Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich young man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them…
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (19:23-24)
The rich young man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”
If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (19:26)
There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.
Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (19:27)
In His answer to Peter’s question, Jesus shows them that there is both good and bad news, so to speak, for they have left their “stuff” behind for the most part, but it may not be only possessions that get in the way:
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits 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 wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (19:28-30)
Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?
This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote this Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?
With God, all things are indeed possible!