RICHES AND THE KINGDOM
By ROBERT GOVETT.* [* Edited.]
THE NEEDLE’S EYE
Was the ‘eye of a needle’ the name given to an opening in the city wall through which a camel could enter with great difficulty? “Used literally in the parable of Jesus concerning the camel (Mark 10: 25 and parables),” It has been said that, “there is no basis for interpreting the ‘needle’s eye’ as a small pedestrian gate of a broad city portal. But some think so.”
“Again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the
eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
The eye of a needle is the smallest of holes made by human art, with the design of passing something through them. The camel is the tallest and largest of the beasts common in the Saviour’s country. His tall body and long neck render such a creature a thousand times too large to pass through so narrow an aperture. But the entrance to the kingdom answers to the minute needle’s eye. God has made the opening so narrow of set purpose. It is rigid too, like steel, admitting of no enlargement by elasticity. The rich man answers to the camel. He is too great every way; even if he be not tall in pride, and bulky in self indulgence.
The gate of entrance to the kingdom being then so small, and so rigid in its material, the only way of traversing it must be by the diminution of the animal.* It is to this point that our Lord’s words tend. By stripping himself of his greatness the young man (verse 22) would have so diminished himself, as to be capable of entering at the narrow gate.** And had he followed Jesus as the way, he would hereafter have entered the kingdom and obtained the riches of it beside. Thus Jesus’ command proceeded really from his goodness towards himself, as well as towards the poor whom the ruler’s riches would benefit. It was the benevolent counsel of a friend; not the judical process of a judge desiring to convict him of sin. The force of the Saviour’s observation upon his turning away is – “This young man will retain his riches. But the entrance into the kingdom is too small for such. It is for the poor.”
[* “The delight in riches,” says our Lord to His disciples, “choke the word [the ‘message’ of the kingdom], and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13: 22, R.S.V.): that is, riches capture the heart’s affection and prevent disciples from being “accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection [out] from the dead” (Luke 20: 35). “It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom” (Matt. 19: 23), when called by Christ to give up his riches: and the salvation which He mentioned (in this context), is not the eternal salvation received by grace through faith in Him, (Eph. 2: 8) as Saviour, but “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1: 9). The disciple of Christ, content to build beneath the sky and luxuriate in riches during this evil age, builds too low and risks losing his earthly inheritance in the coming millennial kingdom of Christ! (1 Cor. 4: 8-13; 10: 1-12. Cf. Num. 14: 22, 23.)
Compare the rich Young Ruler’s attitude to that of Zachaueus who said: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold”: and what was the Lord’s reaction: “…he also is a son of Abraham”: that is, an inheritor with Abraham in the “age” to come, Luke 18: 8, 9; Heb. 11: 8; Acts 7: 2-5.]
To the same effect Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks of the smallness of
the gate, and the narrowness of the way.
But there the Saviour describes the gate as the entrance into “life”. The one
great subject of the Sermon on the Mount is “the
kingdom”, or the millennial reign.
And “life” is an expression used of the
kingdom also. Mark
9: 43, 47. In verses 43 and 45 that
is predicted of “life”, which in verse 47 is spoken of the “
Let us now consider the principles of exclusion, in which the just judgment of God would apply to the rich believer.
1. The kingdom is the time of “consolation”;
of compensation for annoyances, sufferings, losses, sustained for Christ’s
sake. Hence the Saviour lifts up a woe
to the rich, as excluded by the operation of this rule. Addressing disciples, he says; “Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the
2. To retain riches [when called by Christ to surrender them] is a hindrance, as the young man found, to present following of Christ.* Attention to his property could keep his feet and heart elsewhere. And he who would preserve his wealth now, must more or less take the attitude of justice and law, rather than the goodness and of the Gospel. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Hence, with the treasure upon earth, the heart will tend towards it.
3. The [millennial]* kingdom is for the self-denying: riches tend strongly to self-indulgence. They can gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And seldom is temptation, so perpetually alluring the heart, steadily resisted. Hence, the expenditure of wealth [on ones self] will, in most cases, shut out of the kingdom.
[* Christ has two kingdoms. His millennial kingdom is being offered to disciples as a REWARD for their obedience, work (1 Cor. 15: 58), and high standards of personal righteousness (Matt. 5: 20): “When the thousand years are ended” (Rev. 20: 7), He will reign throughout eternity in “a new heaven and a new earth,” (Rev. 21: 1). The failure of Anti-millennialists to distinguish one kingdom from the other; and, on the other hand, the promises of Bible teachers, who believe and instruct the redeemed that all is inherited on the basis of bare faith alone, has caused confusion amongst multitudes of Christians within the Church of God. ]
4. It tends to foster pride, and the desire to be ministered unto by others: whereas the way into the kingdom is by lowliness and patient service.
5. Wealth is an enemy to faith in God. The Saviour (in the parallel place in Mark) teaches, that having riches, and trusting in them, are almost always found in union. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; and as a high wall in his own conceit,” Prov. 18: 11.
6. Riches are noted as a great means of preventing the spiritual effects of the good news of the kingdom. “The care of theis world [age] and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and he becometh unfruitful,” Matt. 13: 22.
The mere possession of riches, then, is a strong and all but insuperable barrier to entrance into the millennial glory. And it is quite a perverting of our Lord’s words, and destruction of their practical bearing, to make them turn upon a positively sinful state of heart in the possessor of them. He who can enter into the kingdom only with great difficulty than the camel shall thread the needle’s eye, is simply the rich person. Hence Barnes’s comment is unfounded. He says – “‘A rich man.’ This means rather one who loves his riches, and makes an idol of them, or one who supremely desires to be rich.” No; the difficulty [and ever present danger for the rich] stated by the Saviour attaches to the simple possession of riches. As rich and not covetous, the entrance was difficult; as covetous, whether rich or not, it was impossible.
is then a choice of two paths proposed to the rich believer, who desires to
obtain [an entrance into] the
1. He may give up all; distributing to the poor: as is here recommended, or commanded.
2. He may retain all; determining to make the best of his way through the difficulty. This, as the Saviour knew, would be the ordinary choice; even where the difficulty which riches rise against the future entrance into millennial glory is perceived. The less hazardous path would indeed be to surrendered wealth, and to receive instead the promised treasure in heaven. Thus glory would be brought to Christ, and faith’s testimony to the men of the world be the strongest.
But ordinarily, as the Lord knew, this would not be done. Therefore, to meet the common case if the [regenerate] believer’s retaining his riches, the [Holy] Spirit by Paul gives the following directions. “Charge them that are rich in this age, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God, who affordeth us all things to enjoy:* that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, treasuring up for themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may lay hold of that which is really life,”** 1 Tim. 6: 17. Here five different expressions are used to express the readiness which the rich believer should exhibit, in giving away of his abundance. If he will not give away the principal [i.e., ‘money on which interest is paid’], he should give away his income liberally.
[* I suppose this to mean that the things of the world are given to be used in opposition to the Gnostic sentiment, combated in this epistle, that some creatures are evil, and not to be touched by the intelligent and holy, 1 Tim. 4: 1.
**So read the critical editions.]