Rich Young Ruler
In this familiar passage we are introduced to a self-righteous man who thought that he had kept the commandments (Matthew 19:20), but knew that he did not have eternal life (verse 16). He knew that he lacked something very important in his life (verse 20). The Lord Jesus dealt with him in a very skillful way, showing him his great sin and unbelief.
This passage gives a wonderful illustration of what the law can do and what the law cannot do.
This man was not ready for salvation. His first need was to see himself as a guilty, condemned, lost sinner. As someone has said, "Before you get saved, you need to get lost!" The Lord Jesus accomplished this by using the law, "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
This passage is often misunderstood by "Lordship salvation" teachers, and they use it in trying to show that the requirement for salvation is much more than simple faith in Jesus Christ. They say that salvation requires fulfilling the demands of discipleship, giving up one's possessions, giving money to the poor, forsaking all to follow Christ, etc. They fail to realize that salvation is not based upon man's sacrifice for God; it is based upon Christ's sacrifice for sinful men. Salvation is not based upon what we do; it is based upon what Christ has already done (His finished work). We will deal with these issues in this study.
This passage about the rich young ruler is also found in Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27. Our main focus will be upon Matthew's account, but we will refer to Mark and Luke as needed.
Matthew 19:16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
This man who came to Jesus is known as "the rich young ruler." Matthew 19:22 tells us he was rich, "for he had great possessions." This same verse describes him as a "young man" (see also verse 20). Luke 18:18 describes him as "a certain ruler."
In what way was he young? He was not an old man, but neither was he a teenager. In verse 20 he said, "All these things have I kept from my youth up," indicating that there was a good distance between his present age and the days of his youth. The word "young" (Matthew 19:20,22) indicates an age "from about the 24th to the 40th year" (Arndt & Gingrich Greek Lexicon). This rich ruler was in the prime of his life. He was not "over the hill." He was still ascending the hill, as it were.
He was a "ruler" (Luke 18:18), a man in authority over others. We are not told what position he held. Many commentators surmise that he was a ruling official in the local synagogue. He had position, wealth and was in the prime of life. Everything seemed to be going his way. However, he realized he was missing something (compare Matthew 19:20). He also recognized that he did not have eternal life (verse 16).
He addressed Jesus as "Good Master" (Luke 18:18; Mark 10:17). The word "Master" means teacher. I grew up in a liberal Congregational Church where Jesus was regarded as a good teacher, even the best teacher that ever lived. However, we were never taught that He was God (John 1:1) or that He was the Creator of all things (John 1:3). It is crucial that the sinner understands who Jesus Christ really is. "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).
We learn from this man's question that he held to the common but erroneous notion that eternal life must be earned by doing some good thing. He thought that a man must perform in a certain way in order to qualify for eternal life, and that good works are necessary for salvation. This is the great error embraced by religious people. They think that by doing some good thing they can gain eternal life. How contrary this is to the gospel of grace. See our papers, Do or Done? and The Difference Between Christianity and Religion. This man needed to learn that there is no hope and no help in SELF. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5; see Ephesians 2:8-9).
Matthew 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The rich young ruler had two great needs. 1) He needed to understand who Jesus was. He thought He was a good Teacher. The Lord Jesus was far more than that. 2) He needed to understand who he himself was. He thought he was a righteous man (Matthew 19:20). He was actually a self-righteous lawbreaker headed for hell. Thus, he needed to repent or change his mind concerning Christ and concerning himself. The Lord Jesus would help him in both of these areas.
"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." The Lord Jesus was not denying that He was good, nor was He denying that He was God. He was setting forth the truth that there is only One who can truly be called "good."
Psalm 100:5: For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
Psalm 135:3: Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant.
Nahum 1:7: The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
Any goodness that man has is derived from God. In and of himself, man has no goodness at all.
Psalm 14:1: The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
Psalm 14:3: They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Ecclesiastes 7:20: For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Romans 3:10-12: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Jesus was saying something like this: "You called me a good Teacher, but since only God is good, are you prepared to recognize that I am God?" The rich young ruler needed to recognize who Jesus really was. The rich young ruler thought that he was a good man and a law abiding citizen, but he needed to understand that there is no man who is good. He needed to recognize his own lack of goodness, his own bankruptcy.
In the last half of verse 17 the Lord Jesus makes a startling statement, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Literally, "If you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments." The life He is speaking of is eternal life (see verse 16).
