The Text Says Jesus “Loved” The Rich Young Ruler, Not “Tested,” “Rebuked,” or “Graciously Overlooked His Glaring Hypocrisy”

WLO_doinggoodMark 10:17-22, the story of the rich young ruler, is a bellwether text for measuring just how literally we are willing to take the Bible. On the face of it, the story’s prose is so sparse and its implication so disconcerting that we can’t help but be tempted to add in a few words here and there to shade the meaning in our preferred direction and thus cushion the cudgel-like blow to our modern hearers that Mark reports crushed Jesus’ original audience.

Ted Cockle, in his recent adaptation of Phil Ryken’s comments on the story, is the latest to attempt to shield us from the blow. About the rich young ruler Cockle writes:

The rich young man was a know-it-all. He had such a high opinion of himself that he refused to confess his sin. Most of us would not have liked this man at all.

He adds:


In fact, it was just because Jesus loved this man that he gave him the generosity test for love. He wanted him to see that he was not the lover he thought he was, that he needed more of the love of Jesus in his life.

These are entirely understandable additions to the text given our hope to tame it a bit; however, they are additions which are not only not well supported by the rest of Scripture; they are not supported by the Mark 10:17-22 text itself. Mark 10:21 does not say, “But Jesus loved him”; rather, as almost every modern translation indicates, there is no hint of a but to be found. An and, maybe; or a then, but no but. Jesus looked on the man and he loved him, period.

And, interestingly, nowhere else in the New Testament is Jesus said to specifically love someone he felt was a hypocrite, or a know-it-all, or, for that matter, a jerk. Scripture tells us explicitly that Jesus loved Lazarus, and Mary and Martha, and his own that were in the world; and a particular disciple repeatedly referenced as the disciple whom Jesus loved. This does not mean that Christ does not love sinners; of course he does. It is simply to note that we would do well to be cautious to read into the Mark 10:17-22 text that the rich young ruler is loved despite his barely tolerable know-it-all attitude.

The Scripture shows also that it is more than capable of noting when Jesus is administering a test, as Philip discovered in the matter of feeding several thousand dinner guests. Earlier in Mark 10, in fact, mention is even made of testing–in this case, the Pharisees testing Jesus about divorce. And in Mark 10:14, a few verses before the young man runs up and kneels at Jesus’ feet, Jesus is reported to be indignant at the disciples for the very unlikable practice of shooing children away from him. Surely if Jesus was going to look lovingly on know-it-alls, it would have showed up there.

But it does not.

There is no hint in Mark 10:17-22 that Jesus finds the rich young ruler to be unlikable, a know-it-all, or an unrepentant sinner. And it would take an awful lot of reading into the text of Mark 10:18 to suggest that the rich young ruler has a high opinion of himself rather than Jesus. Mark 10:17 even shows the rich young ruler running up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him–odd behavior for such a purportedly high-minded chap.

No, if we are going to take the text literally, we are left with no hint of an unlikable, unrepentant, unloving man. Instead, in the verse antecedent to the indication of Jesus’ love you can fairly well feel the intensity and sincerity and sobriety of the young inquirer, on his knees, seeking urgently, as he says in Mark 10:20:

“Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Who would not love a pupil like that?

So if this is not an obnoxious snob being loving put to the chastening by the test of Jesus, what is this?

It is simply Jesus being Jesus, openly, honestly, loving all those who seek him earnestly, inviting them to take the next step down the narrow road of mirroring his love to the world as he mirrors the love of his father to us.

In the end, the fact that we fail to see this is a sign of just how much we all have in common with the rich young ruler. Like him, we will go so far with Jesus, but we will turn aside sadly and go no further. And this is why we seek to make the rich young ruler out to be the worst kind of sinner, rather than a disciple with whom we can empathize because he is just like us.

