DEFINING KINGDOM – What Can I Do To Enter In?

Now go to Luke 18:18:

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “why do you call Me good?”

Now, this is a ruler of the people which means that he was a scribe, a Pharisee, or a Sadducee. But, being a ruler, it was required of him to know the Law. He had to know every jot and tittles of the Law. He had to know how many punctuation marks there were in every text of the Law. That’s how they memorized it. That’s how they were tested. They would be asked, “Tell me how many commas and periods and accent marks there are in Isaiah 53.” They’d have to give an answer. The only way they would know the answer would be to know the text. And this was a ruler of the Law and this ruler of the Law knew that one of the Laws that they had extended out of the Law that God gave was that you call no man good – only God is good. And a ruler of the people would never, ever refer to someone as good.

Some who know me may have noticed that I use the phrase with some of my close friends, “good brother.” It is a play on this text. It is saying what this rich young ruler was saying to Jesus: “I see God in you.” And that’s what this rich young ruler was doing. He was risking much. But the proof is that he not only saw a life that was different, but it was a God kind of life. And it could only be described by him as a God kind of thing when he says, “Good Teacher…”

And to a Hebrew, eternal life had little to do with duration. Eternal had more to do with quality. And that’s really the issue with all of us. The issue is not how long will you be, the issue is the quality of your eternity, because you were created in the image and likeness of God. The issue is not eternity; the issue is heaven or hell. The issue is fire or something a bit more comfortable. The issue is quality. And this rich young ruler saw whatever it was that was more than duration but quality, a God kind of quality that was in Jesus. And when the rich young ruler comes and says, “Good Teacher,” Jesus responds with a tongue-in-cheek, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Well, the rich young ruler had an opportunity there to retract what he had said, because Jesus was reminding him of a regulation in the Law. But the ruler does not pull back. He continues in verse 21: And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” “I have kept the Law, good Teacher.”

Verse 22:

When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

A new Law? Be careful before you answer that.

And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Oops! I thought we were talking about eternal life? Jesus uses in a synonymous way “eternal life” and “entering the kingdom of God.” And there are many other texts that would make this connection. You need to make this connection too. Eternal life and entering the kingdom are one and the same. And you might ask yourself, “I wonder how this basileia is translated or is being used in this particular text – “to enter the kingdom of God?”

Hard For The Rich –

It might help us to know, before we go on to the next verse, that the average American household income puts that average American in the top 1% of the wealth of the world. So when we are thinking about the rich – you know, we think of wealth that is always beyond what we have. And it may be beyond for many of us. There is a lot beyond us, isn’t there? We use to think of the wealthy in terms of millionaires and now billionaires are the common extreme rich. But the average American is in the top 1% of the wealth of the world. So evidently the rich are rarer than that. Maybe they are in the top 1/10 of 1% of the wealth of the world or something like that. It is certainly beyond us.

Jesus continues, “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

You are all familiar with this text. I’m sure you’ve heard it preached. Some say that the “eye of the needle” is a gate in the city. And in order for a person to enter after dark, they had to come by way of the “gate of the needle.” And this needle gate would require that everything on the camel is unloaded. You couldn’t enter the city armed or bring anything in undisclosed. And so, in order for a camel to get through, it would have to be stripped of its luggage and the camel would have to literally scoot in on its knees to enter the city after dark. It was a security precaution.

Others say that this is simply an illustration by Jesus of a physical impossibility: for a camel, the largest animal in that area of the world, to pass through the smallest opening, the eye of a needle.

The issue is really not the interpretation of the “eye of the needle” in this commentary. It really doesn’t matter one iota in the context of this book or in the context of Scripture which way it is interpreted. Either way the result is the same. It’s harder to enter the kingdom of God if you are among the wealthy than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. That’s the imagery that is being used here.

Then the disciples took up the commentary in verse 26,

They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

Wait a minute! I thought we were talking about eternal life or entering the kingdom. And now the question is raised by the disciples, “Well then, who can be saved?” It’s as if they are saying, “Who can have eternal life or who can enter the kingdom?” It’s synonymous. Salvation has to do with entering the kingdom. We’ve obviously held this precept that salvation has to do with eternal life. But you need to see that it also relates to the realm of His reign. All three are used in the same text, all are used synonymously. So, when you go to talk about eternal life to your friends, your brothers and your sisters, you need to know that it includes entering the kingdom, the realm of the reign; it includes coming under the reign.

So, we ask the question, what is Jesus doing here? Is Jesus adding another Law, like, “you call no one good, only God is good,” or “thou shalt not kill?” Is Jesus laying down a new law for being a disciple? Well, no He isn’t. What is He doing? Yes, Jesus knows what is keeping this young man down. And what’s keeping him down? His riches? No! His trust? Certainly that is part of it. But, it seems to me Jesus is saying, “Will you give Me the right…to your life? You’ve asked Me about this because you have seen God in Me. Will you allow the God in Me to say something to you? Will you give Me the right to say, “You are lacking something and the only way for you to make up the lack is to sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come follow me.”

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4 Responses to “DEFINING KINGDOM – What Can I Do To Enter In?”

  1. Mic Says:

    Jerald, you said, “But the average American is in the top 1% of the wealth of the world. So evidently the rich are rarer than that. Maybe they are in the top 1/10 of 1% of the wealth of the world or something like that. It is certainly beyond us.”
    There is another possible interpretation. We in the top 1% are the rich that Jesus was speaking about but we are blinded by the deceptiveness of wealth and the cares of this life and we say to ourselves, “I agree with Jesus and He has saved me.” James exhorts us in verse 1:22 to not merely hear the word and so deceive ourselves. Jesus didn’t say it was impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom, only that it was very difficult. We must say goodbye to all in order for God to make it happen and the more stuff and money one has, the harder it is to say goodbye to all of it.

  2. Jerald Says:

    Mic, thanks for dropping by. You have a very good point here.

    I think that Jesus understood something that is relevant today too: a rich person more than likely got rich by working really hard at it. The rich wanted to be rich and would not stop “doing business” until they were rich. Becoming rich was a high priority to them. And He knew that if a person put riches before God, they were seriously lacking a key ingredient to life.
    I believe that’s why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had before following. His riches were a stumbling block to being useful to God.

  3. brotherjohnny Says:

    If nothing else, “becoming poor” for the kingdoms sake is at least coming to the recognition that ALL belongs to God and NONE belongs to me.

    This is one way in which the poor become “rich” according to Jesus ‘sermon on the mount’.

    The problem with so many rich people is that they believe that what they have is theirs and would rather die than to part with it….and there you see the ‘self interested self’ in full swing as opposed to the ‘self for others’ mind that Jesus has.

  4. Jerald Says:

    Right on the money, Johnny. People are deceived into believing that their lives do consist of their possessions contrary to what Jesus said in Luke 12:15. Some are defined by their possessions. Isn’t that sad?

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