A Question I Was Asked:

Are the Wealthy Already Condemned to Hell?

The Question:

In view of both Matthew 19:24 and Luke 6:24 isn't it safe to say that the wealthy are already condemned to Hell?

UK Apologetics Reply:

I know an elderly spinster who certainly believes so, but I don't think this matter is quite as simple as that.

Okay, let us consult Matthew 19:24:

Matthew 19:23: Then Jesus said to His disciples, Truly I say to you that a rich man will with great difficulty enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
24: And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

But why did Jesus say that? This is in the context of a wealthy young man who enquired of Jesus the path to eternal life:

Matthew 19:16: And behold, one came and said to Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?
17. And He said to him, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
18. He said to Him, Which? 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, I have kept all these things from my youth up; what do I lack yet?
21. Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.
22. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (MKJV throughout).

Jesus already knew that this young man greatly valued his wealth. It's the same today: wealthy people make poor candidates for Christian discipleship. This is because they are so used to relying on their wealth and that is where they tend to place their trust and faith.

Now let us consider Luke 6:

Luke 6:20: And lifting up His eyes to His disciples, He said, Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22. Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall cut you off, and when they shall reproach you and shall cast out your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.
23. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. For behold, your reward is great in Heaven. For so their fathers did according to these things to the prophets.
24. But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation.
25. Woe to you who are full! For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep.

I think one cannot escape the conclusion that many who have enjoyed wealth in this life, that is, a selfish, grasping kind of wealth, in which others are willingly exploited for their advantage, are on very dangerous spiritual ground.

There are other New Testament warnings too, here is one of them:

1Timothy 6:6: But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7. For we brought nothing into the world, and it is clear that we can carry nothing out.
8. But having food and clothing, we will be content.
9. But they who will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which plunge men into destruction and perdition.
10. For the love of money is a root of all evils, of which some having lusted after, they were seduced from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11. But you, O man of God, flee these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness.

One could even say that the New Testament almost tends to overturn an Old Testament approach to wealth and success. In the latter, wealth and success are generally painted in a positive light, although not always without warning. In the New Testament however, those who might approach the Lord Jesus Christ are often warned about the negative aspect, and impact of wealth. Even so, we should never rush to judgment in such areas without a fuller consideration; don't forget: a doctrine, or teaching, should never be established on just one or two favoured Scriptures, but all relevant Scriptures should be taken into account.

Without doubt, there are some Christians who have enjoyed a degree of wealth and have been able to bless others because of it. We might think of James L. Kraft who founded Kraft Foods back in 1903. He was from a Mennonite background. He started out by selling cheese from a horse-drawn wagon. His great success enabled him to employ many people, eventually many thousands of them, so these people too were blessed because of Kraft's dilligence and resourcefulness, and eventually because of his wealth. He is not the only one. We have all heard of the 'Protestant work ethic,' this willingness to be industrious has led to some measure of prosperity for many faithful people. If such people were/are generous toward charity and the poor (and many of them have certainly been so), Jesus would not have the view of them which He had of those rich people who are only concerned with accumulating wealth for themselves.

So what is the summation of this matter?

There seems little doubt that God is allowing a few to enjoy real wealth and prosperity in this life because He knows it is the only life they will ever have! Many such people have no desire for, nor interest in God, so they would hardly have reason for complaint if they possibly finding themselves eternally separated from Him in the future. However, God alone knows the true heart of all men and women and - from our present very imperfect knowledge - we should not be too hasty to cast all the wealthy into Hell! Perhaps much more than we realise, God has also occasionally surely used the wealth of some to prosper some very faithful Christians. It is not wrong to prosper, in fact, in all normal circumstances, dilligence should cause one to prosper (although sometimes one may not prosper in this present life), so we need to ensure that we don't develop a view in this area which is too extreme.
Robin A. Brace. November, 17th, 2009.