“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell 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.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” — Matthew 19:23–26 (NIV84)
Here are verses that cannot be properly understood unless we grab the greater context. Too many people have misinterpreted these verses because they have tried to give them meaning apart from the context in which they are placed. Jesus had just finished a conversation with a rich young man. The young man initiated the conversation. He asked Jesus what he must do to ensure entry into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told him to live according to the commandments. Because there were so many of them (over 600), the rich young man asked Jesus, “Which ones?” Jesus began to recite commandments from the 2nd table of the Law (man’s relationship with man). He told him things like, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness. He finally summed it up with the 2nd great commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus received an affirming response from the rich young man. “These I already do!”
So then Jesus challenged his affirmation to the first table of the law (man’s relationship with God). He told the rich young man to give everything he had away to the poor and to come and follow Jesus. To this, the rich young man turned away very sad because he was very wealthy. He was unwilling to give away what God had freely given him and faithfully follow Jesus. The rich young man, and many who are wealthy from a worldly kingdom perspective, had/have trouble with the first commandment. They have trouble not falling into the temptation of worshiping other gods and graven images. In our verse, Jesus is saying that it is hard for rich people to have a kingdom of heaven perspective when they are so deeply rooted in the things of this world.
When the disciples heard this, they understood. They said to Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus’ response deserves all of our attention. He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God knows and understands how difficult our situation is. He understands the impossibility of living a true life of faith in this sin-filled, sin-affected world. So what does He do? He promises His support. He promises divine help when we need it the most. God has provided each of us His Holy Spirit to create and maintain the faith we have. Like Paul says, “We can do all things through Him who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13).