The Rich Young Man

Mark 10:17–31

“The point is that no one can enter the kingdom of God on their own merit. All must enter with childlike faith and dependence on the grace of God.”

Psalm 49:5–9, 15 “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit…But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

As we mentioned last spring, Mark 8:31-10:52 consists of 3 repeating cycles consisting of:

  • Jesus predicting his death
  • The disciples saying something dumb, revealing their blindness
  • Jesus teaching on the true meaning of discipleship

In the first cycle in Chapter 8, Jesus alludes to Psalm 45:5-9 when telling his would be followers to take up their cross (“what will a man give in exchange for his soul”). As we’ll see, this last cycle brings us back again to the themes of this Psalm.

Read Mark 10:17-31

The question

*“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What do you observe about the situation?:

  • In the parallels in Luke and Acts, we learn he is a rich, young ruler
  • He ran up - he was eager to see him
  • He knelt before him - he recognized Jesus as someone worthy of respect and authority
  • The man is wealthy and powerful, yet he knows something is lacking. All of that material prosperity is not enough to ensure his soul is secure, and he knows it. Jesus alluded to Psalm 49 in Chapter 8 (“what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”) and this man’s predicament points us back to Psalm 49:5-9.
  • If anything, this man would on the surface be a highly desirable candidate for inclusion in the kingdom work - his status and wealth could serve Jesus’ team very well. It would not be surprising if this thought passed through the disciples minds as well.


  • What do you make of his question?
    • What does he mean by “eternal life?” What does he have in view? When the promised kingdom comes, how can he be sure to be able to take part in it?


  • “The point is not ‘faith versus works’ in a Pauline sense. It is rather the man’s love for riches over his love for God, and his trust in those riches instead of his humble dependence on God.” (Strauss)

The Answer

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ”

- What do you make of Jesus’ response? - Why the rebuke about “good”? Is the man insincere in his ‘good teacher’ remark (e.g. Mk 12:14?), or is Jesus pointing him higher, teaching him that only God is good and if he is right that Jesus is the good teacher than Jesus is on a level with God? - What about the list of commandments? - He lists commandments 6 ,7, 8, 9, says “do not defraud” for 10, and 5 in that order - Missing? The commands against idolatry and for sabbath


  • “Jesus preemptively challenges this notion of goodness. In comparison to God’s perfection, no one is good and worthy of eternal life…Jesus nullifies the man’s assertion about his own goodness before he has made it and sets up the conclusion that no one can merit God’s salvation.” (Strauss)
  • Substitution of “do not defraud” for “do no covet” may reflect more direct application to the rich, whose particular problem would be acquire their riches through fraud or corruption.

The Lesson

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.””


  • The man heeds Jesus’ rebuke and withholds calling him “good teacher” this time, ironically, while making the claim to be good himself
    • The man is confident in his (outward) compliance, although clearly he senses something is lacking or else he would not have approached Jesus to begin with. (Strausss)
  • Jesus does not deny the man’s claim to have kept the commands. On the contrary, he looks on him with love.
    • Jesus’ love for him is what motivates him to give the strong reply. He’s not trying to spare his feelings, but to love him.
    • We should be hesitant to question the man’s motives or sincerity given this sentence.
  • The reward:
    • You will have treasure in heaven
    • You will inherit eternal life
  • The cost was too high for this young man (at least for the moment). He is a walking example of Mk 4:19 - “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
  • Contrast the children of the previous verses with the wealthy young ruler. They have no wealth and status and (effectively) nothing to lose, and they are welcomed into the kingdom, whereas this man with much of both has withheld himself from the thing he came desiring.
  • Jesus says it’s particularly difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom
    • It’s difficult for all to enter, but particularly for the wealthy
    • C.S. Lewis
      All things (e.g. a camel’s journey through
      a needle’s eye) are possible, it’s true;
      But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out
      In one long bloody thread from tail to snout.
  • It’s actually impossible for any to be saved if left to themselves, but with God anyone can be saved


