Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”
-Luke 18:18-20 (NKJV)This passage is one the most familiar passages in the New Testament. Primarily among professed believers (true or not), but even known among many outside Christendom. Our primary focus in this study is the Lord's admonitions and the ruler's response; specifically in the call to sell everything.
At the start of this passage, we see the rule asking about "inheriting eternal life." In the account in Matthew it is rendered, "that I may have eternal life?"
In Luke, the word used which is translated "inherit" is klēronoméō. In Matthew, the word translated "have" is "échō." The word used in both passages translated "eternal" is the word "aiṓnios"[eons, ages, age-abiding, limited to time] and the word "life" comes from the Greek "zoe." The Lord does not use the word "Psuche" which is translated as "soul" or "life" in many other passages.
Putting these thoughts together, under the Law, to "inherit" and "have" (as a possession) "age-abiding life" in the Kingdom (as opposed to death, loss), one had to qualify under the Law. The Law was given "from the foundation of the ages" and is part of time. The Law is specific to Israel and to the Land (see: Exodus 19:3-7) as we have seen in many previous studies.
We know that Paul will later write this well-known argument in the Book of Galatians:
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
But when we step back and look at the context, we see Paul is even more specific.
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ...
When we read the epistles of the Acts Age, we see Paul going back and forth between Jewish believers and Gentile believers as his audience. The differences are the most stark in the epistle to the Romans (as we have seen in previous studies).
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality [fornication].”
Paul does not dispute this. Paul goes on from this encounter to go "up to Jerusalem to worship." This is what a faithful Jew would do. As an aside, how many local churches today celebrate "Pentecost" as though it is given to Gentile believers and as though it is to be celebrated anywhere we like? Well, technically, it could be celebrated anywhere, but the call on the Jew was to be in Jerusalem.
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts..."
Now, back to the young man's case.
And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth. So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
The Lord does not dispute the assertion that the ruler has "kept" the commandments listed (again, not all the Law is listed). We have two options before us (as I see it). Either the Lord was using his statement and his own response to expose the man, or the Lord accepted the statement, but added another element in regard to his question regarding his goal to "inherit eternal life."
As we have seen, with inheriting the life of the ages to come, the Lord combines these arguments. That is, it was a requirement under the Law to keep the letter of the Law for "life" unto the age of the promises to Israel and the fulfillment of God's covenants with her, his bride, ("[Israel] to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." Romans 9:4).
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches 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 man to enter the kingdom of God.”
And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”
For it is by grace you are saved, by faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
All these sins are possible for believers. But they are still "within" the household of faith. The believer is called "wicked" and yet still distinguished from the wicked without.
But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.-Romans 8:9-11
So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life [age life aionion].”
Note, again, the absence of the list of commandments and the focus on reward. Have the 12 received "many times more" yet? Will Judas receive his reward? No and no. These are conditional promises. Conditional upon Israel's repentance and the restoration of the Kingdom in Israel (Acts 1; Acts 3) and conditional upon being a "good and faithful servant."
Could this be resurrection life truth? We run into the same issue we run into in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. What if I visit one sick person, one person in prison, etc.? Is God my debtor for an immortal life beyond time? Of course not. As that passage deals with entrance into the kingdom for Gentile nations (see our studies on the parables of Matthew 25), so too does the passage in Luke before us deal with entrance into the Kingdom for Israel.
Volume 6 of the Berean Expositor notes:
Many have felt how diametrically opposed to the way of justification and life these passages are to the doctrine revealed through Paul, and, failing to "discern the things that differ," [Phil 1:10] they have attempted to make the Lord teach the rich young ruler that aionion life was to be attained only by faith and not by works. In no other branch of study would such biased reading be tolerated. Nothing is clearer than that aionion life was connected with doing, keeping, forsaking, and following. Matthew, writing with the kingdom of the heavens before him, uses aionion life with special reference to that period. The Lord Himself links it with the kingdom and the regeneration, and the time when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory.
I want to close with a verse from a similar encounter recorded in Mark's Gospel and another verse from that very same chapter.
And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved [agapáō] him...
How often is this encounter told today with scorn heaped upon the young man? Scorn offered as though we are not guilty of the same failing ("went away grieved: for he had great possessions")? Yet the Lord loved him with agape (boundless) love nonetheless.
Allow the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein...
This is Kingdom truth, but we see here how the Lord values the simple faith and trust of a child. The one who answers not back. The one who runs to him without hindrance or hesitation. In our own walk and calling, we should also have this attitude. Paul warns us against being "childish" in our understanding, but that is quite different than being "child-like" in our faith.
One last theological thought... we hear about "storing up treasure in heaven." We will look at this idea in our next study. That treasure is coming to earth.