John Phillips (January-February, 2005)

We note the
sorrow of the rich man

And when he
was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and
asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (10:17

We do not know
why this man was in a hurry. He ran. He flung himself at Jesus’ feet. Evidently,
he had been greatly moved by something that Jesus had said or done. “Good Master!”
he began. The word he used was didaskalos, “Teacher,” or to use our
modern title “Doctor.” The parallel Hebrew term would be “Rabbi.”

Luke, in recording
this incident, calls the young man by the word archon, “a first one,”
that is, a man of prominence. The word was used to describe the ruler of a synagogue
or an outstanding Pharisee (Matt. 9:18; Luke 14:1; 18:18). It seems also to
have been used to designate a member of the Sanhedrin, a great man, or a prince.
Evidently, the young man was someone of importance, which makes his homage to
the Lord Jesus all the more remarkable. Many people in positions of authority,
especially those who were connected with the Jewish establishment, were becoming
increasingly hostile to Christ. Even those who were not actively His enemies
tended to be patronizing. This young man, however, was eager to learn. As young
as he was, as rich, and as influential as he was, he sensed a need in his life
and had the good sense to come to Christ. He addressed the Lord as “Good
Master,” and doubtless he was sincere. The goodness of Jesus was self-evident
to all who had eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear. It was probably
in this very area of goodness that the young man sensed his own lack. He did
not come to Jesus seeking some material benefit, as did so many other people.
Rather, he came wanting to know what to do to inherit eternal life. He had inherited
wealth, position, and influence – all of the things that people covet – but
he had not inherited eternal life. So as rich as he was, he was poor, and as
great as he was, he was lost.

His basic error
is revealed in what he said. “What shall I do that I may inherit.
. . . A person does not do anything to inherit; an inheritance is something
that we receive as a bequest from someone else.

And Jesus said
unto him, Why tallest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

Jesus stopped
the man in his tracks. “What do you mean when you call Me `good,’?” Jesus asked.
In effect, He asked, “Are you talking about relative goodness? Goodness
as compared with other `good’ men? Or are you talking about absolute
goodness, the kind of goodness that is found only in God Himself?” In other
words, was this young man prepared to stake everything on the absolute goodness
of the Lord Jesus, a goodness that recognized Him to be totally apart from all
ordinary men and made Him equal with God? If it came, however, to the question
of practical human goodness, then the place to go was the law.

Thou knowest
the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not
bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. (10.19)

These were the
comparatively simple commandments to keep – at least outwardly. Paul, in his
unconverted days, imagined that he had kept all of these commandments. Not until
he came to the tenth commandment – “Thou shalt not covet” (i.e., entertain
no lust, have no evil desire) did he realize his utter inability to live a holy
life (Rom. 7:7).

And he answered
and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. (10:20)

How painful and
pointed was the young man’s willingness to drop the word good in his reply.
It was no longer “Good Master!” but simply “Master!” Evidently, he was not prepared
to own Jesus as God. He also claimed ever since coming of age to have kept conscientiously
the commandments that Jesus cited. The Lord now proved to him that he had not
kept them at all. But first Mark adds an observation.

Then Jesus
beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest:: go thy
way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure
in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (10:21)

The word used for
“beholding” means “to look in,” “to fix the eyes upon,” or to look intently.”
It means to know something or someone by inspection. Jesus read this young man’s
heart. He saw the turmoil that His next words would bring. His own great heart
of love went out to him.

In effect, Jesus
said to him, “You lack reality, young man. I quoted to you the seventh, sixth,
eighth, ninth, and fifth commandments. These commandments have to do essentially
with your behavior toward your fellowmen, with your professed safeguarding of
the well-being of others. You want to do something to inherit eternal
life. This is what you have to do: love poor people as God loves them, as I
love them. You say that you have always kept these commandments. Prove it. Invest
everything you have in the poor. You will have treasure in heaven.

“Oh, and there
is one thing more. I am on the way to a place called Calvary, there to die on
a cross. I invite you to come too. `Take up the cross, and follow me.”‘ It was
very strong medicine indeed.

And he was
sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (10:22)

It was more than
the young man had bargained for. It is more than all of those who are committed
to doing something bargain for. He came running; he went away broken. Instead
of owning Jesus as Lord and investing his all in eternal treasure and eternal
life, he turned his back on Jesus and went away.

What happened
to him? Did he eventually become the rich man of Luke 12:15-21 and finally the
rich man of Luke 16:19-31? The possibility certainly exists.

Then came the
sermon on the rich man

And Jesus looked
roundabout, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches
enter into the kingdom of God. (10:23)

Two worlds exist:
this one and the one to come. Two systems exist: this world’s system, with its
promises, prospects, pleasures, possessions, perspectives, and power; and that
other world’s system, with its totally different set of values. The two worlds
appeared suddenly in human history. They surfaced immediately after the Fall.
The descendants of Cain (Gen. 4) lived for this world, and the descendants of
Seth (Gen. 5) lived for the world to come. There can be no compromise between
these two worlds.

Wealth tends to
ally itself to this world, which is why materialism is such a deadly enemy of
the kingdom of God. Ultimately, God brings people to Calvary, where we learn
what this world thinks of Christ and what God thinks of this world. Those who
have riches have a greater stake in this world than do those who are poor. That
is why it is harder for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. Riches
tend to blind one’s eyes to ultimate, eternal, and spiritual realities by anchoring
us to the wrong world.

