Having Eternal Life
Matthew Lesson #110
February 21, 2016
“Father, You revealed Your Word to us, the written Word, throughout a period of over 2,000 years, through many different authors in different locations, different cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, Your Word has a unity that is remarkable and beyond anything in human history, human literature, human writings. It is evidence that this is a unique and distinct book. It is not the record of man, but the revelation of Yourself to us, written through human writers, preserved and protected from error by God the Holy Spirit.
Father, as we study Your Word, we need to be reminded that our presupposition needs to be there are no contradictions, there are no errors, there are no mistakes, and that when it appears that way to us, we need to delve deeper, study more, and understand what exactly is happening.
As we study today, we are in one of those passages that is often misunderstood, mishandled, and misrepresented. We pray that we might be clear in the way that we handle your precious Word.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me this morning to Matthew 19.
We are going to begin as we get into this particular text, which is one that is, as I said in my prayer, one that is often and frequently misunderstood and misidentified. It is, I believe, one of those passages that uses terms that are commonly used in—what I would call—everyday evangelical Christian idioms that are not always used the way the Bible uses those terms.
That is one of the reasons we have to dig down and really study the text and examine these things, because often we have errors taught in Scriptures simply because people take certain terms (you’re familiar with these terms—terms like eternal life, saved, inheriting), terms we’re going to look at today, terms people often automatically think are referring to justification.
Now as we’ve studied many times, there are three phases (or stages) to God’s plan of salvation. While the word “saved” is often used of the entire three-stage plan, it is more often used of each individual stage within it.
Phase 1 is justification, which takes places in an instant of time.
We believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, and we are instantly justified by faith alone. We are saved from the penalty of sin, which is eternity in the Lake of Fire.
After that we have another decision to make. The first decision is what do we think about Jesus Christ? What do we believe about Jesus Christ?
The second is what are we going to do now that we have new life in Christ? That is Phase 2—the issue of sanctification. That’s the theological term. It means growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, living a life that is set apart to His service.
This is something that begins the instant we’re born. The birth process, even in natural human life, is quite distinct from the growth process. So that’s the same thing in the spiritual life. The birth process, regeneration, is distinct from the growth process.
We grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there are certain principles that are inherent to spiritual growth.
We need to walk by the Spirit.
We are to pray.
There are all kinds of mandates in Scripture that are part of, or are to characterize the life of the believer, but they are not part of getting justified. They are not part of becoming a believer. They’re part of what should characterize the life of a believer.
We refer to this as Phase 2, the spiritual life, experiential sanctification. During that time, the Bible says we are saved as we grow from the power of sin.
So in Phase 1 we’re saved from the penalty of sin.
In Phase 2 we’re saved from the power of sin.
And in Phase 3 we’re saved from the presence of sin. In Phase 3 we’re absent from the body, and we are face-to-face with the Lord.
Now since “saved” can be used to describe each of those categories of our overall so great salvation, we always have to be careful when we study Scripture to make sure that we are properly understanding what’s going on.
Often we get things that are misunderstood, especially in this second section here where we have the one who is referred to as the rich, young ruler come to Jesus. But we have to understand that what happens starting in verse 16 with the rich, young ruler coming to Jesus and asking the question, “What shall I do that I may have eternal life?”—and that we cannot disconnect that from the previous three-verse section in Matthew 19:13–15.
Both of these are related to what is taught in this section, and that is how to have eternal life. As soon as I say “how to have eternal life,” where we default is to how to get justified.
But how to have eternal life, we’re going to see, is not synonymous with getting justified—being saved from the penalty of sin, so that when we die physically, we are face-to-face with the Lord and spend eternity with Him.
Having eternal life is something that is much more robust than just that sort of beginning phase of the spiritual life. It has to do with experiencing the richness, the fullness of everything that God has for us, and we’re going to see that as we proceed.
So the next episode that occurs that Matthew records following Jesus’ discussion of marriage, is His emphasis on Genesis 1 and 2, the standard for marriage in Matthew 19:1–12.
