The Rich Young Ruler: Justified but Disqualified from Entering Messiah’s Kingdom

Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler is generally interpreted as answering a question about salvation (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30). Jesus addresses the young man’s question about inheriting eternal life, and the young man walks away from it. Most interpreters consider Jesus’ listing of commandments to keep, and then His call to sell all is designed to show that it is impossible to be saved by works but requires faith in Him (Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 556; Hendriksen, Matthew, 724; Lange, Matthew, 345; Walvoord, Thy Kingdom Come; Weber, Matthew, 314). This paper seeks to explore and develop a different meaning and message from this encounter, hinted at by Roger Hahn (Matthew, 233).
First, the nature of the question will be explored with a view to its prophetic context. Understanding it in light of Jesus’ message to the nation and certain Old Testament prophesies changes his question from how to be “justified” to surviving the Day of the Lord and entering the Messiah’s kingdom as a mortal.
Second, Jesus’ response to the young ruler will be analyzed based on the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament’s teaching on salvation by faith alone in Christ and never by works. Further, the nature of Jesus’ response, whether irenic or straightforward, will be clarified to demonstrate that the issue is not one of justification but kingdom entrance for the justified Old Testament saint who sincerely wishes to enter.
Next, Jesus’ reflection following his departure will be analyzed in light of His use of “kingdom.” This will include discussing the distinction between kingdom participation and eternal salvation.
This approach to the encounter will help guard against the concept that salvation is a result of faith plus works or that justifying faith is expressed through works. Further, understanding Jesus’ answer to the young ruler and comments to His disciples should motivate today’s saints to adjust their priorities to focus their commitment to Christ. Misplaced priorities can deny New Testament saints the opportunity to participate in the kingdom when Jesus returns. For today’s Christians, this is not a warning against missing heaven but a reminder that participating in Christ’s kingdom will result from commitment and obedience and is not guaranteed to every saint.

1 thought on “The Rich Young Ruler: Justified but Disqualified from Entering Messiah’s Kingdom”

Leave a Comment