No Simple Salvation

Mark 10

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” you ever heard anyone say something like this, “Becoming a Christian is easy; being a Christian – living the Christian life – is the tough part”?

For anyone practicing the faith that God has instilled in them, the second part of this statement has been proven true on more than one occasion.

However, I would like to take issue with the first part of the statement.

In an earlier article, I mentioned the predominant use by Christians all over the world of “The A-B-C” process of salvation. You can read an example of this explanation of the A-B-C process of salvation at Lifeway.

Various words are used to complete the acronym. Typically, the “A” is said to mean “Admit (or acknowledge) you are a sinner,” although no one can point to a scripture reference that says that this is the first thing a lost person must do to be saved.

Most of the teachers who use this phrase or this approach add somewhere near the end of their presentation something like this: “To become a Christian, you simply pray and invite Jesus to come into your heart and be your Savior and Lord.”

I do not recall anyone ever offering a biblical example where anyone prayed to become a Christian, and I do not know of an example myself. Nor do I recall anyone reciting a biblical admonition for lost people to “invite” Jesus into their heart – as if Jesus needed our invitation.

Since I have dealt with this subject earlier, in this article, I want to concentrate on the word “simply.”

If you are not familiar with Jesus’ encounter with the person we have come to refer to as “the rich young ruler,” stop here and read Matt. 19.16-26, Mark 10.17-27, and Luke 18.18-27. Below is a chart comparing the conclusion of the story from each of the three gospels from the ESV.

Click chart for larger version.

When Jesus informed him that his good behavior would not be sufficient and that he would also have to forfeit his wealth, the young man walked away sorrowful because he was unwilling to pay the personal cost of following Jesus.In summary, a rich young ruler (a member of the Jewish religious leadership) confronted Jesus with a question about how he might gain access to the kingdom of God.

Jesus knew the minds of His disciples. He knew that, like all Jews, the disciples believed that wealth was an indication of God’s favor that gave the wealthy an inside track to the kingdom.

Jesus also knew that the disciples were still thinking of the kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom – or at least a heavenly kingdom that would be established on earth according to earthly traditions where the wealthy were most powerful.

Jesus contradicted their beliefs by remarking how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter into the kingdom.

The disciples would respond with astonishment and amazement at this unexpected and astounding answer.

For this article, I will refer primarily to Mark’s version of the story, highlighting the end of verse 24 – a phrase that was not recorded by either Matthew or Luke. Here Jesus appears to speak directly to the disciples.

In the KJV, Mark 10:24 says, “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” In English, this reads like a question, but is actually a strong statement by Jesus.

Most modern translations leave out the phrase referring to the rich in verse 24. (Click here to read the verse in multiple translations. Notice that 32 out of 54 translations omit the reference to riches.)

According to A.T. Robertson, “These words do not occur in Aleph B Delta Memphitic and one Old Latin manuscript. Westcott and Hort omit them from their text as an evident addition to explain the difficult words of Jesus.” Many other commentaries explain that the phrase was added by copyists at some point either to make the verse more understandable and/or to soften its intensity.

I know that many people will argue that modern translations are simply works of Satan because they omit so much of the Bible. Yet the reactions of the disciples in the story from Mark lends credibility to the belief that the extra verse in Mark (v. 24) omitting the phrase concerning the rich is an accurate translation. The disciples’ reactions indicate that Jesus was not just referring to rich people in verse 24.

The most significant thing about Mark’s version of the story is that there are two reactions from the disciples, the second one more intense than the first.

First, note that in Luke’s version of the incident, there is no record that the disciples exhibited any astonishment. However, their astonishment can safely be assumed when compared to the other gospels.

The most significant thing about Mark’s version of the story is that there are two reactions from the disciples, the second one more intense than the first.

In verse 24, the disciples were amazed. The word literally means “to render immovable.” Depending on the context, the word may include the idea of being frightened or even terrified.

In Mark 10:24, the word probably does not connote so much fear as amazement. When Jesus made His statement concerning the difficulties the rich have in attaining heaven, you can almost hear the collective silence of the disciples as they stop in their tracks, unified in their dismay, unable to move past the barrier of such an amazing revelation.

Later, the apostles would come to realize that not only is it difficult for the rich to gain heaven, but that it is impossible for anyone to gain heaven who depends on their riches to gain them access to the kingdom of God. For now, however, there preconceptions were dealt a serious blow.

According to Dr. Thomas L. Constable…

The disciples’ amazement arose from the popular belief that riches were a result of God’s blessing for righteousness. They thought riches were an advantage, not a disadvantage in one’s relationship with God. [1]

Aware of the startled reaction from the disciples, Jesus elaborated on the first statement to make His meaning clear. In verse 25, Jesus explained that the difficulty for the rich in attaining heaven was equivalent to attempting to pass a camel through the eye of a needle.

Through the ages, commentators have attempted to explain this statement by referring to a narrow entrance through the walls of Jerusalem that was so low and narrow that people referred to it as “The Needle.”

