The Rich Young Man


‘As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’ Mark 10:17-18

This event is recorded also in Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30 but it’s here, in Mark’s account we find the most detail concerning the event. Jesus and His disciples were leaving the region of Judea and heading towards Jerusalem when a young man ran up to Him and fell before Him.

The Young Man

As we shall see when we go through the text, the young man who addressed Jesus was rich, Matthew 19:22, he was doing well for himself, he was the kind of man everyone in society would look up to and strive to be like.

We also must remember that he was a ruler with some position in society, Luke 18:18. He was a young man with responsibilities and status, this is important to understand because following this event we see the positions for which James and John wanted, Mark 10:35-45 is what this young ruler had but couldn’t give up.

There must have been something about his religion which was lacking something, he knew something wasn’t right with his religion. Later we see that had been obedient to the law and he was a ‘good’ person but still something wasn’t missing from his life.

He was honest with himself and humble enough to call Jesus, a ‘good teacher’, which was a sign of respect. We know He was concerned about his own spiritual welfare because he ran up to Jesus requesting information on how to receive eternal life, Mark 10:19, he was honestly looking for answers.

Notice at this point Jesus doesn’t answer his question regarding eternal life but what He does do is address the man’s comment about Jesus being ‘good’, Matthew 19:17. We see that the real problem which people were facing was simply this, how can sinful people approach an all-good God? John 14:6 / Romans 7:24-25.

Concerning Jesus’ response to the young man, Erdman says, ‘The perfect goodness of God was a universal doctrine of Judaism and it is evident that the Lord was here building the young man’s thoughts toward the recognition of Jesus as God. It is the equivalent of our Lord’s saying, ‘Look, don’t you know that if I am good, as you say, then I am therefore God?’

Jesus answers the question regarding eternal life

If we go ahead and continue reading from Mark’s account at this point of the event, we would miss out on something very important, so we need to go to Matthew’s account to get the full picture.

‘If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he inquired.’ Matthew 19:17-18

Notice the young man asked Jesus, which commandments? This is very important to understand as we shall see in a moment.

‘You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’ Mark 10:19

Notice that Jesus only quoted the last five of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-17, why did He not quote the first five commandments?

It’s clear that Jesus was trying to lead this young man into a deeper understanding of the truth, by not quoting, ‘love God with your heart, mind, soul and strength’, implies that the young man wasn’t obedient to these commandments, but had no real problem keeping the others.

In other words, the young man won’t receive eternal life simply by keeping only part of the law, he couldn’t receive eternal life by law-keeping, and he couldn’t save himself, no matter how obedient to the law he was. James 2:10. What’s the point in keeping any of the law, if you don’t love God with everything you’ve got.

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ Mark 10:20-21

Matthew gives us more information at this point, the young man asked Jesus a very important question.

‘What do I still lack?’ Matthew 19:20

If his question tells us anything, it tells us that he’s honest with himself and sincere regarding his question about eternal life. Notice the young man ticked all the boxes, ‘yep Jesus, I haven’t broken any of the commandments you’ve quoted to me’.

I can imagine Jesus looking at this young man with a smile on His face, He loved him, He loved his honesty, and He loved his sincerity. What a refreshing change from those who were always trying to oppose Him.

One thing lacking

Jesus loved the young man enough to tell him the one thing he lacked in his life. The problem with the young ruler wasn’t with his outward appearance, but with his heart.

If he wanted to receive eternal life, he first needed to be right with God and for him to be able to do that, he had to give up the very things which he treasured most in his heart, his possessions. He had to learn to depend on God rather than being self-sufficient and self-confident to receive eternal life.

Because Jesus tells him to ‘go and sell everything he has and give it to the poor’ tells us that Jesus saw in this man’s life the very thing which was lacking from this man’s life. It suggests that Jesus saw that this guy was greedy and all he cared about was himself and his wealth, Matthew 6:19-21. He must be willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus in the same way the other disciples did, Matthew 9:9 / Mark 10:28.

Total Submission

Anyone who wants to be a follower of Christ must submit to God’s will to receive eternal life. For the young man, this would mean not only giving up his possessions but giving up his position as ruler, and as we read next, these sacrifices were just asking too much of him.

