Matthew 19:13-15 – Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away.

It was a common custom among the Jews to lay their hands on the heads of the people they prayed for or blessed.  This was an act of dedicating or consecrating that person to God.  In their eyes, the person was now considered the sacred property of God and whatever is solemnly consecrated to God abides under his protection and blessing. 

That being the case, it makes perfect sense that parents who recognized Jesus as either a great prophet or as the Messiah, would want him to bless their children (infants according to Luke 18:15).

This practice was affirmed by Jesus – we have many, many instances where he laid his hands on the sick and healed them (Mark 6:5).  The practice was affirmed once again by the apostles and early church fathers who laid hands on people when healing the sick (Acts 28:8, Mark 16:18), ordaining people into religious office (1 Timothy 5:22, Acts 6:6) and imparting the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, Acts 19:6).

In many Christian churches today (including Kipton), it is still customary to lay hands on people when praying for them.

Because of the culture they grew up in, it seems kind of strange that the disciples rebuked the people who brought their children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them and bless them.  Why would they have reacted that way?

They may have believed that as infants, they were too young to receive any blessing from God.  They may have felt that this was a trivial matter and since Jesus was important, he should not be bothered with it.  It is even possible that they were annoyed at being interrupted during their discussions of marriage and divorce. 

But clearly, Jesus considers the children important.  He not only lays his hands on them, but he once again uses them as a sign for the disciples, reiterating his teaching that true members of the kingdom of heaven possess some of the same traits as children – meekness, humility and the ability to accept teaching (see our study of Matthew chapter 18 for full details).

Matthew 19:16 – And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

The following account, sometimes referred to as ‘the rich young ruler’, is also found in Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30.  We will use details from all three accounts in our study.

Luke tells us that this young man was a ruler – probably of a synagogue or council.  Thus, he was a person of some importance who was probably chosen for his office based on his character and exemplary record.  Many scholars feel that he was a Pharisee.

Mark tells us that this young man came running to Jesus, and knelt before him. This shows that the young man was earnest and very anxious about his situation. Because he was genuinely seeking truth, we can be assured that he will find an answer (Matthew 7:7).

Based on his question to Jesus, we can make the following observations:

  • He believes there is an eternity/afterlife. 
  • He believes that in eternity there will be happiness and life, or misery and death. 
  • He is interested in securing eternal life, and he is ready to perform some good work to earn it.  

His first two assumptions are correct – there is an eternal state and a person will either wind up in heaven (eternal life) or hell (eternal death).

However, his last assumption is very troubling to anyone living in the gospel dispensation, because we understand that we could never keep the law or earn our salvation through works.  We know that the shed blood of Jesus is the only atonement for sin. 

But remember, Jesus has not yet opened the way of salvation through grace.  Therefore, the young man is technically still under the law, which says that a man can be right with God by keeping (never breaking) the Old Testament law. 

Matthew 19:17 – 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.”

We have seen verses 16-17 in the English Standard Version of the bible.  Now let’s look at them in the King James Version, which is a bit clearer:

Matthew 19:16-17 – And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

The young man addresses Jesus as “good Master” but Jesus challenges his use of that title.  Take note of his response in verse 17:  “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God”.

Why does Jesus call attention to the man’s use of the word ‘good’? 

It’s because the title “good” means perfection or divinity. Thus, it IS a proper title for God.  However, the young man is not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah when he calls him good/perfect/divine.  He considers Jesus a teacher or prophet, and uses the title as a form of flattery. 

Jesus is not going to accept this false flattery.  Indeed, he is God and the title ‘good’ is appropriate for him, but only if the rich young man acknowledges him as Messiah, not as just a prophet.

Now remember, the man (who is seeking to be justified by keeping the law) originally asked Jesus what “good work” he must do to be saved.  Since the man wants to be justified through the Law, he must do what the Law requires.  Thus, Jesus answers that the rich young ruler must keep the commandments. 

Jesus is not misleading or tricking this young man.  He is connecting with him at the level the man is currently on.  Soon, Jesus will challenge his belief that he can keep the Law and thus gain eternal life. 

Galatians 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Once the man recognizes that he has not kept the entire law, he will understand his need for a savior or Messiah to grant him eternal life through the forgiveness of sin.  As we look at their interaction, we can see that Jesus is preparing him to accept this truth.

Matthew 19:18-19 – 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.”

In reply to the rich young man’s further inquiry, Jesus directs him to the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 5th commands, found in Exodus 20.  He also includes the summary of them all – love your neighbor as yourself. 

All of the commands that Jesus mentioned deal with mans relationship to other men.  Thus, he compels the rich young ruler to examine his conduct in light of how he treats his fellow man.  Why is this so important?

Because if the rich ruler does not demonstrate perfect love towards his fellow man, then he is not the man he thinks he is.  If he is not the man he thinks he is, then he has not perfectly kept the law.  If he has not kept the law, then he cannot expect to receive eternal life through the law.  He must obtain it another way. 

