Although the accounts of the gospel were written nearly two thousand years ago, they contain many valuable lessons for mankind today. This is because God's word is always relevant to the needs of man. It addresses the sin problem we all face and points us to eternal life through the Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
When Jesus walked the earth He had some who followed Him for a while and then turned back when they heard some "hard sayings" (John 6:60-66). Jesus then asked the twelve apostles - "Do you also want to go away?" Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 6:67-69). Peter recognized the vitally important truth that salvation cannot be found except by obeying the words of the Savior even though the way may seem hard at times.
Sadly, some in the first century acknowledged that Jesus had the words of life yet were unwilling to comply with His demands. A number claimed that they wanted to follow Him but Jesus told them - "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Others boasted - "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." But the Lord said - "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt. 8:19,20). Clearly, it is one thing to desire to be a follower of Jesus and it is entirely another to actually submit to the will of God. In some of the cases mentioned in the four accounts of the gospel (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) it is not revealed whether the disciples did what they were told. However, there are some notable cases where we learn that the person was not willing and thus turned his back on eternal life.
The very short narrative regarding the rich, young ruler is told in three of the four accounts of the gospel. Since God saw fit to have it recounted this many times, it must be worth careful consideration. Indeed, there are many lessons to be learned from this real man who desired eternal life yet was unwilling to take care of just one deficiency in his life to obtain it. The story speaks volumes to our world today because there are many who are in similar circumstances. They also must decide if they are willing to submit their lives to the will of God. Sadly, there are still many "rich, young rulers" in the world today.
The story of this unnamed man is found in Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23. From Luke's account we learn he was a ruler and very rich (18:18,23). Only Matthew records that he was a young man (19:20,22). After he went away, Jesus warned the disciples about the dangers of riches. However, this was not the first time He did this. Earlier, He had stated plainly - "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). It is Mark's account that tells us the problem is not riches, per se, but rather trusting in riches that will keep one out of heaven (10:24; cf. I Tim. 6:17). Clearly, rich people can go to heaven as long as they do not trust in uncertain riches but in God. Rich Christians who remain faithful will lay hold on eternal life (I Tim. 6:18,19). Nevertheless, the language about a camel going through the eye of a needle is quite the memorable warning (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25).
We will consider the second part of this article in our next lesson, where an important modern day application is made.