EYE OF THE NEEDLE. REALLY?!

By Arch Hoercher

Jesus spoke in Mark 10:25 (NIV) that: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  This same text is also seen in Matthew 19:24 and Luke 18:22-25.  What is this “eye of a needle”?  Is it literally the eye of a sewing needle or is it some small gate in the wall of Jerusalem that many try to say that it is?  Many say that Jesus was referring to a gate that was so short that a camel would have to go through it on their knees – meaning a state of humility or humbleness.  Others have taught that it was a gate that was so narrow that any load that a camel was carrying would have to be removed for the camel to get through that gate – meaning that one could not carry any “baggage” through that gate.  Both meanings are understandable, but they are not correct.  The entire text would need to be examined and understood in its context.  So it is important that Mark 10: 17-27 be read and understood in its entirety and in context.

Mark 10:17-27 (NIV): “As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’  ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’  Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said.  ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’  At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’  The disciples were amazed at His words.  But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’”

The context of this scripture indicates that Jesus was speaking of a literal eye of a sewing needle.  Why is this so?  Because it is an “impossible” task for a man.  It would be possible for a man to go through a small gate if upon his knees or without any baggage.  It could be done under man’s own power.  But this is not the intent of what Jesus was saying.   He was stating that for a man to go through the eye of a needle would be an impossible task,  but with God anything is possible.

Jesus singled out the wealthy at first because a wealthy person would tend to trust in his wealth and rely on what that wealth can do for him than trust in God.  The wealthy would not have many wants or needs because his wealth could buy all that for him.  It is harder for them to rely or trust in God.  But the bread and butter of what Jesus said is true for all men, wealthy or poor.  Trying in some way to manufacture your own salvation is just as impossible as threading a massive beast of burden through the eye of a sewing needle.  Apart from the intervention of the Lord, it cannot be done.

The other problem the rich man had was legalism.  His first question to Jesus was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The rich man was looking for that one elusive good work that would push him over the top to obtain eternal life for himself.  It was a legalistic self righteous system of works.  And Jesus answered that question, basically telling him that it is impossible to obtain eternal life on your own works.  There is no specific number of good works that would put you over the top.  It is impossible, but not impossible for God.

Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV); “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Eternal life and the kingdom of God is not possible through any work of man.  There is no rule you must follow or law you must keep.  It is only a God thing.  A gift of God’s unending and awesome grace.  

This passage in Mark (as well as in Luke and Matthew) give undeniable testimony from our Lord Jesus Christ  on the inability of man to do anything to save himself.  This “doctrine” of total inability is a vital component to the gospel.  It highlights the impossibility of salvation apart from a sovereign work of God in a person’s heart.  More than that it highlights God’s grace in that He does do that work and because of that He should receive all our praise.

So how can you enter the kingdom of God?  It can only occur through the work of Jesus Christ alone in your heart and life.  There is no task that you must perform or a law that you must keep to earn any part of salvation.  It is a gift through the grace of God alone.  And yes, you must pass through the eye of that sewing needle, but it is through the power of God that will squeeze you through it.  And once through it, welcome to the kingdom of God!