The Rich Young Ruler

25 Jan
Rich Young Ruler - 1

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The rich young ruler asked how he might inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18). The idea behind his question was what he could do in order for him to obtain it as a possession. He viewed it as he did the rest of his great possessions. Jesus told him, if this was truly what he desired, then all he needed to do was keep the commandments of God (Luke 18:20; cf. Leviticus 18:5).

Jesus response in Luke 18:20 merely challenged the rich young ruler’s relationship with his fellow men—i.e. the commandments dealing with man’s relationship to man. The young man sincerely believed he had kept all these commandments, but to show him he was mistaken, Jesus told him to give away his wealth and follow him (Luke 18:21-22).

When he heard Jesus’ reply, the ruler became very sad and walked away (Luke 18:23; Mark 10:22). Notice what had been taught about wealth and poverty by the rabbis of Jesus’ day:

Phinehas b. Hama gave the following exposition: Poverty in one’s home is worse than fifty plagues, for it is said, Have Pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand[1] of God hath touched me,[2] and his friends answered him, Take heed, regard not inquiry; for this hast thou chosen rather than poverty.[3]

Thus the rabbis taught, and the rich young ruler believed, that poverty was the absolute worst thing that could befall a man and was the result of sin (Job 36:21). How could a man give away all his wealth, which testifies of his sin, when this young ruler confessed that he was blameless as far as keeping the Law was concerned (cf. Philippians 3:6)? Nevertheless, since Jesus made God the ultimate example of good or righteousness in the present context (Luke 18:19), the rich young ruler couldn’t obey the Law in a manner that would have given him eternal life (Leviticus 18:5). As a ruler of the Jews, he should have known this (cf. Joshua 24:19). Therefore, his need was greater than what his great possessions could acquire. So, Jesus command that he give away his great wealth was tantamount to the young man’s admitting he was a great sinner (i.e. a call to repentance), which would allow him to follow Jesus (Luke 18:22).

When Jesus noticed the young man was sad, he told his disciples that it was very difficult for those who are rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The Apostles were astonished with Jesus’ comment (Luke 18:24-26), because it was commonly believed that worldly riches were the gifts of God to the righteous (Deuteronomy 28:1-5). Moreover, the Jewish authorities taught that the opposite, poverty, was a curse and considered the result of sin (cf. John 7:48-49). So, one could appreciate the Apostles’ astonishment and query: if the righteous (the rich) couldn’t be saved, who could?

In Luke 18:27 Jesus told his disciples that what man finds impossible is possible for God. Luke tells us at this point that Peter was considering Jesus’ words, perhaps wondering if God graded on a curve. Peter correctly equated what he and the other disciples left behind in order to follow Jesus with what Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up in order to follow him (Luke 18:28). So, it is not the amount of wealth one gives up but the fact that he gives up all he has that is important.

Jesus concluded that Peter understood correctly. What is important is that one releases his hold upon all that is in this world and reaches out to the Kingdom of God that is important, and in doing so, he will not be disappointed (Luke 18:29-30).


[1] This implies fifty plagues. Ten plagues were inflicted on the Egyptians with one finger (Exodus 8:19). Job who was touched with five fingers (hand) must have been inflicted with fifty plagues.

[2] Job 19:21

[3] (Job 36:21) – This, in the text, is taken to refer to Job’s infliction, implying that poverty is even worse than all his fifty plagues.

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Posted by on January 25, 2018 in Gospel of Luke


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