Matthew 18-19 What good deed must I do to have eternal life?

From Matthew 18-19

Gospel Jesus is risen ChristA rich man calls Jesus a good teacher and asks his what he must do in order to have eternal life? Jesus answers keep the commandments, give away all his possessions and follow him. The rich man goes away sad. Jesus teaches his disciples it is impossible for man to do this alone, but with God everything is possible.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

In today’s passage Jesus answers a mans question about how he can obtain eternal life. Its an important question. Lets have a close look at the answer Jesus gives.

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.’ (Mt 19.16-17a)

Jesus’ first response is quite strange. Jesus asks, ‘Why do you ask me? There is only one who is good’. Jesus is referring to God the Father, and does not point to himself as being good.

On face value, Jesus’ response may present problems for believing in the Trinity. Jesus is God and he is not denying he is God by neglecting to affirm it here. Rather Jesus has another point in mind.

The man knows of God and his commandments. Why hasn’t he sought the answer from God the only one who is good (through scripture and prayer) for how to obtain eternal life? Jesus is exposing he should have already known where to find these answers.

Returning to the question asked, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’

‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 

18 He said to him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “ You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 19:17b-19)

Jesus gives a direct answer to the man’s question. He lists a number of commandments from God which are written in scripture.

Jesus’ answer to the man’s question is to keep the commandments.

20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Mt 19.20)

The remaining discussion suggests he has not. None the less the man is quite confident he has kept all these. In the gospel people are described as keeping all the commandments of God so this is not unusual (e.g. Lk 1.6). The man desires more assurance. Jesus doesn’t reject the man’s claim, but he presses on at the man’s request honing in on a problem the man has.

21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mt 19.21-22)

The man had great wealth. In Hebrew culture, great wealth was perceived to be a sign of the LORD’s favour. (Consider the assumptions made by Job’s friends). Not so by Jesus. Jesus wants his followers to humble themselves, to look to the interests of others and serve.

Jesus asks the man to follow him. 

The rich man is sorrowful because he cannot do this. He values his earthly riches too much. Earthly riches can present a hindrance to following Jesus.

He walks away unable to give up his wealth and become poor to help others. He understands he needs to do these good things and follow Jesus for eternal life, but he cannot give them up.

Jesus lets him walk away sad with no further instruction.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:23–26)

Earthly riches get in the way of following Jesus. The richer a person is, the harder it is to let go and follow Jesus. The disciples understand the instructions Jesus gave to the rich man and apply them to everyone. If a rich man entering eternal life is compared to a camel going through an eye of a needle, then how can anyone be saved? That is obtain eternal life.

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Jesus acknowledges it is impossible for man to do alone. He needs to be with God to do these things and be saved.

27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Mt 19:27–29)

Summarising what we have looked at so far. The rich man asks what good deed he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus’ answer is,

  1. ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments’, and
  2. ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’, and
  3. ‘Come, follow me’

Jesus’ disciples have done just this. They have given up everything, their former lives and followed Him. Too often western Christians forget it can be a huge sacrifice to turn to Christ because of their families and culture. Jesus says they will be rewarded for doing this. God is with them. He enabled them to give everything up and follow Jesus.

Give up everything for Jesus’ names sake, follow him and inherit eternal life.

30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt 19:30)

The rich of this world will become poor. People who become poor for Jesus and follow him will become rich.

About Jesus

Do you agree with the answers Jesus gave the rich young man? Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. Whoever loses his life for Jesus will find it.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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