A Study of Mark 10:17-27
“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
The story of this young rich lad is found in Matthew 19, and Luke 18 as well as the book of Mark, thus giving it prominent weight in the Scriptures. Unlike many other multiple accounts in the Gospels, this one is strikingly similar each place it is recorded. However, Mark alone records that “Jesus beholding him loved him.” (Mark 10:21) For our purposes in attempting to understand this account it is a pivotal statement, and one we hope to examine carefully. We select this account m Mark then, with the hope the LORD may bless us in gleaning from His word, to address the following points:
- The general outline of the text.
- The erroneous idea that the rich young ruler remained an “unconverted elect.”
- Was the rich young ruler a chosen vessel?
- Did the rich young ruler disobey a gospel command of the Lord?
- Examine the Lord’s application of the subject.
THE GENERAL OUTLINE.
Jesus was well into His earthly ministry when this incident took place. Frequent encounters with the Scribes, Pharisees and other religious rabble had occurred previous to this meeting. In many ways they had attempted to overthrow His influence with the multitudes, but chiefly they sought to refute Him with their law. By law we mean those things contained in the Old Testament regarding the Jews’ daily civic, national and religious functions; the ten commandments being the foundation of it all, to them at least. Not once had a single one of His antagonists even come close to putting Him to confusion or shame, for truly, He was master of all the encounters. This meeting with the young ruler was to be no exception.
This young ruler came running. He was in a great haste about something. Was it an urgency about obtaining eternal life? That was the focus of his inquiry; at least on the surface. Or rather, as we suspect, was he in a haste to receive some public commendation for what he perceived to be an exemplary life? This, we feel, was probably the case. Whatever the motive, he came running and kneeled before Jesus. Whether feigned or genuine, he manifested a sense of reverence before the Lord not common with most others who came inquiring. Then, in apparent honesty, he sought to know, “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:17) Clearly, he seemed to think himself up to doing some “good thing.” Soon enough the Lord would put him to confusion on this carnal idea.
In Matthew’s account the young ruler sought to have eternal life, and here in Mark he would inherit eternal life. Either way, he was bent on doing something for it. This, we believe, is the very root of all Arminian religion; then and today. The inclination, even strong desire, to do something to gain eternal life is so ingrained in the heart of natural man that absolutely nothing but the grace of God can remove it. Further, we are persuaded that even then poor sinners must be kept from the duty system by that same free grace or they will at once fall right back in it.
And how did our Lord respond to this lad’s proposition that he would do something good? He responded with the following question and profound statement: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God.” (Mark 10:18) It was to challenge the basis for Him being called good that the Lord asked His question. Further, it was to establish that if He, Jesus, was truly good then He must be God! Moreover, if God alone was good (a truth beyond dispute), then the young ruler could not possibly do anything good to obtain life. Jesus had in His public ministry previously taught that “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18) Two things are at once manifest here; first, the young ruler, being a sinner, could not do the good he would, and second, Christ establishes His position as God by continuing to answer the interrogation, rather than accepting a role as one of the “none good.”
When Jesus continued with, “Thou knowest the commandments,” (Mark 10:19) it evidenced that He, as God, knew all, including what the young ruler did or did not know; “thou knowest the commandments” being sure proof of Christ’s knowledge of the thoughts and intents of this young man, as well as all other men. He proceeded to cite several of the ten commandments, which surely would have caused one who feared the Lord, and was aware of their sinful condition, to tremble before so stem a lecture. But no: “And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.” (Mark 10:20) Was this impertinence? Arrogance? Was the young man so far hardened in presumption that he might boast of a kept law? For our part, we think not. One thing is clear; the young man had no lack of self confidence and personal esteem; traits he would shortly have terribly shaken.
It seems very probable that, from the way the Lord handled the matter, this fellow had indeed observed exactly what he said he had; at least from a technical viewpoint. As far back as his youth, though he was not yet old, he labored to be blameless before the law. Impossible you say? Hear the apostle Paul: “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6) Yes, Paul was blameless in the law! We find the account of Paul (before he learned of the true riches in Christ), and that of the rich young ruler to be strikingly similar. It was not until some time after Paul was baptized that he could say the following: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) If we understand Paul here, he said giving up the riches of the world, the “all things but loss” was for something more excellent; the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” This was a sort of profit and loss statement for Paul. The more natural things he lost, the richer he was in Christ.
This was not always how Paul saw things. Previously, his profit and loss statement was just the opposite! He counted gain for himself as a loss for Christ. The more he prospered in legal religion, his great riches, the poorer Christ would seem to appear. Hear him say so: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)
We have given this account of Paul for several reasons. First, to illustrate the similarity between him and the young ruler; and second, to raise the point that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This, we feel sure, would include the young ruler, as well as Paul, and all other elect children since time began.
