Jesus is still traveling through Perea toward Jerusalem. A rich young man runs up to him and falls down on his knees before him. The man is “one of the rulers,” perhaps serving as a presiding officer in a synagogue or as a member of the Sanhedrin. “Good Teacher,” he inquires, “what must I do to inherit everlasting life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replies. “Nobody is good except one, God.” Likely the young man uses “good” as a formalistic title, which is what the rabbis do. Although Jesus is good at teaching, he lets the man know that as a title, “Good” belongs only to God.
“If, though, you want to enter into life, observe the commandments continually,” Jesus advises him. So the young man asks: “Which ones?” Jesus cites five of the Ten Commandments
“I have kept all of these,” the man answers. “What am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20) He may feel that he is lacking some good, heroic act that will qualify him for everlasting life. Sensing the earnestness of his request, Jesus ‘feels love for him.’ (Mark 10:21) However, the man has an obstacle before him.
The man is attached to his possessions, so Jesus says: “One thing is missing about you: Go, sell what things you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come be my follower.” Yes, the man could distribute his money to the poor, who cannot repay him, and become a disciple of Jesus. But likely with pity, Jesus sees him rise and turn away sad. The man’s attachment to wealth, to his “many possessions,” blinds him to true treasure. (Mark 10:21, 22) Jesus says: “How difficult it will be for those having money to make their way into the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples are astounded by these words and by what Jesus next states: “It is easier, in fact, for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” That moves the disciples to ask: “Who possibly can be saved?” Is being saved so challenging that it is beyond a man’s reach? Jesus looks straight at them and replies: “The things impossible with men are possible with God.”
Peter points out that they have made a choice different from that of the rich man, saying: “Look! We have left all things and followed you; what, then, will there be for us?” Jesus mentions the final outcome of their right choice: “In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.”
Clearly, Jesus has in mind the future time on earth when there will be a re-creation of conditions that existed in the garden of Eden. Peter and the other disciples will be rewarded by ruling with Jesus over that earthly Paradise, a reward truly worth any sacrifice they may make!
Yet the rewards are not all future. His disciples experience some right now. “There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” Jesus states, “who will not get many times more in this period of time, and in the coming system of things, everlasting life.”
Yes, wherever his disciples go, they can enjoy a brotherhood with fellow worshippers that is closer and more precious than that enjoyed with natural family members. Sadly, it seems that the rich young ruler is going to lose out on that blessing as well as the reward of life in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
Jesus adds: “But many who are first will be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) What does he mean?
The rich young ruler is among the “first,” being among the leaders of the Jews. As an observer of God’s commandments, he shows much promise and much might be expected of him. Yet he is putting riches and possessions ahead of all else in life. In contrast, the common people of the land see in Jesus’ teaching the truth and the way to life. They have been “last,” so to speak, but they are now coming to be “first.” They can look forward to sitting on thrones in heaven with Jesus and ruling over the Paradise earth.