  • What is the command and Why did Jesus give this particular command? Is this a command to all disciples?
    • Sell all you have and give to the poor
      • Get rid of your idols
      • The most basic possession a first century Jew would have to give up would be his land, his share in the holy land, that would be passed down to children. “We should not be so surprised, then, that when Jesus reinterpreted the ten commandments, in response to the question about attaining the age to come, he replaced the first three commandments with his own invitation, challenge, summons and implied warning: sell all you have, and follow me. Loyalty to Israel’s god, astonishingly, would now take the form of loyalty to Jesus; to get rid of ancestral land would be the equivalent of throwing away pagan idols.”” (Wright, N. T. (1996). Jesus and the victory of God (pp. 646–647)
    • Follow me
      • Allegiance to Jesus is in the place where allegiance to YHWH is in the original 10
    • It’s clear that this was not a universal command just from the existence of wealthy among Jesus’ disciples. “Joseph of Arimathea remained a property-owner (Mk. 15:43–6/Mt. 27:57–60/Lk. 23:50–3/Jn. 19:38–42); Zacchaeus, an apparently fitting target for the command to give everything away, parted with only half (Lk. 19:8)—though he did restore his victims fourfold, too. For other warnings cf. e.g. Lk. 6:24; 12:13–21; 14:33; 16:1–15, 19–31.” (Wright, N. T. (1996). Jesus and the victory of God)
    • Some of Jesus’ other teaching on wealth:
      • Lay up treasures in heaven - Matt. 6:19-21;
      • Guard against covetousness - Lk. 12:13-15;
      • Anyone who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple - Lk. 14:33;
      • Woes against the rich and powerful - Luke 6:20-26
      • The parable of the rich fool about those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God - Luke 12:16-21
      • Sell your possessions and give to the needy - Luke 12:33-34
      • You cannot serve God and mammon - Luke 16:13
      • The great reversal coming to the rich who ignore the needs of the poor - Luke 16:19-31
    • While this command was particular to the young man, the early church in Jerusalem took much the same approach as reported in Acts 2:45 & 4:34-37
    • See also Paul’s directive to the rich in 1 Timothy: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19)
  • What is your reaction to this command? What would be your instinctive response?
    • This is a particularly difficult one in our extremely wealthy society. Every one of us, even those of us living paycheck to paycheck could be considered rich by almost any standard. We all know that wealth does not even bring satisfaction much less salvation, but the thought of parting with it is still very grievous.
    • “Before we dismiss this passage as “for others,” we need to read the whole of Scripture, which consistently teaches (1) the seductive and destructive power of riches, (2) the need to reach out generously to those in need, and (3) that nothing we do for ourselves can merit eternal life. It is only through faith in God’s gift of grace - coming like a child - that we can be saved.” (Strauss)
  • Why were the disciples amazed?
    • “Some Jews assumed, perhaps on the basis of a facile reading of Deuteronomy and certain psalms, that wealth was a sign of YHWH’s favour. It signalled, apparently, that one was already in receipt of covenant blessings. This explains the disciples’ great surprise (‘they were exceedingly astonished’, Mark 10:25) at being told that rich people would have difficulty inheriting the kingdom. They assumed that the rich were going to be part of the kingdom; the question for them was, who else?” Wright, N. T. (1996). Jesus and the victory of God (p. 302)
    • The blessing of the LORD brings wealth (Prov. 10:22)
  • What do you make of Peter’s comments?
    • Peter brings up that they themselves have obeyed the command that Jesus gave, and Jesus acknowledges it.
    • “It is curious that Peter says, ‘We have left everything,’ since it seems he still possessed a home and a fishing boat (1:29; 3:9; 4:1, 36; c.f. John 21:3). This suggests, at least, that Jesus does not call on everyone to divest of everything they own to follow him. Since Jesus does not deny Peter’s claim, it seems that ‘giving up all’ means sacrificing those things that represent a roadblock to authentic faith and trust in God.” (Strauss)
  • In what way does the believer gain homes and family and fields in the present age?
    • “The likely answer is that all believers stand together as one family - as brothers and sisters in Christ - whose possessions are ultimately God’s and so shared by all.” (Strauss)
    • “With persecutions” points to the “present but not yet fully consummated” nature of the kingdom blessings.
  • What is the intent of the last “but” and how it relates the the saying before?
    • “In contrast to the rich and powerful, who appear to be first in the present age, stand the persecuted disciples, who have forsaken all to follow Jesus. In terms of spiritual realities, they are receiving far more in the present age and eternal life in the age to come. “(Strauss)
    • Is there possibly a subtle rebuke against Peter here, who steps forward (as a representative of the disciples) and shows how they are first in leaving all?
  • How does this passage challenge the “prosperity gospel” that is so prevalent in the church today?
    • Consider that this man’s rich blessing would (and probably was) seen as a sign of his being an obedient servant and richly blessed. To some extent, that’s probably true, but that is insufficient. The path of discipleship and eternal life requires him to forsake that prosperity.
  • How do we balance the tension between enjoying God’s good gifts and not being attached to them?
    • Some intentionality is necessary here.


