s Word will never pass away.

God desires us to prosper and be in health. He desires us to be blessed. And when we have possessions and riches, God desires that we also have wisdom in what to do with them. Wisdom that teaches us how to give freely and properly so that we are a blessing in the Kingdom of God. That’s God’s ultimate and best in our lives, because it reflects His nature of always giving.

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