Matthew 19:23-26 “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
One thing is crystal clear: a camel cannot go through the eye of a needle. It is impossible. And if you have ever heard anyone say that this is a reference to a gate in the wall around Jerusalem which was so small that a camel had to get down low and take the load off its back, there is no such gate and the context will not allow such an interpretation.
Jesus interprets his own meaning in his response to what the disciples ask next. They are astonished and ask in verse 25, “Then who can be saved?”
Now at this point Jesus has the golden opportunity to answer with something like:
- “The poor can be saved.”
- Or: “Believers can be saved.”
- Or: “Those who follow me can be saved.”
But he does not say any of those. He follows through with the meaning of what he had just said about the camel and the needle’s eye. He says in verse 26, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
What is Jesus referring to when he says, “This is impossible”? The rich young man had just been unwilling to leave his possessions, and care for the poor and treasure God and follow Jesus. Jesus had said, See how hard it is for a rich man to be converted into a follower of mine. It’s as hard as a camel going through a needle’s eye. But then the disciples broaden the issue to everybody: “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus in essence says, “The point I am making about the rich is true for everybody. This is not a problem with money. It’s a problem with the human heart.” So he makes the broad general statement: “With people this is impossible.” That is, conversion for everyone is humanly impossible. Who then can be saved? Answer: No one -unless God intervenes to do what is humanly impossible.