And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 NASB
To enter into life – So what do you want out of life? What are the things that really, really matter? If The Man came to you to grant one wish, and only one, what would it be? Such a man came to Yeshua. This man appeared to have it all. He was young. He was righteous. He was wealthy. But he asked for one more thing. “What one thing should I do to guarantee my eternal well-being?” He had it all here. What he wanted to know was how to have it all there too.
In our Christian world, we think that this young man’s request must be answered by a statement of the gospel. We think that what he really, really needs is forgiveness and a personal relationship with Jesus. Then he will have the guarantee he seeks. But a deeper look at Yeshua’s answer suggests that this is not the needed response. Yeshua does tell him how to have “eternal” life. He tells him what he needs to do to enter into life itself. The Greek phrase is eiselthein eis ten zoen. The verb is eiserchomai (to go or come into, to enter). In Yeshua’s statement, it is preceded by the Greek word thelo (to wish, desire). Some grammar is needed before we examine the actual meaning.
First, let’s look at thelo. It’s a present tense, active verb. That means Yeshua recognizes the immediate expression of desire. But we know that both boule and thelo mean “to wish or desire.” The difference is that boule means to desire and plan something but not necessarily to carry it out while thelo means not only to desire but to accomplish, to make it happen. Yeshua indicates in His answer to the young man what it will take to make it happen, not just to wish that it would happen. “Here’s what you need to do right now,” is the sense of it.
Now we encounter something odd about the next verb, “to enter into,” is not in the present tense. It is an aorist verb, a tense form that has no real English equivalent. It means something that has been completed in the past but without specifying whether the action was completed in a moment or over a long period. This verb is also an infinitive. That means it doesn’t tell us if it applies to one person or many. In other words, the Greek text indicates that Yeshua’s answer was something finished in the past but we don’t know how long or who or how many were involved. But this just doesn’t make sense. Here is the young man waiting for an assignment that he is ready to accomplish; an assignment that will insure eternal life. There is no question that this man used the Hebrew expression olam ha-ba, life in the world to come. Yeshua doesn’t seem to answer this question at all. Instead, He directs the man toward life that has already come. The young man is looking toward the future. Yeshua points him toward the past.
What? You mean this isn’t about entering into a life in heaven? Look what Yeshua actually says. He says, “If you desire and are ready to bring about life.” Notice that He does not qualify the word zoe (life) with the adjective aionios (eternal, everlasting). Yeshua talks about life itself, not about life in the olam ha-ba. Yeshua’s answer implies that whatever zoe aionion is, it is found in the past, already finished. Life has already arrived. If you want to enter into it, then there is something you can do. What is that?
Keep the commandments.
That’s right. The young man asks about his future well-being. He is told to look at what God has already done. If he wants to enter into the life God has already provided, a life that implies continuance in the olam ha-ba, then all he has to do is keep the instructions God has already given. The manifestation of “eternal” life is to be found in the Torah life.
Topical Index: life, eternal, enter in, eiserchomai, desire, thelo, olam ha-ba, Matthew 19:17