Not Far From the Kingdom of Heaven

The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher. You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions (Mark 12:32-34).

Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before His crucifixion and immediately asserted His divine authority by casting out the money changers and merchants from the temple (Mark 11:15-17). Of course, the religious establishment became jealous, and began seeking to destroy Him (Mark 11:18). Three challenges to Jesus’ authority followed: one from the chief priests and elders concerning the origin of Jesus authority (Mark 11:27-33), a second from the Pharisees and Herodians about the Roman poll-tax (Mark 12:13-17), and a final one from the Sadducees regarding the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27). Jesus silenced each one in their own hypocrisy and deceit.

A fourth individual—this time an expert in Jewish law—questioned Jesus. Unlike the previous instances, Mark does not indicate the scribe had any intention of trapping Jesus; he had simply observed that Jesus answered His opponents with wisdom and authority. So he asked Jesus, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (Mark 12:28).

As His answer, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which devout Jews recited daily, and Leviticus 19:18—both of which are concerned with love for God and love for fellow man. “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). The scribe’s response was cordial, though perhaps a little condescending. It also reflected an admirable understanding of what the Old Testament taught about love for God. It was the scribe—not Jesus—who correctly said to love God and man “is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). This scribe knew his Bible, and some of the most important verses of the entire Old Testament, like 1 Samuel 15:22 and Hosea 6:6.

What grabs our attention is that Jesus praised the scribe for his intelligent answer: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Consider that statement for a moment. What is it that leads someone to the door of the kingdom of God but prevents them from actually entering? While Jesus commended the lawyer He also challenged him. Being “not far from the kingdom” is not the same as being “in the kingdom.” Just as Jesus did for the scribe in Luke 10:37, He invited him to “go thou and do likewise.”

The rich young ruler of Mark 10:17-22 appears to have been “near” the kingdom. At least, he had a good moral sense about him and had already been keeping God’s commands faithfully from his youth; what more could God ask of him? Only this: “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). If only he had in that moment decided to sacrifice all for the Lord! To an outsider he may have seemed “close,” but that is not nearly enough.

If Jesus had simply given the scribe an “entrance exam” into the kingdom of God, he would have aced it with flying colors. He had all the right answers. But, as Jesus implies, more is required than knowledge of the Book. How did his heart look in the mirror of God’s word (James 1:23-25)? Did he see himself as a broken sinner, in such desperate need of Jesus’ salvation? If not, this attitude is what would have kept him from entering, for Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

We should ask ourselves these same questions. Perhaps you are faithful to all the church’s assemblies, answer questions during class (or even teach!), pay good attention to the sermons, and try to do your best throughout each week to leave a good example to those around us. If so, the Lord bless you, for you ought to be! But is that all that He requires of you? What of, “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength”?