Return to BibleToday Homepage

Chapter One

"That I May Inherit Eternal Life"


"And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I DO that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)

This is a true story of a man who lived morally, who did not kill, who did not steal, who did not bear false witness, who did not defraud anyone and who honored his father and mother. He was a nobleman who acknowledged Jesus as "Good Master," even kneeling before him. In spite of all his virtues, and they were many, he felt that eternal life was something out of his reach. He felt there was something more that he had to DO. And in Jesus' reply, he did not say, "DO? I have DONE everything for you. There is nothing to do but believe in me. Just say you believe, and you shall have eternal life. Just get DO out of your mind."

The nobleman was a Jew under the Jewish Law arrangement. The law of Israel promised: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man DO, he shall live in them: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 18:5). If they could keep the law perfectly they would gain eternal life. However, this was not possible, because of their inherent imperfection. This young man had tried to live by "keeping the Law" but found that something seemed lacking. When reminded of the commandments he said, "Master, all these have I observed from my youth" (Mark 10:20). Obviously, he had made a noble effort at keeping the Law, but the Great Teacher knew that he failed in one area. Jesus told him, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21).
The Great Refusal

"And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions" (Mk. 10:22). This is often referred to as the "great refusal" because the nobleman turned down eternal life-it cost too much. How could eternal life cost too much? If discipleship were presented on these terms today many would go "away grieved." If people had to place their wealth on God's altar and take "the cross and follow" Jesus, the results might be the same as with the nobleman. Most people want to be on the receiving end. When Jesus tied "eternal life" to giving all and taking up the "cross" to follow him, it was too much to ask. Is something wrong here? Jesus laid out these terms-no one may change their clear and direct meaning.
The story continued to unfold. The nobleman turned down eternal life because it cost too much. He had great possessions and would not give up the advantages his wealth brought him. With eternal life he might have gained greater riches, for he would have eternity to do so. However, his own selfish interest would not allow him to yield to Jesus' terms. While he had made commendable efforts to keep the Jewish Law,* (*If he had, he would have complied with the Master's request.)he had not fully met the requirement "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5). This was the "one thing" he lacked-a serious lack which would disqualify anyone from eternal life. A lesson emerges that ties eternal life to character requirements, which, in turn, leads to works pleasing to God.

The Handicap of Riches

Jesus used this occasion to teach another lesson. "And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23) This was discouraging to the disciples. It was hard enough to arouse interest in God's kingdom. Jesus seemed to place further obstacles in gaining converts. Not only did Jesus outline strict requirements for discipleship, but he also threatened the sacrosanct domain of riches. This was foreign to their thinking-the rich and powerful were generally highly esteemed and often given preferred treatment. Jesus seemed to indicate that the rich would be greatly disadvantaged in entering the "kingdom of God." "And the disciples were astonished at his words" (Mk. 10:24). Jesus was placing insurmountable obstacles to enlisting people to God's kingdom.

When Jesus and his disciples were in Herod's magnificent temple, Jesus observed the rich giving from their riches to the temple treasury. He especially noticed a poor widow who gave "all that she had"-two mites (Mark 12: 42-44). This widow had done something very similar to Jesus, who had given "all that he had"-that is why he was so impressed. The rich were giving of their abundance, whereas the widow gave more "than all" the others-she gave her all. Jesus was observing matters from heaven's vantage point. The poor widow's heart condition made her an easy candidate to become Jesus' disciple.

Returning to the rich young ruler, we read: "And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?" (Mark 10:26) This event left them sorely perplexed. They had had some success in reaching people with the Gospel message that the kingdom of God was at hand. Their ministry was greatly enhanced by their ability to heal the sick and cast out demons; Jesus had even raised the dead. All this gave their message enormous impetus, for the people could see God's power being demonstrated on a frequent basis. Heretofore, they had not thought about shortcomings of character or the proper use of personal wealth. The events of this day brought new dimensions to the disciples' thinking. Here was a rich man who seemed a perfect candidate for the kingdom of God. Jesus quenched this nobleman's quest for "eternal life" and his seeking to enter the kingdom of God. To add to their dismay, they all seemed to realize that Jesus "loved him" (Mark 10:21). Why was Jesus making things so difficult for someone he loved?

Jesus told the nobleman a similar message he had expressed to his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount. "Because strait [difficult] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto [eternal] life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Just as few today pay attention to this verse, so the disciples had heard Jesus' words without comprehension. In their zeal to find people to receive their message, they knew the easier the conditions of discipleship, the greater response they would receive. Jesus' conditions for "eternal life" brought a measure of sadness to them. Could it be that the requirements for "eternal life" might be much more difficult than just saying, "I believe in Jesus"? Could it also entail a full consecration to do the will of God, followed by an entire lifetime of discipleship?

When the disciples asked, "Who then can be saved?"-were they asking, "Who will be saved to heaven?" The evidence is not conclusive. Jesus informed them "no man hath ascended up to heaven." Certainly that seems clear-none before Jesus could be in heaven. The Heavenly Calling was not understood until after Jesus' death. Jesus opened "a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Heb. 10:20). This way was opened only after Jesus "gave his flesh" for the life of the world.

"Sit on Thrones, Judging the Twelve Tribes"

"And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:29, 30). The hopes of Jesus' disciples were tied to the Kingdom of Israel. They looked for a Messiah who would deliver the Jewish nation and restore its sovereignty. They hoped that it would then become a great kingdom on earth-a nation that would bless other nations.

The disciples were promised "thrones" while judging the "twelve tribes of Israel." This promise was a great encouragement to their national hopes. They felt the burden of the Roman yoke. Every full-blooded Israelite longed to be released from it. Israel believed their Messiah would secure their national sovereignty. They hoped for a glorious Jewish nation, even greater than in Solomon's time. Revelation 21 was not available to the disciples yet. It would be later that they would learn about a "New Jerusalem" coming down from heaven, with "twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:2, 14).

The last question the disciples asked their resurrected Lord only moments before his ascension was: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) This was before the day of Pentecost when God's Spirit was poured upon them. The thoughts of the disciples were tied to the nation of Israel. Jesus' disciples loved God. They knew he had exclusively dealt with Israel for centuries (Amos 3:2). It was natural for them to believe that Jesus in his resurrected glory would accomplish as a Spirit being what he had not done as a man (1 Pet. 3:18). Their hopes were tied to an Israelitish kingdom on earth. It was not until they received the "baptism of the Spirit" at Pentecost that the disciples began to comprehend a heavenly reward. Peter beautifully expressed that heavenly hope, saying, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world" (2 Pet. 1:4).

Go to next chapter