“And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! FOR 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.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “THE THINGS WHICH ARE IMPOSSIBLE WITH MEN ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD.””
Over the centuries believers have become more and more comfortable with wealth and rightly so. But while the Church of Christ has made some progress in this area, fear this pervades some quarters that riches somehow are incompatible with salvation and the above statement of Christ is often referenced.
Jesus made this statement after an encounter with a man the Bible describes as a ‘rich young ruler.’
Was Jesus against the rich? No. He had a couple of them as his disciples like Matthew the Tax Collector and Peter who had a fishing business. He also had rich women who supported his ministry according to Luke 8:1-3. However, when this rich man came to Jesus he asked Jesus a question. Luke 18:18
“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, WHAT SHALL I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?””
Jesus answered him by giving him the law of Moses. Luke 18:20
“You know THE COMMANDMENTS: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
Now, this is not Jesus’ standard answer to this question because we see him elsewhere giving a different but rather straightforward answer. John 6:28-29
“Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “THIS IS THE WORK OF GOD, THAT YOU BELIEVE IN HIM WHOM HE SENT.””
So why did Jesus give this man a different answer? It must be because this man had faith in his works based on the law as we see in his response to Jesus. Luke 18:21 “And he said, “ALL THESE THINGS I HAVE KEPT FROM MY YOUTH.” ” This man didn’t come to Jesus as someone seeking for mercy.
He was coming to Jesus with an entitlement mentality. In his heart, he truly believed he had kept the conditions of the law to qualify for receiving eternal life and he came to receive Jesus’ endorsement. What Jesus said to him next was a continuation of the law he had given to him to show him that no matter how much you try to keep the law of Moses, you will always end up lacking in one thing. Jesus was simply dealing a death blow to his faith in the law. Luke 18:22
“So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “YOU STILL LACK ONE THING. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.””
What Jesus said to the man was not the Gospel. What Jesus said to the man was the law in it’s perfect fault-finding state. Jesus gave the man Moses 2.0 Romans 3:19
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, THAT EVERY MOUTH MAY BE STOPPED, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
This man was a man under the law who came to Jesus with faith in the law and Jesus gave him the true picture of the law so that his mouth may be stopped. The right response of the Man should have been ‘Lord, that’s too difficult, I can’t do that. If that’s what the law really demands, then I give up. Save me Lord.’ But instead, he became sorrowful. The truth is that as long as you seek salvation by the law, you will live a sorrowful life because the law will always show you that you’re lacking one thing. Luke 18:23
“But when he heard this, HE BECAME VERY SORROWFUL, for he was very rich.”
Jesus’ answer to his sorrow is what came next that it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus went ahead to explain when he 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.’
He was referring to a small gate leading to an animal farm that Jews in ancient Isreal called ‘the needle.’ This is not needles used to sow clothes. For a camel to pass through ‘the needle’, a camel would have to bend down and crawl. This symbolizes humility. Jesus was simply saying it is difficult for a rich man to humble himself and transfer his faith from his own works to the Grace of God.
Is this true about every rich man all over the world? No.
This particular rich man was a Jew. Jesus’ audience were Jews. The Jews believed that if you were rich it was God who blessed you because you are a keeper of the Law. So a rich young Jewish ruler had bragging rights in the law and it would require humility for him to stop trusting the law and put his trust entirely in Christ. Jesus’ statement does not apply to a rich American or a rich Nigerian. He was referring to the rich Jew. Jesus’ statement troubled his followers as they asked him who then can be saved seeing that they had the rich among them. Jesus answer was simple: ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’
In order words when Jesus said it was difficult, he didn’t mean it was impossible. People have equated the ‘eye of the needle’ to Jesus speaking of Salvation being by a narrow way. Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because NARROW IS THE GATE AND DIFFICULT IS THE WAY WHICH LEADS TO LIFE, and there are few who find it.”
Well, the narrow way is not a bunch of 613 commandments we must obey every day. The narrow way is a person and the gate is faith in that person. The only difficulty is taking your faith away from your works and putting it in the person but if you are in Christ, you are already in the narrow way. John 14:6
“Jesus said to him, “I AM THE WAY, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In conclusion, you don’t have to choose between being rich and being saved. You can have both.
Enjoy your peace with God.