  • “Annie Dillard tells of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845. That odyssey was a turning point in Arctic exploration because of its well-publicized failure. The preparations made were more suitable for the Royal Navy officer’s club in England than for the frigid Arctic. The explorers made room on their ships for a large library, a hand organ, china place settings, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware instead of additional coal for their steam engines. The ornate silver flatware was engraved with the individual officer’s initials and family crests. Search parties found clumps of bodies of men who had set off to walk for help when their supplies ran out. One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform edged with silk braid, hardly a match for the bitter arctic cold. Another apparently chose to carry with him the place setting of sterling silver flatware. What must he have been thinking to take sterling silver tableware in a search for help and food? One cannot imagine that any of these sailor adventurers would have said, as they neared death on the frozen landscape, “I wish I had brought more silver place settings.” Our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish. Many cannot envision life without things they cherish. They are in danger of losing the only life that counts.” Garland, D. E. (1996). Mark (p. 408).

The Third Cycle

Mark 10:32–45

The Third Prediction

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

The Disciples Error

*And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.


  • The disciples have still not grasped that Jesus’ kingdom is very different from their vision of kingdoms of this world.
  • James’ sharing in this cup is documented in Acts 12:2.


  • What does Jesus’ question - “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” - indicate?
    • Sharing in Christ’s kingdom implies sharing in his sufferings
    • A similar theme as in 8:34, and Paul teaches this explicitly in Romans 8:17
    • On the other hand, only Christ truly drinks the cup and is baptized with the baptism, and their (our) participation is vicarious: “This gives us the clue to how the disciples were involved in Jesus’ death. Jesus died for the many; he drank the cup for others; he was baptized on behalf of others. The vicarious nature of his death means that James and John, along with the many, drank the cup that he drank and were baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized. To use Paul’s language (cf. Rom. 6), they will die and rise with Christ, because his death will be in their place and on their behalf.” (Bolt, P. G. (2004). The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel )

The Lesson

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


  • The desire to rule and exercise authority over others is a worldly/pagan practice. In Jesus’ kingdom, those who serve most will be placed first. Jesus demonstrates this leadership by his own sacrificial life.
  • Ransom for many - cf. Isaiah 53
    • Jesus offers himself as a substitute, taking the penalty upon himself that others deserve.
    • Again the question of Psa 49:5-9 comes to the foreground, with Jesus providing the answer that while someone cannot ransom their own life, Jesus can and does provide a ransom in their place.


  • Does ambition have a place in the church? If so, what does it look like?
  • It’s easy to read James and John and scoff a bit at their presumption, but how far is it from our own hearts when we examine our own prayer requests and priorities?
  • If Jesus’ ransoms us from our helpless estate, what is the resulting relationship we now have? 1 Cor. 6:19


  • “Jesus labels the desire to dominate others as pagan—pagans want seats of power and want to lord it over others. The disciples have taken pagan rulers as their models, whereas they need to take Jesus as their model. The way of Jesus is self-giving service. They are not to be on the receiving end of service but on the giving end.” (Garland, 412-413)
  • “While Jesus is talking about all that he is about to give, the disciples come with a shopping list of all they want to get. The absurdity of this scene brings the judgment of the cross on our selfish ambitions and our maneuvering for position and power.” (Garland, 414-415)