Suppose you were asked the question, "What must a person do in order to enter into eternal life?" How would you answer this? Those who know the true gospel message would answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will have eternal life." Such an answer is based on many passages such as the following:
John 3:15-16; John 5:24; John 6:35; John 6:47; John 11:25-26; John 20:31; Acts 16:31
Certainly the Lord Jesus knew the gospel better than any of us. Why didn't He say something like this: "If you desire to enter into life, then you must believe on Me"?
Before a person is saved, and before a person is ready to hear the true gospel, he must recognize his own sinfulness. He must recognize the plague of his own heart. The rich young ruler thought he was a righteous man who had kept the law (Matthew 19:20). He did not see himself as a guilty law breaker. At this point, the Lord was not seeking to show him the way of salvation; He was seeking to show him his desperate need of salvation. "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20); the Lord Jesus was skillfully using the law to show him his sin.
The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride: the gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair." [Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace, p. 14]
The Lord's purpose was to show this man that he was a guilty law breaker. To accomplish this purpose, the Lord gave him the "gospel" according to the law: "To enter into life, all you need to do is keep the commandments!"
What Jesus told him was a true statement. If a man keeps the commandments, he will enter into life. He will qualify for eternal life. The Lord Jesus taught the same thing in Luke 10:25-28. However, what is involved in keeping the commandments? You must keep the commandments, but you must be sure to keep all the commandments. If you keep the whole law and yet break just one little commandment, then you are a guilty lawbreaker (see James 2:10). Think of breaking a rubber band in only one place: you still have a broken rubber band. Not only must you keep all the commandments, but you must keep them all the time, from the time you are born until the time you die. You can't have even one day or even one moment in your entire life where you mess up (where you fail to measure up to God's righteous demands). Your obedience needs to be perfect. Blessed is the person who continues in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. However, if you do not continue to perfectly obey every law of God, then you are under God's curse: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10).
It is true that if you keep the commandments you will enter into life. But can any sinful man on earth ever accomplish such a feat? Can we ever get through even one day perfectly obeying God? It is totally impossible for sinful man to keep God's holy law. This is why the law can never save us; it can only condemn us. Instead of being a way of life, it is a "ministration of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7) and a "ministration of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3:9). The rich young ruler needed to know that he stood condemned before a holy God as a hopeless, helpless sinner. Note: Even saying that a person must keep the law perfectly from the time he is born until the time he dies proves that man is under sin. Fallen man is already under the curse of death. Legal obedience offers him no hope; apart from God's Saviour he is doomed.
There are two ways to obtain eternal life--the legal way and the grace way:
1) A person may obtain eternal life by keeping God’s commandments (by obeying God’s law perfectly every day of his or her life).
This is the legal way [impossible way] of getting saved.
Problem: Do you think that there has ever been a person (apart from the Lord Jesus Christ) who has done this? Is it possible for sinful men to perfectly keep God’s holy law?
2) A person may obtain eternal life by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving Him as Savior.
This is the grace way [possible way] of getting saved.
Solution: Even though God’s holy law condemns the best men, God’s grace is able to save the worst men if they believe on Jesus.
In other words, there are two ways to get to heaven. One way is to live a perfect life (obeying all of God’s laws perfectly) [and to be perfect]. The other way is to trust the Savior who came to save wicked sinners.
[wbc editor note insert: Here we are aware of the accusation sometimes hurled that we are hereby teaching two ways of salvation. We are not. What we are doing is the same thing Christ died, we are putting before men, the facts that hypothetically-hypothetically mind you- that a perfect man could gain eternal life. The problem is there is no such man. The perfection demanded by the law and God's holiness, would and should, drive such an attempt into the dust. This is the purpose of the law. It is by no means a bad thing to lay before such men who are seeking to merit something before God...to lay before them the implications of such thinking. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful- the law principle did its intended work!]
Jesus knew that this rich young ruler would never be saved by trying to keep the law. Jesus' purpose was to show this man how sinful he really was. This young ruler was a religious and moral man. He was good enough to deceive himself and bad enough to damn himself. His "goodness" prevented him from knowing his badness.
Before a person is ready to be saved, he first must become lost. That is, he must recognize the lost condition of his soul (Romans 3:10-23). Before a man is ready for a cure, he must recognize how desperately sick he really is (Luke 5:30-32). The rich young ruler needed to understand the plague of his own heart (1 Kings 8:38).