Matthew then tells us, “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.”
Now if we look back at Matthew 19:1, we learn that geographically, Jesus has moved on from the area in the Galilee. He’s moved south, and He’s down in the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
I’m making that geographical note because a number of things are going to happen in chapters 19 and 20. Then I believe it’s in chapter 21 that Jesus goes to Jericho, and then He’s going to be moving to Jerusalem.
That’s just a reminder that there’s going to be other transitions taking place from His ministry in the north to His final days in Jerusalem.
So we are probably within three months of His crucifixion at this time. It’s probably close to this time of year. Probably January or so of the year AD 33.
Now this is this little episode where the children are brought to Him, and it’s very helpful for us, as we look at this and what Matthew says, to compare it to what Mark and Luke say. They are called synoptic Gospels because they’re parallel like synonyms. They’re parallel, but not identical, and each author brings out another facet, something else about what is going on.
So Matthew uses this term “of such” that is, like these children. There’s a comparison that goes on between little children in their culture and how disciples are to be in their thinking and in their attitudes.
In Mark 10:13, we have four verses. We’re told, “Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them;”
This was not uncommon in Judaism, second temple Judaism at that time. It was customary for people to bring their children to rabbis for blessing, for prayer. Matthew is the only one that mentions prayer. But with the others, that was the idea—that He would touch them and bless them. And the disciples rebuked those who brought them. They haven’t learned the lesson from the beginning of Matthew 18 yet.
“But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God”—same phraseology Matthew uses.
Then He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Luke says the same thing, has that same phrase there in Luke 18:17 that what He’s talking about is making some analogy between the way little children are viewed in their culture and entering into the kingdom.
Now as soon as you hear that, your mind defaults to thinking about getting into Heaven. As soon as you do that, you’re walking down the wrong road in understanding this passage. I’m going to make that clear in just a minute, but this is what we have to understand.
What does He mean by “entering into the kingdom,” because salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone, and that’s why I quoted those verses this morning before we began—that we are saved by simply believing in Jesus. Over 95 times in the Gospel of John, that is the one and only condition for having eternal life in the Gospel of John.
“These are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and by believing you will have life in His Name.” [John 20:31]
Nowhere does it mention works or obedience or repentance or anything else in the Gospel of John. It is simply believe again and again and again.
So here we have this phrase that somehow we have to become like a little child in order to enter the kingdom. Well, that seems to be adding something to believe.
So are we still talking about just being justified, Phase 1? Or is Jesus really talking about Phase 2, spiritual life and spiritual growth?
Now remember that in Matthew 18:3–4, we had the first reference to children, and it’s in an important context, as I’ve pointed out in the past couple of lessons. The question the disciples are arguing about among themselves is who’s going to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So Jesus is going to have an object lesson. He calls this little boy over to Himself, and He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted …”
Now who is He talking to? He’s not talking to the crowds. He’s not talking to the multitudes. He’s talking to His twelve disciples, eleven of whom are saved. They have believed in Him as Messiah. They understand who He is, and they are regenerate.
So He’s not talking to them about going from spiritual death to spiritual life. He’s not talking to them about how to be justified. He’s talking to them that “If you don’t turn—that is, quit your arrogant self-absorption and become like a little child—then you’re not going to inherit anything in the kingdom.”
Entering the kingdom there doesn’t mean getting justified. He’s talking to people who are already justified. He’s telling them that entering into the kingdom (and that must mean something more than just going to Heaven when we die), that experiencing all of the riches and fullness of that eternal life that God is going to give us, is predicated upon becoming like a little child.
We looked at that, and we saw that there are a lot of misstatements about this. People want to compare “becoming like a little child” to becoming humble, not being self-absorbed, not focusing on yourself, not making life all about you.
But anybody that is a parent or around little children for a while knows that those are not characteristics of sinful, corrupt, spiritually dead little kids. They are self-absorbed. They’re not humble. They are arrogant, and it’s all about them.
So that’s not the point of the analogy, and this is critical to understand what’s going to happen here at the end of the chapter.
