Luke 18:15–34 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos

Facilitated by Warren
   Jesus Blesses, Answers, and Predicts

Today's three-part passage starts with (1) Jesus blessing little children, followed by (2) his answering a simple question that was asked by a very rich ruler, concluding with (3) Jesus' prediction of his death — telling it for the third time to the Twelve. All three passage elements differ, yet they follow and belong with one another, as you'll see in today's study.

Children Need to Be Brought to Jesus (vv. 15–17)

Sometimes children can teach us some of the most profound lessons we adults need to learn, so long as we listen and observe carefully, as shown in this three-verse encounter between Jesus and children. Luke puts it after the parable of the Pharisee and the publican to show us, in contrast to the pompous Pharisee, the simple, humble trust that's needed to enter the kingdom of God.

There are five lessons we learn from this heart-warming exchange. Read vv. 15–17 now and look for some or all five of these lessons: (1) Children need to be brought to Jesus; (2) we're in danger of hindering children from coming to Jesus so we must be careful; (3) Jesus teaches us that attitude and warmth are important in dealing with children — we must make them feel comfortable; (4) children teach us how we're to come to Christ — by trusting Father God and his gifts as children do; and (5) we must learn from Jesus that he welcomes all who come to him in childlike faith.

Jesus Answers a Rich Young Ruler's Questions (vv. 18–23)

[Note: All three synoptic gospel writers include this passage: Matthew 19:16—30; Mark 10:17—31; Luke 18:18—30, as shown below.] Key to this passage are the following: (1) The man was a ruler of considerable power and influence from an unnamed nation, yet he fell at Jesus' feet (Mark 10:17); (2) he was rich; (3) he was also young (Matthew 19:22), likely having inherited his wealth; (4) he was very much attracted to Jesus; (5) Jesus was attracted to the young man and loved him (Mark 10:21); (6) Jesus spoke to the rich man so as to attract him and encourage him to become a disciple; (7) the Q&A interplay between the man and Jesus came from the perspective of the Law, which wasn't able to save anyone; and (8) the young man, though convinced that he'd kept the Law, found no assurance of eternal life from it.

Jesus asked the young ruler, "Why do you call me good?" to which Jesus answered, "No one is good — except God alone" (v. 19). Jesus doesn't seem to pause or press the man to give an answer. Instead, he seemingly and without hesitation went right on to say, "You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'" Why did Jesus then go on to the Law, and to those specific commandments? The purpose of the Law was to expose men as sinners, unworthy of God's blessings (according to the Mosaic Covenant), and only worthy of his wrath. Before this man can act on the goodness of the Lord Jesus, he must first come to the painful realization of his own sin. Jesus thus pressed the man to consider his righteousness in the light of the Law, since this was the basis for his righteousness in his own mind. He was thinking in terms of his works; thus he was thinking in terms of Law, not grace. He was trying to approach Jesus as an adult, not as a child (highlighted above). Jesus was graciously and gently trying to show him that this type of approach wasn't possible.

The portion of the Law to which Jesus referred was that which governed "man's relationship to man." It may seem incredible to us that someone could claim, as did this young man, to have kept these commandments perfectly. Given a starkly literal interpretation (which Jesus refuted in his sermon on the mount — condemning the heart attitudes that underlie each sin), one can see how the man could claim to be blameless: He hadn't murdered or committed adultery; he didn't need to steal; he hadn't lied in court; he honored his parents.

Why did Jesus begin with that part of the commandments dealing with man's relationship to man? Why didn't he begin with the earlier commandments that stipulated man's relationship with his God? Good questions; impossible to answer. Perhaps it was because men were more sensitive to those commandments that regulated horizontal relationships. Since men tend to judge on the basis of outward appearances (in man's eyes), to gain man's approval, then these commandments that Jesus referred to would be uppermost in the mind of the legalist, among whom the rich young ruler should be included. He was a friendly legalist who felt kindly toward Jesus and wished to follow him. Nevertheless, he was a legalist.

