The Rich Young Ruler


The Rich Young Ruler’s Question (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23)

            A man rushes up to Jesus and kneeling before him, wanted to know what things he should do to obtain eternal life. From Matthew’s account we learn that he is a young man (Matthew 19:20). From Luke’s account we learn that he is a ruler (Luke 18:18), probably referring to holding a position in the synagogue, which normally is reserved for elderly Jews. His wealth, mentioned in all three accounts, probably accounts for his position. Possibly attempting to be polite, the young man calls Jesus “Good Teacher.” Jesus doesn’t object to the use of the word “good” because he wasn’t good, but he points out that only God is truly good; therefore, by referring to him as “good” the young man was unknowingly calling Jesus God.

            Thus establishing his authority to answer the young man’s question, Jesus stated that he needed to keep the commandments if he wanted to enter eternal life. This answer grates on the ears of those who seek justification in faith alone. So they dismiss the answer as only applicable under the Old Law which was still in effect. But the answer remains the same in the New Law (I John 5:2-3; 3:22-24). Is one saved by works alone? Of course not! Faith is a part of God’s commands (Hebrews 11:6). Yet, at the same time, faith does not rule out obedience (Romans 1:5; James 2:14-26).

            The young man wanted something more specific to his situation, so he asked Jesus which commands did he need to follow. It appears the young man thought that heaven would be gained by doing some great work, rather than by being what God wanted him to be. Jesus answered with items from the Ten Commandments and the famous command from Leviticus 19:18. Since the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” is not given, commentators assume that the quote from Leviticus 19:18 is being used as another way to express the same idea. Interestingly, Jesus selects those commands which remain applicable under both the Old and New Law. Jesus focuses on the commands that deal with a man’s relationship with his fellow man. By this list Jesus is hinting that the area he needed to work most upon lies in this realm of commands.

            However, this was not specific enough for the young man. He knew that he kept these commands, but he also knew within himself that something important was missing. Jesus understood his sincere desire to do what was right. Mark mentions that Jesus answered him out of love (Mark 10:21). There was one thing lacking in his life which would make him complete. If he could go and sell all he had, give to the poor, then he would be assured of eternal life. Jesus then even invites him to join his disciples, something Jesus has done only a few times.

            Jesus is not saying that everyone must sell everything they have to be a disciple of his. He is pointing out to this young man where the source of his greatest hindrance to righteousness lies. This man valued wealth too much (I Timothy 6:17-19; Hebrews 10:34). Sadly, we see that Jesus was correct. The young man could not make himself do this one thing, even though he was assured that he would have eternal life if he did it. Even here we see the hint of the good in the young man, for he did not scoff at Jesus’ command. It grieved him that he wasn’t able to find within himself the ability to carry out the command.

            It is something we should all consider as well. Is there something that we hold dearer than life itself, something that we couldn’t bring ourselves to give up, even for heaven? (Matthew 10:37-39).


How Hard it is for the Wealthy to be Saved (Matthew 19:23-26; Mark 10:23-27; Luke 18:24-27)

            Commenting on the departure of the young man, Jesus noted how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven. It would be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. The idiom is a phrase to indicate something that is essentially impossible to accomplish. It is not wealth itself that keeps men out of heaven, for there have been many wealthy men in the past who were servants of God, such as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Job. Rather, it is the love of wealth that is the problem (I Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19; Psalm 52:7; 62:10). It is the conflict of interest which causes the problem. Mark’s account makes this clear (Mark 10:24).

            The very thought astonished the disciples. They were used to seeing rich people get anything they wanted. Surely they had no hindrance in entering heaven if that is what they wanted. If the rich aren’t able to be saved, with all their advantages, then who could be saved?

            Jesus pointed out that left on their own, it would be impossible for men to save themselves, but with God all things were possible (I Peter 4:18; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17). Salvation belongs to God (Psalm 3:8).


Leaving and Gaining (Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30)

            Peter pointed out that they had left everything to follow Jesus. With so little to work with, what could they possibly gain? Yet, they had done what the young man could not bring himself to do.

            Jesus stated that in the regeneration the twelve apostles would join him in ruling and judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Regeneration” literally means “rebirth.” It is the time of renewal. Jesus states that it is the time he sits on the throne, but that is a reference to the current Christian age (I Corinthians 15:24-28; Acts 2:33-35). It cannot refer to the second coming because that is when Jesus turns all rule and authority back to the Father. Jesus currently holds all authority (Matthew 28:18) and he reigns, even in the midst of those who reject him (Psalm 110:1-3).

            What Jesus is stating is that his followers will reign with him (II Timothy 2:11-12; Revelation 3:21). This is why Peter calls us a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9). We are kings and priests for our God (Revelation 5:9-10). We have power over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27). One of our rights is to reject commands of men when they violate the commands of God (Acts 4:19-20; 23-28). It is not a right to make up our own laws for we are still in submission to God. But we have the right to bind God’s laws on others (Matthew 18:18-19). Have you ever been asked, “What right do you have to tell me what to do?” in matters of religion? The answer is, the authority given to us by Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:2-3).

            But Jesus is stating as well that the apostles have a greater authority than other Christians. It was to be their duty to bring in the Christian age and to lay out its laws (I Corinthians 14:37). They would speak from authority, the authority given to them by Jesus, and bind the laws of God upon man. Thus, by their words they would sit in judgment over spiritual Israel; that is the church.

            Though they had given up much, they had gained much more. People have given up family relationships when they chose to follow Christ. Even though they have lost a mother or father because of their choice, they gain so many more mothers and fathers among their fellow Christians. True, such gains do not come easily. Mark’s account tells us it comes with persecutions (Mark 10:30). But even more wondrous is the gain of eternal life – far more valuable than anything on this earth (Philippians 3:8).

            In Christ’s kingdom, there is a reversal of roles. Those whom you might expect to be first, such as the rich, are found to be last. While those you might expect to be last are truly those who are first in the kingdom.