Notice that Matthew 18 begins with the same kind of event as Matthew 19 ends. That frames the point that Jesus is making here.
A child in that culture had no status. He had no value. He was supposed to not only be seen and not heard, he was not supposed to be seen or heard. He had no position, power, or privilege in the culture at that time.
And what’s the context? The disciples are arguing, “Who’s got status among us?” “Who’s going to be the greatest among us?” Jesus is saying, “You’ve got to quit thinking about being great in this life. You’ve got to quit thinking about status and starting thinking about service. It’s not about you, it’s about Me.” Jesus is the only One who can say that. And that’s the issue.
So it’s not just about humility in general. It is about giving up all claims to position, privilege, rights, things of that nature.
This is the problem. As human beings we latch on to all kinds of things that make us feel like we are somebody. We want to have wealth, and power, and privilege. We want to have certain kinds of homes, and wear certain kinds of designer clothes. We want to be thought of and identified with a certain kind of image related to status, and that’s what gives us significance.
For some people this is rank in the military—not everybody, there are those who are arrogant and those who aren’t—there’s rank in the military. In academics, it’s accumulating a lot of degrees, and it’s sometimes motivated by academic arrogance.
There are all kinds of different ways in which we establish certain status symbols, and we say, “See this makes me a great Christian; I have really served the Lord. I have done this, I have done that, and I should be recognized for it.”
What Jesus is saying is that attitude negates whatever it is you’ve done. It’s not about status, it’s about service.
So the issue is, when we look at the comparison at the end of both of these verses, Jesus uses the phrase, “enter the kingdom of heaven” in conjunction with “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Those are talking about the same things, as we’re going to see in just a minute.
So the issue here in Matthew 18:3–4 has to do with status, not position, power, privilege, wealth, or any of the other detail of life.
Matthew 18:5, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
And in Luke 9:48 Luke adds the phrase, “For he who is least among you all will be great.”
But when we look at the end of Matthew 19:30 Jesus says (and this is the end of this section) “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
So it’s about status. Everything in here is about status, and I want to bring that out because as we look at this passage, what is happening is Jesus is reminding the disciples again that the kingdom of heaven (experiencing the fullness of our salvation in the kingdom), is related to this child-like reality of not focusing on status or privilege or anything like that.
What we are reminded of is that the issue for the unbeliever is faith alone in Christ alone. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God not of works” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
So a gift is something that is freely given and freely accepted. But a reward is something that is earned.
Rewards are given to believers on the basis of performance, not as a free gift. So it’s like a sports contract today where you have some sort of performance clause in the contract. You’re guaranteed a certain salary, certain income, but if you perform well, if you do well, then there are incentives that if you do well at different stages, then you will get additional bonus payments for a job well done.
That’s how this is. This is an eternal contract for salvation. We are going to have eternal life—in other words, unending life with the Lord. But for those who perform well, there are going to be additional blessings and additional rewards.
So the emphasis here is going to be about being like a child, not focusing on status.
The next person who comes along is this rich, young ruler. He’s rich. He’s wealthy. He’s young. We like rich, young, powerful people. We hear about them on television shows, on entertainment programs focusing on the celebrity culture in our society, and it’s all about privilege and position and status.
So we shift—and it’s important to see this connection. We shift from talking and focusing on a child who has no position, power, or privilege, or status, to talking about someone who has it all. He is the rich, young ruler.
Everybody wants to be like the rich, young ruler. They want money. They want youth and energy and vitality, and they want to be a ruler. They want power. They want authority. They want to be able to impact things.
So what we see in Mark 10:17 is the introduction, “Now as He was going out on the road.” Jesus is walking down the road, and this rich, young ruler comes running.
Now Mark is one who is always in a hurry. If you read the Gospel of Mark, he says, “And then immediately, and immediately, and immediately,” it’s just the way he was. This guy was ADHD and always out of breath.
Luke introduces him by saying, “Now a certain ruler asked Him saying,” so each Gospel gives a little different portrayal of this one that is coming.
Matthew simply says, “Now behold one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ ” That is his basic question. [He skips over Slide 8.]
Now when we look at this as an overall structure, it’s really important to see that this whole section all the way down to verse 30 is structured according to a chiasm.
For those of you who’ve either forgotten or you haven’t been here when I’ve taught this before, there are a lot of different ways in which literature focuses attention on certain specifics in the text.
Remember, they are writing in an age before they even separated words in a sentence, so it’s like one run on or one long list of letters. There’s no space between words in the original.
In what was called “uncial text,” every letter is upper case. It just looks like a string of letters, and you have to stop, and if you had lived at that time, your mind would automatically divide up those letters.
Our minds are remarkable. Our minds are able to sort all kinds of data, and we can look at that and pick it out. If you’re an English reader, you automatically read left to right. And then if you have to learn Hebrew or Arabic, you have to learn to read right to left. It’s a little bit of a challenge at first because you’ve trained yourself to go one way, but you can do the other.
You have little kids in Israel who grow up all the time, and they are reading right to left. As soon as they see English, they go left to right; and as soon as they see Hebrew, they go right to left. They don’t even think about it. It’s amazing how the mind works.
When I took first year Hebrew in summer school, which was a really intense time, I remember after I think the second or third day, we were reading, and I’m driving back from class, and I came up to this red octagonal sign at an intersection, and I said, “Why does it say pots?” And then I realized it was a stop sign. That’s just how your mind works. It flips things around. You can see that.
Well, what the writers of Scripture used—because they didn’t have bold face, and they didn’t have italics, and they didn’t have underlines, and these others things—is structure in order to bring out certain points. Sometimes they would use a structure where they would begin and end something with the same thing.
Sort of like what we see here, and that’s emphasizing the boundaries of an area, a topic, a section of a book, and everything in between relates to what’s at the beginning, what’s at the end, which is what we’re seeing here.
Another way they would do that is what was called a chiasm, from the Greek letter CHI or pronounced mostly in Greek as KEE. It’s an X. It’s the first letter in the word “CHRISTOS.” What they would do is structure things where the first line is repeated, or the idea from the first line is repeated in the last. The second is repeated in the second to last, and then whatever is in the middle is the focal point of what is being said.
If you were to draw two lines here, it would form the left side of an X. That’s why it’s called a chiasm. And like an arrow, it draws your attention to that middle line.
So it starts off, Matthew 19:13–15, that the kingdom belongs to the children.
Then in Matthew 19:16 we have the terms “receiving a kingdom” and “inheriting eternal life.” This is what the rich, young ruler is asking. He says, “What shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
In the parallel passages it’s talking about inheriting the kingdom or receiving the kingdom.
In Matthew 19:17–29, which is the centerpiece, the focus is on inheriting eternal life and obtaining treasure in Heaven. That’s critical to understand. We’ll get to that more next week. That’s the focal point.
So he’s asking, “How do I inherit eternal life and obtain treasure in Heaven?”
And so “b” is ruling in the kingdom. “b'” is parallel to the first “b”.
And then “a'” states the last will be first and that parallels to the introduction, which has to do with the children. The children are always the last because they are not significant in the culture.
Obtaining treasure has to do with rewards. So that’s one of several things that we’re going to see that really tells us that we’re not talking about Phase 1, getting into Heaven when we die. We’re talking Phase 2, growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that when we are face-to-face with the Lord, we hear the praise, “Well, down thou good and faithful servant,” and we have rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
This is our first hint that this really isn’t about what most people think it’s about.
Now as we get into this, we have to recognize there are a number of interesting questions that come up. Who was this young man? Who is this? He’s unnamed. We don’t know who he is.
Ray Stedman, if any of you remember him, he went to be with the Lord probably about 20 years ago and was a pastor of a large church. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 50s and pastored the Peninsula Bible Church out in San Francisco, wrote a number of significant books. He speculated that this was Mark. I don’t know why. Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Who was this young man? Was he a believer in Christ, or was he an unbeliever? What do we learn about that from the text? We have to dig a little, and we can answer that, I think.
What does it mean by getting or obtaining or having eternal life? Is he coming to ask Jesus how to go to Heaven when he dies, or is he asking something else?
So there are a number of positions I want to review with these a little bit to show how cluttered the interpretations are on this particular passage.
In the Dallas Seminary Bible Knowledge Commentary, Matthew is authored by Louis Barbieri. He says that what’s really going on here is the young man is asking about assurance of salvation. How can I be SURE of salvation?
A second approach a lot of commentators take is to just ignore the whole thing and not answer the question.
A third position is one that I’ve heard most of my life. It’s probably the position that was held by most of those that I’ve heard teach at Dallas Seminary when I was a student there. That is the idea that Jesus is really showing him that he can’t obey the law, that he’s taking this assumption that I can obey the law and get eternal life, and Jesus points out some things that are impossible for him to do in order to teach him that he can’t do anything on his own in order to get saved.
That’s probably the view that most of you have heard. And that’s probably, in my experience, the most popular view.
The other view is that Jesus is using this example to show the rich, young ruler that his basic problem was his love of money. That’s probably the Marxist interpretation. He loves money, so we’ve got to get rid of his love for money. He needs to be a pauper. Let’s get rid of the upper class.
A fifth view is a view (and I’ve mentioned a professor named Craig Blomberg a couple of times in our study on Thursday night related to inerrancy and infallibility, and his weakness is there especially in the Gospels), that Blomberg says that Jesus is saying the only way to Heaven is through discipleship.
Now he’s half right. This is a discipleship passage, but He’s not saying the only way to Heaven. He’s not talking about how to get to Heaven. He is talking about discipleship though.
In a view that has been called Neonomism, which is sort of a hyper-Calvinist view that has become very popular, they say that in order to be eligible for final justification, the believer has to perform many non-meritorious works or they will not be justified.
This is similar to lordship salvation, except it’s lordship on steroids; that is, if you don’t have the right kind of works, you’re not really saved.
So He’s telling this rich, young ruler that you’ve got to have all these works, you can’t just cherry pick which commandments you’re going to apply.
Another view is that Jesus was not trying to teach salvation by works, but was testing the sincerity of the young man’s desire for eternal life. In other words, when He says you’ve got to sell everything you have, the guy goes, “Oh, man! I don’t want to do that.” So he really doesn’t want eternal life. He’s not sincere enough. That’s that view.
Some lordship people teach that if a person could actually fulfill the law of love to perfection, then they would obtain eternal life, that it is possible to earn eternal life. That’s their view.
And then the view I take, which is none of the above, is that the rich, young ruler is really asking a question that grows out of the Old Testament. He doesn’t feel like he is experiencing what the Law promised, which is life now, as well as life eternal. But the focus from the Old Testament is—as we’ll see—life now. And so he’s asking how to experience the fullness of life now, which ultimately impacts, as Jesus is going to bring out, this is going to impact your eternal rewards.
If you look at most of these views that are wrong, what happens is Jesus never really answers the question. He leaves the guy hanging with the false impression that he has to be obedient in order to get what he’s asking for in terms of justification.
Most of those views interpret this passage as a question about how to get to Heaven when you die. And when we get done with this, we’re going to see that that’s not the question at all.
So let’s look at a couple of things as an overview here. I’m not trying to overload you with data here, but it’s just interesting to look at the phrases that are used just in Matthew that are synonymous. So I’ve grouped them here in three groups.
In Matthew 19:14 Jesus refers to the children and says, “Such is the kingdom of heaven.” That idea is seen as parallel to what the rich, young ruler is asking that “I may have eternal life.”
In Matthew 19:17 having eternal life is also stated as “entering into life.” Now when we think of entering into life and having eternal life, our default position is this is a question about how do I get to Heaven when I die.
But Jesus says in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect.” Now getting into Heaven isn’t a question about being perfect.
The word there for “perfect” is—we’ll see—the Greek word TELEIOS, which is always a word for maturity. It doesn’t mean flawlessness in terms of perfection. It means maturity. It means growing to maturity.
In Jesus’ response to the question, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus says, “If you want to be mature.” So Jesus is answering a maturity question. He’s not answering a getting born question. That’s crucial.
Another phrase that we have is “You will have treasure in heaven.” So it’s not about getting into Heaven. It’s about having treasure in Heaven.
We go to 1 Corinthians 3 and talk about the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those who are obedient to Christ and grow spiritually are going to have rewards described as gold, silver, and precious stones. Those who are disobedient believers still end up in Heaven, but they enter as with nothing. So if you want to have treasure in Heaven, we have to walk in obedience. But that’s not how we get to Heaven.
Also in Matthew 19:25 the disciples’ response to this is “Well, this is pretty rugged. How can we be saved?” Now see, people look at “saved” and say, “See, it is all about getting justified.” But that’s because we misinterpret these phrases. They don’t mean in the Bible the way we’ve come to use them in evangelicalism.
In Matthew 19:17 He talks about keeping the commandments, and Jesus says, “Well, you need to also sell what you have and give to the poor.” Now why would Jesus say that?
I don’t know—we’ll get to that verse next week—but I want to give you a heads up. Jesus isn’t a Marxist. Jesus isn’t espousing liberation theology. He would, on the basis of what Reverend Jeremiah Wright teaches. But Jeremiah Wright is destined for the Lake of Fire. I don’t know if he ever trusted Christ honestly when he was a kid, but based on his liberation theology, he’s got a one-way ticket to the Lake of Fire because liberation theology is a works distortion like every other religious position.
This is not Marxism. It’s not socialism. Both of those are enemies of Christianity. Anybody who approves of socialism or Marxism or redistribution of wealth is an anti-Christian. They have bought into an anti-Christ philosophy.
I don’t care if that’s the pope, I don’t care if it’s a political candidate or it’s your best friend. They have bought into the devil’s lie. The Bible believes that people have a right to personal property.
What’s the most simple defense of that? “Thou shalt not steal.” The assumption is people have a right to personal property and nobody has a right to your property. Period. Not even the government. Not even Bernie Sanders—I just wanted to see if anybody was awake.
Then what does Jesus say that he needs to do? He says, “You need to come to Me.” In Matthew 19:14 the little children are to come to Him.
In Matthew 19:21 what does He say to the rich, young ruler? “If you want to be perfect, go sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and—what?—come and follow Me.”
How do you get to Heaven? Believe on Me. Is that follow Me? “Follow Me” and “believe on Me” are not the same thing. The fact that Jesus says “Follow Me” tells us right away He’s not talking about Phase 1, He’s talking about Phase 2. “Follow Me” is a sanctification discipleship term. “Believe on Me” is a justification term.
So Jesus says “Follow Me.” Not only that, but the disciples clearly understand Him, and when we look down at verse 27, “Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘See we have left all and followed You.’ ” That’s a discipleship issue. It’s not a justification issue. The disciples say, “Well, we’ve left everything to follow You.” And then he says, “Well what shall we have?”
Jesus says, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones.”
What’s that? Reward or gift? That’s a reward. So He’s not talking about the gift of justification. He’s talking about the rewards that come from spiritual growth.
So He says, “Come follow Me.” In Matthew 19:27 Peter says, “We’ve left all and followed You.” And in verse 28 Jesus says, “You who have followed Me.”
So it’s very clear that it’s talking about Phase 2, because these terms are all used synonymously. Then the terms we often think of as being Phase 1 justification, like “that I may have eternal life,” “enter into life,” “enter into the kingdom of heaven,” “being saved,” in this context, these are all talking about what relates to rewards, not what relates to justification.
So let’s look at this first question. “Now a certain ruler,” Luke says, “came to Him saying ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do inherit eternal life?’ ”
Mark also says “inherit eternal life.” And Matthew just says simply “have eternal life.”
Now let’s look at the parallel phrases. In the previous slide , what I did was show you all the parallel synonymous phrases in Matthew. Now we’re going to check them across the other Gospels.
