And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Understanding And Applying the Text
This passage has been the subject of much bad teaching. Some of it has been because of poor translation and some of it is because of ignorance flamed by bad theology. Let’s see if we can clarify it a little.
A wealthy man came to Jesus. He did not come to trap Jesus as the scribes did. He came with a true desire for instruction. The fact he knelt and his speech show this. He showed reverence for Christ.
But, he had blind confidence in his self-worth. He saw himself as better than he was. This self-confidence is rampant today. And our self-confidence, like this man’s, inhibits our ability to learn from Christ.
This man knew he lacked something. Even as he thought of himself as good. He asked, “What good deed must I do to have enteral life.” He thought he had to do something. He had not learned Jesus’ teaching. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44). We do not come to Jesus on our own. The Father draws us to Jesus. It is 100%, God. It is 0% us. He could not do anything. Salvation is a gift from God.
This man believed he had kept the law. So Christ said, OK let’s look at the law and see how well you are doing.
But let’s back up and look at the first bad teaching that comes from this passage.
Older translations have the man coming and saying “Good Master.” (KJV, Geneva) And Jesus replies “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. …” This has led some to claim Jesus is denying His divinity. Newer and more accurate translations such as the ESV, NASB, NLT, NET and do not have that confusion. Instead they translate the man calling Jesus “teacher. But in all the translations it is clear. The topic is about goodness. Jesus is pointing out that he had a false understanding of what is good.
The KJV translation comes from the Textus Receptus. We know the Textus Receptus is not the most accurate manuscript. That is not to say it is bad. But through textual criticism, we know other manuscripts are closer to the original. So we could have avoided the controversy with more accurate translations.
The man was asking about goodness. He was thinking in human terms. If you ask the average man on the street today if man is basically good or bad. 99.9% will answer basically good. We believe it even though we know it is not true. That is why we also say, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We know if man is not held in check he will fall to his base nature.
Christ brings him back to true goodness. There is none good but God. But the way Christ does that is interesting. Christ points to the law. From this many have been taught the law can save. Dispensationalists, for example, claim God gave the law to Israel for their salvation. When that did not work He went to Plan B. He sent Christ. WRONG! Christ was always the plan A. There was no plan B.
Rome teaches by keeping the law we merit eternal life. Again wrong.
Christ was replying to the question. He was not taking into consideration what men can do. He asked what does the Law demand? God gave His law to define holy living. It was not a way to earn salvation.
We must be perfect to merit salvation. Any violation of the law mars us and we are no longer perfect. Even if we kept the law perfectly after breaking it once does not undo that violation.
Christ’s answer was you know the law. He then starts reciting the second table of the law.
The man’s sense of goodness blinded him. He claimed he had kept the law. He had kept the law since he was a child.
Christ knew he had not. But Christ did not argue with the man. Christ’s response was, Oh you keep the law. Well, let’s go to the first table of the Law. In fact, let’s start with number one. You shall have no other gods before me. Sell all you have and follow me. Let’s see if you have other gods.
The man left sorrowful. He had another god, wealth. He was unwilling to part with it,
Wealth was considered evidence of God’s approval. The rich were seen as the likeliest candidates to enter the kingdom. Jesus turned this idea on its head. The disciples did not understand. If the most favored could not get in who could?
Here again, is another erroneous teaching. Poverty is a way to holiness. Christ did not say poverty is righteous. He was pointing out this man had other gods. When we have wealth and riches, it is hard not to trust in them. That is why Christ said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
That brings us to the next erroneous teaching. The “Eye of the Needle.” Many have claimed it was a gate in Jerusalem. It was supposed to open after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could not pass through the smaller gate unless it was stooped and had its baggage removed. There is no accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate. There is no archaeological evidence. There is no textual evidence. There is no evidence.
All three gospels contain this story. Matthew and Mark use the Greek word referring to a tailor’s needle. Luke uses a Greek word referring to a surgeon’s needle. If the gate had existed the apostles would have referred to it by name. They knew the area at the time. They would not have used different descriptions.
Bad theology supports this erroneous teaching. According to the story the camel could get through the gate. It was hard but possible. That conflicts with Jesus’ teaching. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (v26) Christ said impossible not difficult. We can do nothing to affect our salvation. From our standpoint it is impossible. Nothing is impossible with God. God does it all.
But Peter does not grasp Jesus’ teaching. He compares himself to the rich man. He said, That guy has not left everything and followed you but we have left everything.
There was a reward for them. They will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Judging in this context refers to governing not sentencing to punishment.
Christ then addresses all who leave all to follow Him. The first part of Christ’s reply was addressed only to the twelve. Now He addresses us all. The blessings of salvation far exceed anything which we must forsake to get them. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
The wealthy are not necessarily blessed by God. In some cases they are cursed. Positions of honor or prestige do not assure heavenly approval. Often the reverse will be true. There is no correspondence between earthly status and heavenly reward.