Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Jesus and a Rich Young Ruler
AS JESUS goes on through the district of Perea toward Jerusalem, a young man runs up and falls on his knees before him. The man is called a ruler, probably meaning that he holds a prominent position in a local synagogue or even that he is a member of the Sanhedrin. Also, he is very rich. “Good Teacher,” he asks, “what must I do to inherit everlasting life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replies. “Nobody is good, except one, God.” Likely the young man uses “good” as a title, so Jesus lets him know that such a title belongs only to God.
“If, though,” Jesus continues, “you want to enter into life, observe the commandments continually.”
“Which ones?” the man asks.
Citing five of the Ten Commandments, Jesus answers: “Why, You must not murder, You must not commit adultery, You must not steal, You must not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother.” And adding an even more important commandment, Jesus says: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
“All these things I have kept from my youth on,” the man answers with all sincerity. “What yet am I lacking?”
Listening to the man’s intense, earnest request, Jesus feels love for him. But Jesus perceives his attachment to material possessions, and so points out his need: “One thing is missing about you: Go, sell what things you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower.”
Jesus watches, no doubt with pity, as the man rises and turns away deeply saddened. His wealth blinds him to the value of true treasure. “How difficult,” Jesus laments, “it will be for those with money to enter into the kingdom of God!”
Jesus’ words astound the disciples. But they are surprised even more when he goes on to state a general rule: “It is easier, in fact, for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God.”
“Who, in fact, can be saved?” the disciples want to know.
Looking straight at them, Jesus replies: “With men it is impossible, but not so with God, for all things are possible with God.”
Noting that they have made a choice very different from that of the rich young ruler, Peter says: “Look! We have left all things and followed you.” So he asks: “What actually will there be for us?”
“In the re-creation,” Jesus promises, “when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Yes, Jesus is showing that there will be a re-creation of conditions on earth so that things will be as they were in the garden of Eden. And Peter and the other disciples will receive the reward of ruling with Christ over this earth-wide Paradise. Surely, such a grand reward is worth any sacrifice!
However, even now there are rewards, as Jesus firmly states: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.”
As Jesus promises, wherever in the world his disciples go, they enjoy a relationship with fellow Christians that is closer and more precious than that enjoyed with natural family members. The rich young ruler apparently loses out on both this reward and that of everlasting life in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
Afterward Jesus adds: “However, many that are first will be last, and the last first.” What does he mean?
He means that many people who are “first” in enjoying religious privileges, such as the rich young ruler, will not enter the Kingdom. They will be “last.” But many, including Jesus’ humble disciples, who are looked down upon by the self-righteous Pharisees as being “last”—as being people of the land, or ‛am ha·’aʹrets—will become “first.” Their becoming “first” means they will receive the privilege of becoming corulers with Christ in the Kingdom. Mark 10:17-31; Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30.
◆ Evidently, what kind of ruler is the rich young man?
◆ Why does Jesus object to being called good?
◆ How does the young ruler’s experience illustrate the danger of being rich?
◆ What rewards does Jesus promise his followers?
◆ How do the first become last, and the last first?