So in Matthew 19:16 he says, “What can I do to have eternal life?” But in Mark and in Luke he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” So having eternal life and inheriting eternal life have to be the same thing.
Jesus then in His answer says this has to do with “having treasure in heaven.” Treasure in Heaven is mentioned in all three Gospels: Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22.
Jesus also says that this is “being perfect.” But being perfect isn’t justification. Being perfect is being mature.
Mark 10:21 says not only do you have to be perfect, but you have to “take up your cross and follow Me”—adding that. That is clearly a discipleship mandate. Taking up your cross means to submit to the authority of God.
We went through this, that when in Rome when you were a criminal and you were being punished, you were seen as a traitor to the empire. You would be punished by crucifixion, and you would have to carry your cross or the cross beam to the place of execution because that symbolized the fact that you were now going to submit to the authority of Rome.
There are a lot of different interpretations of that, but that’s the one that’s based actually on historical documents, non-biblical historical documents. Taking up your cross means you’re going to submit to the authority of Rome. That is a discipleship mandate. That is not a getting into Heaven mandate.
So we also have the phrase used synonymously “entering the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 19:23–24, in Mark 10:23–25 and “being saved” in Matthew 19:25 and Mark 10:26.
So again we’re forced to the conclusion that for all these phrases to be synonymous, we’re not talking about how to go to Heaven when you die. We’re talking about how to be a mature believer so that you have eternal rewards in Heaven when you die.
Then the third phrase, we’re going to look at a third concept, is “Follow Me.” “Follow Me” is used six times in Matthew. He talks to His disciples who are already believers in Matthew 4:19 and He says, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
So following Him is a post-salvation issue. The challenge to you and me as believers is, are we going to truly follow Jesus? Or are we just happy that we’re going to end up in Heaven?
A lot of believers are like that. I’ve heard people say, “You know, I don’t really care what happens when I get there as long as I’m there.” That’s a silly, superficial answer. Usually that’s somebody that really doesn’t want to grow very much spiritually and they just want to justify it.
But what Scripture says is that we’re to follow Jesus. We’re to go for the gold. We’re not to just be happy that we got accepted and enrolled. We want to go all the way through. We want to get our high school degree, our bachelor’s degree, our graduate degree. We want to do everything we can in order to glorify God.
It’s not self-glorification because what’s described in Matthew 4? What happens to our crowns, our STEPHANOS crowns? We throw them at the feet of Jesus. So it’s not about personal status. We just want to serve the Lord.
In Matthew 8:22, Jesus says—I forget the context there—Jesus says, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
This is the one who comes, “I want to follow you, Jesus.” And Jesus says, “Well then, follow Me.” And he says, “Well, wait a minute, I need to go back. My dad’s sick. It may take him six months or a year.” Jesus says, “Don’t worry about that. Let the dead bury the dead. You come and follow Me.” That’s the issue; leaving father and mother behind.
We’re going to see that idea here in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
Again, that’s not a condition for salvation—that you leave everything and everybody. It’s a condition for spiritual growth and discipleship.
Matthew 9:9, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew (Levi) sitting at the tax office. And He said to him ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.” Matthew was already a believer.
Matthew 10:38, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Again, He’s talking about discipleship.
Then we go to Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’ ” Repeated twice in Matthew and also in the synoptics.
In Matthew 19 we have these three statements:
Jesus said we are to come and follow Him in Matthew 19:21.
In Matthew 19:27 “we have left all and followed You,” Peter said.
And in Matthew 19:28 Jesus says those “who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones.”
Now we’ll get to this, but the reason Jesus says “you need to sell all you have” isn’t because He’s trying to humble them, or tell them, “No you need to be poor, you need to give up everything, you need to be like St. Francis and just give it all up.” That’s not the issue.
The issue is the rich, young ruler has the same problem that the disciples had. What was the disciples’ problem? They wanted to be somebody. They wanted to be somebody in the kingdom. They wanted to have status.
He’s got status. Not like the little children, he’s got it. He’s the rich, young ruler. He’s got it all. And Jesus says, “The real issue you’ve got is you’re putting emphasis on what you have in your possessions as your status as being spiritually significant, and you’re got to give that up if you’re going to follow Me.”
Not because people have to give up money. They have to be willing to give up whatever they are holding on to to give them status in this world. You’ve got to be willing to lose that for Christ’s sake, so that you can have real life.
That doesn’t mean you have to give it all up, but he’s not willing to because his status, his mind, is still focused on “what I have in this life,” is significant.
Quit thinking about this life. It’s about the next life. We’re living today in light of what? Tomorrow. No. In light of eternity, right? How many times have you heard me say that? We’re living today in light of eternity.
If you’re living today in light of personal pleasure, security, or significance today, then you’re going to be giving up eternal rewards.
So he asks, here’s the question, “What shall I do to obtain eternal life?”
In Matthew 19:16, he uses the word ECHO, which can mean just “to have or to hold,” but it also has that idea of possessing something. It’s a broad, general word. So you could easily translate that, “What shall I do to possess or to own eternal life?”
Well, the parallel way it’s expressed, and he probably said this as well, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He probably asked the same question two or three different ways to make it clear. Matthew presents it one way. The others use the other form, but he probably said both.
So he’s asking what can I do to possess this eternal life? Well, what does he mean by “life?” Let’s just look at it.
Who is this guy? What dispensation is this? It’s the Age of the Law. What did the Law say about life?
Well, in the Old Testament dispensation, which is the one he’s in (he’s not in the Church Age), he is still thinking in terms of the Mosaic Law because that’s his whole issue—the Mosaic Law promised life.
For example, in Ezekiel 20:11 God said, “I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ ”
Is that talking about eternal life after you die? Or is that talking about the fullness of life right here and now? That was the promise in the Law.
We see this in other passages, like in Deuteronomy 4:1, 4:40. What’s the promise here? If you “listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live.”
Deuteronomy 4:40, “… that you may prolong your days in the land.”
Deuteronomy 5:33, “You’ll walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you …”
So his question is within the context of the Mosaic Law. “I’m fulfilling all the commandments, but I want to make sure I have this rich life.”
Deuteronomy 30:15, 19, Moses’ parting shot at Israel and parting challenge to Israel was, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”
Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
How do you have life? By obeying the Mosaic Law. It’s not how you got saved, but that’s how you experience the fullness of the life that God wanted for you.
How did a person in the Old Testament get justified? The pattern of Abraham. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.
In Leviticus 18:5 the Law said, “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them.”
So the issue in terms of this question is the issue of not how does a man get justified, but how does a justified person experience the fullness of life?
Jesus said, “I came not like a thief to steal and destroy, I came to give life and to give it abundantly.” It’s one thing to have a never ending life once we die and we go to Heaven. It’s another thing to have the fullness and richness of that.
There is a condition for that. There’s no condition for getting justified other than faith alone in Christ alone. But to experience the richness of what that life will be like, we have to walk by the Spirit. We have to be obedient to the Lord. We have to submit to God. We have to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the key.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word, to be reminded that salvation is free. It’s a gift. Jesus Christ paid the price on the Cross when He said ‘It is finished’. It is paid in full. So that all that is necessary for us to have security for eternity in Your Presence is to believe Jesus died for us. He died on the Cross for our sins. He paid the penalty. He’s buried. He rose again. This is the great news, the good news of Christianity.
But that’s only the beginning of life. The question after our new birth is how do we really live, how do we grow, how are we nourished, how do we become healthy as believers? That comes by growing, as Peter says, in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, if anyone is listening to this who has never trusted Christ as Savior, we pray that You will at this time make that clear, that they will believe Jesus died for them. For those who are already justified, we pray that we might be challenged that we need to follow Jesus. We need to grow and mature. We need to be disciples, and we need to be ready to step to the next level and constantly push ourselves in terms of our spiritual growth.
Father, we pray that You would challenge each of us with what we’ve learned today. In Christ’s name. Amen.”