Does the passage about the rich young ruler teach that Jesus expects His followers to give up all of their possessions to follow Him?
It’s true that Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up his wealth and follow Him ( Mark 10:21 ). On another occasion, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” 1 ( Mark 10:25 ).
On other occasions, Jesus didn’t rebuke friends who owned property or command them to sell their homes and businesses. In fact, He often ate with people and stayed at their homes. Friends like Mary and Martha or Zacchaeus the publican were clearly not among the poor. He was even buried in the newly excavated tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin.
So why, then, did Jesus set up what seems to be such a stringent requirement for this particular young man? ( Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30 ).
Jesus knew the young man’s heart. He knew that he was looking for a way to earn his salvation on his own terms. He may have thought that the Master would give him a specific task or good deed to perform that would win eternal life, one that wouldn’t require him to humble himself and unconditionally set his life under the authority of Christ. Instead, Jesus set up a requirement that clearly illustrated the basic issue: the rich young man’s desire to retain control of his life.
Jesus wasn’t implying that salvation can actually be earned by good deeds. Even if the rich young ruler would have given away his riches and followed Christ, he wouldn’t have earned his salvation. However, if he had done so, he would have surrendered his desire for autonomy and acknowledged God’s authority to do what He wanted with his life.
Jesus felt compassion for this young man. But because He knew that the ruler was seeking to manipulate God, He had no choice but to send him away with a clear awareness of his failure.
The Bible makes it clear that possession of wealth involves responsibility, including a responsibility to be compassionate to the poor. But the Bible doesn’t say that all Christians should sell everything they have and give the proceeds to the poor. The hearts of some people, like the rich young ruler’s heart, may require such drastic measures. But for others, giving away everything would be an act of poor stewardship—an unwillingness to make wise, compassionate use of the gifts given by God.
On the other hand, Jesus indicated that a poor person is spiritually in a better position to receive the gospel( Matthew 19:23-24 ; Luke 6:24-25 ). A poor person can’t look to wealth to shield him from the reality of his spiritual poverty and dependence upon God. Poor people have their worries, just as wealthy people do. But poverty is a blessing in disguise when it makes it harder for a person to maintain the illusion of control, and easier to see his need for God. Furthermore, the best things in life aren’t related to wealth. A person in good health is better off—even in material terms—than a well-to-do person with a terminal disease. A person with a small income can enjoy friendship, love, and the beauty of the natural world just as much as a wealthy person can.
What really matters is the purpose that possessions play in our lives. Are we looking to possessions for the meaning and security in our lives, or are we looking at them as blessings that can help us fulfill our role in God’s kingdom?
The apostle Paul left no doubt regarding the means of our salvation and assurance:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
And what about our physical needs? Although Jesus doesn’t tell us that possessions are evil in themselves, He clearly defined where our focus should be:
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).
- What did Jesus mean when He said that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven? Bible students have given a variety of answers to this question. Some have seen the expression “eye of the needle” as a term denoting a gate into Jerusalem so small that a camel could go through it only after it had shed its entire burden and assumed a kneeling position. Others have said that the Greek word translated “camel” should be changed a little so that it means “rope.” In other words, it is easier for a rope to be passed through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Neither explanation is critical to interpreting the passage.
Jesus deliberately drew a ludicrous picture to make a strong impression on those who heard Him. He wanted His disciples to recognize that riches can be a great hindrance to salvation. Then, to make it clear that not all wealthy people reject salvation, He added, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Through the working of the Holy Spirit, even rich people sometimes acknowledge their spiritual poverty, repent of their sins, and follow Christ. Back To Article