Jesus, after all, is passionate about mirroring his father’s love into the world. And he knows that we were likewise created to be passionate about mirroring his love into the world, before the sin derailed us from which he rescued and restored us. He never asks us to do anything he has not first modeled for us, and, as Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV) indicates, all Jesus is doing in Mark 10:17-22 is inviting a beloved disciple to do just what he did so that all who see the disciple will marvel at the love and goodness of Jesus’ father–just as they do when they see Jesus:

2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Empty yourself in Jesus’ name, the Scripture repeatedly invites us, and you will unexpectedly find yourself  exalted, too–seated with Christ in heavenly places, with unimaginable treasure besides.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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9 Responses to The Text Says Jesus “Loved” The Rich Young Ruler, Not “Tested,” “Rebuked,” or “Graciously Overlooked His Glaring Hypocrisy”

  1. Pingback: Don’t Go Away Sad | morecleverdevil

  2. John Zorich says:

    So good. I have read this scripture many times but Jesus’ heart for me jumped off the page today. “Jesus looked at him and loved him” .wow, how did I miss that! Of course this guy is a sinner-all have sinned. I always so it as jesus throwing down the challenge. “You gotta do this to me be my disciple” What he is really saying is “I love you and want you to be free from the shackles of your stuff and start living the life I have for you” Somehow the keys to the porsche and the mcmansion were immediate and gratifying in a way he could get past. I have been there.
    I give you my whole heart today. Help me to know you love me and your plan’s for me are far greater than anything I could ask for. Thank you for loving me!

  3. Carl Wells says:

    Dr. Foley, it was a joy and a relief to me, just now, to read this. Most Internet sources (and Christians in general) seem to have a very low opinion of the rich young man. My own evaluation is that he arrived before Christ as a true but flawed believer in God, and went away as a true but flawed believer in God. He sensed that he was ‘”still lacking”‘ (Matt. 19:20). Jesus told him how to be ‘”complete”‘ (Matt. 19:21), but that was too hard for the young man.

    By the standard some commentators seem to have, there might only be a few dozen Christians on the planet. My opinion is that you are right on target: very few Christians want to be complete. When Christ asks hard things of us, we prefer to remain with the crowd. This is true of almost all of us. That doesn’t mean we are not believers.

    I am writing a book entitled If: God’s Covenant of Grace. It is a book exploring the covenant of grace, and using the word if as a springboard for that discussion. This morning I was dealing with Matthew 19:17-22, where two ifs appear. At times I find myself in disagreement with the general consensus about Bible passages. I can stand it. However, it is also a vast encouragement to me to see that you are in broad agreement with my own opinion. I will cite you in my book. Don’t worry: few people will read it. I self-publish my books, and few people read them.

    May God bless you and your family.

    Best wishes,
    Carl Wells

    • Pastor Foley says:

      Thanks for taking time to share an encouraging word, Carl. I always respect those who write what they believe needs to be written rather than what is likely to be read. Carry on, brother!

  4. The young rich man did not have a “Know it all attitude”, what he had was a life style of obedience and Jesus Loved him for sure. What so many people fail to understand is that Jesus gave him a chance to follow him like his disciples. What separated the core group disciples that would eventually be in Soleman’s porch meeting from the other believers [but not followers] was a willingness to walk away from the hold of this life. Example: A wind fall of fish is pulled in both fishing boats … then what happens … they drop their nets and walk away[not figurative]. They walked away from a big pile of money. Most Christians don’t even tithe let alone surrender all and would utterly fail in the exact same way the rich young ruler did if Jesus unknown to them said sell house, car and all you have and follow. I tell you this because I did surrender all and follow. Has it been easy on the other side of that … nope…but that is where the empowered believer begins and the side line believers but not followers end. The reason miracles in the Church are rare and the power of God is not seen is there are thousands if not millions of Christian believers and very few followers.


    Im finding this brother’s expressed understanding of immeasurable blessing in Him with whom we have to do Amen Yhoshua/Jesus loves all of us “fallen shorts” thus showing the love of our Father which is in Heaven in sending his beloved Son to die on the horrible death pole for our sins: “IF THAT ISN’T LOVE”…..🙌🙇🙏

  6. chuck hulsey says:

    some think the young rich ruler may have actually been Lazarus. Also Jesus said “with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible” ie even a rich man to be saved. ( Kinda Calvinistic I know)

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