He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Jesus had just told him to, "Keep the commandments" (verse 17), and now the rich young ruler asks, "Which commandments should I keep?" The Lord cites five of the Ten Commandments (#6, #7, #8, #9, #5) and He also cites the second greatest commandment (see Matthew 22:36-40). These manward commandments regulate one's conduct toward his neighbor. Our primary duty towards our fellow man is to love our neighbor. The other commandments are included in this one commandment of love. If I truly loved my neighbor, then certainly I would not murder him, nor would I steal from him, nor would I take his wife from him, nor would I lie against him in court. Love is the fulfillment of the law (Galatians 5:14).
Notice that the correct translation of the sixth commandment is "Thou shalt not murder." The translation, "Thou shalt not kill" can be misleading. God does not forbid all killing, as for example, in the case of capital punishment (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:15,16,17; etc.).
As we proceed through this passage we will see how the Lord Jesus will prove that this man is a law breaker, one who does not love his neighbor. In fact, the rich young ruler will be found guilty of breaking the two greatest commandments!
Matthew 19:20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
For a person to claim to have kept the Ten Commandments is an amazing thing. Not only is such a person self-righteous, but also totally deluded and deceived as to his true condition before God.
The rich young ruler probably thought something like this: "I have never murdered anyone. I've never committed adultery. I've never been charged with the crime of stealing. I have never lied under oath. I've been a good son and have respected my parents." And to his credit, he probably was a very upright person morally, a "law abiding citizen." He was probably a model Jew in many ways.
If a person is truly honest before God, then the Ten Commandments will reveal how sinful he really is, "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Let us now consider some of the Ten Commandments (found in Exodus chapter 20). We will only consider six of them.
Test yourself by checking either TRUE or FALSE:
____ FALSE Read the First Commandment (found in Exodus 20:3).
I have always put the Lord first and I have always given the Lord first place in my life. I have never let anything or anyone else take the place that God should have in my life.
____ FALSE Read the Third Commandment (found in Exodus 20:7).
I have never taken the Lord’s Name in vain or used God’s Name in a careless or thoughtless way. I have always treated God’s Name with utmost reverence and respect.
____ FALSE Read the Fifth Commandment (found in Exodus 20:12).
I have always honored my parents and have given them the highest respect. I have never disobeyed my parents and when I was younger I never needed or deserved a spanking.
____ FALSE Read the Eighth Commandment (found in Exodus 20:15).
I have never stolen anything from anyone. I have never taken anything that did not belong to me. I have always respected the property and possessions of others.
____ FALSE Read the Ninth Commandment (found in Exodus 20:16).
I have never given a false witness against anyone. I have never said something about another person which I knew was not true. I have never lied; I have always been honest about everything. I only speak what is true.
____ FALSE Read the Tenth Commandment (found in Exodus 20:17).
I have never coveted or desired something that someone else had. I have never had a strong desire for my neighbor's house or swimming pool or boat or automobile or wife or husband or anything else belonging to my neighbor. I have always been totally content and satisfied with what God has given to me.
How did you do? If you answered TRUE, this means you have obeyed the command. If you answered FALSE, this means you are guilty of breaking the command. How many times did you check TRUE? _______ How many times did you check FALSE? ______ Are you a guilty breaker of the law or are you an innocent keeper of the law?
Suppose that you checked TRUE four times and checked FALSE only once. This means that you kept all of the commandments except one. Are you a keeper of the law or a breaker of the law? The answer is found in James 2:10--"For whosoever shall keep the _____________ _______, and yet offend in _______ point, he is ______________ of all."
What does James 2:10 really mean? Suppose you could find a person who kept every single commandment of the law except for one. He obeyed the law perfectly except for one commandment which he broke. James 2:10 says, “He is guilty of all!” Even though he only broke one commandment, he is still a guilty lawbreaker!
The rich young ruler's self righteousness blinded him to his own sin and his own failure to keep God's holy law. In the following verses we will see that the Lord Jesus will expose his sin and demonstrate to him that he is guilty of breaking the two greatest commandments.
He was guilty of not loving God with all his heart and he was guilty of not loving his neighbor.
