[Supplement to Gospel Doctrine New Testament lesson 17]
We can learn a number of lessons from the story of the rich ruler who approached Jesus to ask “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27).
Jesus’ immediate answer was “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Judaism teaches that there are 613 commandments in the Torah or law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), which may explain why the man asked which commandments Jesus intended.
The Savior responded by reciting the some of the Ten Commandments, to which his visitor replied, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that 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.” As he went away, Christ explained to his disciples the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom.
From this account, we learn the importance of keeping the Lord’s commandments and the necessity of using one’s wealth to help the poor. Jesus often taught these same principles in other settings.
In the Sermon on the Mount, delivered to both his Jewish and Nephite followers, he declared, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21; 3 Nephi 13:19-21).
The address delivered by Helaman2 to his sons Nephi and Lehi reiterates these principles:
Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God … Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good … And now my sons, behold I have somewhat more to desire of you, which desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life, which we have reason to suppose hath been given to our fathers. O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. (Helaman 5:6-9)
As the rich man turned away from Jesus upon learning that he would be expected to provide for the poor, the Lord told 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. 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” (Matthew 19:23-26)
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob noted that riches had a tendency to cause pride in those who became wealthy and led to social classes and inequality and oppression of the poor.  To those who had gained wealth, he said, “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good — to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:17).
The Savior himself had told his Jewish and Nephite apostles, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Matthew 6:31-33; 3 Nephi 13:31-33).
For additional material relating to this lesson, see:
- John A. Tvedtnes, I Have a Question: “Jesus once said, ‘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.’ (Matt. 19:24.) Can you give me some background on this statement?” The Ensign, March 1985.
- John A. Tvedtnes, “Salvation by Grace Alone?” posted on the FAIR web site
For an introduction to the books of the New Testament and in-depth discussions of each verse in the New Testament, see Kevin L. Barney (ed.), John H. Jenkins, and John A. Tvedtnes, go to “Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints”