On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
The Camel and the Needle Eye
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24,25)
The rich young ruler chose to retain his earthly wealth rather than gain eternal riches in following Jesus (10:17-22).
Jesus used the man’s departure as a teaching opportunity about the high cost of discipleship. The disciples were amazed at what Jesus said. Why? After all, they themselves left all to follow Him. Could their amazement be that they were still clinging to political expectations, that Jesus would enthrone himself as King and they would gain positions of wealth and influence? Very late into Jesus’ ministry, they were still jostling for places of prominence (9:33-37; 10:35-45).
Perhaps they felt like some would-be followers of Jesus today — that Jesus is just an add-on. If you are rich, He’ll make you richer; if healthy, He’ll make you healthier; if successful, you’ll be even more successful.
Jesus’ answer is hard to take. So, in one of the rare moments in His teaching, He simply repeated himself for emphasis. He drove the point home: It’s hard to get into the Kingdom.
How do we evaluate His words in a culture where we want it to be as easy as possible to follow Jesus? Have we substituted a false gospel of relevance and convenience for the true gospel of repentance and self-denial?
What makes it possible for us to enter the kingdom of God? If the rich young ruler had sold everything to follow Jesus, would he have obtained eternal life? Not if Jesus was making a false claim. Our obedience is only one side of the equation. Jesus must be able to deliver what He promises. No one gets into the Kingdom except through the vast resources gained through Christ’s life, death and resurrection from the dead.
To underline His point about the difficulty in entering the kingdom of God, Jesus used the illustration of the impossibility of a camel going through the eye of a needle.
It’s fascinating to watch how various commentators try to explain away the plain speech of Jesus.
Some say that Jesus was referring to a small gate set within the larger city gate. At nighttime, the large gate was closed, but entry could be obtained through the small gate. In that case, a camel could get through if all its baggage had been removed. The camel would then, with difficulty, crawl through.
An alternate view is that Jesus was referring to a rope going through the eye of a needle rather than a camel, since in the original language the spelling of the two words is very similar. However, with this view, the rope could still get through if the eye of the needle was large enough.
A camel going through an inner gate would not have amazed the disciples; there is considerable doubt that such an inner gate even existed in the first century. Perhaps a large rope going through a needle would have amazed them if the needle were tiny.
But both these attempts to understand Jesus miss the point. His focus is on “impossible.” Neither a camel nor a rope can go through an eye of a needle. Salvation is unattainable unless the Lord makes it happen!
A prayer of response
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark