In a well-known New Testament story, a rich young man had this exchange with Jesus:
“... Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. 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. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22).
As the man left, Jesus taught his disciples, “... How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).
This teaching astonished Jesus’ disciples. Jesus spoke again to clarify his teaching, realizing that his disciples did not fully understand, “... 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).
Notice the different language in Mark 10:24 compared to Mark 10:23. In verse 23 it seems that the rich shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of God. However, Jesus clarified in verse 24 that those who trust in riches will find it difficult to enter the kingdom of God.
Quite often this story is interpreted that the wealthy have no opportunity for eternal life or that we must do much more to care for our brotherly poor. (See connection.ebscohost.com for an article that is a typical scholarly reading in that vein.) And yes, this type of interpretation is necessary.
But often readers get distracted trying to determine what it means to be “rich.” Readers, hoping to feel some divine safety, may determine that they are not wealthy, even if they have been materially blessed. For example, readers might compare themselves against others, “I’m not wealthy compared to so and so” as though by such standards the Lord will determine who is allowed into his kingdom or not. The erroneous thinking concludes that as long as we can find someone who is egregiously more wealthy than we are, we are safely on the Lord’s side
These forms of interpretation miss one of the major lessons from this story: “... how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24).
Those who "trust in riches" for salvation will find themselves everlastingly disappointed.
To enter the kingdom of God one must trust God, and not their riches.
The underlying Greek word for riches in this verse is chrema. Chrema is typically rendered throughout the New Testament as money or riches. Significantly for our understanding, this word also generically means “any thing, any matter, any useful thing, something needed.”
In other words, those who trust in anything except God will not enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus underscores this fact when he explained further, “... With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). We often use this verse to build our faith that God can do all things. And surely he can.
However, Mark 10:27 is far more specific. Jesus meant to teach us that if we expect to get into the kingdom of God by means of any worldly or humanly thing, it will be impossible. Instead, with God, and only with God, is it possible to enter into his kingdom.
Taylor Halverson (Ph.D.s in biblical studies and instructional technology) is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.