Matthew 19 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Sacrifice and Reward
Jesus had promised a man treasure in heaven if he followed him (v. 21; compare 6:20); the man preferred to keep his treasure on earth (19:22). The well-to-do young man of 19:16-22 was like many "First World" Christians today. We want God to affirm that we are religious enough without costing us anything more than we have already been offering him. We trust only tentatively the value of heaven's kingdom and hence are prepared to sacrifice only little for it; but one who is not sufficiently convinced of the gospel's truth to sacrifice everything (compare 13:44-46) will not prove worthy of it. This is not to say that we are justified by our merit-we must receive the kingdom like a child (19:13-15). But genuine, saving faith is practically shown not by merely reciting a prayer but by living consistently with what we profess.
Jesus promises to more than make up for our sacrifices; do we believe him enough to sacrifice whatever our calling demands? As Craig Blomberg (1992:301) comments: "This entire episode should challenge First-World Christians, virtually all of whom are among the wealthiest people in the history of the world, to radical changes in their personal and institutional spending."
The Powerful Can Scarcely Enter the Kingdom at All (19:23-24)
Jesus apparently employs a common figure of speech when he speaks of a camel passing through a needle's eye (see Abrahams 1924:208; Dalman 1929:230). As much as we want Jesus to have said something else, he said that the rich and powerful could barely enter the kingdom at all. This statement shocked the sensibilities of the disciples even more than verse 10 had; they share the values of Jesus' enemies (Rhoads and Michie 1982:91-92; Mt 16:23). Presumably because many of their contemporaries viewed wealth as a mark of God's blessing (for example, Ep. Arist. 204-5; m. Qiddusin 4:14), the disciples may have assumed that Jesus' standard for people who were not rich was even stricter. If not the rich, who then can be saved? (19:25). Yet because God alone is good (v. 17), salvation by merely human means is impossible for anyone.
Jesus Promises the Kingdom to Whoever Follows Him (19:25-30)
The disciples emphasize that they have forsaken all to follow Jesus, and he does not dispute their claim (vv. 27-28; 4:22). Nevertheless, even once we have committed our lives to him, we must watch and pray to be ready for still other tests. Faced with loss of possessions, the rich young man walked away (19:22); faced with possible death, Jesus' disciples would later abandon him and flee (26:56).
Because families may oppose Christ's call to discipleship, a true disciple must be prepared to abandon not only possessions but also family (19:29; compare 8:21-22; 10:21, 34-37) for Christ's name (compare 5:11; 10:22; 24:9). Jesus himself (12:46-50; 13:55-57) and probably many in Matthew's Jewish Christian audience had suffered rejection by their families, a pain felt much more severely in that culture than in ours.
The modern Christian emphasis on family values is important, but we must beware lest family become idolatry: for instance, parental opposition or concern for our children is not an adequate excuse to reject God's call to the mission field. In response to such sacrifices God multiplies our resources (19:29) precisely because in the kingdom we find a new and larger family than the one we have left behind, and as a family true believers share their resources with one another (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; Kee 1977:109-10; Tannehill 1975:147-52). This assumes that the church will live like the community of God's kingdom, that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. While such words may have encouraged early faith missionaries (Trocma) 1975:203; Rhoads and Michie 1982:92), they just as readily address a persecuted church (Heb 10:34).
Specifically to these twelve who forsook their livelihoods to follow Jesus' call, Jesus promises that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28). That Jesus would reward his loyal followers would not have surprised them; they seem to have expected as much (16:16, 21-22; 20:20-22). Thus when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne (19:28; compare 25:31; for "glory," 24:30) those who have followed him in his humble estate will rule (a common sense of "judge"; compare, for example, Judg 4:4; 10:3; 12:7-14; 15:20; 1 Macc 9:73) Israel's twelve tribes. Indeed, Jesus probably chose exactly twelve disciples with such a connection in mind; see comment on 10:1.
In Matthew's context the lesson extends beyond the Twelve (5:19; 20:23): those who sacrifice now and become least in this age will inherit the place of honor in the coming age (19:30-20:16; 19:30 and 20:16 function as an inclusio, bracketing the enclosed parable). The disciples' reward in the kingdom will be commensurate with their sacrifice.