The Kingdom's Loss

In this lesson, Matthew recounts the story of a young man who typifies the greatest loss to the kingdom.
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In our study on Jesus, the King of the kingdom, we have worked our way through Matthew's gospel observing Jesus, the King, establishing His kingdom. We have seen how He built up his Apostles' faith to the point where they confessed Him to be the divine Messiah. We have also studied His lessons about the kingdom, who can enter and who is considered great there. So far His ministry has been on an upward trajectory.

We did see, however, that with the death of John the Baptist and His subsequent rejection by the people of His hometown at Nazareth, a definite downward spiral begins.


By this time Jesus' ministry in the northern part of the country near His hometown in Galilee is completed and He prepares to travel towards Jerusalem. Matthew divides the description of these events into two sections:

  1. Events tha t take place while He is on the way to Jerusalem.
  2. Events tha t take place in and around the city of Jerusalem.

The general acceptance and some doubt expressed in His home region are replaced by aggressive attack and total rejection as Jesus nears the city of Jerusalem.

In the section where Jesus is traveling, Matthew describes many encounters that the Lord has with different people:

  • The healing of the crowds
  • The discussion with the Pharisees over divorce
  • Blessing children who come to Him
  • The on-going discussions with the Apostles
  • The blind men receiving their sight

None of these episodes, however, are as poignant and sad as the one Jesus has with the rich young ruler.

The Rich Young Ruler

16And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" 17And 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." 18Then 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; 19HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 20The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" 21Jesus 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." 22But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
- Matthew 19:16-22

The title of this chapter is, "The Kingdom's Loss," because of this man. He was young, successful, pious and headed in the right direction. He was searching for the kingdom but fell short because there were certain things missing in his life. In the end he loses the thing he thought he wanted, and the kingdom loses a potential soul at this point.

The Missing Ingredients

The young ruler did not have faith

This person had good intentions but not faith, and the passage demonstrates this in several ways.

  1. He doesn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah but rather as some kind of guru. By referring to Him as "Good Teacher" he gives Him a compliment but not the true recognition of His actual person and rule. Even Jesus points this out. Why refer to Him as divine (good) when you don't believe?
  2. He thinks that Jesus is a man like himself; a great man, but a man nevertheless. He believes the only difference between them is the secret. If Jesus gives him the secret then he will be like Jesus, fully equal.
  3. He also believes that eternal life can be obtained by a man from another man, without the intervention of God. In other words, God could tell us how to do it (tell us the secret) or explain what rules to follow, but we would do it.

The young ruler, like many today, wants the right thing and he's sincere about it but he does not see that faith in Jesus is the first ingredient necessary to obtain eternal life.

The young man did not have self-awareness

His question, response and approach showed that he did not have a proper view of himself and his true condition. When the young man asks the Lord how to obtain eternal life, Jesus responds with what the young man had been taught and had tried without success. Right here we need a little background information to understand what's going on:

We are born and created to live forever, our souls are eternal and God has programmed us to know this intuitively ("He has set eternity in their heart." Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The problem, of course, is sin. Sin is the breaking of God's laws and disobedience to His word. When we sin we are separated from God, denied our eternal life with Him, and yet our innate knowledge of our own eternal nature yearns to be reunited with Him. The sense of incompleteness, the dissatisfaction with this world, the feelings of deep guilt, fear and dread of judgment all stem from our desire to be united with God as we once were before sin.

Now there are two ways this reuniting with God, and this experience of eternal life can be accomplished.

  1. Never sin in the first place. If one keeps perfectly all the commands of God and never violates His will or His word, then there is never any separation in the first place.
  2. Realize that we are sinners and thus separated from God, and subject to condemnation. Thankfully accept God's gracious offer of forgiveness and restoration to unity and eternal life with Him.

Okay, now back to our story with the young ruler. The young ruler understood that if one never broke the Law they would experience eternal life and union with God.

In his mind he had done what a person had to do to gain eternal life (keep God's laws), but he wasn't experiencing the promised results: eternal life! Something was missing, something was left out, he had a missing ingredient, and he thought Jesus would supply it. The young man didn't see himself correctly. He didn't see that he was a sinner, a failure before God despite his wealth, a condemned man separated from God by sin. He thought he was innocent!

Of course intelligent, respectable, moral, successful people have always had a hard time recognizing that pride, greed, self-righteousness, worldliness, lack of faith will send you to hell as easily as murder and adultery. Model citizens need God's forgiveness just like everyone else. The Bible says that all are sinners, and stand condemned (Romans 3:23). The rich young ruler recognized that he had a deep need but did not see that his need was for salvation though the mercy and forgiveness of God offered by the very person that stood before him.

