The rich young man was an upper-class Jew, an important man in his society. He sought to live according to God’s commandments and wanted to know how to receive salvation. So he went to Jesus. But Jesus’ response showed a major problem in the rich young man’s life: his love of wealth.
Once, during Jesus’ ministry, a rich young man came to speak with him. He got down on his knees before Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus observed that the young man had called him a “good teacher” and replied that only God is good ( Mark 10: 18-19 ). Then he reminded the Ten Commandments to the man.
The rich young man replied that he knew and obeyed God’s commandments from an early age. Jesus felt love for the young man and told him what he needed to be saved: he should sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. Then you should follow Jesus. Hearing this, the young man went away sad, because he had many riches and did not want to be without them ( Mark 10: 21-22 ).
When the young man left, Jesus told his disciples that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven ( Matthew 19: 23-24 ). This left the disciples in doubt: is it possible to enter Heaven? Then Jesus told them that all things are possible for God, even what is impossible in human terms! Peter mentioned that he and the other disciples had left everything to follow him and Jesus assured them of the eternal reward ( Luke 18: 28-30 ).
The Bible no longer tells us about the rich young man or what happened to him after that encounter with Jesus.
See also: can a Christian be rich?
Why did Jesus tell the rich young man to sell everything he had?
Jesus felt love for the rich young man, who was working so hard to please God and inherit eternal life. So he showed him the area that needed to be addressed in his life to be truly saved. His love of money had yet to be overcome. The rich young man was too attached to his wealth.
Jesus was not teaching that it is necessary to donate money to be saved. No one can buy salvation. This is a free gift from God. He saves us without deserving it, simply because he loves us ( Ephesians 2: 8-9 ). The amount of money we earn or donate is irrelevant to salvation.
Loving God over all things means that nothing is more important than Him. Sometimes we face difficult choices, where following Jesus means losing the things we have, like money, family or jobs. In those moments we have to decide if Jesus is really the most important in our life. The rich young man probably hadn’t noticed, but his wealth had become an idol, something that was more important to him than God. He needed to learn to value money less and to put all his trust in God.
Read more: what does it mean to love God over all things?
Is the story of the rich young man a parable?
No, the story of the rich young man is not a parable. Parables are short stories invented to explain complex truths in an easy to understand way. The rich young man’s story really happened. He was a real person, who met Jesus at a time when Jesus was traveling from city to city, preaching and healing. Jesus used this real situation to give a valuable teaching about wealth and love for God, but it was not a parable.