Matthew 19:16

ESV And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
NIV Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'
NASB And someone came to Him and said, 'Teacher, what good thing shall I do so that I may obtain eternal life?'
CSB Just then someone came up and asked him, "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life? "
NLT Someone came to Jesus with this question: 'Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?'
KJV And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

What does Matthew 19:16 mean?

This verse begins an exchange between Jesus and a person who is often called the "rich young ruler." Matthew will reveal that he is both young and wealthy in the following verses (Matthew 19:20, 22). Luke's account describes the man as a ruler (Luke 18:18). Scholars suggest that maybe the man held a position has a Pharisee or other religious leader in Israel.

The man approaches Jesus with a very perceptive question. In fact, it is the question that every religious person must ask in some form or another during their lives: How can I be saved? How can I have the good version of the afterlife and not the bad one?

The way this man asks the question reveals his prior assumptions. First, he brings the question to Jesus, whom he called "teacher" or "rabbi." He has heard and seen enough of Jesus and of Judaism to believe that Jesus might finally be the one to give a meaningful answer to this question. He is starting in the right place.

Second, though, the man assumes that having eternal life relies on his actions. He asks Jesus what "good thing" he must do to have or be assured of eternal life (John 6:28). This is the first use of the phrase "eternal life" in Matthew. It is the equivalent of saying, "How can I know for sure that I will be accepted into the kingdom of heaven when the time comes?"

Apparently, some in Jesus' time believed that doing just one good action, maybe repeatedly, would be enough to guarantee eternal life. This man wants to know the identity of that thing so he can do it and rest assured that he will make it into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus' answer to the man's question and the conversation that follows will show why nobody can do enough good things to guarantee themselves eternal life. Only God is good and able. The rest of us depend on His grace to save us through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1–10).
What is the Gospel?
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