In spite of the young man's deluded self-righteousness in thinking he had kept the commandments, he still, in his innermost being, recognized that he was lacking something: "What lack I yet?" (verse 20). The law can never satisfy what the sinner's lacks. The law can only magnify sin and cause it to abound (Romans 5:20). Only the grace of God can provide what the sinner lacks. "Do this! and live, the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. Better news the gospel brings; it bids me fly and gives me wings!" (attributed to John Bunyan) Only the grace of God can supply that perfect righteousness that the sinner lacks (2 Corinthians 5:21). Mt. Sinai can never bring peace to a sin-burdened soul. Only Mt. Calvary can do that.
Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
The last commandment which Jesus had mentioned, and which the rich young ruler had claimed to have kept from his youth, was "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The Lord was now going to put this to the test. Did he really love his neighbor? Would he be willing to give his riches to his poor neighbors? Before this man was ready to be saved, he needed to see himself as a guilty lawbreaker. Only then would he be ready for the good news, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save guilty lawbreakers (compare 1 Timothy 1:15).
All of the Ten Commandments are summed up in two commandments, which have been called the two greatest commandments: "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
The rich young ruler claimed to have kept the commandments from his youth up. The plan of the Lord Jesus was to clearly demonstrate to this man that he was guilty of breaking the two greatest commandments.
1) He did not love God with all his heart because he refused to believe Him (as we shall see in the next paragraph) and refused to follow Him (verses 21-22).
2) He did not love his neighbor as himself because he was unwilling to give to his poor neighbors (verses 21-22). Conclusion: This man was a wicked lawbreaker who was guilty of breaking the two greatest commandments. His only hope was to fall upon the mercy of a gracious Savior.
The rich young ruler had a wicked heart of unbelief. God had given him an amazing promise: If he would sell what he had and give to the poor and follow Christ, he would have treasure in heaven (verse 21). Certainly treasure in heaven would be far better than any earthly treasures this man could ever accumulate. However, this man did not believe God. He did not believe the promise. Not only was he a lawbreaker, but he had a major problem of unbelief. And "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
As a result he clung to his possessions and refused to follow Christ. "He went away sorrowful." He abandoned the one Person who could truly help him. He turned his back on Jesus Christ. He walked away from God's only Savior.
In Mark 10:21 we are told one added detail about this account which is of great importance: "Then Jesus, beholding him (the rich young ruler), loved him." Jesus loved this man.
This presents a great problem for extreme Calvinists because they believe that God only loves His elect (those who will come to faith in Christ). They do not believe that God loves those who will go to hell. However, in the case of the rich young ruler, the Bible clearly states that Jesus loved this man, even though he walked away and refused to follow Him. So the extreme Calvinist must reason this way: "Since Jesus loved this man, he must have been one of God's elect. And if he was one of God's elect, then he must have been saved at some later time." Extreme Calvinists have great difficulty understanding how God could love someone and not save that person. However, in the Scriptures, there is no indication that the rich young ruler ever got saved.
A.W. Pink illustrates this way of thinking. He said, "We fully believe that he (the rich young ruler) was one of God’s elect, and was saved sometime after his interview with the Lord" [The Sovereignty of God, p. 125, footnote]. This is Pink’s theory, but the Scripture provides no support for this view. It is a view based on Pink’s theology, not based on Pink’s Bible.
Is Selling What You Have and Giving to the Poor a Condition for Salvation?
Those who teach "Lordship salvation" tend to believe that Jesus was presenting to the rich young ruler a plan of salvation, which consisted of selling his possessions, giving to the poor and following Christ. However, the Scripture makes it very clear that we are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Our Lord's main purpose was to show the rich young ruler his lost condition, not to reveal to him God's plan of salvation. As was shared previously, "You need to get lost before you can get saved." That is, no one is ready for salvation until he realizes his guilt before a holy God. The Lord Jesus skillfully demonstrated to this man that he was a guilty lawbreaker. Suppose the rich young ruler had not walked away, but instead had fallen at Jesus' feet and said, "Lord, I admit that I have broken God's laws. I have not loved my neighbor. I have not loved God with all my heart. My heart is wicked and corrupt, and I come before You as a guilty law breaker. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. Lord, what must I do to be saved?" God is ever ready to receive sinful men! God has a gospel for those who recognize how lost they are.
