The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery states, “The kingdom of God is a governing motif of the NT [New Testament], with the term itself appearing well over a hundred times. It is particularly prominent in the Synoptic Gospels, where it serves as a leading image of Jesus’ mission.”
At Matthew 19:16-22, we encounter the story of the Rich Young Ruler. In his book, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Scholar Craig Keener noted that there were a number of Greek traditions and stories of “aristocratic young men who wanted to study under a famous teacher but were too spoiled to carry out what the teacher demanded.” In fact, I note that some have even suggested that the Rich Young Ruler was Saul of Tarsus before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Though it is probably unprovable, the two (Paul and the Rich Young Ruler) shared a similar profile – young, wealthy, aristocratic, and zealous for the Torah. Incidentally, Keener noted that the description of a “‘young man’ probably places [the Rich Young Ruler] between twenty-four and forty years of age.”
The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do so that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matt.19:16). It is my contention that eternal life is much more than just living forever. It is a type, kind, and quality of life. Before the Trinity created the Universe of space, matter, energy, and time, the Trinity always enjoyed a fantastic fellowship. Eternal life is God’s own life, which He wants to share with us humans.
John, the Elder explained that “eternal life” was revealed to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John wrote:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was revealed to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1-3.
Eternal life is fellowship with God. Jesus actually provided a definition of “eternal life.” While praying to His Father, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). The Greek verb ginosko includes the ideas of knowing, perceiving, and understanding. True relationship with God is the most intimate of relationships. Many of us see our spouses as our most intimate of companions. However, God can and should be our most intimate and constant companion.
Jesus responded to the Rich Young Ruler by saying, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you want to enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). Then the Rich Young Ruler asked, “Which ones?” Jesus answered him and said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTRY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT GIVE FALSE TESTIMONY; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; AND YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Matt. 19:18-19).
Some have been puzzled by Jesus’s response. Why did Jesus quote these particular commandments? Why didn’t Jesus say, “Just believe and trust in Me.” First, it should be noted that God, who is our Creator, has designed life to have certain shapes and forms. There is a certain fabric to reality. God’s commandments reveal how God intends humans to relate to each other like “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER “ or “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL.” All of the commandments mentioned by Jesus are focused on human-to-human relations. After Jesus quoted the commandments, the Rich Young Ruler quickly responded, “All these I have kept; what am I still lacking?” (Matt. 19:20). It is interesting to note that the Rich Young Ruler seemed to be aware that he was lacking something in his spiritual quest. Like the Rich Young Ruler, there are many moral believers and unbelievers who fulfill the obligations mentioned by Jesus, but who miss the opportunity for relationship with Him.
Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). The writer of the Gospel of Matthew used the Greek adjective telios, which means to be brought to completeness or maturity. To enter into Kingdom Living, the believer’s spiritual life must be all-consuming and his or her highest priority. When the Rich Young Ruler heard Jesus’s response, he went away distraught because he was very wealthy (Matt. 19:22).
Jesus, as God, has intimate knowledge of every human soul. As explained in the Parable of the Sower of Seed, there are many things that keep us from progressing in the Spiritual Life. We are sidetracked and distracted by various afflictions, the fear of persecution, the anxiety of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, the pleasures of this world, and the desires for many other things (Matt. 13:18-22; Mar. 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15). God is not telling every Christian to sell all of his possessions or give away all of his money to the poor. However, He does ask us to give up things that we hold more dear than Him. What God is telling us is that seeking His will must be our highest priority. Interestingly, Biblical evidence suggests that Paul was either disowned by his father or sold all of his possessions. Additionally, Paul did not marry. He was completely dedicated to his ministry.
Instructing His disciples, Jesus said,
Truly I say to you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples hear this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them, Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus Christ often taught by using hyperboles, which are intended exaggerations used to make a point. Craig Keener explains that Jesus’s “words reflect an ancient Jewish figure of speech for the impossible: a very large animal passing through a needle’s eye. On regular journeys at 28 miles per day, a fully loaded camel could carry four hundred pounds in addition to its rider; such a camel would require a gate at least ten feet high and twelve feet wide.”
Jesus is not saying that it is nearly impossible for a rich person to be a Christian or to go to Heaven after he or she dies. Jesus is saying that it is very challenging for a wealthy believer to enter into Kingdom Living. Why? It is so easy for a person to depend on one’s wealth as opposed to depending on God. Without a doubt, money can solve some problems, but as Paul taught: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Thankfully, God has the ability to humble the most stubborn and hard of heart. In one of my earliest blogs, I wrote that salvation is a continuum. The moment that we first believed that Jesus is the Son of God is correctly described as a critical moment of “being saved,” but our journey of salvation also includes the critical issue of whether or not we enter into Kingdom Living. We are required to more and more take up residence in the Kingdom of God (a spiritual place) and accept a life of living under God’s authority. This life in the Kingdom of God is called eternal life, wherein, incredibly, God shares His very own life with us. This life can be described as walking by the Spirit, wherein the Word is a light to our feet, wherein we trust in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in our inherent capacity to live this new, supernatural way of being.
The featured image on this page is titled “Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Henrich Bloch. Available on public domain. Courtesy of www.carlbloch.org.
 “Kingdom of God.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by Leland Ryken, et al, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
 Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Second Ed. InterVarsity Press, 2014, p. 94.
 “G1097 – ginōskō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 13 Jan, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1097/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.
 “G5046 – teleios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 13 Jan, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5046/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.
 Smith, T. Kenan. “Salvation is a Continuum.” Eyes to See The Revelation & The Kingdom of God. 6 Apr 2020, https://eyestoseetherevelation.com/salvation-is-a-continuum/.