the savior’s command (10:21–22)
Motivated by a love for him, Jesus said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The Lord’s command and the man’s response, but at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property, further exposed his failure to keep the law. Not only was he a violator of the second five of the Ten Commandments but also a criminal transgressor of the first five. He was guilty of blaspheming God, by worshiping another god—his wealth and possessions—and God tolerates no rivals. “No one can serve two masters;” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24). Earthly wealth and temporal satisfaction was this man’s god.
Jesus preached the law to him, but not the gospel. Sinners are not ready for the good news of the gospel until they accept the bad news that the law condemns them as guilty sinners. As a highly respected, revered, and honored religious leader, he viewed his prosperity and his exalted position in the synagogue as evidence that he was good and God was pleased with him. He was unwilling to acknowledge that he was a sinner, affirm that his good works could not save him, and cast himself on God’s grace and mercy, and submit to Christ’s lordship. Tragically, at the crossroads of his eternal destiny, face-to-face with the Savior, he took the broad way that leads to destruction and rejected the narrow way that alone leads to eternal life.
Continued: 21a. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Just what can this mean in the present connection? There are two ideas which require a word of comment:
- Because Mark used a particular Greek verb and not another, the love here indicated is of the highest kind, “far beyond mere affection.” But see footnote.
- The meaning is: Jesus fell in love with this young man. The Lord here and now began to love him. This possibility cannot be denied, but we must be careful. Otherwise a strange situation results, as if immediately after this man revealed his very superficial attitude toward God’s holy law, Jesus fell in love with him!
Is not the following explanation to be preferred? As the Savior allowed his gaze to rest on the rich young ruler, he loved him; that is, a. he admired him for not having fallen into gross outward sins and for having gone to the best possible source to obtain a solution to his problem; and b. he deeply, sorrowfully, ruefully pitied him, and decided to recommend to him a course of action which, if followed through, would solve his problem, and would give him the rest of soul he needed.
After saying, “Teacher, all these things I have observed ever since I was a child,” the young man had added, “what do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:20). Jesus is now about to answer that question. However, while linking his answer to the young man’s phraseology, the Master is not at all agreeing with that enquirer’s philosophy of life. To the young man, supplying this lack was a matter of addition. He wanted to know which meritorious deed he had to add to all the other fine deeds he had already performed. But to Jesus, taking care of this lack was a matter of substitution. Cf. Gal. 2:19–21; Phil. 3:7 f. It is in that sense that Mark now writes: 21b. One thing you lack, he said to him. Go, sell478 whatever you have and give (the proceeds) to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven …
The question may be asked, “But by thus instructing the young man was not Jesus endorsing the ‘salvation by good works’ doctrine?” Should he not rather have told him, “Trust in me”? The answer is that “Trust completely in me” was exactly what the Lord was telling him, for certainly without complete confidence in and self-surrender to the One who was issuing the order, the rich young ruler could not be expected to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor. This was the test. If he sustains it he will have “treasure in heaven.” The reference is to all those blessings that are heavenly in character, are in full measure reserved for God’s child in heaven, and of which we experience a foretaste even now. For more about this concept see N.T.C. on Matt. 6:19, 20. It is important to note that Jesus added, and come, follow me. Such “following,” to be accompanied by and to prepare for active witness-bearing, would imply that the young man must learn to “deny himself and take up his cross,” and would therefore no longer be able to devote himself to the service of Mammon.
The young man’s response was tragic. It showed that Christ’s command had been the arrow that wounded his Achilles’ heel, his most vulnerable spot, love of earthly possessions: 22. But he, crestfallen because of these words, went away sorrowful, for he possessed much property. Because of Christ’s command and the young man’s ingrained materialism, his countenance fell. It resembled a lowering cloud (cf. Matt. 16:3). As enthusiastic as he had been at first, so sad and sullen he was now, so that he departed sorrowful and aggrieved, probably thinking, “This requirement is not fair. None of the other rabbis would have demanded this much of me.”
The demand which Jesus had made on this bewildered man was suited to his particular circumstances and state of mind. The Lord does not ask every rich person—for example Abraham (Gen. 13:2), or Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57)—to do exactly this same thing. There are those opulent individuals who, speaking by and large, are living for themselves. What they contribute to the cause of others is wholly out of proportion to what they keep for themselves. There are other wealthy persons, however, who are willing to go all out in helping others, including even the ungenerous (Gen. 13:7–11; 14:14); and who, motivated by gratitude, are constantly building altars and bringing offerings to God (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 15:10–12; 22:13). The young man “had much property.” He had it; it had him, holding him tightly in its grasp. It is clear that this young man needed exactly the treatment Jesus gave him.
Did the rich young ruler persist forever in his deplorable refusal? The answer has not been revealed. Some reason as follows: Scripture tells us that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21). God loves the elect, no one else. Conclusion: this young man must have become converted.
But this amounts to superimposing an erroneous theological idea upon the text. If those who cling to it would be satisfied with the proposition that God loves in a peculiar way all those who place their trust in him (Ps. 103:13; 1 John 3:1), their teaching would be on firm ground. But when they go beyond this and deny that there is a love of God which extends beyond the sum-total of the elect, we must part company with them. See Ps. 145:9, 17; Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:35, 36. And since this is true, there is no basis whatever for believing that the rich young ruler must have become a believer before he died. Instead of speculating about what may or may not have happened, the lesson of Luke 13:23, 24 should be taken to heart.