“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:21) The dear Saviour did not rail on this presuming youth; rather He beheld him in love! This was the very grace of God in manifestation. None but Jesus could behold this rich young ruler with such pity and tenderness for He had been in this place of sacrifice Himself. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9) Yes, Jesus had been there. He had freely divested Himself of all the vast riches of His heavenly position that he might give Himself to the poor of the flock that they might occupy the place of wealth He had for their sakes abandoned. This, Paul told the Corinthians, was the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We shall, the Lord willing, return to the matter of Lord loving the young ruler under our third heading. Taking up again verse 21, Jesus said, “One thing thou lackest.” Having accepted the word of the lad that he had kept all the known laws, Jesus proceeded to inform him of one other statute, so all encompassing that all the law and the prophets hung on it (Matthew 22:40). For this law the young ruler seemed to have no understanding until the Lord had concluded speaking with him.
On another occasion a similar incident had occurred as follows: “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying. Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (Luke 10:25-28) Now notice, there is no evidence here that the lawyer was held in the same esteem by the Lord as was the young ruler. There is no mention that the Lord beheld him in love. Nor did this encounter end like the young ruler’s did. In fact, his conduct and response to the Lord’s statement regarding the law was one of contempt for the words of truth. He was willing to justify himself (Luke 10:29), a reaction totally unlike that of the young ruler.
What this young lad lacked was compliance to the first and great commandment and the second that was like unto it; love to God and to thy neighbor, for, “There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31) Would he enter into life? Would he inherit the kingdom? If so, he must love God unreservedly, and love his neighbor with equal fervor. Now, before we pounce on this poor fellow for his ignorance and failures, might we not well ask ourselves how we would survive under such unrelenting instructions? It is evident from the Word of God and our experience that we, none of us, could fare any better.
“Go thy way.” (Mark 10:21) It is often difficult to determine if the Lord’s statements, such as this one, carried the weight of Divine decree, or were simply correct instructions given by one Who was Divine. We suggest the answer must be determined from the situation, for both are true.
An example of both may be found in the healing of a certain leper, as follows: “And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:40-45) Jesus here issued two directives; in the first he said, “Be thou clean,” and the leper did, at once, become clean. Surely this was a positive directive; one that could not be avoided, for the Lord spoke with determination. In the second He told him to, “say nothing to any man.” The text says He charged him, yet he went out and blazed it abroad! The poor fellow could not keep his mouth shut is what the Scripture says. To us the matter seems consistent with the doctrine of grace we hope we have learned. This leper was cleansed, for the Lord commanded it to be so, but no accompanying grace attended the instruction not to speak of his healing, so he followed the normal course of human nature. “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) And too, “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:1) While it was in the heart of this healed leper to tell it abroad, the Lord had prepared his heart to do so, and to direct the path he took to as well. This satisfies us, if all the world rages against it. The leper’s conduct in no way abrogated the universal government of God over all things, great or small.
“Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” (verse 21) Sell it out, pass it out, and be rich in the world to come was the blessed enunciation. How often our Lord taught about the transitory things of this world. They will rust out, rot out, and flee from us through theft, misuse and ignorance, but to have our heart and treasure in the heavens is life eternal. Read well Luke 12:16-34, for therein contains the answers to all our perplexities regarding a proper ordering of these things. The young ruler would amass to himself all of the world’s goods possible, but the Lord would have it to be otherwise. “Sell, give, and then have,” is the order in His kingdom. Surely His kingdom is not of this world.
“And come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (verse 21) First, Jesus told him to “go thy way,” and when finished with the business of divestiture, He had bid him to “come back.” Why? That he might take up his cross and be a follower. It is interesting to consider that at this time the young lad could hardly have any idea of what Jesus meant by a taking up the cross. For that matter, neither did His immediate disciples understand until after the Saviour had risen. We must conclude then that this instruction was for a future period in the young man’s life; a period when this truth would be brought to his understanding by the Holy Spirit.
The rich young ruler’s boasting in his law keeping had a ring similar to that of Peter’s when the Lord had told him Satan desired him to sift him. Peter said unto him, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.” (Luke 22:33) However, Peter was not nearly as ready as he thought, for truly he would be sifted in Satan’s sieve; he would deny his Lord and Master and finally be converted and strengthen his brethren. But all this was over a period of time and would not take place at once. Even so, the young lad would be compelled to lay down his boasting during a sad journey, for the Lord was sending him away for a period of sifting.
