The Rich Young Ruler Explained!

The story of the rich young ruler is one, I got wrong for many years. And misunderstanding passages like this cost me tens of thousands of dollars. But I’ll talk about that later.

Most get this passage wrong, so today you will finally see what the story of the rich young ruler is really about.

Let me know, if like me, you always thought this was a story warning against money, or getting rich?
Well, the main point isn’t about money or getting rich, but Jesus’ main point is something far greater.

The Rich Young Ruler

The story of the rich young ruler is in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But I’m going to focus on the Gospel of Luke today. Because Luke has stories before and after, which drive home the point.

That makes it easier to see the true message of Jesus’ conversation with this rich young ruler.

I’d love to go in depth and breakdown the two stories right before Jesus meets the rich young ruler. But for sake of time, I’m only going to mention a couple of things.

Luke Sets Things Up With 2 Stories

Luke 18 begins with a parable about a widow woman who wants vengeance. Jesus talks about the woman’s consistent prayer in faith that God will act. Verse 8 is the last verse in the parable and look at what it says.

I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Jesus’ conclusion is about finding faith like this widow woman. It’s about what faith can do when things are hard, or seem impossible.

I could say so much more, but Luke then shares another parable of Jesus. The parable of the two men in the temple. One man is a pharisee and the other a tax collector.

These would be the two opposite sides of the spectrum. It’s like comparing a preacher today with a fraudster. One who seems holy, and another who seems unholy. But you almost feel like it’s impossible for the tax collector to be right with God.

The pharisee is devout, doing all the works. But look at Jesus’ conclusion in verse 14…

I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The pharisee had the works, trusted in them, and was not justified. But the tax collector knew he was unworthy, had faith in God, and got justified.

Keep these 2 stories in mind as we now head into the account of the rich young ruler.

The Real Intro To The Rich Young Ruler’s Story

I’m going to start with Luke chapter 18:15, because it’s so relevant.

And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when [his] disciples saw [it], they rebuked them.

When you think about it, the disciples were trying to decide who comes to Jesus. But Jesus uses this is an opportunity to teach a lesson.

In verses 16-17 you can see Jesus’ reply. It says,

But Jesus called them [unto him], and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. [17] Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

What is so special about children? They are innocent in many ways, but their faith is pure. They have complete trust in their parents. This is how children of God must be. They must be humble like young children, and put their faith in God.

That’s why the rich young ruler stands out so much, after hearing about these young children. I’ll touch on that again later. Don’t forget.

The Rich Young Ruler Comes Into Focus

Verse 18 introduces the rich young ruler. It says,

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

This is the goal, what we all want. Eternal life. This young ruler is direct and asks Jesus, what should I do to get it?

What do you think he should do?

Think back to the widow, the tax collector, and the little children.

Jesus answers in verses 19-20. But Jesus is not direct at first and that’s important. It says,

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none [is] good, save one, [that is], God.

Not as in, I’m not God, but as in, do you know what you’re saying when you call me good? That’s all I’m going to say about that for now. Let’s continue with Jesus’ reply.

[20] Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

Many make the mistake of thinking Jesus is saying eternal life comes by keeping the law. That’s wrong. That’s why what Jesus said first about calling him good is so relevant.

Many Misunderstand Jesus’ Response

Jesus is trying to show this young man, there’s things he is lacking. Things he doesn’t know, but must learn. He wants to show him he cannot keep the law, and therefore needs something (or someone) else. But look at his response in verse 21…

And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

Who does this rich young ruler sound like from the 2 stories before this one? “I’ve kept all these laws, my works are on point.” He sounds like the pharisee in the temple doesn’t he?

Jesus doesn’t say he’s lying, so I won’t either. And It’s not because works are bad, but in matters of eternal life, they cannot justify you.

This is why what Jesus says next is powerful. In verse 22o, it says,

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

You’ve done all these good works, but there’s one thing you lack. This is the most important thing as well.

Could you imagine one thing keeping you from eternal life? Jesus says, sell everything and follow me. What would selling everything you have as a rich man and following Jesus take?

That’s the one thing the rich young ruler lacked, that kept him from receiving eternal life.

In verse 23 we see the rich young ruler’s response.

