23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
(Mark 10:23-31 NIV)
In our last passage, a young man came to Jesus and wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked the young man if he had kept the Ten Commandments; the man affirmed that he had indeed kept them from his youth. Jesus then challenged the young man to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and then follow Him. The man went away sad because he owned much land and was quite wealthy. The young man may have kept Commandments 6 – 10, but he had broken Commandment #1 and put his money and possessions in higher priority than God.
In today’s passage, Jesus unpacks and processes what just happened with this young man, using the opportunity to teach His disciples. Jesus uses an absurd example of the largest animal known to their culture (a camel) going through the smallest opening they knew (the eye of a needle) to point out how hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God.
The disciples are amazed and shocked! In their Jewish culture and economy, wealth was associated with God’s blessings, while sickness and poverty were associated with God’s punishment for sin. If what Jesus was saying was true, salvation (eternal life) seemed impossible!
Jesus replied in agreement – salvation by human efforts is impossible. However, salvation by God is possible and open to all. Jesus made this contrast to show that human merit, whether by money or good works, cannot earn salvation into God’s kingdom. Salvation would come through Jesus as a gift freely given to us.
Peter then jumps in as the spokesperson for the disciples: “We have left everything to follow you!” Jesus answered affirmatively – indeed they had, and they would be rewarded for their obedience in this life and the life to come (eternity).
Notice that Jesus’ reward of one hundred times what they gave up in this life is primarily focused on relationships – home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, fields.
Remember that when people became followers of Jesus, the Jewish leaders excommunicated them from Jewish life. These followers of Jesus could not attend the synagogue, nor the purchase goods in the Jewish market, nor have their Jewish friends over for dinner, birthday parties, or any other celebration. Jesus promised to provide two orders of magnitude, 100X more “family” in those that those that followed Him. And in fact, we see Jesus’ words come true in the early chapters of the book of Acts, don’t we? And we see the relationships that grow in our local churches – a “family” of faith much larger than our biological families.
As we compare verses 29 and 30, we see Jesus leaving out one family member, and adding in one thing. Jesus left out the father in verse 30’s list because they would still have their Heavenly Father – He would be their father figure in the new “family”.
Jesus also added on item to the list in verse 30 – persecutions. Why did Jesus add this in? To remind His disciples that there is a cost in following Jesus. Jesus was not preaching and teaching a “health and wealth” message; there was a very real element of suffering that goes with following Him. If Jesus suffered as the Son of God, as Messiah, why should we think that we, made in the image of God, should fare any better than Him?
I think Jesus also included persecutions to remind us that heaven is our ultimate goal and destination, not life here on earth. While Jesus promised to restore 100X of what we give up here on this earth, He made no limit on the rewards of eternal life in heaven.
As Peter had made his point about giving up everything to follow Jesus, and as Jesus answered about the 100X reward, Peter was likely doing the math in his head. Family relationships, money, land, possessions – Peter saw great gain coming his way.
Finally, Jesus ended His comments by saying that the first would be last, and the last would be first. Jesus was reinforcing this new upside-down economy that was antithetical, a polar opposite to Jewish culture. Jesus was shattering the myths of what success and favor with God looked like once and for all.
When Jesus said this final statement, Peter’s hypothetical net worth that he had just calculated in his head evaporated in an instant. Jesus’ statement is a warning against self-sufficiency, all forms of idolatry, and any other form of independence from God, just like the young man who had gone away sad. We know Peter learned this lesson because he later wrote to the elders to shepherd the churches in love and not for financial gain, to serve them and care for them (1 Peter 5:1-4).
May we walk with God, proclaim His good news, serve others, and live in community as Jesus taught, enduring the persecutions and experiencing His joy in the journey, knowing that this world is not our home.