Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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”. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:23-26).

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

(Mark 10:23-24).

When listening to the many preaching on this not easy topic and meditating over the conclusions of these preachers/teachers, one can somehow imagine a picture of Nazism time, but in some other interpretation: “the rich are not allowed!” Many of these interpretations seem to be penetrated with the idea of mystic fate, rather than with mercy, which is so characteristic of Christ’s words.

Truly, if we don’t examine the text correctly, (taking into account all the religious and public life of the Jewish society), we will have to accept that the rich cannot enter the Kingdom of God for sure, as they are definitely not less than the camel that is mentioned in the text. In this case, we will have to solve a hard question connected, not only to the theology but also to the destiny of many rich biblical personages, who had very clearly expressed sympathy from God. And this is not just about the Old Testament believers, but the new history as well. And it is not the question of some “advanced” investigations concerning special gates or other doorways called “eyes of a needle”, which are said to have existed in Jerusalem. This is a simple fiction.

According to the biblical narration, the question of salvation, which bothered the rich young ruler, was considered by people in two possible ways: through the faith in Christ, the Redeemer of our sins; or through the good deeds, prescribed by the Law, which would provide them with the deserved place in heaven. But the correct point of view is only the first one, based on faith in the substitute sacrifice of Christ. This gives us righteousness from God and therefore the right for salvation. It is known that all the good deeds inevitably happen “according to their kind”. It means that a sinful and rebellious person, even though he may seem to be a very decent one according to our human standards, cannot produce really good deeds, which would satisfy God’s moral standard.

However, we need to look for the answer in this difficult question concerning the possibility or impossibility for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. And we should do it relating to that age of salvation issue, and the way it was perceived by people of that time. It is also important because Christ does not make wealth itself a hindrance for a person but hope for it. It is necessary to pay our closest attention to this particular detail of Christ’s speech.

So, when thinking of it we should not forget that Christ was talking with a man of wealth. Let’s model an analogous situation with the Jew who committed a sin, making sacrifices to receive forgiveness for the sin as it was dictated by the law.

A person with a middle income had to sacrifice a sheep to receive forgiveness. A poor man had to sacrifice a turtle-dove, which also cost some money. In any case it was connected to the financial expenses. There is nothing to be done; sin is an expensive thing. This is when definite games of the mind start, the games connected to forgiveness and hope for wealth.

So, two Jewish men live in Jerusalem: one is poor, and the other- a rich young man. The poor one has 3 sheep, and the rich one has 1,500 sheep. As it was expected, both of them have sinned. For the poor man, it is a tragedy, for he is left now with just two sheep. The welfare decreased immensely. He simply has to think of whether it is worth sinning any more! The less is his fortune, the sooner he will realize the need in other form of justification, than the law offered it. And this can lead his soul to the understanding and acceptance of Christ’s gospel.

But that was not the case with the rich young ruler. His “possibilities” to sin are measured by the amount of his welfare. He is very likely to sin 1,000 times, and it would not change his wealth radically. It will only “cut” it a little bit. His wealth “let” him become less worried about forgiveness, prescribed by the law.

Even if the situation was not so dramatic, wealth left hope for him. He felt that at any moment he would be able to make a sacrifice prescribed by the law and to get the sought after forgiveness. It is hardly possible for a forgiveness-seeker to accept the gospel of salvation, which does not leave any hopes for one’s own abilities in the matters of salvation, without blasting such hope.

This thought can be supported by Christ’s words about “trust in riches”, connected with the matter of salvation, as it was with the rich young man. If, however, the question is only about having wealth, it is impossible to avoid mentioning the amount of wealth that will not let you come into the gates of salvation of the kingdom of God. This task can turn out to be a difficult and time-consuming one, but even so the question will remain unsolved.

Actually, all these difficulties arise only in case of a thoughtless attempt to transfer this particular situation to our reality and color it by Christ’s opinion towards salvation of all rich people. Owing to the fact that the modern rich, who seek salvation as well as others, have nothing to do with the practice of receiving justification according to the Jewish Law, we do not have any right to apply the situation of those times here. Strictly speaking, even the Law does not work now, because the way of justification through the sacrifice on Golgotha was established. It was explained clearly by the apostles of Christ.

I would like to add that without any doubt, the rich of modern day times have their own difficulties in questions of God-seeking and the accepting of salvation. It was even pointed out by Christ in the parable about a sower:

“And he spoke many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear…He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matth. 13:3-9)

Although the deceitfulness of riches is not presented in the text as inevitability for all rich people, who received the seed of the gospel, all this again brings to mind this much-talked about question: “Can a rich person be saved?”

The biggest part of the answer was suggested by Christ Himself: “…but with God all things are possible”. In this case our part of the answer consists of not making difficult the acceptance of salvation by a repenting sinner, even if he is well-to-do. Repentance is a “Gift” from God, as the saintly men said about the salvation of the rich Roman officer Cornelius in the book of Acts, chapters 10 and 11.

With the regard of all these things, I would like to clarify one point concerning the salvation. It touches on the fact that salvation is impossible without Christ’s sacrifice and His grace of forgiveness, offered by Him. One more thing: the apostle asserts clearly that: “God will have all men to be saved”. How can we dare to add something to the words of the Spirit of God, continuing it like this: “…not including the rich”. I believe we all remember the warning of the Bible that it is very dangerous to add or take away something of the words of Christ.

The choices of the religious position are up to each of us, but let us remember: we will have to pay for everything.

With respect and a prayer for you,

Pavel Zhelnovakov,

Senior Pastor of “The Philadelphia Church” of Izhevsk, Russia


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24 Jul 2006

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