Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad, but I think Jesus must have been sad too, for he commented on what had happened by saying to the disciples, Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty with a person 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 a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mt.19.23-24). It is difficult for any sinner to enter heaven, of course; in fact, it is impossible without a radical change of heart and faith in Christ. But we are not talking about other sins here. We are talking about the love of money, and we cannot forget that this is a chief, if not the chief, characteristic of our intensely commercial age.
The people of Christ’s day regarded wealth as proof of God’s blessing. They were not right, of course. But they were closer to being right than we are because we think wealth is a proof of how successful we have been at blessing ourselves. They at least recognized that money, as well as every other good gift, is from God (James 1.17). But what Jesus is saying here is that, far from being a true blessing, wealth is actually a hindrance to gaining the greatest blessing of all, which is salvation. In fact, a great deal of money makes receiving salvation almost impossible.
The disciples seem to have understood this. After all, speaking about money was speaking on their level, and they were probably aware of how much they too coveted it. So, they asked the obvious question: “If people who love money can’t be saved, ‘who then can be saved?’” Jesus’ answer was direct: “No one (‘with man this is impossible’), not the rich young man, nor you, nor anyone else, since everyone loves something or someone else more than God.” Speaking only from a human point of view, the situation is hopeless. But fortunately, this is not all that can be said, since “with God all things are possible.”
Do you see where this is going? If you cannot earn heaven by wealth or good works, which the young man hoped he could do, and if every desire of our hearts, even for good things, is actually a fatal desire because it keeps us from trusting Christ completely, the only way anyone will ever be saved is if God operates entirely apart from us and for His own good pleasure. In other words, our only hope is God’s grace! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Since this is the case, it is not surprising that in Matthew 19 Jesus goes on to teach about God’s grace in the parable of the owner of the vineyard.
Peter might have noticed that Jesus was sad when the young man left – as I read the story, he tried to cheer the Lord up. The young man had gone away, but Jesus still had His disciples, Peter thought. So he said, “We have left everything to follow you.!” That was nice. In a sense they really had. Peter had left his fishing business, as had Andrew, James, and John. Matthew had left his tax collecting business. But the spirit of coveting was still in Peter, and probably in the others too, for Peter couldn’t keep from adding, “What then will we have?” showing by his question that he still had much of the spirit of the rich young man and not much of the humble trusting spirit of the children Jesus had used as an illustration of what was needed for salvation.
Jesus’ answer was that no one who follows Him will ever be cheated out of anything. Instead, there will be rewards not only in the age to come, but in the present age too. Nothing is comparable to God’s blessings.
Commentators disagree as to what Jesus meant when He promised that the disciples would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Some see it as a literal rule by the disciples over Israel under Christ’s overall messianic rule during a future earthly millennium. Others think it means the saved will participate in the judgment of Christ at the last day. Still others believe it refers to some kind of rule by Christians in this present age. I think the words “in the new world” and Christ’s “glorious throne” decide the matter in terms of a future millennial age.
But that is not the most significant thing. What is profoundly striking is Christ’s promise of blessing in the present age. All along Jesus has been telling His listeners that in order to be disciples they must deny themselves and be willing to give up their possessions. He did it in the case of the rich young ruler in this very chapter. Now Jesus says that if His disciples do that, they will receive a hundred times as much as what was given up, and not only in some future life, but now.
Mark’s version is explicit. He adds, “now in this time,” though he also adds, “with persecutions.”
In Matthew, Jesus’ exact words are, “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. 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.” He ends with the paradoxical statement, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19.30), meaning, I suppose that those who have most here will not necessarily have the most in heaven.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org