A.B. Bruce, amazement, Apologetics, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, James A. Brooks, Jesus, Leland Ryken, Luke, Mark, marriage, Matthew, money, Puritan, Puritan work ethic, Puritans, Renunciation, Self-denial, Self-Examination, Self-Sacrifice, The Training of the Twelve, Wealth, Worldly Saints
A second and similar incident of instruction came before the disciples: the rich young man. First the interaction with the young man:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:16–22 (ESV)
Now this event completely perplexed the disciples (as it had the young man). The disciples seemed to have been under the impression that to be rich meant to be favored by God:
And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! Mark 10:24 (ESV)
Interestingly, neither Matthew nor Luke record the amazement of the disciples. There are two obvious reasons for this: (1) Mark’s Gospel routinely records the amazement of people around Jesus (see, https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/amazement-in-mark/); (2) Mark often provides more intimate or vivid details of the events than the other Gospels.
James Brooks provides some background for their amazement:
The event became the occasion for a brief discourse. Jesus’ statement must be contrasted with the Jewish attitude toward riches. The dominant Jewish view was that riches were an indication of divine favor and a reward for piety (Job 1:10; 42:10; Ps 128:1–2; Isa 3:10). Although provision was made for the protection and assistance of the poor (Deut 15:7–11; Prov 22:22–23), rarely was poverty associated with piety. The Psalms sometimes picture the poor as the righteous who rely on God for aid (Pss 37:14, 16; 69:32–33; 86:1–2). The Psalms frequently portray God as the special help of the poor. Especially during the Maccabean period (142–63 B.C.), the rich became associated with the priestly aristocracy ready to compromise with foreign oppressors; the poor, with those who remained faithful to God (cf. T. Jud. 25:4; Pss. Sol. 10:6). The Qumran community apparently used “the poor” as a self-designation (1 QM 11:9, 13; 13:14; 1QH 5:13–22, in which “the poor” parallels those eager for righteousness; 1QpHab 12:3, 6, 10; 4QpPs 2:9–10; 3:10).
The teaching of Jesus was nonetheless revolutionary in its time and remains scandalous even today. However, Jesus did not condemn riches as evil in themselves. They are a temptation, a hindrance, a diversion. They provide false security that makes radical trust in God difficult.
James A. Brooks, vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 163-64.
Jesus went onto explain:
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 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.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. Matthew 19:23–30 (ESV)
Bruce explains how this sounded to the disciples:
In the observations He made He did not expressly say that to part with property was necessary to salvation, but He did speak in a manner which seemed to the disciples almost to imply that. Looking round about, He remarked to them first, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” The disciples being astonished at this hard saying, He softened it somewhat by altering slightly the form of expression. “Children,” he said, “how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” hinting that the thing to be renounced in order to salvation was not money, but the inordinate love of it. But then He added a third reflection, which, by its austerity, more than cancelled the mildness of the second. “It is easier,” He declared, “for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” That assertion, literally interpreted, amounts to a declaration that the salvation of a rich man is an impossibility, and seems to teach by plain implication, that the only way for a rich man to get into heaven is to cease to be rich, and become poor by a voluntary renunciation of property. Such seems to have been the impression made thereby on the minds of the disciples: for we read that they were astonished above measure, and said among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”
 It is a commonly reported “fact” that the Puritans held such a view. Here is a typical example I found on an educational website, “Since God was an all knowing and powerful force the puritans saw their wealth as a gift from God and a sign that they were correct.” As is common with this oft repeated “fact”, no citation to original sourcse is provided. Moreover, despite having read widely throughout Puritan literature, I have not seen such a belief as common at all among the Puritans. In fact, while the Puritans did see money as among the material gifts which God may bestow upon someone, it was not at all a point of belief that money proved one was godly. Thomas Watson noted that persecution was the more common outcome for the godly (see his sermons on the Beatitudes). Samuel Willard wrote, “As riches are not evidence of God’s love ….” For an examination of the Puritans relationship to money, see Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, chapter 4 “Money” – where Ryken quotes the source documents to prove his point.