The Rich Young Ruler

The rich young ruler sought eternal life. Jesus offered him life but the
man could not except His terms. We want life on our terms, but we must surrender to God

  • Mt 19:16-22, Mk 10:17-22, Lk 18:18-23

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”  And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.[1]

 Luke tells us this man is a ruler and was extremely rich.

  • Mark tells us this man owned much property.

Today we are going to look at the battle for the heart and soul. It may surprise you that this battle is not between the devil and God.  No, the battle is within the heart of a young man. The battle is a decision he must make.  Will he choose to serve God completely or will he himself get in the way?  We will find the only hope is surrender to God.

  • “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

Calling Jesus “Teacher” indicates the man thinks he is ready to do whatever Jesus says.

Equivalent terms for teacher are:

  • Rabbi
  • My master

In Matthew’s gospel all those who call him ‘teacher’ are rebuffed or are hostile toward Jesus[2]

This man thinks,

  • Good people go to heaven
  • Good people are those who do good deeds.
  • Doing a big good deed would make sure he went to heaven.

This accomplished man of 20 to 40 years of age came to Jesus asking about “eternal life”

  • This is the first mention of “eternal life” in Matthew.
  • What does this “rich young ruler” know about eternal life?

The old testament understood death as the end, but with a shadowy shale of an existence in the grave.  But the understanding of an afterlife had progressed to that of a vibrant existence in the after life in preparation of Christ’s teaching. Now the idea of an afterlife, and a good after life for the “GOOD” person was prevalent.

I won’t be going through them today, but I found six OT passages showing that death was not outside of God’s control. (See ZEB[3])

Two other OT passages point toward life after death.

Job 19:25–26

25 “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. 26 “Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;

Psalm 73:23–24

23 Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. 24 With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.

Here are some verses that lead up to this point in Matthew to give us some back ground.

  • Matthew 7:13–14

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

  • Matthew 10:38–39

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

  • Matthew 16:25–26

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Now back to the Rich young ruler.

  • He has youth and vigor.
    • He is willing to follow Jesus.
    • He is willing to do good.
    • He has the energy to do good things.
    • He has the time to do monumental good.
    • He could:
      • Start a school for doctors, so they could help the sick
      • Perhaps he could build a temple in his home land, and make Judaism the religion of his domain.
      • He could leave half his fields for the poor to harvest.
    • He is rich.
      • He has the money to do Good.
      • He could afford to let go of some of his money to do good and will not likely affect his living standard.
    • He is a ruler.
      • He has some discretion with the resources of his domain behind him.
        • Perhaps he could build a temple in his home land, and make Judaism the religion of his domain.
      • He had been kind to the Jews in his domain.
      • He knows how to manage people.
      • He has man power.

With the resources of his wealth, position and zeal, this man is perched to do a good deed that could certainly get him this “eternal life.

Remember the man asked about “eternal life”

The man has asked what good thing he could do to earn eternal life: Jesus focuses on the word “Good”

  • There is only One who is good;
    • So you want to be “Good,” only one (and that is God) is good,
      • Romans 3:23 (NASB95) “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    • That may be a bit of a problem for you, everybody messes up somewhere, sometime.
    • So what is “Good” Has this rich young ruler thought about this question enough?
    • Jesus has challenged this man who thinks he has it all figured out.
  • but if you wish to enter into life,
    • Jesus changes it from “eternal life” to “life.” “if you wish to enter into life”
    • It essentially says the same thing but there may be a reason Jesus said it that way instead of repeating “eternal life.”
  • keep the commandments.”
    • God is good so, Just do what God has told you to do.
    • What God has said to do is all the “GOOD” you need, Jesus is telling him.
  • Then he said to Him, “Which ones?”
    • This could sound like he is trying to get out of something.
    • It is really a very valid questions.
      • The commandments of the Pharisees
        • Designed to keep you from breaking God’s law by building a fence to hold you back a safe distance from sinning so you will not break a law by accident.
          • You were not even allowed to pickup your toddler by yourself on the sabbath. But it was ok if two people picked up the child together.
      • In the Law of Moses were over 600 commandments.
        • Deuteronomy 23:23
          • “You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised.”

 The rabbis expanded this out in this way.

    • The rabbis taught: It is written [Deut. 23:23]:

That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth

  • “What is gone out of thy lips,” this refers to the 248 positive commandments (of the Law);
  • “thou shalt keep,” refers to the 365 negative commandments;
  • “and perform,” is a warning that they should enforce the law:
  • “according as thou hast vowed,” refers to vows;
  • “to the Lord thy God,” refers to sin, guilt, burnt, and peace-offerings;
  • “voluntarily,” means just what it is;
  • “which thou hast spoken,” refers to the sanctified objects devoted to the Temple for repairs, etc.;
  • “with thy mouth,” refers to charity.
  • The 10 commandments and the ordinances of exodus 20-23.
    • Ex 24:3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!”
  • Just the Ten Commandments.
    • Exodus 20:12–17
    • If Jesus had listed all 10 or just a few of the Ten Commandment, we might think just the Ten Commandments, but since he left off the last one, we must take it as the whole law of Moses. (the commandments and the ordinances)
    • Jesus did not keep the rules of the Pharisees.
  • The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
  • He was undeterred.
  • “All these things I have kept”
    • This Man believed this.
    • He emphasizes the “ALL.” I have kept them ALL.  “All these things I have kept”
    • Even the apostle Paul said of himself:
      • If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.[4]
    • The young man asked, “what am I still lacking?” What more?, the man is asking.
      • Now he thinks he has it made. He thinks nothing stands in the way of his getting eternal life.  What more could this teacher say? What more could he ask of him?
      • Like Paul, this man is found blameless.

