Riches and Rewards – Mark 10:17–31

Read the Passage: Mark 10:17-31

Ruler’s Question (10:17–22)

In Mark 10, as Jesus began to make His way toward Jerusalem, Mark records Christ’s encounter with a rich, young, ruler. At Mark 10:17, this ruler asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Note that Jesus is regularly asked this question in the Gospels, including: by an unnamed Pharisee (cf. Matt. 22:36), by an unnamed lawyer (cf. Luke 10:25), and by Nicodemus (cf. John 3:2). This question, however, is striking coming from the rich, young, ruler; for this man had all the things after which worldly people seek—that is, wealth, youth, and power. As he oftentimes did, Jesus answered this man’s question with a question of His own, seemingly designed to see if this man was ready to affirm his own corrupt condition. Then, as an aid in this process, Jesus exhorts the man to keep the Decalogue, as Christ cites six of the Ten Commandments (cf. Rom. 3:19–20).

In response to Jesus’ teaching, Mark notes the rich, young, ruler claimed, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20). This reply is remarkable, for it shows that this man had misunderstood Jesus’ question, the content of the moral law, and his own spiritual condition. In other words, contrary to the teaching that Christ had just given, the rich, young, ruler thought of himself as being morally and spiritually good. Perhaps, like Paul, this man was blameless in terms of his external conduct (cf. Phil. 3:5–6); however, like all men, the rich, young, ruler was corrupt in his internal attitudes and motivations (cf. Rom. 3:10–12). Interestingly, in his account of this event, Matthew hints that this man was aware that his law-keeping was insufficient for salvation, as he records the rich, young, ruler’s follow-up question to Jesus, “What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:20).

In response to the rich, young, ruler’s claim, only Mark records that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21). Christ then instructed this man, saying, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor . . . and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). Note the following observations about this passage. First, Jesus’ compassion for this man is plainly evident, as we read that Jesus loved him. Second, Christ realized this was a difficult command for the rich, young, ruler, for he exhorted him to take up his cross—an instruction only found in Mark’s account of this event. Third, it seems the rich, young, ruler’s idol was not just his money, but also that he had a disdain for the poor. Note that upon hearing Jesus’ command, this man “went away sorrowful” (Mark 10:22), realizing his own unwillingness to part with his money.

Jesus’ Teaching (10:23–27)

Mark 10:23–27 contains Jesus’ commentary about His interaction with the rich, young, ruler. Mark 10:25 is one of Christ’s most well-known teachings about riches, as He said, “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.” Here Christ used the largest living animal in Palestine—a camel—and the smallest hole with which they were familiar—the eye of a needle—to illustrate the impossibility of self-salvation. Jesus’ teaching was so astonishing to his hearers (cf. Mark 10:24, 26), for the Jews taught salvation could be purchased by alms-giving. According to this false teaching a rich person was most likely to be saved, as they were in a position to give the most alms. While wealth does tempt people to become self-sufficient, Jesus does not say that the wealthy cannot be saved; rather, Christ teaches that all men can only be saved by God.

Peter’s Declaration (10:28–31)

Although Jesus’ teaching about riches and salvation clearly confused the disciples, it also gave them hope, for they were not wealthy. Therefore, Peter, speaking on behalf of all the apostles, said, “See, we have left all and followed you” (Mark 10:28). While Peter had earlier confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Mark 8:29), his faith was still maturing. With his declaration here Peter may have been implying that the disciples were saved because of their work of leaving all and following Christ. By way of response, Jesus taught that following Him often does entail the loss of earthly things; however, it also includes the gaining of many heavenly things. Christ’s reference to “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands” (Mark 10:30) is likely a reference to relationships within the Body of Christ and the material things of the renewed earth.

Application Questions:

  1. What are some key biblical teachings about material riches and heavenly rewards? Does the Bible prescribe a particular material status for Christians?
  2. When He is asked about eternal life in Scripture, why does Jesus almost always refer to the Ten Commandments (cf. Rom. 3:19–20; 7:9–12)?
  3. Why did the rich, young, ruler go away sorrowful (cf. Matt. 6:24)? Why did Jesus instruct this man both to sell his possessions and to give to the poor?
  4. Why do riches make it hard for a person to enter the kingdom of heaven? Are you ever tempted to trust in your resources rather than in God (cf. 1 Tim. 6:6–19)?
  5. What does Jesus mean in teaching that believers will receive a hundredfold houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and lands in the age to come?