What did Jesus mean by, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)?
By Peter Salemi
Does God hate the Rich? Can anyone with a substantial amount of money be saved? Do Rich people need to give all their money away and be poor to enter into the Kingdom?
Does having money put you in danger of losing salvation? Did not God say, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:8)? Gold and silver were the medium of exchange in ancient times and is still traded today, and God said money belongs to him.
Did not God make Abraham rich? “And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen 13:2). Did not God give Solomon riches and became the richest man ever? (See 1 Kings 3:13). Is God a hypocrite? Making great men of the Bible rich, then turn around and say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”? Absolutely not! The problem is not with the word of God but with traditions and the Catholic churches perception about money. This is what we need to separate ourselves from-the Catholic idea we have about money and success.
Often times we picture the disciples, Jesus, the prophets etc...the way the Catholics picture them in their sculptures and church paintings; monks and Nuns depriving themselves of everything in this life, thinking that money and success is contrary to God and his word. It’s because of this mindset that most Christians are not “rid[ing] upon the high places of the earth,” (Isa 58:14). God called us to be leaders and examples to the nations, a “light” to the world and live a blessed successful life; we must abandon this catholic mindset of poverty and depravation! In fact, Christians having wealth does not take away from other people having wealth-the more wealth Christians make, the more we inspire people around us to become wealthy and therefore boost them out of poverty!
Does God hate the Rich?
Many people think that God hates rich people yet Solomon said, “curse not the rich in thy bedchamber” (Eccl 10:20). (Read our booklet Does God hate the Rich? For more details here). God does not hate the rich, and neither should people hate the rich. They provide investments and jobs for us, and because of investments into inventions like the T.V. automobiles, oil and gas etc.… we have all the luxuries and comforts that we have today. Many reasons why people are poor is because they “curse” the “rich.” Sowing this out into your sphere of influence and reality you will only reap to yourself poverty and lack. The bible says “curse not the rich” they provide many things for us in this world.
Yet, there is a warning for the rich that become greedy and unrighteous (see James 5:1-7). Solomon became rich by “buil[ding] his great prosperity based on justice. According to him, this is the only foundation…based on character…Today we seek to improve ‘methods’, Solomon sought to improve people” (Unknown Author, emphasis added). Solomon said, “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.” (Prov 23:4). Don’t Labor, Solomon says, to be rich your own way but do it God’s way for the purpose of doing good in this world not for greed and unjust gain. The “love of money is the root of all evil:” (1 Timothy 6:10) says. Not money itself, but the “LOVE” of it. This Greek word for love means more of the “pursuit” of money. This is the motivation of people who commit all sorts of evil, the “love” or pursuit of money, and they will do anything to get it. Now it should read, “a root” (Vincent Word Studies) “of all kinds of evil (ri a ant n t n kak n).” (Robertson’s Word Pictures). People and governments kill, steal, lie, and cheat for money-it is a root of all kinds of evil. This is what God hates!
Like Abraham, David, Solomon God is willing to make all of us successful and prosperous doing it his way, “Joseph,” “was a prosperous man;” (Gen 39:2); Job was rich and God protected him; Joseph of Arimathea was a “rich man” and was “Jesus’ disciple” (Matthew 27:57). Joshua was told by God, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Joshua 1:8). There is the answer to your prayer! People ask God to make them successful, God gave that answer to us thousands of years ago in his word. His law gives us the success we crave for.
God’s word applied to your life cannot help but make you successful. God says, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11). The word of God “makes” you fruitful it has to! its encoded to bring life and prosperity-it’s the law! Apply it to your life and you will be blessed! As he says, “I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” (Isaiah 48:17).
Jesus and the “Eye of a needle”
So what did Jesus mean when he said this statement? Can the rich be saved? The disciples ask this same question, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). These disciples were business men, scribes, fishermen. They made money, owned homes (see Matthew 8:14). Jesus owned a business that he inherited from his father Joseph, not to mention the gold that was given to him by the Wise men when he was born. Jesus was wealthy; he had “coffers” of money with him (see John 12:6; 13:29). The word “bag” is “glōssokomon” (Strong’s #1101). The Hebrew equivalent is, “aron” (Strong’s #727) and it means “chest or coffin” This was a good size chest that held a lot of money, it’s no wonder the disciples had “swords” with them, to protect the money from thieves (see John 18:10; Luke 22:38). Now Was Jesus a hypocrite? No!
The first thing to understand is the context. Notice what Jesus says before the confrontation with the rich young ruler, he said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14; see also Matthew 18:3). Here is the context! “little children” are dependent on their parents, and are to obey their parents! Solomon said, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
“For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.” (Prov 1:8-9).
The Apostle Paul said the same, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20). We must be as little children, “such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Then comes the rich young ruler, and says, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (v.16).
Jesus told him straight, “but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (v.16). this is God’s righteousness (Psalm 119:172). This is God’s way to Salvation (Psalm 5:8; Isaiah 56:1-8; 64:4-6).
What was Jesus telling the rich young ruler to be like? “A little child” Obedient to God and depend on God s way for salvation not his own!
Then Jesus listed the commandments of God, and the man said, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (v.20).