21 Recognizing the young man’s sincerity, Jesus responded in love. The verb emblepō (“gazed intently”; cf. v. 27) suggests that Jesus, looking penetratingly at the man, discerned his attitude of heart. Some commentators suggest that the words “loved him” indicate an outward expression, such as a touch or a hug (so Nineham, 274–75; Anderson, 249). That Jesus did so is possible, but nothing in the text or context demands that understanding. Mark’s point, rather, is that Jesus treats the man’s response not as one of self-righteousness or hypocrisy but as sincere.
But sincerity isn’t enough. The one thing that prevented this man from having eternal life was the security of his wealth. Jesus put his finger on the sensitive place by commanding him to go, sell all he had, and give it to the poor. These commands led up to the final and conclusive one: “Come, follow me.” For this man there could be no following of Jesus before he sold everything he had and gave it away. His wealth and all it meant to him for position, status, comfort, and security prevented him from entering eternal life. Mitton, 80, writes, “The only way to ‘life’ is through the narrow gate of full surrender, and through that gate we may take, not what we want, but only what God allows. For this man his wealth was the hindrance.”
Jesus’ command here is shocking (like the analogy that follows in v. 25), with the result that many Christians assume too quickly that Jesus’ command was for this man only and not for all believers. Jesus’ words are sometimes softened to mean that Christians must be willing to sell everything (at which time a sigh of relief passes through the congregation). Yet we dare not take the punch out of Jesus’ teaching (see Reflections below). It is certainly true that those who followed Jesus did not always divest themselves of all their property. In Jesus’ immediate ministry, Peter retained his house in Capernaum (1:29), and the women who supported Jesus from their resources obviously had retained their possessions (Lk 8:2–3). Acts shows some people as selling their possessions to meet specific needs (Ac 4:34–37), but doing so was neither universal nor mandatory (see Jesus’ comment to Ananias in Ac 5:4). Many homes and possessions remained as private property.
Jesus’ promise of “treasure in heaven” recalls his similar teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus exhorts his followers to store up treasures in heaven, where they can never be stolen or destroyed (Mt 6:19–21; cf. Lk 12:33–34). The concept of storing up spiritual treasures rather than physical ones was common in Judaism, especially with reference to almsgiving. Tobit 4:8–9 (NRSV) reads, “If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity.” Psalms of Solomon 9:5 reads, “He that does righteousness lays up [as a treasure] for himself life with the Lord” (cf. 2 Bar. 24:1; Sir 29:10–12). Treasure in heaven is not some material reward in the afterlife but the joy of eternal life in relationship with God. The “treasure” received is God himself. In Jesus’ teaching the sacrifice made to achieve this treasure is not almsgiving but giving up all to follow him.
22 Notice the intimate eyewitness details. When he heard Jesus’ words, the young man’s “face fell.” The verb used here is a rare one, appearing elsewhere in the NT only in Matthew 16:3, where it refers to the darkening sky of an approaching storm. In the LXX it can have the sense of “shocked” or “appalled” (Eze 27:35; 28:19; 32:10), and its cognate adjective of “gloomy” or “dismayed” (Da 2:12). The TEV translates it here “gloom spread over his face.” As Plummer, 240–41, writes, “He was gloomy and sullen with a double disappointment; no perilous exploit was required of him, but he was asked to part with what he valued most.” To obey Jesus was too great a risk for him to take. So the security of wealth kept him out of the kingdom of God. “He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22b). Obedience to God brings joy; disobedience brings sorrow.
10:21, 22 But did he really love his neighbor as himself? If so, let him prove it by selling all his property and giving the money to the poor. Oh, that was another story. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The Lord Jesus did not mean that this man could have been saved by selling his possessions and giving the proceeds to charity. There is only one way of salvation—that is faith in the Lord. But in order to be saved a man must acknowledge that he is a sinner, falling short of God’s holy requirements. The Lord took the man back to the Ten Commandments to produce conviction of sin. The rich man’s unwillingness to share his possessions showed that he did not love his neighbor as himself. He should have said, “Lord, if that’s what is required, then I’m a sinner. I cannot save myself by my own efforts. Therefore I ask You to save me by Your grace.” But he loved his property too much. He was unwilling to give it up. He refused to break.
When Jesus told the man to sell all, He was not giving this as the way of salvation. He was showing the man that he had broken the law of God and therefore needed to be saved. If he had responded to the Savior’s instruction, he would have been given the way of salvation.
But there is a problem here. Are we who are believers supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Does Jesus say to us, “Sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me”? Each one must answer for himself, but before doing so, he should consider the following inescapable facts:
- Thousands of people die daily of starvation.
- More than half the world has never heard the good news.
- Our material possessions can be used now to alleviate spiritual and physical human need.
- The example of Christ teaches us that we should become poor that others might be made rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
- The shortness of life and the imminence of the Lord’s coming teach us to put our money to work for Him now. After He comes it will be too late.
 MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 80–81). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 395–397). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 865–866). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1347). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.