“And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22) This was not at all what the young man had expected. He came running with much enthusiasm, but now it was all gone in a moment of searching truth from the mouth of the Lord. He was not only sad; he grieved. Mark well, he was not grieving because he possessed many riches. He was grieving because he possessed great riches and he must get rid of them. Cynics might suggest that Jesus was a little too hard on this young man. However, this was His constant message. Hear Him in another place: “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)
WAS THE RICH YOUNG RULER ONE OF THE UNCONVERTED ELECT?
There is a novel doctrine in circulation, especially among the Limited Predestinarians, that multitudes of the elect of God live and die in unbelief. They contend for, among other errors, the baseless notion that elect sinners may be born again, and yet pursue a course not unlike the world of the reprobates. The rich young ruler, say they, is one of those characters. He is also loosely described by them as being a “disobedient child of God;” an expression to them very similar to the expression, “unconverted elect.” The Conditionalists usually link the notion of an “unconverted elect” with the free will elect sinners supposedly possess after they have been born again.
We will leave it to the Limited Predestinarians for this time to unravel all the niceties of this Ashdod doctrine, and examine for ourselves the text, with the hope of learning if the rich young ruler was indeed an “unconverted elect.” That he was, at least at the beginning, unconverted in the conventional sense of the term, we freely admit. He had, too, all the earmarks of not being a “gospel believer” when he arrived at the feet of Jesus. From appearance we would conclude the lad was also a staunch legalist; a workmonger, if you will. It appears he was extremely covetous as well. And he was profoundly proud. In fact, there was little, if anything, to commend him when he first trotted up for that initial audience with the Lord of Glory.
Does any of this prove the young ruler was, or would always be, one of these “unconverted elect” as is advocated by some? Why should it? What is said of the rich young ruler could, in a measure, be also said of us in our beginnings. He would, by his own confession, inherit the kingdom, if he could only find out what he might do. But, according to the Lord’s statement here, and others elsewhere in the Word of God, he was at that time unqualified. “One thing thou lackest,” he was told. The Corinthians were also instructed along these lines as follows: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11) Verses nine and ten above tell us what could well be said of all the human race. We are all sinners. Some are guilty in one or more categories; some in others; some possibly in all! But of those loved with the everlasting love of God it is said, “And such were some of you!”
Do not be misled by questioning the expression “some of you”; rather, ask, “Lord, is it I?” Those the Lord loves will, at some point in their lives, be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God, and then it can be said of them too, “And such were some of you.” Thus we say that, not only the young ruler, but all of us were initially unfit for the kingdom of God.
As for the young ruler being a supposed “unconverted elect,” we consider the term, like most other humanly contrived terms the Conditional Tribes use, to be worthless in addressing this subject. To apply the term, as they intend its meaning, is totally out of place here, or any other place in the Bible. All that may be known in this regard is that the young ruler was at that point lacking in understanding of the things of the kingdom. To suppose he never believed, or followed the Lord is that; pure supposition.
WAS THE RICH YOUNG RULER A CHOSEN VESSEL OF THE LORD?
By chosen vessel, we mean an individual elected to be saved at last in heaven; chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4). Also it means “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” (Romans 9:23) The question is not if the young ruler was born again at the time he first came to Jesus. Was he at that time numbered among the elect; one predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son is that which we would determine. If plain language carries any weight with us the answer is positively clear and without controversy. Mark 10:21 informs us that Jesus beheld the lad and loved him. What a blessed man he was to be loved of Jesus the Saviour of sinners. To us, that one statement secures the proof he was indeed a chosen vessel; one of the lambs of God’s flock. If not born again, he surely would be.
Again, we stress under this heading, the question is not, was he a lost sheep? Simply asked, was he a sheep at all? Does Jesus love the goats? No! Does Jesus behold the reprobate with the purest of all emotions, love? No! It will not do to say the Lord looked on the young ruler lovingly but did not really love him, for that is not what the text says. “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” (Mark 10:21) is as clear a statement as the clarity of the jasper stone in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10). We freely admit that if it were not for the statement that Jesus loved him there would be little else, if anything at all, to persuade us he was a chosen vessel; but there it is; “Jesus beholding him loved him.”
There are many texts to confirm our position that Jesus owned this young ruler from the foundation of the world as His own, but we will confine ourselves to only one. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” (Revelation 1:5) The order is first, He loved us, and second, He washed us in His own blood. Did not He love the rich young ruler? Then He also washed him in His blood. At what point in the lad’s life were light, spiritual life, and liberty applied to him, we cannot say. What we can say is that at some point the Saviour did, by His Spirit, quicken him, call him, and convert him because He loved him. “…having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1) The rich young ruler was, by being loved of the Lord, accounted as one of the jewels of the King’s treasury. “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” (Malachi 3:17)
DID THE RICH YOUNG RULER DISOBEY A GOSPEL COMMAND?