The young man asked Jesus what he still lacked, even after having kept these commandments (Matthew 19:20). Jesus' reply would give him the answer. The young ruler was very perceptive, rightly believing that even by keeping the Law perfectly, he'd still lack what was necessary to inherit eternal life. No man could keep the Law perfectly; even if he did, it wouldn't make him worthy of kingdom blessings, i.e., eternal life. To draw upon Jesus' earlier words, one who fully kept the law could say only, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty" (Luke 17:10b). Accordingly, Jesus didn't argue with the man about his claim to have perfectly kept the Law. Even if the man had done so, it wouldn't have merited him a place in God's kingdom, as he himself implied. Thus, Jesus didn't need to make that point.

Eternal life is a fringe benefit, not the ultimate goal: The rich man wanted to live forever, but he didn't really want God; he wanted to live forever, but with the kind of life he presently knew; he didn't want a "better life," but wanted a longer life that wouldn't end. Jesus had to instruct him that eternal life is a part of being one with God by faith in his Son, and that such 'life' is different, not only in its duration but in its composition. Thus, Jesus finds it necessary to first part him from his money if he'd agree to truly follow him so that he'd be able to enter life eternal with Jesus by his side. The man became sad.

Jesus' Prediction to His Perplexed Disciples (vv. 24–34)

What's impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27)

Click to enlarge

The rich young ruler wasn't the only one who was sad. From every indication, Jesus was saddened by the man's departure. It's at his departure that the gospel writers tell us that the man was rich, which was a key factor in his decision to depart; for Jesus' words of explanation point to his riches as the root of his problem (vv. 24–25). Jesus told the man to rid himself of his riches, not so that he could merit his salvation, but so that the only barrier between him and heaven could be removed.

This man's problem wasn't seen as an isolated instance by our Lord, but as an illustration of how things tended to be, then and now. Rich people suffer from having too much; when they realize that they must hold nothing more precious than God, they often choose to walk away, rejecting Christ and the salvation that he alone can bring.

Salvation of the rich, humanly speaking, is impossible; it takes a miracle! Thus, our Lord told his disciples that while it wasn't humanly possible, it was with God's potential and participation. Salvation of a person is humanly impossible. Only God can and does save men. Thank God that the things impossible to men are possible with him.

The disciples don't really understand. Nevertheless, Peter seems to serve as the spokesman for the rest in responding to Jesus' question: "We have left all we had to follow you!" (v. 28). Peter's thinking, once again, wasn't in accord with God's thinking, but man's. Jesus promised that those things the disciples held dear, but gave up to follow him, would be rewarded "many times as much" in this life, and that eternal life would also be given in the age to come.

It's at this point that Jesus chose to reveal, once again, but in even greater detail, his impending rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus foretold his sacrifice. The disciples, moments before, had reminded Jesus of all they'd given up to follow him. His response was a gentle correction, for they'd not really given up anything at all. In reality, they'd made a great investment. After all, if a person gives up something and is repaid "many times as much" or "100 fold" in this life, and in addition receiving eternal life, that's not a sacrifice! But Jesus' prediction of his coming sacrifice served to put all other "sacrifices" in perspective. Did the disciples really give up a great deal? Let them ponder what the Savior was about to sacrifice and eventually gave up — his very life!

Little children have nothing to give, and thus they don't sacrifice. The rich ruler thought he had to sacrifice that which meant the most to him, and thus chose not to follow Jesus. The disciples, too, thought that following Jesus was costly. While they were willing to do so, they looked for a reward for doing it. But Jesus, in vv. 31–34, teaches us hearty souls that the eternal life that he offers us isn't obtained by our sacrifices, but only by that sacrifice that Christ made at Calvary, the sacrifice of his blood and life that he shed for us. That's the ultimate sacrifice; it puts all others to shame. Let us never glory in any sacrifice but his.

It Makes You Wonder . . . .

  • Q. 1  Will too much love and tenderness spoil a child (vv. 15—17)? Why/why not?
  • Q. 2  What lesson can we learn from Jesus' evangelistic method with the rich young man?
  • Q. 3  Is forsaking all just for the super-committed, or is it a requirement for every believer?

This Week's Passage
Luke 18:15–34

New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 18.]

The Little Children and Jesus

15People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

18A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

19"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good — except God alone. 20You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'"

21"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

26Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"

27Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God."

28Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"

29"Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."

Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time

31Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again."

34The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.