Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God (18:24-27 CSB).
Jesus presented to all the necessity of God’s grace.
He illustrated how hard it is let go of an idol of the heart. The camel was the largest land animal of the area. The eye of a needle is a tiny opening. It is totally impossible for a large camel to pass through such a small opening! Jesus wanted everyone to understand that salvation is totally impossible through human effort, works, or merit. Since we are all so filled with pride in ourselves, we need to hear this over and over and over again. We cannot save ourselves!
Observe how Christ enlarged everyone’s understanding. To inherit eternal life or to have treasure in heaven is equivalent to entering the kingdom of God. The people of his time thought that riches were a sign of God’s favor. “If God loves anyone, he must love the rich! Look at all the wealth he gives them!” Jesus shocked everyone by declaring that riches are far from a sign of God’s favor and acceptance. In fact, it is impossible for the rich man idolizing and trusting in his riches to be saved. Certainly, people of God’s Word ought to know this. Psalm 73 wrestles through the problem of why the righteous suffer, while the wicked live affluently. King Ahab (among many others) had wealth, but he was far from God and an oppressor.
Those listening were stunned, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Notice that they understood that being saved was equivalent to entering the kingdom of God or having treasure in heaven or inheriting eternal life. They all mean the same thing. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3 NIV). As Jesus went on to teach, this is the action of the Holy Spirit, far beyond human power.
Jesus taught the total necessity of God’s saving grace. It is impossible for a rich ruler or any other person to do anything to earn eternal life. No one can save himself or herself! Is there any hope for anyone? The good news is that what is impossible for all people everywhere is very possible for God. At this point Jesus does not explain to the crowd how God saves people. He merely points them to God. People must become God-focused in their thoughts and ideas. Jesus decided to drive this one point home with great emphasis. In the next section, we see that he took the Twelve aside to explain God’s way of salvation in more detail. That way is through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Do you realize your complete need of God, if you are to have any hope at all of salvation? Christ’s offer of eternal life is clear. “Come, follow me.” Why not change your mind about whatever has a hold on you and cry out to God through Christ, relying totally on him to give you eternal life and treasure in heaven? Your hope is not found in you at all. It is found in Christ alone.
Grace and peace, David