‘At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.’ Mark 10:22

Jesus always knew what was in the hearts of people, He knew them better than they knew themselves and for this young man his problem was in his heart. Notice that he didn’t get angry with Jesus, he didn’t get all self-righteous with Jesus, he simply dropped his face and went away sad.

Facing the reality

I can imagine this young man coming to Jesus thinking he was right with God, thinking he had been obedient to God all his life, thinking that he only had to make a few small adjustments to his life to receive eternal life, only to come face to face with the reality of the condition of his own heart. The man really wanted eternal life but not at this great price.

Incidentally, this is the only account in the whole of the Gospels where Jesus commands someone to ‘follow Him’ and the command is rejected.

Like so many people who come to Jesus for salvation, they long to be saved, but when Jesus points out the costs involved, they too leave sad because they just can’t bring themselves to sacrifice so much in order to follow Him, Luke 14:25-33.

The disciple’s reaction

‘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! 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.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?’ Mark 10:23-26

Notice that Jesus didn’t say ‘it’s impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God’, He said it’s ‘hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God’.

The reason it is hard is simply because of what has just happened with the rich young ruler, the earthly treasures are more important to them, and their wealth and position in society are just too much to sacrifice. 1 Timothy 6:10.

Notice also He calls them ‘children’ and then gives them an illustration which even a child can understand the impossibility of it. It seems the disciples were in shock, not so much with the rich young ruler’s leaving but with Jesus’ teaching to the rich young ruler.

Remember the Jews believed if someone was rich, then that meant that they were highly favoured by God, but they were even more highly favoured by God if they kept the commandments.

The disciples must have looked at the rich young ruler and thought, ‘wow, God has richly blessed him, he must be a prime candidate for eternal life!’

They must have thought, as many of the Jews, if this young rich ruler couldn’t be saved, then who on earth can be saved? Now obviously the Jewish thinking was wrong, the disciple’s thinking was wrong because no one can be justified before God by keeping law, because all sin, Galatians 2:16.

It’s a sad fact that many people follow in the rich young ruler’s steps, they desire eternal life, as long as they don’t have to make too many sacrifices. Jesus referred to these people when He remarked about how difficult it is for those who are rich to enter heaven.

‘Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ Mark 10:27-31

Jesus tells them that God and God alone has the power to let people see the foolishness in trusting in their wealth instead of trusting in God, Romans 1:16. Even some of the Old Testament heroes who were abundantly rich had to trust God instead of their riches, Luke 13:28.

In Matthew’s account, he tells us that Peter also asked a question, ‘What then will there be for us?’ Matthew 19:27

The shock of Jesus’ teaching really got Peter thinking about his and the disciple’s situation, they obviously didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching and so, Jesus answers him with three promises. They will be blessed with numerous earthly possessions, their families will multiply a hundredfold and they will receive the greatest reward of all, eternal life.

Jesus, in answer to Peter’s question, says, ‘many who are first will be last, and the last first,’ which simply means just because you choose to follow Jesus before others, doesn’t mean you’ll stay faithful to Jesus to the end, others who come later may well remain faithful to the Lord.

A good example of this is Judas who was one of the first among the apostles and Paul who was the last of the apostles, Judas didn’t remain faithful to the end, but Paul did and so in this example, we see that Judas actually ended up being last and Paul ended up being first.


As Jesus talked to the rich man, He observed that he lacked only one thing, he only needed to get rid of his possessions. It became obvious that Jesus had properly diagnosed the man’s need because the man was unwilling to do so, he indeed was valuing his possessions over the Lord.

To follow Jesus, we must give up anything in our life that is more important to us than He is. Interestingly, this man lacked only one thing. Some people have the idea that one sin is not all that bad, they think that while they may be failing in one area, at least they serve the Lord faithfully in all the others. This story shows clearly that even one thing can keep a person from being accepted by God.

I can only imagine what the rich young ruler must have thought if he had heard Jesus’ three promises to the disciples, maybe he would have thought twice, maybe he would have followed Jesus, sadly it was these three blessings he actually turned away from. He forfeited his soul for wealth and his position of power, Mark 8:36.

Is there one thing in your life that’s stopping you from following Jesus?