The truth was that he was a sinner who needed grace, not a saint who needed a secret.

The young man did not have a changed heart

When Jesus said to this man, "…one thing you lack…" He didn't mean that he had everything except one thing. This is what the young ruler thought; he had it all and was missing one last great secret that Jesus could give him.

In the Greek, this expression means, "you are behind one thing" or "one thing is continuously ahead of you." Jesus was saying, "despite what you have or don't have, one thing will not let you pass" (like a runner ahead of you that won't let you by). For this man, his love and dependence on wealth was the thing that wouldn't let him pass. He could have had other sins, other faults as well, but the thing that was blocking his faith, his self-awareness and his repentance was his love of money. Jesus explains to him how to overcome this sin, how to remove this obstacle: by giving to others and then giving himself to the Lord.

For some, the obstacle is drugs, sexual sin, pride, stubbornness or laziness. However for each person the solution is different in how to remove the obstacles to self-awareness and faith.

For this man, the problem was the love of and dependence on wealth. Jesus was not making the giving away of one's wealth a condition of salvation—he was removing the obstacle in this man's life so he could believe and repent, and thus be saved.

The rich young ruler wanted treasure in heaven but didn't realize that it was his attitude towards his earthly treasure that was blocking the way.

Jesus' invitation to follow Him also revealed that the young man was not only unwilling to let go of his wealth, he was also unwilling to redirect his life in order to follow Jesus, and this was the basic reason that he was denied the eternal life he so wanted.

The Kingdom's Wealth

The episode with the young ruler sets up an opportunity for Jesus to teach the Apostles about one of the great obstacles faced by those seeking to enter into the kingdom.

23And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24"Again I say to you, 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." 25When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
- Matthew 19:23-26

Jesus warns His Apostles against worldliness, the enemy of the kingdom. The point Jesus makes is the same one He made in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5:3

A man must enter heaven as a pauper, a baby, a poor sinner. Wealth has no value in the kingdom. A person trying to enter in because of wealth or along with his wealth will not be able to.

Job, Abraham, David, as well as Solomon were rich men. Matthew was rich. Lydia was rich. These people were rich, but they were also faithful.

Being rich and successful doesn't stop you from being part of the kingdom, but it can be a dangerous obstacle if you place it before the kingdom. Very few can be both very rich and very spiritual because what creates one wars against the other.

Peter and the Apostles were having trouble with this because, like most Jews of those days, they believed that being wealthy was a sign that God was pleased with you. Your wealth was a sign of God's favor on you. Jesus clarifies this idea and reassures that with faith men can be saved. The Apostles' question was, "If the wealthy (who are favored by God) are in danger of losing their salvation, what chance do poor people like us have?"

Jesus tells them that with or without money, men do not have the ability to save themselves, only God can do this and He does it based on faith, not money. This approach levels the playing field.

27Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" 28And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last; and the last, first."
- Matthew 19:27-30

Peter follows up the previous discussion with a question based on what he had heard and seen with Jesus and the rich young ruler. "This fellow had chosen not to follow you, and yet left with his money, prestige and wealthy lifestyle intact. We, on the other hand, have left everything to follow you; where is our reward?" Peter is speaking the mind of the others in saying that they had made the right choice, but unlike the wealthy ruler, they were still poor and rejected.

Jesus' answer describes for the first time the blessings that the King will bestow on those who enter the kingdom by faith:

  1. In the kingdom they will be at the seat of authority with God. Judging the twelve tribes was the highest authority and power position they could imagine.
  2. Jesus lists the blessings of the here and now (family and possessions) but in the kingdom, the blessings will be of a better kind: peace, righteousness, freedom from the fear of death, fellowship of the saints, etc.
  3. Those in the kingdom can look forward to resurrection and eternal life in heaven.

Jesus' final statement summarizes the situation in the present and future:

Some who are first now (wealth, position, person) will be of no consequence at the judgment because they are missing what is important: faith in Christ.

Some who are last now (poor, ordinary, powerless) will be first in rank when Jesus comes (seated with Christ on the heavenly throne) because of what they have found and kept here: faith in Jesus Christ.

Lack of faith leads to one person's loss of the kingdom, another's belief brings rewards beyond expectations.

Discussion Questions

  1. Answer the following questions from the interaction between Jesus and the rich young ruler:
    • Why did the young man fall short in his quest for salvation?
    • In what ways was the faith of the rich young ruler weak?
    • In what ways was the young man's view of his spiritual condition distorted and what is the danger for us?
  2. Summarize the passage spoken by Jesus in Matthew 19:23-26 and discuss how it applies to us.
  3. Summarize Matthew 19:27-30 in light of other scriptures on the importance of humility and discuss how it applies to us.
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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