In the Fulness of Time/Part 123

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2009
There are two misconceptions in the question asked by the rich young ruler. First, he had a wrong idea concerning the Person of Christ; second, he had the wrong idea about how to receive eternal life.

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The Rich Young Ruler. Matthew 19:16-30

The Question Concerning Eternal Life. Matthew 19:16-22

Matthew 19:16-22 “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. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up. What lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what 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’s Gospel describes this man as “young” (neanikos) in verse 22 and as “rich” (plousios) in verse 23. Luke 18:18 adds that he was a “ruler” (archon); Mark 10:17 describes him as enthusiastic and respectful: “There came one running and kneeled to him.” The attitude of Jesus toward this inquirer was one of tenderness: “He loved him” (agapesen) (Mark 10:17, 21). It is difficult to doubt the sincerity of such a seeker after the truth. In all three Gospels the Textus Receptus indicates that the young man called Jesus “Good Master” (didaskale agathon), and that Jesus replied “Why callest thou me good?” (Ti me legeis agathon). The only difference in the record of his question is that Matthew’s account is, “What good thing shall I do that I may have (echo) eternal life,” whereas Mark and Luke use “inherit (kleronomeso) eternal life.”

There are two misconceptions in his question. First, he had a wrong idea concerning the Person of Christ, as the Lord shows in clarifying the matter: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” If the young man had known the true answer to this question and really believed in the ultimate goodness of Christ as God, he would have had his answer. It is not sufficient to believe that Christ is a good teacher; He must be recognized as God, manifest in the flesh!

Jesus apparently did not intend to wait for his answer, but revealed a second misconception. The question was, “What must I do to have eternal life?” There is little difference in using “have” or “inherit,” though we usually think that only heirs inherit. However, it is equally possible for someone outside the family to be the heir, one who did good works for a rich person and was subsequently remembered in the will because of good works. Still, the important thing here is that he asked what he could do; this is the great misconception. We might have expected Jesus to reply, “Believe in me, even as your ancestor Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, as was glad” (cf. John 8:36). But no, Jesus wanted to show this man how he was wrong if he thought that eternal life was available by “doing.” He gave the most direct reply possible to such a question: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The specific commandments listed are from the manward side of the Decalogue, including relationships and actions which many Jews may have honestly claimed to have kept. Jesus did not use the approach He included in the Sermon on the Mount, where He gave His interpretation which emphasized inner motive as well as outward acts. Here Jesus simply quotes the commandments and the young man’s reply is: “All these things I have kept from my youth up. What lack I yet?” This second aspect of his question may well have been just as sincere as the first. Like others, even today, he was a moral person, willing to accept responsibility for doing whatever was lacking in his behavior. Jesus’ answer had as its object to show him that he had not kept all the commandments, especially the one which had to do with the first table of the Law: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This would have been fulfilled had the rich young ruler made the right choice between God and mammon (riches). Thus, when Jesus said, “If thou wilt be perfect,” He was using the word teleios in the sense of reaching his goal, namely, of obtaining eternal life. The young man should go, sell, give, and, come, follow Jesus. All of this would show that he had an inward change of heart toward his neighbor, coming from an inward faith in Christ as God.

To this, the rich young ruler does not respond, except by leaving: “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” Not only would he have had eternal life, but as Jesus added, “you shall have treasures in heaven.” Thus, a third misconception is brought forward, namely, that he could, by his own efforts, fulfill all the requirements of the Law. This he could not do. If a person is to be justified by the deeds of the Law, he is debtor to do the whole law, and: “if he offends in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

The Explanation to the Disciples. Matthew 19:23-30

Salvation and Riches. Matthew 19:23-26

Matthew 19:23-26 “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you that a rich man shall with difficulty 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 the kingdom of God. 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.”

When Jesus made this first statement about the difficulty of the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples were “astonished at his words” (Mark 10:23a), so that he had to explain by adding: “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23b). Certainly there were rich men who were saved; Matthew himself is a classic example, as were Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimathea, not to mention many Old Testament saints such as Abraham, the father of the faithful. There is quite a difference between the possession of riches and the love of money. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:24: “Ye cannot serve God and money.” Trusting in riches is a false hope; loving money is a root of all evil; serving mammon is a repudiation of God.

Yes, it is difficult for a rich man to give up such an addiction to riches. In his own self this is impossible. Jesus used an extreme illustration to make this point clear. A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle (trupematos raphidos, the eye of a needle used for sewing). This emphasizes the total impossibility; yet, that which is impossible with men is possible with God. Only He can change the heart of a man, rich or poor for that matter! This is Jesus’ answer to the exceedingly amazed disciples who asked, “Who then can be saved?” Perhaps His disciples were confused with the promise of temporal blessings under the Law, even riches, to those who “hearken to the voice of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). That same chapter continues with temporal curses upon those who did not obey. Salvation, however, has always been by faith, as testified in Romans 4 and Hebrews 11.

Salvation and Rewards. Matthew 19:27-30

19:27-30 “ Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee. What shall we have, therefore? And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

Peter’s reply undoubtedly reflected his personality, but it was true, nevertheless. According to Luke 5:10-11 the three partners, Peter, James and John, “forsook all and followed him.” Though Peter’s remarks were forthright, they were not rebuked by Jesus; Peter asked: “What shall we have therefore?” The answer came in a twofold fashion; first, regarding the Twelve specifically; then extending to every true follower of Christ.

To the Twelve Jesus promised twelve thrones “in the regeneration.” Fortunately, He explained what He meant and the time it would occur. The word “regeneration” (palingenesia, or new birth), used only in one other place, Titus 3:5, concerning salvation, here in Matthew 19 has reference to the rebirth of the earth itself, and will occur when Christ returns to the earth to begin the Millennial Kingdom and to “sit on the throne of his glory.” This throne is distinguished from the throne of His Father in Revelation 3:21: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne.” The Session of Christ began when He ascended to heaven and “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). This is His Father’s throne. Christ’s throne of glory is called: “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). It is inaccurate at best and nonsensical at worst to claim that Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated at the Ascension and that He is reigning on the Throne of David today! His reign cannot commence until the “regeneration” occurs. The Apostle Paul defined it as: “the glory that shall be revealed in us…. Because the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:18, 21).

There will be twelve thrones, one for each of the Twelve Apostles (Judas having been replaced by Matthias in Acts 1:26) over the twelve tribes of Israel. They will “judge” in the sense of Isaiah 1:26 as Jehovah says: “When I shall restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning.”

Then Jesus extends the promise of rewards to “every one” who has forsaken all “for my sake… shall receive an hundredfold” way beyond their expectation! This is the “treasure” rejected by the rich young ruler; all this in addition to the “inheritance” of eternal life, which in itself is not a reward, but is the gift of the Father’s grace to His children.

The chapter closes with the observation that “many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first.” This is closely connected to the following chapter by the preposition “For” (gar) and is explained by the parable of the laborers which concludes with the same admonition in 21:16.

Read Part 124

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