Does Jesus Tell the Rich Young Ruler Only the Poor Can Be Saved?

advanced divider

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

This verse in Mark is part of a discourse Jesus was having with a rich young ruler. This ruler approached Jesus asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. (You can read the full conversation in Mark 10:17-31). Here is part of this conversation:

“You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:19-22).

What exactly is Jesus saying to this young man? The Bible teaches “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), but do we have to be financially poor as well? Surely if this man wanted to follow Jesus, he could do so wealthy or poor, right? Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus means.

The Blessing and Curse of Wealth

There is nothing wrong with money. Money is neutral. It has no feelings or emotions. The challenge that money presents is the attitude we can have towards it. It was this rich young ruler’s attitude toward his wealth that Jesus was pointing his finger at.

In Jesus’ day, and honestly even today, many people believed that wealth or great possessions was an indicator that God had a special blessing on your life. It was not true then and it is not true today. This rich young ruler had clouded judgement because of his wealth. His riches, which were thought be a blessing, actually became a curse. It caused him to value the temporary treasures of earth more than the eternal treasures of heaven.

Bible teacher Warren Weirsbe put it this way:

“Money is a marvelous servant but a terrible master. If you possess money, be grateful and use it for God’s glory; but if money possesses you, beware! It is good to have the things that money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money cannot buy. The deceitfulness of riches had so choked the soil of this young man’s heart that he was unable to receive the good seed of the Word and be saved. What a bitter harvest he would reap one day!”

What Is This “Eye of the Needle”?

Some people have speculated that the eye of the needle was a reference to the Needle Gate. This gate was a low gate that was very narrow and was found in the walls that surrounded Jerusalem. Because the camel was the largest animal found in Jerusalem at that time, there was no way it could just walk through that gate. The camel would be forced to have to all of its saddles and packs removed. It would then have to crawl through the gate on its knees. This is highly unlikely that anyone would do this. In addition, many are not sure if this gate even existed in Jesus’ day.

Most likely, Jesus was speaking in hyperbole or metaphor. He was helping his disciples to understand how difficult it was for those who trust in their wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven. Clearly this was the problem with this rich young ruler. The deceitfulness of riches can make a person feel all-sufficient and therefore reject the notion of their need for God.

The other issue we see in this ruler was his attachment to his wealth. He was so attached to his riches that he could not see forfeiting them in order to follow Christ. The question Jesus was posing to this man was: would you be willing to let go of your abundant wealth, leave it all behind, and follow me?

This man was not willing to do this. This man obviously had an interest in living right. He had a desire for eternal life since he was the one who initiated the question. However, he couldn’t let go of the one thing that was keeping him from experiencing the life he was looking for – his great wealth.

For this reason, though he was face-to-face with the one who is the resurrection and the life, he went away sad and unchanged. Though he had everything he needed for this life, unfortunately he was not prepared for the life to come.

Can Rich People Be Saved?

The short answer to the question is yes. After making this statement Jesus’ disciples asked him a question:

“The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:26-27).

The reality of salvation is that it is impossible with man. Whether you are rich or poor by the world’s standards, salvation is not something you can obtain on your own. You can’t do enough, have enough or be enough to ever earn it on your own. But with God it is possible. He can convict the heart. He can convince the heart. He can convert the heart.

The need of the rich man was no different than the need we have. The difference is that he had more “things” in the way that prevented him from seeing his need. That’s why it’s difficult. Yet, as difficult as it may be, it’s still not impossible with God.

Our Responsibility

When it comes to the gospel, our responsibility doesn’t change based on who we are talking to. Our job is to plant and water. Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7:

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

We need to be planters and waterers. Share the gospel with everyone whenever we have the opportunity. Some people will have great means and wealth. Some will have little means. They all need to hear it. Yes there will be difficult and seemingly impossible cases that look hopeless. All we can do is the possible – plant and water. Let’s leave the impossible to God – making the seed grow. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

Clarence Haynes

Clarence Haynes