And the disciples
were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them,
Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom
of God. (10:24)

The Lord had just
upset an entire system of values. In the Old Testament, the blessing of the
Lord promised riches and well-being (Prov. 10:22). Indeed, this was the criterion
by which Job’s friends judged the stricken patriarch. It was taken for granted,
even by the Lord’s disciples, that wealth and health were the natural evidences
and attributes of a godly life. Bethlehem, Calvary, and Pentecost have changed
all of that.

The Lord adds
a word here that shows the subtlety of riches. Those who have them come to trust
in them. They rely on them. Money can buy most things, so they think it can
buy spiritual blessings too.

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. (10:25)

The disciples
would have easily understood this reference. Their astonishment must have been
only increased by this familiar illustration. Apparently, the Lord’s reference
is to the small door that is fixed in the main door of a walled city. It was
there for the convenience of people who wanted access to the city after the
big door was closed; there could be no hope of getting that door opened
once it was bolted and barred for the night. A traveler arriving late with a
loaded camel would have a problem. The camel with its load would be too big
to get through even the smaller door, which was referred to as “the eye of the
needle.” The owner of the camel would have to divest the beast of its load before
there could be any hope of squeezing it through the small opening.

This, then, was
the predicament of the rich man. To gain access to the kingdom of God through
that “strait” (narrow) gate, of which Jesus spoke (Matt. 7:13-14), he must first
unload the camel, divest himself of what was hindering him from getting into
the kingdom of God – his wealth.

And they were
astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? (10:26)

The notion that
prosperity is to be equated with godliness was deeply ingrained. Despite the
Lord’s blunt denial of this wrong idea, it persists to this day. Those who espouse
it ignore the Lord’s warnings of rejection, suffering, persecution, want, and
woe that the godly can expect in this age. Multitudes believe that they are
offered wealth and health, along with long life and happiness, as the birthright
of belief. The whole history of the church in a hostile world puts the lie to
such fanciful ideas.

And Jesus looking
upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God. for with God all
things are possible. (10:27)

Salvation is impossible
with men, rich or poor, be they as rich as the disappointed young ruler or as
poor as the beggar Lazarus. Salvation is beyond purchase; beyond money; beyond
price; and beyond all human standards of religion, morality, good works, and
self-effort. The disciples should have known from the Old Testament Scriptures
themselves that the basic principle of salvation rests on something other than
money (Isa. 55:1; Mic. 6:5-8).

But what is impossible
with men is possible with God. Salvation is God’s idea, planned by Him before
even time began, provided by Him at infinite cost and offered to one and all
as the gift of His grace.

Then Peter
began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. (10:28)

Suddenly, Peter
saw the other side of the coin. The rich young ruler had not been prepared to
give up anything for Christ; Peter and the other disciples had given up everything
for Him. Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew had all given up lucrative
businesses to become the Lord’s disciples. It had never occurred to them, until
now, apparently, that there was anything particularly meritorious about their
action. At the time, it had seemed the sensible thing to do. They had been more
than rewarded by their association with the miracle-working, heartwarming, life-transforming,
mind-expanding Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered
and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren,
or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands; for my sake,
and the gospel’s, 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. (10:29-30)

Two figures of
speech are discernible in this remarkable statement. The first is the paradiastole
(the repetition of the disjunctives “either, or,” or the disjunctives “neither,
nor”). The word or is repeated constantly to separate each thing that
is surrendered from the other things that are surrendered. This figure of speech
is used for emphasis. Thus, the Lord particularizes each item. Similarly, the
polysyndeton is used – the word and is repeated constantly
to separate each promise, to draw attention to each promise, and to emphasize
each promise. Thus, each promise is made independent, important, and emphatic.

The Lord used
these figures of speech to draw attention to His appreciation of all that is
ever given up for His sake and the gospel’s and to show what a sharp eye He
keeps on each surrender to ensure subsequent rewards.

Each item in the
first list is repeated in the second list, except for fathers and wives.
A disciple of the Lord, cut off from home and hearth, can have any number of
sisters and brothers and so on; he is promised ten thousand such. He does not
need multiplied fathers because he already has a Father in heaven. It would
have been inappropriate to promise him ten thousand wives!

Having listed
the marvelous return on one’s investment in the cause and work of Christ, the
Lord adds “with persecutions” – just in case someone should simply want to
get in on only the benefits.

But there is more!
There is all this and heaven too!

But many that
are first shall be last; and the last first. (10:31)

The Lord now looks
ahead to “the crowning day that’s coming by and by,” when some startling revelations
will occur. People we have seen reigning as kings down here will find themselves
set aside up there. Many people whom we regard as nobility down here are not
known as great aristocrats in heaven. The prophet Samuel discovered this principle
when God sent him to choose a king from among Jesse’s sons. They were handsome
boys. When the oldest, in all of his natural magnificence, was first to stand
before him, he thought for sure that here was one who was every inch a king.
The Lord said to him, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his
stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for
man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1
Sam. 16:7). Eliab would have been no more use in the Valley of Elah than King
Saul – who had been chosen by the people to be king of Israel simply because
he was so big (1 Sam. 9:1-2; 18:22, 28).


Exploring the Gospel of Mark: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips.
Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series
from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact
Kregel at (800) 733-2607.


Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling
Green, KY.

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