Stop and be astonished, if you can, at a statement from Jesus in Mark 10 that certainly astonished his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:25).
It’s hard to be surprised by this little saying if you’ve grown up with the Bible, or even if you’ve just known it for a long time. It’s commonplace. It’s like hearing, “Did you know that a fifteen-minute call could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance?” To which the appropriate response is an eye roll and an “everybody-knows-that.”
When Bible words sound like blah, blah, blah to you; when the mirror of God’s word is fogged up by familiarity; when (pick your metaphor) your mind glazes over as you read—you need to pull out your Bible study tools. Start analyzing. Start dissecting in order to reconstruct. “Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom”—and then remembers and obeys, James says—“will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25 NIV).
So I look intently. Sometimes I force myself to look up stuff I think I already know. I use the Logos Factbook to look up “camel” and “needle,” and I gather some useful pictures for my upcoming Bible lesson. I run a Bible Word Study on “rich person,” and I notice that most of the almost 30 uses of the word in the New Testament are negative. I’m just observing whatever I can, using the different lenses provided by my digital Bible study tools.
And then I turn my attention to that deceptively simple phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus speaks about this kingdom with the authority of someone who’s been there. That in itself is remarkable. Just imagine you were one of those people who heard Jesus utter those words. Here’s a flesh-and-blood person, your height, your skin color, wearing clothes no nicer than yours, speaking your language and breathing your air—and he goes around telling people who gets into God’s kingdom and who has a hard time at it! That’s chutzpah—unless he’s God.
Indeed, the “kingdom of God” is the much more common way for the Bible to reference God’s kingdom, and this is a good place to focus my study. This “kingdom of God” that Jesus knows so much about is a complex topic. How can my digital Bible study tools help me understand it? I can do something no other generation in the history of the church could do: I can perform a computerized search. In Logos, I search for “Kingdom NEAR God” and Logos shows me every time the word “Kingdom” appears within a few words of the word “God.”
You can’t do this profitably if you’ve never just read the Bible. You need to have a basic familiarity with its contents. But once you do, you’ll notice things. Like Daniel 2:44 (ESV):
The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.
This is the kingdom Jesus is talking about, and you can “enter” it or not. You, rich person—most people reading this post are “rich” by nearly any definition—had better pick up a needle (camels are harder to pick up) and look through the hole right now. Let Jesus’ statement about you sink in, now that you’ve analyzed it.
And then despair. It’s impossible.
And then read on—and rejoice. The disciples’ shock leads to Jesus’ merciful explanation: the camel and the rich man can both strain for all they’re worth, and they’ll never get through. But “all things are possible with God.” God, Paul said, is rich too: he is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4).
A version of this article originally appeared in the May–June 2016 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about subscribing to BSM.