“You know the commandments,” He said. “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and your mother…”1
“Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth,” responded the rich young ruler. He was probably quite respected among those who knew him, for he had done such good things.
“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come take up the cross, and follow me.”
“You know the commandments…” Could it be that this man knew the Law’s requirement that there would be no poor in the land?2 Surely he had learned about things like that growing up. What went on in his heart and mind when he walked past the poor on the street? Something in him seemed to want to be right with his God. That’s why he had kept all those commandments. But how did he reconcile the fact that he was so rich while many of his countrymen were so poor, especially in the face of what had been spoken to his people about this very issue? Did he really love his neighbor as himself?3
There are those who are looking to be justified by God and those who are looking to justify Him.4
The rich young ruler proved to be someone who just wanted to be justified. For surely if such a man had given up his riches to the poor, God would have been justified, and as the Master said, so would he, as evidenced by the eternal life he would have received for trusting and obeying.
The same fear that had come upon him every time he walked past the poor came upon him when the Master spoke those hard words. Though he surely did want to inherit eternal life, the demand was too great. To give up what had always been the source of his security and comfort was too much. He could not, or did not overcome that fear.
And so at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:22, NASB)
He was grieved as when a loved one dies. A hope that maybe he could be right with the One who made him, that he could have confidence of eternal life, died at the words he heard. Every time he walked past the poor and tightened his grip on his money bag, he knew there was something wrong. Now it was clear.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which a man found and hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44, NASB)
One walks away grieved because he is told to sell all that he has and give to the poor, but another gladly gives up all he has for the joy of finding the Kingdom.
I will give of the fountain of water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:6-7, NRSV)
It seemed as though the rich young ruler was thirsty, at least enough to come and ask about inheriting eternal life. Why didn’t he receive the water of life, especially if it is given freely? “He who overcomes…” There must have been something he did not overcome.
Maybe he was not that thirsty. Fear prevented him from responding to the requirement for him to have eternal life. Of course there was an obstacle, but then the Master knew there would be obstacles to following Him and gaining eternal life. That is why He said things like, “He who overcomes” and “pick up your cross.”
The one in Matthew 13:44 who sold all that he had to buy the field obviously got to drink the water of life. Certainly the same fear that came to the rich young ruler could have come to him, but he proved to not be a coward. The treasure had more value to him than even his own life in this world.
He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. (John 12:25)
Nothing secures your life in this world more than riches. Certainly you would have to hate your life in this world to give up your riches. One who loves his life in this world has to put his trust in riches.
Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:24, NKJV)
Revelation 21:8 describes the fate of those who fail to overcome whatever stands in the way of drinking the water of life. They are the “cowardly and unbelieving.” Of all the things listed that cause a person to be worthy of the second death, or lake of fire, the first is the worst. The greatest crime of mankind, the worst possible crime you can commit is to reject Messiah. It is the rejection of God’s love.
This is not talking about those who have never been offered the water of life, but those who are offered the opportunity and refuse, just as the rich young ruler did. They refuse to put their trust in Messiah because of the fear of losing “their life in this world.”
All his life the rich young ruler had lived in the fear of losing what made his life on earth so comfortable. God’s grace had come to set him free from that fear, to save him from his sin. He could have been set free from his fears by putting his trust in Him. He could have picked up his cross and followed Him. The cross would have crucified his self-life that was so dependent on those earthly riches. But he didn’t embrace it. He was a coward. When push came to shove, he gave in to fear. He could not put anything above his own security.
That is the aspect of being a coward that is so dangerous. When a coward’s life is in danger, he will do anything to protect it. How many atrocities in history have been performed according to that principle? So the cowardly and unbelieving in Revelation 21:8 are those who refuse to believe because it threatens their self-life.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. (Luke 6:24, NASB)
“Woe” is a solemn warning of impending doom. The woe to them is because when life in this world comes to an end, so will their comfort, just as Abraham told the rich man,
Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (Luke 16:25, NASB)
The grief that the rich young ruler walked away with was just a foretaste of an eternity of torment. Woe to him! Oh, so sad! He could have done what the disciples did. Perhaps until that point he had been powerless to overcome the grip his riches had on his soul, but as the Master told His disciples that day, “With God all things are possible.”5
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17, NASB)
Since its beginning, Israel, the people of God, had known that they should have no poor among them.6 It was part of the Law. Why were there so many poor in the time of the rich young ruler? Though the Law outlined the goodness of God’s heart, it did not have the power to free man from his sin — the thing that had always stopped them from really expressing His heart.
That is the very reason that God sent His Son,
And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Yahshua,7 for it is He who will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21, NASB)
What could not be done through the Law, as good as it was, had to wait for the Savior. The Savior certainly did not come to nullify the Law, but rather, by setting man free from his selfish nature (which caused him to sin), give him the ability to fulfill it. He did not come to fulfill it all by Himself. He was not going to eliminate poverty on His own. But by setting men free from their self-centered existence so that they could “give to the poor,” the Law would be fulfilled. That is the “all things” that are possible with God.
If only he had put his trust in the “good teacher” like those disciples who said, “See we have left all to follow You.” For to them the Master responded,
Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Not only would the rich young ruler have received eternal life, but also a hundred times what he had given up, in this age. What he gave up for Messiah’s sake would be put into the pot with what others who had the same response gave up, in order to create a “common pot,” or as Paul said, a “commonwealth.”
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)
It is what those who had given up all for His sake established after His death and resurrection:
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. (Acts 2:44-45)
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
Finally, through the saving power of Messiah they were able to fulfill the wonderful Law. They were producing the fruit of the Kingdom of God.8
Too bad the rich young ruler did not have the heart to conquer his fears and put his trust in Messiah. Too bad he put his trust in riches. Too bad he was a coward. If only he had overcome!
So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)
No one can keep the comfort of his possessions and have the God of all comfort be his God at the same time.9 What He had required of the rich young ruler was part of the formulation of the Gospel that would communicate the same requirements for everyone. For the Gospel is the power of God to transfer them out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom.10 How can anyone really put their trust in Him if they have not taken it off their possessions?