Did Christ really offer the rich ruler a ministerial position (compare Luke 18:18-23)?


In our last Q&A, we stated that the rich ruler in Luke 18:18-23 (and in the parallel passage in Mark 10:17-22), who was unwilling to sell all he had, “turned down an opportunity to become a minister.” But is this conclusion correct, as the Bible only says specifically that Jesus asked him to “follow Him,” without expressly stating that He wanted to ordain him to the ministry?

It is true that Jesus made some very general statements about following Him, requiring of all His disciples to follow Him. He said in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” He also said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

We also read about a general statement about His apostles, in Matthew 19:28, when answering Peter’s question what the apostles would receive who had left everything: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration (Luther translates: “when you are born again”), when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

It is true, of course, that all of His disciples will have rulership positions in the Kingdom of God, but here, He was specifically addressing the apostles.

We should note, however, that when Christ speaks directly TO a disciple and commands him to follow Him, it appears that He does so exclusively for the purpose of calling that disciple into the ministry.

Some commentaries agree that Christ offered the rich ruler a ministerial position. They point out that Christ’s command to the rich ruler to sell everything that he had  was specifically given to that ruler because Christ saw that one thing was lacking in his qualification to become a minister, and that one thing was his love for money and his trust in riches (compare Mark 10:24). Note the following statements concluding that Christ was indeed calling the ruler into the ministry.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible writes: “Follow me – To follow Jesus then meant to be a personal attendant on his ministry; to go about with him from place to place, as well as to imitate and obey him.”

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible is even clearer, stating:  “…come and follow me – be my disciple, and I will appoint thee to preach the kingdom of God to others. This was the usual call which Christ gave to his disciples… and it is pretty evident, from this, that he intended to make him a preacher of his salvation.”

In support of this conclusion, Clarke refers to certain passages, which show that on each of those occasions, Christ’s “invitation” to “follow” Him refers to a call to the ministry and to the obligations of a minister.

For instance, we read in Matthew 4:19 that Christ spoke to Peter and Andrew: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In Matthew 8:21-22, He said to one of His disciples: “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” As this was already a disciple of Christ, His remark to follow Him included obviously more than just “mere” discipleship. The parallel passage in Luke 9:59-60 makes this point even more compelling, as He is quoted as telling the man: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and PREACH the kingdom of God.” Christ was offering him a ministerial position at that point in time, and He was telling him not to wait several years until after his parents had died.

In Matthew 9:9, Christ used the same expression (“Follow Me”) when He addressed Matthew, the tax collector, and called him to become an apostle: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he arose and followed Him.” Clarke also quotes the parallel passage in Mark 2:14, where Matthew is identified as “Levi the son of Alphaeus.”

Another example where Christ’s statement to an individual disciple to “follow” Him clearly referred to a calling to the ministry and apostleship can be seen in John 1:43, where Christ found Philip and told him: “Follow Me.” 

It is interesting that all of these named disciples (Peter and Andrew; Matthew or Levi; and Philip who did follow Christ’s “invitation,” were later numbered among the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-4), and they were ordered to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2).

In John 21:19, 22, Christ reiterates the great and ongoing ministerial responsibility to Peter when He tells Him twice after His resurrection: “Follow Me” and “You follow Me” (John 21:19, 22). He had just told Peter three times to “Feed My lambs”; “Tend My sheep”; and “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15, 16, 17).

Returning to Christ’s statement to the rich ruler to follow Him, it appears that He was indeed willing to call him into the ministry, but sadly, the ruler loved money more than God and he rejected this unique opportunity to follow Christ as a minister and to perhaps later become even one of His apostles. In refusing to accept his ministerial calling, Christ pointed out that it will be very difficult for a rich person to even enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25-26; Mark 10:23-25).

Lead Writers: Norbert Link and Brian Gale

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