Thus, if he thoughtfully considers the words of Jesus and is honest with himself, he will see his own shortcomings.  His failure will direct him away from the law and towards the Messiah.  As Paul clearly indicates in Galatians, justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the only path to eternal life.  

Matthew 19:20 – The young man said to him, “All these I have kept.  What do I still lack?”

We can tell from the context of the scripture that the young man is uneasy.  We might say he has a troubled conscience.  He is dissatisfied with himself.  There is a sense of incompleteness; something is missing in his life that will make him content/happy and give him assurance of eternal life.

Interestingly, the ruler honestly believes that he has kept the whole law!  How can he think that?  Well, the young man (who may have been a Pharisee himself) understood the commands as they were taught by the Pharisees.  This means that he was taught to obey the commands in an outward, physical way, rather than inwardly in the mind and heart.  It also means that many of the laws of God had been twisted or cast aside in favor of tradition.

For example, in his eyes, he had never murdered anyone because he had not physically taken a life.  But if he hates another person and desires to kill them, then according to Jesus, he has broken the law.

So up until this point, the young man still does not understand that he has not kept the entire law.  He remains ignorant of his own sin.  He thinks Jesus will give him some new command that will assure him eternal life; he is completely unaware that what he really lacks is a proper understanding of the law.  If he had that, he would know he was a sinner.

Jesus is about to show him his failure.  He does not do this to humiliate or belittle the man.  He does it in love, as an act of mercy, to point him to eternal life.  

Matthew 19:21 – 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.” 

Finally – here is the answer the young man was seeking! 

You’d think he would be delighted, but he isn’t.  He is devastated.  Why? Because the command to sell his worldly goods swiftly and clearly revealed what was truly in the ruler’s heart – covetousness.

He loved his money more than his Creator or his fellow man.  He was in violation of the 10th commandment.  He could not be saved through the Law! 

As shocking as this revelation was, it was necessary that he come face-to-face with the truth about himself, so that he could embrace salvation through grace, not the law. 

He was presented with a choice – the same choice we are all given.  He could continue to trust in himself and his good works, or he could follow Jesus to eternal life. 

Matthew 19:22 – When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Incredibly, he turned away from Jesus.  In his eyes, the price of salvation was just too high! 

I cannot think of a single situation that could be sadder than this.  I hope that eventually, he was able to accept the truth.  Perhaps he was present on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached; perhaps he was one of the 3000 people who were saved!  Maybe we will find out how his story ended when we get to heaven one day. 

In the meantime, I want to examine another aspect of this story. Based on this scripture, some people have the mistaken notion that Christians must relinquish all of their worldly wealth in order to obtain salvation.

They assume it is proper for all Christians to be poor.  This is not true.  Jesus’ instruction was specific to this one individual.  Its purpose was two-fold: to reveal what was in the man’s heart and to provide him with an opportunity to renounce it or give it up for God.

We see the same principal at work in the Old Testament when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.  Does God call all Christians to sacrifice their sons?  Of course not!  That request was specific to Abraham.  It revealed what was in his heart (inordinate affection for his son) and gave him the chance to give it up for God.  

Matthew 19:23 – And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus uses the ruler’s decision as a teaching moment for the disciples.  He declares that riches make it exceedingly difficult for a person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Why is that? 

Money itself is actually a neutral thing; it is neither bad nor good.  The problem is that money tends to have a negative effect on the fallen nature of man.  It tends to drive us further away from God, rather than leading us towards him.  For example:

Excessive riches encourage people to love the world, and neglect God.  If a person is busy focusing/concentrating on all the enjoyments and possessions money can buy, there will not be any time left for spiritual things.  This was evident in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:22) where Jesus says that riches choke out the word of God in a person’s life.

The bible teaches us to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’.  Each day we are to look to God for protection, provision and guidance.  He is to be our source for all good things (James 1:17).  However, rich men tend to look to their money as the source of all their daily needs.  Thus, money actually takes the place that rightfully belongs to God, and it becomes an idol. 

The love of money produces pride, selfishness, fraud and oppression in an individual.  Thus, loving money opens up the door to further sin.  

Despite this, Jesus does not say that Christians cannot be wealthy.  Indeed, there are many wealthy Christians who love God and are excellent stewards of the riches that God has placed into their hands.

So let’s be clear – Jesus does not say that it is impossible for rich people to be saved.  He does not say that good Christians are poor. 

Rather, he cautions that the wealthy must be on guard against the sinful effects that money tends produces in an individual.  The love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil.

Matthew 19:24 – “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.”

The ‘eye of a needle’ was a very small gate or door used by people on foot. It was accessed at night, after the main city gate was closed.  This door was next to the larger city gate, which was wide enough to allow wagons, animals and everything else to enter the metropolis. 