And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

He was sad, distraught. The other two Gospels say, the man went away in sorrow. He trusted in himself (his works and his riches), instead of putting his faith in Christ.

Before we look at Jesus’ response…Remember I said the children and the ruler are both described as “young”. But only one side was acting like it. That’s the difference.

What I Got Wrong About The Rich Young Ruler’s Story For Years

As the rich young man leaves crying, 24-25 gives Jesus’ response. This is the part I got wrong for so many years.

And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! [25] For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

For years I made the mistake of stopping there and it cost me. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. You need to know what the eye of the needle is, to see how impossible that is.

For years, some have sworn this is talking about a tight gate in Jerusalem called “The Needle’s Eye”. It was hard for a camel to squeeze through, and this is what Jesus is talking about. It’s not proven though.

Th eye of a needle is this. The rich young ruler and the eye of the needleHow can a camel, even a baby camel fit through this? It’s impossible.

That’s why for years I kept thinking this meant I shouldn’t be rich. It’s hard for rich people to get into heaven, so I don’t want to get rich. But that is not the point of this story.

Before I show you what the point is, think back to the start of this article.

I talked about how, the wrong belief about this passage, cost me thousands of dollars. It’s more. Because in my twenties, I had a business that was making thousands of dollars a month. I talk about this in my article on the 4 steps to start a business that makes 10k per month or more.

And it was passages like this, misunderstanding passages like this, that sabotaged me.

Deep down I believed, the more money I made, the less likely I would make it into heaven. So what do you think I was telling myself as I made more money?

This is bad, this will cost you your salvation, stop.

And then it started to unwind. Because you will never do something that goes against your core beliefs. Unless you change the belief.

At the time I was not ready to do this, because I didn’t know better.

It’s one reason it took so long to start my business content, about building a business based on the Bible.

Keep Reading To Fully Understand The Rich Young Ruler Story

If you stop here like I did for a long time and think avoiding riches is the point, you’ve missed it. The two stories before already show you this. But the VERY NEXT verse points this out too.

Look at the disciple’s response in verse 26.

And they that heard [it] said, Who then can be saved?

If riches are the problem, this is the wrong question to ask. This question makes it seem like, rich people have the best chance to get saved. Why?

Because speaking in a natural way, blessings are a good thing. You can read through the Old Testament and read of all the physical blessings God gave Israel. So the more blessed you are, the closer to God you are. This is the thinking of the disciples. This is true, but not totally true.

Look at Jesus’ reply to this question…In verse 27 Jesus says,

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

It’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, unless God makes it possible.

And that’s when I realised…

By being afraid to make more money and “lose” eternal life shows, I was like the pharisee, and the rich young ruler. My faith was in my works, and not God.

If my faith is in God, there’s no amount of money I can make, that could stop me inheriting eternal life. Click To Tweet
The Rich Young Ruler’s Story Is About Faith

This isn’t a passage about avoiding riches. This is all about having faith in God above all else.

Everything up till this point shows that. But there’s 2 more reasons this is clear.

The first, is the next 3 verses in the chapter.

Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.

Peter says the disciples had left all and put faith in Christ. Look at what Jesus says in the next 2 verses.

And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, [30] Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

If avoiding riches and things was the point, Jesus wouldn’t say, they would get much more in this life than they left. And also eternal life.

Riches is not going to keep you from eternal life. Lacking faith is what keeps you from eternal life. Click To Tweet

The second reason this is clear is the story Luke shares in the next chapter.

Luke Makes It Crystal Clear This Is About Faith

Luke ends chapter 18 with a man “saved by faith”. And then in chapter 19, Luke talks about a rich man named Zacchaeus.

A very rich man.

Luke is sending alarm bells by telling us Zacchaeus is not only a tax collector, but a chief tax collector.

This should remind us of the tax collector in the temple from the previous chapter.

Both were wealthy and both had faith. Both were justified. But the rich young ruler trusted in his works and his riches, instead of trusting in Christ for eternal life.

I pray this article is a blessing to you, and shows you the importance of faith in your walk with God.

Until next time, God bless. Talk soon.

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He’s learning to serve the Christian community better and better each day through his teaching on the Bible (both theory and practical application for everyday life). Israel Ikhinmwin loves to share the truth of God’s Word and be an example for other Christians looking to develop your faith.

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