The Rich Young Ruler

Notes for November 3-4, 2018
Matthew 19:16-29

Biblical Background

  • Good: Judaism described one of God’s primary attributes as goodness and even used “Good” as a title for God. Thus, Jesus is pointing out that only God is ultimately – “Good.”

  • The Human-directed commandments: Jesus begins by asking the young man if he has kept the commands directed toward human to human relationship to which the young man responds affirmatively.  It is possible that the young man felt that he had kept these human directed commandments in an outward fashion.

  • God-directed commandments: Here Jesus is honing in on the heart of the young man as it is God who reads the heart and can determine one’s obedience to the commandments to follow God above all other idols.

  • Jesus’ demand to sell all, give to the poor and come follow me: Jesus’ request is radical and beyond that of any demands put on Jewish people for the cause of charity.  It is also rare in Greek teaching for a teacher to demand this kind of asceticism.  Jesus is clearly getting to the heart of the man’s ultimate love and loyalty.

  • Young Man’s response: the young man expects as many comfortable, wealthy young men would – not willing to give up their comfortable life and turn his life over to God.

  • Camel going through the Eye of a needle: While there is a gate in the old city wall of Jerusalem by which a camel would need to kneel down to go through – “the camel’s gate,” that gate dates to the 2nd century AD after the time of Jesus.  This legend of the “camel’s gate” doesn’t work for this passage. Jesus is referring to an actual “needle” used in sewing.  The Babylonian Talmud speaks of the impossibility of an elephant going through the eye of a needle, even in a dream. Archaeology has discovered some 1st century needles which were used for sewing and used for carpet thread and were tiny. The contrast is between one of the largest animals in the Middle East and one of the smallest openings one could see which points to the near impossibility of the proposition.

  • Hyperbole: Jesus is using the communication technique of hyperbole (extreme contrast) to get his point across.  God demands all of us, not just our things and few are willing to give it all to place under God’s control.

  • God’s reward: Jesus makes it clear that the reward for giving everything up to follow Him is greater than anything that we could ever keep on this earth.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the nature of the young man’s question to Jesus? What do you think is the reason for his question?

  2. What do you think was the young man’s view on how one obtained eternal life?

  3. Which commands does Jesus first ask the man about in verses 18 and 19? What do these commands have in common?

  4. Have you obeyed these commands for the most part in your life? Could you justify the following of these commands as did the young man? How do you think most people would answer concerning the obedience to these commands in our culture today?

  5. What is going on in the young man’s mind when he asks, “What do I still lack?”

  6. What is Jesus’ demand upon the young man’s life? Go through this demand line by line and reflect upon it – what is Jesus asking him to do?

  7. Rather than rationalize this demand of Jesus away in applying it to our own situation as wealthy Americans (Most Americans are among the world’s top 10% wealthiest in the world – if you’re even lower middle class), reflect upon how you might respond to this demand if Jesus were to ask it of you today.

  8. What does the young man’s response to Jesus’ demand show about his heart – what is going on inside his inner self?

  9. What does Jesus mean when he states that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven? Discuss

  10. Is Jesus’ statement still true today? Why or why not? Discuss.

  11. What is the response of the disciples to this exchange between the rich young man and Jesus? How might we respond if we were to witness this exchange today?

  12. What is the response of Peter to Jesus’ demand? Does Peter follow through on this throughout his life?

  13. What rewards are there for those who give up all to follow Jesus?

  14. Share examples of people that you know who you think have given up all to follow Jesus.

  15. Reflect upon this question: Are you willing to give up all to follow Jesus? Read the quote by C.S. Lewis and Jim Elliot and for more insight.