True Basis of Salvation: Matthew 19:23-26
“23) And 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.” 25) When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26) And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” Matthew‬ ‭19‬:‭23‬-‭26
This conversation between Jesus and His disciples is a continuation of his dialogue with the rich young land owner in the previous several verses. These verses have caused much confusion for some people. They believe Jesus was teaching that wealthy people are bad and cannot be saved.
That is not true. Many poor people also have poor ethics and values. Sometimes their plight in life is the result of slothfulness and poor judgement. Jesus was not saying that a certain social/economic status deserves merit or condemnation from God. So what was He saying?
First, salvation is based on faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ paying for our sins on the cross and not in any works of our own. Jesus was not making the selling of all earthly goods the basis of salvation.
Second, salvation comes from the recognition of personal sin and need. It forsakes self righteousness and recognizes it is impossible to be saved by self goodness, religious merit or personal status.
The rich man in this story thought he was good enough based on his own righteousness and merit to be accepted by God. This was compounded by the Old Testament teaching that “it is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich.”
Undoubtedly, his wealth was not gained by fraud, but by following the ways of God. He viewed himself like Job, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, David and even Solomon. God blessed these men greatly because of their fear of God and biblical work ethic. I concede, in his case, there was some merit to his confidence in his own virtue and goodness. God had blessed him.
Third, salvation involves humility before God to the point of acknowledging personal need and the confession of personal sin and lostness. This sincere act of humility is impossible for some people. They see themselves as truly good and righteous. They line up with Paul’s testimony of himself as a Pharisee in Philippians 3:4-6. I admit, there are some very devoutly good, moral, self righteous and religious people out there, but they are not good enough to save themselves.
The idiom of a camel going through the eye of a needle illustrates this point. Some religious buildings were built with extremely short doors that required people to get on their knees to enter as an act of reverence. These doors were referred to as “the eye of a needle.”
Of course these buildings often had another door for the priests, religious elite and wealthy dignitaries who could not get their cloths dusty or soiled. Their self righteous status gained entrance through the privileged door. It was the VIP entrance.
It became a common idiom in that region of Arabia and Palestine to express something nearly impossible as “a camel passing through the eye of a needle.” Its natural height, large humps and long neck made it nearly impossible. The saddle and all ornaments would have to be removed to make it possible. It created the picture of being totally prostrate, an intense struggle and utter desperation.
Jesus used this idiom as an example of what it takes for self righteous, good, moral, hard working, religious and thereby wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God. They assume they have already gained entrance to the kingdom of God through a very large VIP door with a red carpet that acknowledges and even praises them for all of their righteous deeds, acts of benevolence and religious merit.
What a shock to learn the kingdom of God only has only one door. These too need to humble themselves, being stripped of all self righteous deeds and religious merit and literally crawl as if destitute and naked through “the eye of a needle” into the presence of God.
Finally, Jesus closed this story by saying; “With men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Salvation is the work of God. It is difficult for devoutly religious and self righteous people to see themselves as sinful and lost apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to crawl through “the eye of a needle” than for prosperous devoutly religious and self righteous people to see any need for Jesus Christ and the gospel.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global