But, He still thinks there is away to earn “Eternal Life” Psalm 36:9–10 (NASB95)

9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light. 10 O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.

  • If only he could be more Honorable, Good things come to Good people, Right?
  • In his culture, doing good increases honor.
  • Surely that is the way to get eternal life, he thinks.
    • How often people try to make a deal with God. Hey God, let’s make a deal.
    • They want to earn Salvation and “Eternal Life” even though it can’t be bought or earned. People bargain with God because doing great feats for Him would be easier than simply surrendering to his will.  All God wants is our surrender. Our surrender to him.
  • Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
  • Complete: The Greek word “τέλειος” can be translated, mature, perfect or complete.
    • Philippians 3:15
      • Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
    • Colossians 1:28
      • We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
    • But we need more than a one word translation to fully appreciate its meaning and what Jesus is saying.
      • Jesus is talking about joining his group of disciples, becoming an understudy with the disciples.
        • To whom else did Jesus say, “Come follow me.”
          • Two fishermen, Peter and Andrew (Mt 4:19)
          • A tax collector named Matthew (Mt 9:9
          • Another would be follower, not quite ready.
            • Matthew 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”
          • This rich young ruler might have been another Apostle Paul had he accepted Christ invitation of “Come follow me.”
          • If you want eternal life, Jesus says, “Come follow me.”
            • Life will be different.
      • go and sell your possessions and give to the poor
        • not as a good deed that earns the coveted “eternal life” but as a stripping away of everything that would hinder his faith.
          • If you recall the story of the fish and loaves of bread that Jesus miraculously multiplies. Peter had asked how they could afford to feed all those people.  It would cost so much money.  The whole lesson on faith intended by Jesus would have vanished had a millionaire disciple stepped forward to the rescue saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got the tab on this one.”
          • Disciples of Christ must have faith.
            • To trust Christ for salvation by faith and not by works.
      • To do the work Christ calls us to do.
  • Lets take a look at What this man has to lose?
    • His position. He is a ruler.
      • Responsibility, He is important.
      • People depended on him
      • Few people ever achieve what He has. His life was set.  People knew him and looked up to him.
    • His work
      • What would he do if he could not do his work.
          • Once we find work we love doing, we cannot imagine ourselves not doing that work.
          • How hard it might be to give up your dream job.
      • His means of support
        • How would he survive without his possessions that make money for him.
          • Some people have enough money set aside that they make loans to others and live of the interest.
          • Others have rental properties or businesses that earn money for them.
          • Many of us live just one pay check from poverty even though it is recommended we have 3 to 6 months expenses stashed away.
      • His habits
        • We all have habits and they are slow to change. We can feel a bit out of sorts when we get out of our normal routine.
        • His entertainment would have to change. No more throwing big parties with dancers, orators or actors doing plays.  Who would invite him to their parties if he gave up his wealth and position?  Just imagine, life outside of the palace.
          • What if you had to give up:
            • Going to the movies
            • Watching TV
            • If you gave away your movie and music collection.
            • Imagine life wandering around the country with a teacher, without a home or pay check.
      • He could lose:
        • his friends that expect parties and entertainment
        • If he is married, he could lose his wife who expects a certain status and life style.
        • He could lose everything that is dear to him.
        • Although Matthew rightly sums up the man’s grief as due to his great wealth, there is so much involved in giving it up.
        • How many of us could take only a single change of clothing and leave everything else behind forever? Fortunately, this is not the call for everyone, but it leads us to ask important questions of ourselves and our faith in Christ.
          • Have we faith to depend on him?
          • Are there things in our life that hinders our faith?
        • you will have treasure in heaven
          • Had he been able to let go of his wealth, possessions, and all that it represented to him – He could have that treasure he sought. Eternal Life.
      • come, follow Me
        • He would have been trained by the Master Himself.
          • He would have been perplexed by the strange things Jesus said and did.
            • How can we feed all these people?
          • He would have been awed when it all made sense.
            • Oh, look at all these extra baskets of food.
          • We too can be trained by the master when we study our Bibles and maintain a prayer life.
            • You cannot depend on a church to teach you. It can help, but we must go to the master.  Follow him through His word.  Live with him in prayer. Let him be your close friend as you follow him.
      • But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving
        • He is conflicted. He grieves his loss.
          • He could have eternal life
          • Or he can have is wonderful life as a wealthy ruler.
          • He cannot have both.
          • His dream is shattered.
          • Jesus has asked him to surrender everything.
        • For most people the choice is between
          • their old life of sin which seems good to them.
            • Old habits are hard to change.
          • And a life following a new master, following Christ.
            • It may seem restrictive
            • It requires commitment
            • It requires loyalty, not to people, but to Christ.
          • Jesus said (Matthew 16:24–26)
            • “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he (they) must deny himself (their selves), and take up his (their) cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his (their) life will lose it; but whoever loses his (their) life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man (person) if he gains the whole world and forfeits his (their) soul? Or what will a man (person) give in exchange for his (their) soul?”[5]
            • “ … I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jn 10:10
            • Living for God is not about rules; Not about do’s and don’ts. It is about surrendering to God and loving Him.


Lord, today we have looked at the encounter with the rich man asking about eternal life.  As you showed that man, it is not only eternal life but “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”  Help us today as we examine ourselves and look for things that get in the way of our personal surrendering fully to your will and loving you with all our hearts.


All scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible 1995 edition.


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 19:16–22). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] Abernathy, D. (2015). An Exegetical Summary of Matthew 17–28 (p. 65). Dallas, TX: SIL International.

[3] Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). In The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, D-G (Revised, Full-Color Edition, Vol. 2, p. 74). Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Php 3:4–6). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 16:24–26). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.