How do you understand Jesus' teaching to the Rich Young Ruler?

I believe some of Jesus' teachings about discipleship come from I Kings 19:19-21.  The rabbis viewed the relationship of Elisha to Elijah as a role model for a disciple.  Here are the verses:

19 Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.”

“Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?”

21 So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.

This seems to have some bearing on the Rich Young Ruler.

The account of the Rich Young Ruler can easily be misunderstood to teach salvation by commandment keeping.  How do you best understand it?  Comments welcome.  Much has been written about such a text, but the ability to share your view succinctly evidences an understanding vs. avoidance by detail (which, IMO, is sometimes the case).


Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV) reads:

16 Just then someone came up and asked him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he said to him. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he asked him.

Jesus answered: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.

20 “I have kept all these,” the young man told him. “What do I still lack?”

21 “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard that, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Keeping commandments, including selling everything, expresses repentance; following expresses faith in Jesus Christ.
8% (1 vote)
Jesus is more concerned here about leading this man to see his sinful condition.
58% (7 votes)
If we could keep the commandments, we would have eternal life, but we cannot.
0% (0 votes)
This is more about the millennium and entrance thereof than to heaven/salvation.
0% (0 votes)
It is only the aspect of following Jesus that brings eternal life.
0% (0 votes)
This teaches lordship salvation, one has to be willing to obey the Lord and surrender in order to be saved.
0% (0 votes)
Someone who is truly repentant and believes in Jesus would do this if saved ( his obedience would be fruit of regeneration).
0% (0 votes)
Several of the above (please elaborate)
17% (2 votes)
He could be saved without selling all he had, but not a disciple, and not by commandment keeping.
0% (0 votes)
8% (1 vote)
8% (1 vote)
Total votes: 12
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There are 3 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


Went with "several of the above," but I think only two...

Jesus is more concerned here about leading this man to see his sinful condition.


  It is only the aspect of following Jesus that brings eternal life.

So, I think, as He does in some other places, Jesus is speaking non-literally, or maybe more like, non-technically. He knows how He'll be heard by His listener and that's the point of the exchange.

(Some evidence in the immediate context: "Why do you call me good?..." This is a pretty clear clue that He is doing something like cross-examination to tease out the truth of where the man's heart was.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Mark_Smith's picture

"It is only the aspect of following Jesus that brings eternal life."

What does "it" refer to? I have no idea.

Ed Vasicek's picture

"It" refers to following Jesus.  In other words, the ruler was to sell everything to become an active disciple, but it is the act of deciding to follow Jesus that would save him, not selling everything (or the combination).

Sorry for the lack of clarity.

"The Midrash Detective"