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Can a Rich Man enter the Kingdom of God?

Why does Jesus say that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? Does this mean that rich people can't follow Jesus? How do we define who is a rich man?



To understand Jesus' saying about the rich man, we have to take a closer look at Matthew 19. We have to look at the context in which Jesus says that hardly a rich man shall enter the Kingdom.

"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:21-22 KJV bible).

A certain young man asks Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. Then Jesus tells him that to be complete, he should sell all that he has, and follow him. Upon hearing this the man goes away sorrowful. Because of his great wealth, the rich man is unwilling to follow Jesus.

Then Jesus remarks how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, "...Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:23-24 KJV bible).

Life is filled with many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. None of them have any significance compared to the opportunity to follow Jesus. However, Jesus makes clear throughout the gospels that there are requirements in following him. In the case of the rich man, he is unwilling to meet these requirements, and so walks away.

Is the rich man a sinner because of his possessions?

There are several questions that this passage raises, especially as it relates to being rich. Many question if Jesus is saying that a rich person can't be saved, unless they become poor. Also, if a rich person has to literally get rid of everything they own to follow Jesus, then what about the rest of us? Do we also have to sell everything to follow Jesus?

It's clear that Jesus is telling this man that to follow him he has to sell his possessions. However, we have to consider the times in which they were living. To be Jesus' disciple at this time, one had to literally follow and serve him in his ministry.

"And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:21-22 KJV bible).

At this time, Jesus' disciples had to leave behind their wordly lives and possessions. This would include relatives, lands, houses, businesses etc. Not only was it impossible to maintain these things from far away, but they could easily be a distraction from serving God.

Jesus doesn't ask anything of the rich man that he doesn't ask of his other followers. They all must leave behind what they have in the world to follow Jesus. Their hearts must not be conflicted, but set on serving the Kingdom. No one can be in two places at once, or serve two masters.

In this context, we see that the rich man's sin isn't that he's rich. It's not as though his wealth has exceeded a certain amount and so he has to become poor. Rather, his sin is that he is unwilling to become poor for the sake of the gospel. The man's riches become a sin because they prevent him from following Jesus.

Mark's gospel can help us better understand Jesus' message here, "But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:24 KJV bible).

Jesus is teaching against the idolatry of riches. He's making the point that those who are rich in the world tend to find security in what they have. They have much greater difficulty leaving behind their worldly statuses and possessions than those who are poor.

We have to follow Jesus spiritually.

Nowadays we don't follow Jesus literally, but spiritually. It would be "out of context" to say that we literally have to sell everything and follow Jesus. For some of us, selling everything we own wouldn't make us useful to Jesus.

However, we need to be careful about excusing ourselves. Its easy to look at the disciples and think our situation is different, and we don't have to make those same sacrifices. But Jesus is clear that we have to put him before ourselves.

"And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:38-39 KJV bible).

In some respects we are all like the rich man. We all have idols that impede us from entering the Kingdom, and following Jesus. This is why the disciples ask "who can be saved", because it's in our nature to place significance on worldly things.

"When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:25-26 KJV bible).

Comments: (6)
Topic: Rich man in the Kingdom
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Miguel
Amen, thank you for this. How hard it is for us who have worldly possessions to follow God. My phone, my computer, my music, my job, my family, my mp3 player, my feelings. Truth be told I spend more time talking on my phone than I do with God.
We say we give all and I say here God take all, but if God were to ask for any of it who wouldn't struggle, but that's what it takes to follow him. Help me Lord to give it up for you, whatever you want LORD.
1st December 2011 4:52am
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Doug Buckley
Thanks Miguel, we can have other things in our lives, but Jesus has to come first before anyone or anything else. Money and wealth make it harder to put Jesus first, because they give us more ways to spend our time and we can have things we want, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12.15 KJV bible).
3rd December 2011 3:54pm
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Matt Rolle
Amen, this is so true! Sometimes in life we put worldly things before God. God wants us to seek him first and all things should come after him. We all have times when we give more of our time to things of the world. But will those things we admire heal or deliver us if we come down with issues of the mind or body? What would we seek or look up to then?
25th February 2012 9:02am
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Jamie Wimberly
"It would be "out of context" to say that we literally have to sell everything and follow Jesus. For some of us, selling everything we own wouldn't make us useful to Jesus."

This is just plain wrong. When Jesus recruited the disciples he instructed them to leave everything behind. You can't serve two masters. You will either love one or hate the other. You either choose to serve God or serve the world. So called Christians will only obey what is convenient for them.
17th September 2013 10:08am
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Doug Buckley
Hi Jamie. It doesn't follow that one must LITERALLY sell their worldly possessions in order to serve Christ. You can own something, like a car, without serving it. Of course a lot of Christians do serve worldly possessions, but this isn't always the case. Owning something doesn't automatically make one a servant of it.

These verses should be understood spiritually. It's where the person's heart is that matters. Some people have little wealth and spend their lives consumed with material things. Someone else might have great wealth in a bank account and not be focused on it. We must give up things spiritually that prevent us from serving Christ.
17th September 2013 12:17pm
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AJ
Doug, I think your comment of "where the heart is" is spot on. I know people who are wealthy but their heart is with Jesus. If you met them for the first time, you would not guess that they are wealthy.
On the other hand, I know people who have little wealth, but yet their hearts are focused on acquiring it...so in essence money is their master. Ultimately you will know which master your heart truly serves.
25th January 2014 1:19pm
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