Mark 10:13-31

Children, Money, and the Kingdom

Entering the kingdom of God would have been on the mind of anyone who was paying close attention to Jesus’ earlier teaching on hell (c.f. Mark 9:42-48).  And now he lays out in this passage how to enter the kingdom of God.  We learn that entry into the kingdom is not achieved but received.

#1 Jesus offers only one way to enter the kingdom of God.

13And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16

Children were being brought to Jesus, presumably by their parents in order that Jesus might touch them.  We see in the end Jesus does more than just touch them — he blesses them!  But the disciples, thinking these children to be a hindrance to Jesus, rebukes those bringing them.  Jesus in turn becomes indignant towards his disciples and uses the children as an example of how to enter the kingdom of God saying, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  It’s not that it is best to enter the kingdom as a child.  Jesus says it is the only way to enter the kingdom.  The kingdom is not something that can be achieved but rather must be received like a child.

As many have pointed out, Jesus is not calling us in these verses to become childish but rather childlike.  There are many admirable traits of children — they are often unburdened by the cares and concerns of this world, they can be unassuming and unpretentious,  many have a wild curiosity of the world around them.  But what specifically should we seek to emulate?  The key to understanding this is found in the verb Jesus uses in describing entrance into the kingdom. The kingdom must be received.  How does a child receive it?  With complete dependence on whoever brings him into the kingdom.  Therefore, I conclude Jesus’ call to become like a child is a call to have unhindered trust in Jesus who gives us the kingdom.

#2 The rich man is seeking the right thing but asking the wrong question.

17And 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?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You 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.’” 20And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Mark 10:17-20

As Jesus was preparing to continue his travels he is met by a man of great wealth. We learn in Matthew’s account that he was a young man and in Luke’s account we learn that he was a ruler; hence the common designation for this passage is the “rich young ruler.”  This man appears at first to be a positive illustration of the kingdom principle of childlike faith that Jesus has just laid out.  After all, he runs to Jesus which was not considered a fitting action for a wealthy man of distinction such as himself.  Further, he actually knelt presumably in humility before Jesus.  There is a lot about this man that seems childlike.

We also see that he is seeking the right thing.  He asks Jesus how he might gain eternal life.  He is not asking for the path to a happy life or a “good” life (as we call it in our day), but rather he has his mind set on eternity, on the kingdom of God.  But, he is going about it the wrong way.  He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit the kingdom.  Jesus has just said that the kingdom must be received and here is this man asking how it might achieved.

Jesus first challenges him with what he means by the greeting of “Good Teacher.”  It’s as if he is saying to the young man, Do you realize that you are kneeling before God?  Only God is good?  Are you prepared to receive me as your God? 

Jesus then plays the role of a good counselor.  A good counselor considers the scope of all of Scripture and then, as David Powilson puts it, “unbalances” it for the sake of relevance. In other words he doesn’t speak in generalizations (though they have their place) but he seeks a specific word of Scripture to speak into the situation.  [For a fuller discussion of unbalancing and rebalancing Scripture see chapter 3 in David Powilson’s newest book “How Does Sanctification Work?”.]

Since the man has asked what he must do, Jesus points him to the 10 Commandments.  Specifically, the last half that deals with our relationship with others.  The young man insists (much like Paul does in Philippians 3:6) that he has kept these commandments.  On the surface at least it is possible that he has kept these commandments.  The kingdom is not achieved, it is received.

#3 Jesus offers himself as a substitute for the man’s possessions.

21And 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.” 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:21-22

Imagine the gaze of Jesus into this man’s eyes.  Mark, who is typically so short on details, tells us that Jesus looked at him, loved him, and spoke to him.  Jesus has compassion for this young man who is kneeling before him in the noble task of entering the kingdom of God.  He is zealous and humble but seeking the kingdom in the wrong manner.  Here again Jesus speaks a specific word to this man, “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.”  Jesus lovingly puts his finger on the idol of this man’s heart.  If Jesus is to sit on the throne of our heart, we must know there is not room for another king.  This is a hard word for the man to receive.  I wonder if you or I were to kneel before Jesus, what he might say to us.  What idol would Jesus see in  your heart?  Would it be a love of possessions?  A lust for the acceptance of others?  An insatiable need for comfort or for control or power?

The young man walks away from Jesus “disheartened” and “sorrowful.”  He is the only person recorded in the New Testament to have a personal encounter with Jesus during his earthly ministry and walk away sad.  He runs to Jesus with joy and walks away with sorrow.  Typically, the opposite happens: sorrow turns to joy, anguish turns to relief.

#4 Wealth is a hindrance and not a help in entering the kingdom of God.

23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”   Mark 10:23-25

Jesus once again takes advantage of this exchange to teach his disciples. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  These would have been shocking words for the disciples to hear.  As it is in our day, wealth was considered a blessing from God.  And just like our day as well, wealth opened doors that remained inaccessible to others.  Not only were political or social or economic doors opened but religious doors were particularly opened for the wealthy.  In the many works-based religions that existed (and continue to exist) it is often only the wealthy who can afford the money and time to do what is required of them.

And so to hear that wealth was not only not a help but actually a hindrance would have indeed been very shocking to hear.  But isn’t this what Jesus has been teaching the disciples all along?  In his foundational parable about the sower, Jesus teaches that seeds that are cast among the thorns are “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word (Mark 4:18-19).” 

Wealth very easily creates the allusion that self-reliance is possible. This is why it is so dangerous when attempting to enter the kingdom of God.  Because we are to enter the kingdom like a child in complete dependence on Jesus who brings us the kingdom.  A person can have two bosses but no one can have two masters.

Jesus further illustrates this problem with wealth with a parable.  He says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom.  Some have tried to lessen the force of these words by suggesting that there is scribal error here.  They say that Jesus originally said it is easier for a rope, not a camel, to go through a needle.  There is no manuscript evidence to support this claim.  Others suggest that there was an ancient gate in the city wall called the “Needle Gate” which was particularly small and required camels to unload their cargo to squeeze through.  There is no reliable evidence for this so called “needle” gate before the 9th century AD (in other words 900 years after Jesus uttered these words).

Jesus’ point is that it is impossible for a camel to go through a needle just like it is humanly impossible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom.

#5 All things are possible with God.

26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:26-31

The good news is that nothing is impossible with God.  Once again we return to child like faith — looking to God to do the impossible.

Peter reminds Jesus that they have left all of their earthly possessions to follow Jesus.  We might expect Jesus to rebuke this seemingly prideful declaration but rather he encourages Peter.  He says what you have given up for me, will be returned to you many times over — with persecution.  I wonder what Peter thought about that clause!  But not only could the disciples expect blessings in this world but also in the world to come.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Jesus’ attitude towards the children differ from that of his disciples?
  2. Why is Jesus indignant?  What does this reveal about what is important to him?  How can a strong response like feeling indignant help us to reveal what is in our own hearts?
  3. Discuss what Jesus means by receiving the kingdom of God like a child.  What implications does this have for us?
  4. What was not quite right about the question the rich man asked?  How does Jesus respond?
  5. Jesus identifies the idol of the rich man’s heart and asks him to give it all up for the sake of following him.  If you were in the rich man’s shoes, what chief idol might he identify in your heart?
  6. Why could the rich man not obey Jesus’ instructions?
  7. What does Jesus mean by saying it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom?
  8. Why are wealth and possessions a hindrance to discipleship?  In what ways have you seen this play out in your own life?  How can we not allow a love for possessions to rule our hearts?
  9. What promises does Jesus give to Peter in verses 29 to 31?  How should we understand them?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?


Add a Comment