The Limited Predestinarians hate the doctrines of God’s Sovereignty, despite their claims to embrace it. They would have God to be sovereign over some things, but He dare not go too far, lest He be liable to the charge of authoring sin, whatever that means to them. Neither may God infringe on the freedom of saved sinners. They must be left to obey or disobey; to receive rewards for duty done, or punishment for failure. According to them, the rich young ruler was told by Jesus what he ought to do. Most of them believe he failed to respond positively and went away disconsolate, dejected, distraught, and was thus reckoned among the disobedient children of God. We disagree!
The young man did exactly what the Lord told him to do in the first instant. “Go thy way” Jesus bid him, and he did it forthwith. He did not tarry to argue or complain. There is no record that he pleaded to be let off with an easier burden than that of selling his great riches and distributing to the poor; he went away. True enough he was grieved as he parted (Luke says he was very sorrowful), but to our mind that reinforces our position rather than weakening it. His grief was an evidence the words of the Lord had affected him mightily. Grief and sorrow suggest the young ruler was somewhat resigned to what had to be done. Many had heard similar words from the Lord and rebelled. Often the Scribes and Pharisees felt the harshness of His words and it hardened them rather than making them compliant.
It has been suggested that in the absence of any record relating the following life of the young ruler he must have been disobedient and consequently hung on to his wealth. That type of reckless reasoning might prove just about anything the reasoner wanted it to prove. What we do know from the account is that this lad was given instructions from the mouth of the Lord Who loved him. From what we learn in the Bible of Jesus as Lord and God we may reasonably expect the young man did exactly what was ordained for him to do. He may have started out unwilling, but our Lord would make him willing in the day of His power.
We cannot know with certainty what took place after the lad left the presence of the Saviour. What we can know is what the Scriptures teach us about the effects of Jesus instructing others in similar manner. To say this young man lived and died a “disobedient child of God” is pure speculation no matter how the term is defined. Those of us who believe in the universal government of God take great comfort in realizing this young lad, and all others, will have done that which God has ordained for them when it is all over. The young ruler probably did not know what he would do as he walked away from the presence of the Lord, but the Lord knew. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23)
THE LORD’S PERSONAL APPLICATION OF THE INCIDENT
“And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23) The young ruler had departed. Things had surely not gone the way he had expected. Neither his wealth nor his perceived law-keeping received a commendation from the meek and lowly Lamb of God. His anticipated grand entrance into the kingdom proved a worthless myth; thus he went away at the Lord’s bidding, grieved and sad. Now it was time for the disciples to learn this lesson as well. How would they receive their Master’s summary of these events? Not well at all. “And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24) The poor things were astonished. They had hardly expected the matter to fall out this way. Jesus then furthered their learning with the following parable: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10.25) With this brief rebuff of their astonishment the Lord fully shattered the disciple’s confidence in gaining the kingdom for themselves. They anguished at this sudden shattering of their understanding. “And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26) Their astonishment exceeded all bounds or measurement. They had seen the lad coming to Jesus in all his pomp and position. He was both a student and keeper of the law; moreover, he was rich. But he was sent away without his anticipated acceptance.
Now they had to reason among themselves that if this fine fellow, with all his recommendations, could not enter the kingdom as easy as a camel could get through a needle’s eye, “Who then can be saved?” Indeed, who can be?
“Who then can be saved?” was not a question they dared ask the Saviour directly; they said it among themselves. The Lord’s words had put salvation on a higher plane than they could perceive, and it left them in consternation. But the dear Saviour would ease their minds somewhat. “And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) Those rich persons, whether rich in the world’s goods or rich in legal works, can no more enter the Kingdom than camels can pass through the eye of the needle. It is impossible with them; but not with God! With God all things are possible, including making camels smaller, needles’ eyes larger, or rich men poor. All that is necessary is for Him to speak the word and it is done. That is salvation; then, now, and forevermore. For the rich young lad to be saved from his covetousness (time salvation) or saved for the kingdom (eternal salvation) was impossible for him. But with God (and Jesus was establishing that He was God), all things were possible. Thus we believe the young ruler was certainly a beloved vessel of mercy being saved despite himself and his many handicaps. This interesting incident establishes once again what the saints of God in all ages have learned; that “Salvation is of the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9)
J.F. Poole – 1993