Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. – Matthew 19:24
How can God get camels through a needle’s eye, and what exactly is the difficulty to which this metaphor is referring? The context of this passage speaks volumes about the depravity of man and the grace of God. Jesus is talking privately to His disciples about the rich young ruler who walked away because his love for worldly treasures was greater than his love for the things of God. Jesus proceeds by stating that it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew Henry makes some interesting observations when he says, “The way to heaven is fitly compared to the needle’s eye, which is hard to hit and hard to get through. Secondly, a rich man is fitly compared to a camel, a beast of burden, for he has riches, as the camel has his load.”
Jesus tells us that the road to heaven is difficult by calling it narrow, and He reiterates it by relating it to the eye of a needle, but we must be careful what we call difficult, because we know we cannot work our way to heaven and our striving cannot add anything to our salvation. So what is the difficulty that is being revealed here? The problem stems from our fallen nature. Our nature at birth is at enmity with God and loves the world. We know that “if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 Jn. 2:15).” We also know if the love of the Father is in a person, then He has faith and therefore is saved. The difficulty is changing from a person who loves the world to one who loves the Father.
The rich man has twice the difficulty because he not only has to contend with his fallen nature but, like the camel, has heaped upon his back the burden of his riches, which his fallen nature clings to with iron clad shackles. The poor do not escape easily either because the world is full of charms, which our nature is bound to, but with wealth, we have greater means to pursue them.
The disciples are astonished at this teaching and respond with a serious question, “then who can be saved?” Jesus’ response is important because it is the key to salvation. He states, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The difficulty of turning away from the world and breaking the fetters that bind us cannot be done by anything we do. In fact, because we are attached to the world with such a strong love for it, we do not desire to alter our affections away from it. The love of the world is in us and will never be removed without divine intervention, but, praise God, all things are possible with Him. He is the one who breaks the chains and places in us a love for the Father, and He never fails. Even if this work is being done in a rich man’s life, the love of the world, even with his passion for riches, will be conquered by the work of grace.
Salvation is the gift of God; no man in his fallen nature will ever turn his own heart to faith without God working it in Him. If we find ourselves desiring God over the riches of this world, praise Him because we could have never come to that point had God not wrought it in us. Riches, though not evil in themselves, are bindings that hold many out of the kingdom of God. May God do for us what is impossible for us to do ourselves.