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Is it Impossible for a Rich Man to Enter the Kingdom of God?

In Matthew 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27, we are introduced to a young rich ruler who came to Christ and asked Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Christ told him that he had to keep the commandments and He added the need for him to sell what he had, and to follow Him. However, the rich man was unwilling to depart from his riches. We discuss Christ’s “invitation” to the rich man to become one of His disciples in previous Q&As, including whether God hears the prayers of sinners, and whether Christ offered the rich ruler a ministerial position. In that last Q&A, we said the following:

“Some commentaries agree that Christ offered the rich ruler a ministerial position. They point out that Christ’s command to the rich ruler to sell everything that he had  was specifically given to that ruler because Christ saw that one thing was lacking in his qualification to become a minister, and that one thing was his love for money and his trust in riches … it appears that He was indeed willing to call him into the ministry, but sadly, the ruler loved money more than God and he rejected this unique opportunity to follow Christ as a minister and to perhaps later become even one of His apostles. In refusing to accept his ministerial calling, Christ pointed out that it will be very difficult for a rich person to even enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25-26; Mark 10:23-25).”

Christ did not say that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, but that it would be very difficult. We know that Abraham was very rich, and so was David, and both will be in God’s Kingdom. But it is true that riches CAN prevent us from fully turning to God.

In our Q&A on 1 Timothy 6:10, discussing the love of money as the or a root of all evil, we said the following:

“Christ warned us that we cannot serve two masters—God and mammon. He explained that we must not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth (living a way of life which is manifested by our love of money, riches and physical possessions), but that we are to lay up spiritual treasures in heaven. He continued: ‘For where your treasure is, there your HEART will be also. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).

“Christ makes the same point that Paul is making [in 1 Timothy 6:10]: Either we love God and His way of life with all our heart, including our desire to be spiritually rich before God, or we love foremost mammon or material possessions, including our desire to be physically rich in this world. Christ continued to explain the incongruity between both ways in Matthew 6:25-34, when He compared the physical worries in this life with what must be our main priority: ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (verse 33).

“As Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:11, we must ‘flee’ the physical desires to be rich, which are so important in this world, and rather ‘pursue righteousness.’ John explained that the love of God is not in us when we love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17)…

“There are reasons why Christ warned us that it would be very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). The main problem is that a rich person may love his riches too much, and he may be unwilling to give them up, if necessary, in order to follow Christ without reservation…

“Again and again, the Bible tells us not to give in to the love of ‘money’ or materialism, and not to work for, as our main focus, the physical riches or possessions in this life… In the parable of the rich fool, Christ warned all of us: ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’ (Luke 12:15). After telling the rich fool who had heaped up treasures for himself that he would die that very night, He concluded, ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’ (verse 21).

“And so, Paul admonishes us today—and especially those who are rich in this world—to get our priorities straight: ‘Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor TRUST in UNCERTAIN riches but in the living GOD, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do GOOD, that they be rich in good works, READY TO GIVE, WILLING TO SHARE, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life’ (1 Timothy 6:17-19).”

It is with this background that we must understand Christ’s warning that “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” (Matthew 19:24; compare Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25). Christ was pointing out here that it is HUMANLY impossible that a camel would go through the eye of a needle. Some commentaries try to “soften” Christ’s statement by saying that He was referring to a small gate in Jerusalem, and that a camel had great difficulties to get through it, if at all. Or that Christ was really speaking about a rope or a cable instead of a camel. But this was not the point which Christ was making. Rather, He clearly used in this parable or comparison a humanly impossible picture—a camel cannot go through a literal eye of a needle.

The Pulpit Commentary explains:

“The disciples,… Mark notes, ‘were astonished at his words,’ so he proceeds to state the startling proposition more unreservedly and energetically. It is easier for a camel, etc. This is a proverbial expression for an impossibility… From taking a too literal view of the passage, some commentators have invented a gate at Jerusalem, low and narrow, designed only for foot passengers, which was called ‘the needle’s eye.’ Others have remedied the supposed absurdity by [replacing the word for ‘needle’ with] ‘rope,’ as if we were to say cable instead of camel. But there is no difficulty in the expression… (comp. Matthew 23:24).”

The Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers agrees, stating:

“Two explanations have been given… It has been conjectured that the Evangelists wrote not… a camel… but… a cable. Not a single MS., however, gives that reading, and the latter word, which is not found in any classical Greek author, is supposed by the best scholars… to have been invented for the sake of explaining this passage…

“The fact that in some modern Syrian cities the narrow gate for foot-passengers, at the side of the larger gate, by which wagons, camels, and other beasts of burden enter the city, is known as the ‘needle’s eye,’ has been assumed to have come down from a remote antiquity, and our Lord’s words are explained as alluding to it… It is not, however, necessary. The Talmud gives the parallel phrase of an elephant passing through a needle’s eye. The Koran reproduces the very words of the Gospel. There is no reason to think that the comparison… would present the slightest difficulty to the minds of the disciples. Like all such comparisons, it states… the hindrance which wealth presents to the higher growths… and leaves out of sight the limits and modifications with which it has to be received…”

To emphasize the point even more, Christ said that it was EASIER for such an impossibility to occur (a camel going through the eye of a needle) than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. He introduced His parable by saying: “It is HARD for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23; compare Mark 10:23 and Luke 18:24). But Mark 10:24 adds an important point, quoting Christ as elaborating: “Children, how hard it is for those WHO TRUST IN RICHES to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples recognized the humanly impossible situation, as presented by Christ, and so they asked: “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25; compare Mark 10:26 and Luke 18:26). Jesus’ answer makes His teaching very clear: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Mark 10:27 quotes Jesus in this way: “With man it is impossible but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” And Luke 18:27 states: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Compare also Luke 1:37; Mark 14:36; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Genesis 18:14.)

Returning to the question in this Q&A, whether it is impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, the answer is: No, it is not impossible, but it requires a miracle from God. This is true for all of us. It is God who must call us and open our minds to His truth; it is God who must offer us repentance and faith in Him and His Son’s  Sacrifice and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God; it is God who must offer us His gift of righteousness and, upon repentance, belief and baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit—but we need to respond. The rich man was offered an opportunity to qualify for the Kingdom of God at that time, but he did not respond properly, because he did not want to give up his riches. Others may have other excuses with which they may want to justify their refusal to accept God’s calling (compare Luke 14:15-24).

It is impossible for every person – not just a rich person – to come to God, UNLESS the Father draws him and brings him to Christ (John 6:44, 65). But once we accept our calling, we must change—our old man must die and be buried (Romans 6:1-6), and we must become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Especially rich people will have to come to the realization that they must not trust in their riches, but that they must be willing to give up their riches, if need be, and to share their riches with others. For most rich people, this is VERY hard to do. But God can change man’s heart and mind; so it is NOT impossible for Him to convert even a rich person, IF that person wants to be converted.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link