The Parable of the Camel and the Needle

The Parable of the Camel and the Needle

The Parable of the Camel and the Needle.

Please read Luke 18:18-30.

THE CONTEXT. A rich man, probably the up and coming young rich ruler in the synagogue, approaches Jesus and asks the same thing the uppity lawyer asked Jesus in the prelude to the Good Samaritan story. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus eventually gave those two men different answers. In both cases, Jesus first responded by referring to Scripture. Then he gave them different answers to the same question. The Lord wanted to zero in on what each particular questioner needed to hear. This rich ruler loved his wealth and all the trappings, so Jesus centered on that. After their brief conversation, Jesus followed up on that exchange with a simple little parable about a camel and a needle.

With a sigh, Jesus decides to tell a little parable…

JESUS.  After the conversation with the rich ruler, Jesus turns to his wider audience, made an observation, and told this parable: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” The camel was the largest known animal in Palestine, and the needle’s eye was perhaps the smallest opening known. The biggest animal going through the tiniest opening. Jesus loved using hyperbole, a popular Jewish teaching tool. Biblical researchers now say that there is no historical confirmation of there being a gate called the eye of the needle or some such. That appears to be more of a myth.

THE AUDIENCE. They were perplexed. If that rich, law-abiding ruler who could afford to do more good deeds than anyone they know of, couldn’t enter the Kingdom, then who could possibly be saved? Anyone? God has rewarded and blessed him with wealth and power and status, and even with all his best efforts he can’t enter the Kingdom? What hope is there for us, then?

JESUS. Jesus is saying that perhaps without knowing it, the rich man was worshipping wealth. It became too important to him. He chose money instead of God, when it came down to it. Jesus is also saying that there’s nothing that someone does, even if they are honorable and generous, to earn the Kingdom. Inheritance is not a right, it’s a gift. Love God, and accept His free grace. Too, those with wealth tend to think they need to earn what they get. For so many, they tragically can’t set this tendency aside. Raw human effort and giftedness does not lead to inheriting eternal life. And that’s very difficult for the wealthy to accept.

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. Salvation is impossible by man’s efforts. The rich man would have needed Jesus to do what he asked. It is only possible by God’s gift of grace. Salvation is a miracle. Good works through wealth, and keeping the law through earnest determination, are actually stumbling blocks to a person’s humble acceptance of the miracle of grace. Our good works alone are not good enough. God must come to the rescue and enable us to demonstrate true goodness. We can’t earn salvation, we aren’t good enough. Only God is. If you’re wealthy, and you’re used to earning your keep, and you hold tight to religion, be careful about what you truly worship. You must become like a child, vulnerable and trusting, and receive God’s gift of salvation to life everlasting.

b. Those who are wealthy are more likely to live with the delusion of self-sufficiency. Jesus tried to poke a hole in the rich man’s inflated sense of independence and goodness, by asking the ruler to give up everything and follow Him. The rich ruler couldn’t do it. He was addicted to his wealth, his identity, his self-reliance, his self-sufficiency. He chose to worship the wrong thing. His identity was so wrapped up in his wealth and all the trappings, he couldn’t see himself doing what Jesus asked. His wealth kept him from a new identity.


  1. Quite a stark observation of Jesus: You obviously can’t stuff a camel through the eye of a needle. That’s how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. In other words, without God’s help, it is literally impossible for a wealthy person to reach heaven. Really? Where does that put most of America?
  2. The rich young ruler had obeyed all the rules since childhood, a pure model of morality. Yet somehow he was still far from the Kingdom. Where does this put all those churches who emphasize keeping all the rules? What are those churches missing?
  3. Evidently it is possible for a perfectly moral person to miss out on following Jesus. So what is the point of being so virtuous? What are we missing here?
  4. There was a wealthy man walking down the street. Suddenly a thief with a gun sneaks behind the man, sticks his gun against his back, and says, “Your money or your life!” The rich man hesitates, considering his options. That might seem comical, but is it true in spirit for you? Is there anything you can’t let go of, even if your life depended on it? What would make you hesitate like that wealthy man?

Resources: A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; K. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.