The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[b] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Today’s reading follows Jesus’s conversation with the rich young man, the subject of last week’s post.
Jesus told the disciples that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (verses 23, 24). He used the saying about the eye of the needle as a means of illustrating the impossibility. My post on a parallel account of this — Luke 18:24:30 — cited a John MacArthur sermon explaining that saying, a traditional one of the ancient world involving the largest animal of the area. In Mesopotamia, it was an elephant. In the land of the Jews, it was a camel. Can a camel pass through the eye of a needle? Of course not.
In verse 23, Jesus’s words were ‘only with difficulty’. He meant that only by God’s grace can a rich man enter His kingdom. That is also true for the rest of us, however, it is easier because we have fewer worldly goods and obligations at stake. Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):
The way to heaven is to all a narrow way, and the gate that leads into it, a strait gate but it is particularly so to rich people. More duties are expected from them than from others, which they can hardly do and more sins do easily beset them, which they can hardly avoid. Rich people have great temptations to resist, and such as are very insinuating it is hard not to be charmed with a smiling world very hard, when we are filled with these hid treasures, not to take up with them for a portion. Rich people have a great account to make up for their estates, their interest, their time, and their opportunities of doing and getting good, above others. It must be a great measure of divine grace that will enable a man to break through these difficulties.
MacArthur brings up another difficulty:
First of all, rich people have a false security. That’s their particular problem … See, rich people don’t need God because they’ve got all their resources. They can buy anything they need. No sense in depending on God.
What Jesus said amazed the disciples (verse 25). Surely, they thought, rich people could have anything spiritual because they could afford the biggest and best sacrificial animals to atone for any and all sins as well as offer the greatest glory to God because they could afford it. MacArthur says:
… they could atone for everything. And they could give their money and drop it in those 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles that lined the court of the women in the temple and they could pay their alms and do their thing …
In light of this, the disciples asked Jesus if rich people couldn’t enter the kingdom of God, who, then, could be saved. Jesus said that man cannot save himself, only God can (verse 26). Therefore, no matter how many great sacrificial animals and alms a rich person gave to the temple, none of those could buy salvation. Only God’s merciful grace can save a person’s soul. Remember, this discussion took place before the Crucifixion and Resurrection, so Jesus put things in a context they could understand.
Henry surmises that Jesus might have been saying that the rich young man could be saved in future once God turned his heart to Him:
Note, The sanctification and salvation of such as are surrounded with the temptations of this world are not to be despaired of[;] it is possible it may be brought about by the all-sufficiency of the divine grace and when such are brought to heaven, they will be there everlasting monuments of the power of God. I am willing to think that in this word of Christ there is an intimation o[f the] mercy Christ had yet in store for this young gentleman, who was now gone away sorrowful it was not impossible to God yet to recover him, and bring him to a better mind.
Peter then asked about the position of the disciples with regard to what Jesus said (verse 27). He said that they gave up everything to follow Him. Recall that the disciples’ understanding of the kingdom to come was a temporal one of power over the enemies of the Jews. They also did not know that the betrayer, Judas, was in their midst. MacArthur is not one who criticises Peter for his speech:
It isn’t a bad question to ask. Some people have really gotten on Peter’s case, it’s a very natural question. I mean, they followed Christ anticipating the Kingdom. They followed Christ with hope in their hearts that He would sort of right the nation that He would throw off the Roman yoke, that He would bring in the glorious splendor that the prophets had talked about. I mean, I think his heart was pretty right on in that area and sort of summing up all the anxiety of the disciples he says, “What’s in it for us? What are we going to receive?” And I don’t think that he’s totally frustrated. I think he’s partially frustrated. I think he’s excited about what he anticipates and he wants to hear from the mouth of the Lord Himself what it is that God has prepared for them that love Him. What are we going to have, therefore? Because we’ve come on your terms. What are the benefits of salvation to us? We gave it all up. What are we going…what are we going to get?
Jesus responded by describing the ‘new world’, or ‘regeneration’ in the King James Version and other traditional translations (verse 28). He spoke of His Second Coming, as Henry explains:
Christ’s second coming will be a regeneration, when there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, and the restitution of all things. All that partake of the regeneration in grace (John 3:3) shall partake of the regeneration in glory for as grace is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6), so glory is the second regeneration.
And how wonderful to be promised, as the Twelve were, that each would have his own throne to judge the sins of the twelve tribes of Israel in their unbelief and their persecution to come of the Apostles.
Henry says true Christians will also be rewarded in that glorious new world:
… the general intendment of this promise is, to show the glory and dignity reserved for the saints in heaven, which will be an abundant recompence for the disgrace they suffered here in Christ’s cause. There are higher degrees of glory for those that have done and suffered most. The apostles in this world were hurried and tossed, there they shall sit down at rest and ease … there they shall sit on thrones of glory …
The same is true of those who left loved ones and cherished places behind to follow Christ (verse 29).
Ultimately, our Lord said, ‘many’ — not all, but many — who are at the top of the social order in this world will be last in the next (verse 30). Those who were of humble circumstances will be first in the world to come.
Next time: Matthew 20:17-19