Following Jesus is not easy. When a wealthy man asked Jesus what he must do in inherit eternal life, he told him to sell all his possession and give it all away to the poor. In fact, Jesus says 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. The disciples are shocked by Jesus’s answer, “who then can be saved?” (19:25).
The disciples are astonished, a verb (ἐκπλήσσω) often translated “amazed.” The word was used for the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’s teaching (Matt 7:28; 13:54; 22:33). The word “amazing” has been watered down considerably in popular English (“this bottled water is amazing!”) The disciples were stunned, overwhelmed, and unable to respond to Jesus. (BDAG suggests “dumbfounded,” so maybe “gobsmacked”?)
Jesus’s response is simple: what is impossible for humans is quite possible for God. This verse echoes Genesis 18:14 (referring to Sarah having a child in her old age). Referring specifically to the rich man who asked the original question, he might very well inherit eternal life and enter in to the kingdom of heaven, but if he does, it will be by the grace and mercy of God. To a large extent, this is true for everyone since no one enters their way into the Kingdom. In the parable of the Wedding Banquet none of the original invited guests were worthy and the replacement guests entered the feast by the grace of the king (Matt 22:1-14).
Peter reminds Jesus that the disciples have already done what the rich man could not. They have left everything behind. What will be their reward? (19:27) Peter points out to Jesus (as if he has forgotten) the twelve have already done what is necessary to enter the kingdom. In Matthew 8:22 a man wanted to follow Jesus but wanted to wait until he had buried his father. Presumably Peter and the other disciples left their family responsibilities behind to follow Jesus.
Since he has already confessed his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, he now wants to know what reward a disciple who has completely sold out to follow Jesus as the Messiah can expect when they are rewarded. This might look forward to Jesus coming into his kingdom as a judge, condemning people like the rich young ruler and rewarding people like Peter and the other disciples (looking ahead, Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus promises the disciples rich rewards in the coming kingdom (19:28-29). This is a very eschatological saying, drawing on theme from the Old Testament. In the new world (NRSV, NIV, “at the renewal of all things”) is an attempt to translation a noun which means renewal, rebirth (παλιγγενεσία). This is the word Paul uses in Titus 3:5-6 for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This is the only place in the New Testament the coming age is called a rebirth, although the time prior to the coming of the Son of Man is called “the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). Remarkably, Josephus used this word when describing Israel’s reestablishment after the exile (Josephus, Ant. 11:66). Philo used the word to describe the time of the flood, it was a reborn world (Moses, 2.65).
When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne alludes to Daniel 7:9-14. Cf., 1 Enoch 62.5; 69.29 (cf. 1QpHab 5:3; 1QS 8:7).
1 Enoch 62.5 One half portion of them shall glance at the other half; they shall be terrified and dejected; and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory.
1 Enoch 69.29 Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.
The son of man will not be alone when the kingdom comes. Jesus says the disciples will also sit judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Like these passages from popular Second Temple apocalyptic, Jesus describes himself seated on a glorious throne in the kingdom. The disciples who are followng Jesus will also be seated on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Did Jesus mean to describe the political structure of the millennial kingdom? Maybe, but the point seems to be that the ones who have given up the most will be exalted the most when the messiah comes in glory.
Jesus concludes by telling the disciples the way to receive that great reward is to be the servant of all (19:30). To be qualified to sit on that throne in the glorious kingdom of the son of man, the disciples must give up everything in this life and serve others. This is exactly what the rich man was unwilling to do.
The final verse of this section is an enigmatic line: the first should be last! Who are the “first and the last”? Does Jesus mean the rich in this life are the first, and the poor are the last? This is a segue into the next unit, the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16).