“[The disciples] were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ “
Frequently in Scripture, riches are presented either as God’s reward for obedience or as something possessed by particularly righteous people. Deuteronomy 28:11, for example, says that God will make the obedient Israelites “abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.” Proverbs 22:4 tells us that “the reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.” The patriarch Job was renowned for his righteousness and piety as well as for his vast wealth (Job 1:1–5).
Having read these passages and several others, many first-century Jews came to view material wealth as an inevitable sign of personal righteousness. Since wealth is God’s blessing upon holiness, these Jews reasoned, the rich have an inside track for entering the Lord’s kingdom and eternal life. Of course, such a view represents a selective reading of the Scriptures, for God’s Word also knows of wicked people who enjoy financial prosperity (Ps. 73:3). Be that as it may, the view that personal righteousness and wealth are inextricably linked was common in ancient Judaism, and knowing that fact helps us understand today’s passage.
After hearing Jesus declare that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23–25), the disciples exclaimed, “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26). Their thinking went something like this: If even the rich, who are supposed to have an advantage over others when it comes to redemption, cannot enter heaven without great difficulty, how then is it possible for everyone else to attain salvation? Jesus did not correct their assumption that riches were an inevitable mark of righteousness. In one sense, He did not have to, because the example of the rich young ruler and His own teaching on wealth already had refuted any view that wealth and salvation always go hand in hand. Instead, our Lord answered the disciples by pointing out that what is impossible for human effort is possible for God (v. 27). The disciples were right to conclude that it is impossible, humanly speaking, for anyone—rich or poor—to be saved. But the transformation of the human heart is possible for the Lord. In today’s passage, then, we have a remarkably clear teaching from Christ on the necessity of divine grace. Without God’s grace, no sinner could ever be saved.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
In one of his expositions of today’s passage, C.H. Spurgeon writes, “It is impossible for man, unaided by the Spirit of God, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but that which is impossible to man by himself, is made possible by the Grace and power of God!” Every conversion is evidence of the omnipotent grace of the Lord. He alone can bring salvation, and we trust in Him alone to save sinners and to preserve them in His grace.