The term ‘camel’ (or elephant, which is also sometimes used in this Jewish proverb) is simply used to denote something very large. 

So, “a camel going through the eye of a needle” was a common proverb used by the Jews. It denoted anything that was impossible or exceedingly difficult. 

Spiritually speaking, it is exceedingly difficult for the person with great riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Matthew 19:25 – When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

In my opinion, the disciples are astonished at the wrong thing. 

Consider this – poor people also have unique temptations based on being poor.  Their lack of money can cause the same sins that the rich face – greed, selfishness, fraud and oppression.  They too can be totally consumed by the love and pursuit of money.  They too can be guilty of focusing all their attention on the world to the exclusion of God.  They too can be poor stewards of the wealth they possess. 

The state of being poor and the state of being rich can both open up unique doors for sin. 

Matthew 19:26 – But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

So, the astonishing thing in this situation is actually the grace, mercy and provision of Almighty God which allows all sinful human beings (whether rich or poor), to enter into heaven.  Apart from him, we would all be lost!

Matthew 19:27 – Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”

In essence, Peter is saying that he and the other disciples had done what the rich man could not.  They had left their jobs, their homes, their families and their personal pursuits to follow Jesus.  Their devotion to God superseded everything else in their lives.  

Since Jesus had assured the rich young ruler that he would receive “treasures in heaven” if he forsook all to follow him, Peter now wonders what he and the other disciples could expect as a reward.  

Matthew 19:28 – 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.”

How are we to interpret this promise of reward?  Some scholars believe this has a literal interpretation, while some think it should be interpreted spiritually.  They also differ in their understanding of the ‘new world’.   In fact, the interpretations are so diverse, it hardly seems possible that the scholars are all reading the same passage of scripture!

For example, some believe that the ‘new world’ refers to the time when Jesus ascended up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  In this scenario, the disciples are ‘sitting on thrones’ in the sense that they have authority in the new church.  They are ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ in the sense that they are deciding what shall be permissible in the church and what shall not.  People who hold this view claim that it ties in with Jesus granting them the keys to the kingdom of heaven, back in Matthew 16. 

Some believe that Jesus is referring to his millennial reign on the earth.  They believe that the thrones are literal thrones and that the disciples are given authority to mediate disputes and settle matters of state in that kingdom.

Still others see this as being fulfilled in the eternal kingdom of Christ. 

The one fact that everyone agrees on, is that Jesus does promise a reward to his faithful followers who put him first, giving up their earthly possessions.  As for the rest, time will tell!  

Matthew 19:29 – “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.”

The disciples are not the only people promised a reward from Jesus.  Any follower of Christ who puts his devotion to God above all else can expect to be rewarded.  Those who willingly give all for the sake of Jesus will not only receive eternal life, but they will also be recompensed in this life as well.    

Matthew 19:30 – “But many who are first will be last and the last first.”

Again, there are different interpretations for the meaning of this verse. 

One is that the ‘first’ are the Jews and the ‘last’ are the Gentiles.  The Jews were chosen as God’s special people.  The words of salvation were first preached to them, but they rejected the Messiah.  Therefore the Gentiles, who were looked upon as dogs, entered into the kingdom of heaven ‘first’ – before the Jews.

Another interpretation is that there will be reversals in the future – those that were poor on the earth (for the sake of the gospel) will be rich in heaven, those who occupied exalted positions on earth will be common in heaven, etc.

Yet another explanation is that verse 30 of chapter 19 is actually the first verse of the parable that begins in chapter 20.  We will examine this idea in our next post.   

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief: 

It looked like the ruler had it all – he was young, he had wealth, he had the respect of his peers and he had importance in his community.  Yet, he clearly felt that his life was missing something.  Down deep in his heart, he knew he had a need to connect with God.

Is it possible that you are feeling the same way right now?  Perhaps you have been attending church regularly and fellowshipping with other Christians, but deep down you know that something is missing in your life, and you need to connect with God.  Like the ruler, you need an assurance of your salvation.

If that is the case, I encourage you to pray the following prayer right now!  Wherever you are, God can hear you and he will respond when you invite him into your heart and life.  And once you get rid of your burden of sin, your relief will be immense!

Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!  Your sin has been atoned for, and you are now ‘connected’ to God.   

Let me offer you some strength:

Jesus assured his disciples that when they put him first, and sacrificed the things of this world for him, he took notice.  He not only takes notice, but he generously rewards his servants for their sacrifice.

Perhaps you, like the disciples, have made some sacrifices for Christ.  It’s possible that the task is a bit more difficult than you thought it would be.  You may be feeling weary right now.  Maybe you have come to the end of your strength, but your journey is not yet complete.

If so, I have good news for you!  God has all the strength you need in order to finish the race you have embarked on. 

Isaiah 40:31 – But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

So keep your eyes on Jesus, and don’t give up!  Your labor will soon be rewarded!

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