If you’re a new Christian, or read through the story of the rich man and the Kingdom of God recently, you might have some questions about being rich and entering heaven: Can the rich even get into heaven? – or – Do I have to sell all my possessions before I can get into heaven?
The famous verse from this passage is found in Matthew 19:24: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
But, before we build an opinion around one verse, it’s important to take into account the entire story. Here are the fifteen verses of the passage that should be read in context with the verse above.
The Rich and the Kingdom of God | Matthew 19:16-30
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Selling All Your Possessions
Why would Jesus tell someone to sell all their possessions before they could be ‘perfect?’
First, understand that the rich man’s approach was flawed from the beginning. He starts by asking Jesus what ‘good things’ he must do to get into heaven. Contrary to the world’s business model, getting into heaven doesn’t involve a business transaction or something we can obtain through being ‘good.’ Jesus instructs him to keep the commandments and lists six of them in his conversation: murder, adultery, stealing, lying, honoring father and mother, and loving neighbor as yourself (this, as we know, sums up the law and the prophets, and certainly covers the 10th commandment of not coveting your neighbor’s possessions)
The rich man answered that he had kept these commands, and Jesus replied with one more command: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The rich man couldn’t get past this one aspect of his life: his wealth. He put it above all else and walked away from Jesus that day.
The rich man’s wealth was his god. He had placed his wealth as the priority in his life and Jesus saw it, which is why he asked if he would give it up to follow him.
So Does That Mean The Rich Can’t Get Into Heaven?
Not necessarily. The amount of money you have will not matter when it comes to getting into heaven. Your attitude towards your wealth is the main point behind this passage. Jesus said that it is “hard for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s because money can easily become a priority in our life and can become a god to us.
The key is to always remember whom we’re serving: God or earthly possessions. We can’t serve two masters, and this passage is clear in telling us that.
I believe that a ‘rich man’ can get into heaven if his priorities are straight (i.e. putting God above all else in his life). In the same way, a poor person isn’t guaranteed a spot in heaven simply because of his economic status. Whether we’re rich or poor, we have to realize that everything else is secondary when it comes to following Jesus.
What are your thoughts on this passage of scripture?
(image credit: Colin+wright.bracket)