Selling one's possession and giving to the poor is not a condition for receiving eternal life. When the jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" the answer was not, "Sell what you have and give to the poor, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:30-31). The Gospel of John was written so that people might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they might have life through His Name (John 20:31). Over and over again in the Gospel of John we find that the one condition necessary to have eternal life is to believe in Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16; 3:18; 3:36; 5:24; 6:35; 11:25; 20:31; etc.). Never in the Gospel of John are the unsaved told that they must sell what they have and give to the poor in order to gain eternal life. The book of Romans was written to set forth "the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1), and it does so in a most comprehensive way. Repeatedly Paul teaches in Romans (and elsewhere) that faith in Christ, and faith alone, is the sole condition for salvation. Nowhere in Romans are we told that a person must sell his possessions and give to the poor in order to be saved (see Romans 10:9-10). In Ephesians 2:8-9, a key salvation passage, we are told exactly how a person is saved. He is saved "by grace through faith" and not by any works which he has done.
Salvation is not based on something that we do; it is based on what Christ has done (His finished work). We do not contribute to our own salvation; Christ paid it all. Salvation is not working; it is resting on the work of Another, even the Lord Jesus Christ: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). [good works follow salvation-they do not precede it]
Religion is man trying to bring himself to God by human effort, by good works, by ritualism, by traditionalism, by sacraments, etc. Salvation is Christ bringing us to God on the basis of what He did for us on the cross: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
God's holiness utterly condemns the best man ("As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one"--Romans 3:10). God's grace freely justifies the worst man ("For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"--Romans 3:23-24).
The gospel message brings to man not a work to do, but a word to believe about a work done: "But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:25).
We are saved, not because of what we have done, but because of the mercy of God based upon what Christ has done on the cross: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). A person can never be saved by his own good works: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Good works done by sinful man can never please a holy God. The greatest good work is God's work accomplished by Jesus Christ who offered Himself on the cross as the sinner's Substitute. Thus we are not saved by good works, but we are saved unto good works: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
Are you resting fully in the finished work of Christ? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done for you and what He has said in His Word? "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22).
Matthew 19:23-24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
The word "hardly" means "with difficulty." It is extremely difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom (which is synonymous with being saved, see verse 25). Why is it so difficult? To be saved a person must trust Christ; rich people normally trust their own riches. As long as they continue to trust their own riches instead of Christ, they cannot be saved. Paul did not teach that a believer cannot have riches, but he did teach wealthy believers not to trust in their riches. Rather, they were to trust in God: "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). Notice that in 1 Timothy chapter 6, where Paul gave prolonged instruction to believers who are rich, he never told them to sell all their possessions and give everything to the poor. He did instruct them to share their wealth with those in need (1 Timothy 6:18).
How difficult is it for a rich person to be saved? The camel illustration shows that it is impossible. The "eye of a needle" refers to a literal sewing needle. It would be impossible for such a huge mammal to fit through such a tiny opening. Even a mouse cannot fit through the eye of a needle, and mice can squeeze through some very small openings. See verse 26 which makes it clear that the Lord's point was that it was impossible! Vine's comment:
The idea of applying "the needle's eye" to small gates seems to be a modern one; there is no ancient trace of it. The Lord's object in the statement is to express human impossibility and there is no need to endeavor to soften the difficulty by taking the needle to mean anything more than the ordinary instrument (a sewing needle). Mackie points out (Hastings Bible Dictionary) that "an attempt is sometimes made to explain the words as a reference to the small door, a little over 2 feet square, in the large heavy gate of a walled city. This mars the figure without materially altering the meaning, and receives no justification from the language and traditions of Palestine." [Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, under "Needle"]
Matthew 19:25-26 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
The disciples, who were not rich men, understood the Lord's words as even applying to themselves, and they were concerned about their own salvation, "Who then can be saved?" They understood the Lord to be saying that it is impossible for any man to be saved, not just rich men.
How can a sinful man enter God's holy heaven? How can a sinner become a saint? How can one who is filthy become clean? It is impossible! There is no remedy. In Jeremiah 17:9 we learn that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." "Desperately wicked" means "incurably sick." There is no cure, no remedy! With men this is impossible! And certainly selling one's possessions and giving to the poor and even following Jesus is not going to remedy the problem of the heart.
Thanks be to God that Calvary's cross has made the impossible possible! What the law could never do and what the flesh could never do, God accomplished by the death of His Son (see Romans 8:3). With God all things are possible. The salvation of every single soul is nothing short of a miracle of God! May we never minimize the miraculous nature of our so great salvation! To God be the glory, both now and forever!