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (v.21). Now first, this was not a universal prescription, but an individual one for this particular man. All men are different when it comes to riches like Abraham and Solomon etc.… Jesus is not saying all rich people should sell everything, just this particular person. Jesus saw that money ruled this man’s life, instead of him ruling money, the way Jesus handled money. “No man can serve two masters…Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24). He let money control him, he obeyed money and not God, this was his problem, and he proved that when he, “went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (v.22). Covetousness which is idolatry (Col 3:5) controlled that man. Money was his master, he probably broke the Sabbath so his profits remained constant, and he broke all 4 of the first 4 commandments of the law of God. He personally needed to let go of his money and rely on God. If he did that, he would be blessed again with riches, only with a different perspective.
So number one, he did not obey God the Father his parent!
Then Jesus said, “That a rich man shall hardly 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 into the kingdom of God.” What about rich people who were righteous like Abraham? Jesus said you will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:28)? Did Jesus contradict himself? No!
Notice the context! Jesus here is not speaking of material riches. The subject was “obedience to God’s righteousness” His way of salvation. The rich young ruler left Jesus because he thought there was another way to do it (because he was looking for a way to be saved, see v.16) without risking his wealth! Money ruled him not God.
So number two, the young man was trying to depend on another way besides God’s way to be saved. Little children depend on their parents for everything that they need to live and inherit everything that their parents have. We need to do the same with God the Father, and the young man did not want to do this!
What does it mean by “Rich”?
The word “rich” in the Greek is, “plousios” (Strong’s #4145). This means, “wealthy; figuratively abounding with: - rich.” It means rich in a literal or figurative sense, depending on the context. Many scriptures have both meanings in the same sentence. This word comes from the word “ploutos” (Strong’s #4149), and again it means, “wealth (as fullness) money possessions or (figuratively) abundances richness.” (emphasis theirs).
“1) wealthy, abounding in material resources
2) metaphorically abounding, abundantly supplied
2a) abounding (rich) in Christian virtues and eternal possessions” (emphasis added).
Jesus said to his church, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Rev 2:9).
To another church he said, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” (Rev 3:17-18). Here Jesus used the literal and figurative sense of the word “rich.” They were rich in goods but poor in faith, and Jesus offered them counsel to repent that they maybe “rich” meaning “rich in faith” (James 2:5). Even the word “poor” can mean literally poor or figuratively the “poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3; Isa 11:4; 66:2); meaning humble and meek.
2 Corinthians 8:9 demonstrates the figurative meaning of the word “rich.” The Apostle Paul writes, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Jesus was rich literally but also figuratively he was “rich in faith.” But for us he “became poor.” Not only did they strip him of his clothes, they took everything from him when they ceased him, but also figuratively he was put into the hands of “sinners” (Matthew 26:45). And sin “do not profit” (Jer 2:8; Isa 44:9; Prov 10:2). But also Jesus was “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin;” (2 Corinth 5:21). He suffered the death penalty in our place so he “became poor” (see Philippians 2:6-8), that “ye through his poverty might be rich.” That we become “rich in faith” clothed with “righteousness” and receive eternal life and “inherit all things” (Rev 21:7). As Paul said, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinth 5:21).
The True Meaning
So what is the meaning to which Jesus was speaking of when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Was it speaking of his literal wealth? No! The problem was his heart! The subject is God’s righteousness that he did not want to yield to and obey. He did not want to obey God the Father-his parent and obey his ways and instead thought he could do it his way, the problem is “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa 66:4). The young man was not as a “little child” yielding to God and depend on God our Father’s way for salvation. So what was he rich in? Literally, yes, money, but what was his real problem? In the figurative sense-He was rich in self-righteousness! This is what Jesus meant. Jesus was always thinking on a spiritual level using material things and using them to express spiritual truth (see John 2:19-22 as one example). Those that think they can do it their way, it is impossible for them to enter into the kingdom of God!
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me… Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber… I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 14:6; 10:1, 9).
The Rich young ruler’s problem wasn’t his possessions or how much money he had; this is not what was keeping out of the Kingdom of God; it was that Money was his master not God. He was not willing to obey God and depend on God’s way for Salvation-he wanted to do it his way. So when Jesus made this statement, it’s understood in this way, using the Accurate New Testament version, “again but [I] say [to] you Easier is camel through opening [of] needle to pass than [man] rich [in Self-righteousness] to enter to the kingdom [of] the god.” I added “in Self-righteousness” to make the meaning of the verse clear keeping it in its obvious context.
Then, “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” (v.25). they, at the time understood it as literal not in the figurative sense. Jesus did not explain it at that time but continued as he so often does… (again see John 2:19-22; Luke 24:44-45).
“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Jesus keeping in context is basically saying, “With men this is impossible” Getting saved by doing it your own way is impossible, however, “with God all things are possible.” Doing it God’s way all things are available for the person who repents; salvation, eternal life, and also, “But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:30). As God told Joshua, God’s was is the way of success in this life and the life to come. All things are possible if we just become like “little children” as Jesus said, and subject ourselves to the rule of God, the Kingdom of God that God will put in us (Luke 17:21).
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