Maybe this is the case, but I believe that Jesus was trying to get the disciples to understand the impossibility of entering the kingdom of God through merit of any kind, including wealth. In fact, as the disciples would eventually come to realize, it is impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God through any measure other than the blood of Christ.

This second statement by Jesus caused even more consternation among the disciples.

According to Matthew (KJV), the disciples were “exceedingly amazed.” According to Mark (KJV), they were “astonished out of measure.” In other words, their astonishment at Jesus’ words was so great that one could hardly put it into words.

The word “amazed” in these verses is a different word from that used in the previous case. Here, according to Zodhiates, the word literally means, “to strike out, force out by a blow.” [2]

According to Strong, the word is a compound that literally means to knock down. In the passive tense, as used in these texts, it means, “to be struck with terror, of a sudden and startling alarm.”

However, both Strong and Zodhiates agree that, in the context of the usage in our text, the word refers to “knocking one out of his senses or self-possession, to strike with astonishment, terror, or admiration.” [3] The disciples did not just go silent; they recoiled from the teaching of Jesus. Today we would say that Jesus had knocked the wind out of their sails, or that they were blown away by this revelation.

What adds to the degree of astonishment is the addition of the adverb “exceedingly,” which may also mean violently (Strong). You can get some idea of the intensity of this word translated “exceedingly” or “out of measure” by seeing it used in another context.

Mark 15:13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”

As the trial of Jesus before Pilate advanced, the people began to shout louder and louder – or exceedingly loud compared to how loud they were shouting before. Therefore, in both Matt. 19:25 and Mark 10:26, the disciples were not just astonished. They were more astonished than they were in verse 24 of Mark .

Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:24 is critical to understanding the concept of redemption. Jesus explained that the difficulty in entering the kingdom of God did not just apply to the rich – that entering the kingdom of God was a very difficult thing for any person.

In fact, even those whom the Jews (including the disciples) believed to be favored by God – namely, the rich – had no better chance of entering the kingdom of God than a camel had of passing through the eye of a needle.

In other words, such a thing is impossible. The disciples concluded that if it is impossible for the rich, then it is equally impossible for the remainder of mankind, including themselves! By His teaching, Jesus had rocked the disciples back on their heels, thus leaving them “exceedingly amazed” and “astonished out of measure.”

Yet this was not the first time Jesus had commented on the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God.

In the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to His disciples, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14Emphasis added. Notice also that Jesus doesn’t say “the way of life” is hard, but that “the way to life” is hard.)

At this point in their training, the disciples had not yet grasped the concept of grace and still believed that men could enter the kingdom of God by merit or, in the case of the rich young ruler, by wealth.

Now that Jesus seemed to have slammed the door on any entrance into the kingdom of God by any human means, the disciples began to marvel out loud, as explained by Mark in verse 26, asking among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”

I don’t believe at this point that the disciples were making reference to salvation as deliverance from hell and the penalty of sin as much as they were wondering who would be delivered from the wrath of God once His powerful kingdom was established on the earth.

Now it appears by Jesus’ astounding pronouncement that no one could enter into the kingdom. It was an impossible thing.

Once again, Jesus knew their hearts and minds and the questions they were asking and responded by saying (in paraphrase)…

“No man can enter into the kingdom by his own merit, his own goodness, his own will or design. Such a thing is impossible.

Entering the kingdom of God is a very difficult thing in itself, but it is impossible for men to enter the kingdom even by their best efforts or by the strongest application of their own will and desire.

But God, who is infinite and all-powerful and full of mercy and grace, has made this impossible thing – entrance into the kingdom – possible.”

So to those who pronounce that becoming a Christian is as easy as A-B-C, I would answer with the very words of Jesus: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

The good news is that God has made it possible.

Once again, this is not a new thought that Jesus is announcing to the disciples, for earlier He had given them an encouraging word concerning their entrance into the kingdom of God with emphasis on the fact that the door to the kingdom is opened from the inside, not the outside.

Luke 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

The point being that the kingdom of God belongs to God and it is His to give to whomever He will as it suits His desire and His purpose.

As the psalmist said, “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” (Psalm 3:8)

As Jonah cried out from the belly of the fish, “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9)

As John witnessed the saints from every nation, tribe, and tongue declaring around the throne, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10)

As all the redeemed will shout at the consummation of the ages, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” (Rev. 19:1)

As the Apostle John declared, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Becoming a Christian only appears easy because we have defined it by a moment instead of eternity.

When Jesus gave an invitation, He did not attempt to declare the process easy by telling them the process of salvation is as simple as A-B-C. Instead, He spoke the profound truth that salvation is hard – as difficult as D-T-F.

Matt. 16:24 Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Becoming a Christian only appears easy because we have defined it by a moment instead of eternity. We have separated justification from sanctification as if one could have the one without the other. Christ calls us to follow Him, acknowledging that the cost of doing so will require our whole life, even unto the point of death.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Salvation is only possible by the supernatural power of God and the precious blood of the Lamb.


[1] Constable, Thomas L. Notes on Mark, 2014 Ed.  Sonic Light, 2014, p. 139.

[2] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 1993. 552.

[3] Ibid.

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