After meeting Christ Zachaeus promises to give away half of his possessions and restore fourfold those he had wronged

KJV Luke 19 : 8

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

But in the previous chapter when Christ met the rich ruler he had prompted him to sell everything and give to the poor

KJV Luke 18 : 22

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

When contrasting the two narratives somehow I feel Christ more lenient to Zachaeus than to the rich ruler

Why didn't Christ also prompt Zachaeus to sell Everything than accepting him when he only offered half of his possessions

4 Answers 4


The requirement was different because people are different.

The rich young man was kept away from God by, presumably, the fact of possession of (possibly inherited) wealth and his unwillngness to let go of it. He needed to allow it to be taken away from him.

Zacchaeus was kept away from God by the manner in which he acquired much of his wealth, i.e. by fraudulently claiming from people more than he was entitled to claim. He needed to repent of this sin of deceptive greed, amounting to theft, and pay the appropriate penalty. "Fourfold restitution to the owner" is the penalty prescribed in Exodus ch22 v1 for the stealing of a sheep. so he seems to be following that model.

N.B. If Zacchaeus was a local "tax-farmer", whch is what PUBLICANUS meant in Rome, then he had paid for the right to collect a particular tax, and the amount lawfully collected was his legitimate income. That was why he could pay four-fold on the fraudulent part and still have something left for the poor.

  • 3
    +1. Good answer. There is also the point that the rich ruler worshipped wealth to a far greater extent than Zacchaeus and thus needed a far greater (more radical) cure. The very fact that, unprompted, Zacchaeus was will to give up so much of his wealth indicated that his sickness was much less -he was also interested to see Jesus. The rich ruler was only interested in his personal eternal life.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 19:13

The ruler's question in Luke 18:18 was rhetorical, he conscientiously kept all the commandments from his youth. He was asking Jesus:

  1. Is eternal life gained by keeping all the commandments?

  2. If not, what is needed?

Jesus did not contradict him, but encouraged him to have, in addition to eternal life, to be perfect and to have treasure in heaven by selling all his possessions and following Jesus.

However, Zacchaeus had a different motive, he wanted to see in the sense of understanding Jesus and his work, a fact described in the acts of the narrative, which caused his salvation by faith.

And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. (Lk. 19:3 KJV)


Following Jesus to receive eternal life require

  1. Repentance of our sins
  2. Faith to the Lord
  3. Obedience to the Lord

In Luke 18:18-23, the rich ruler asserted that he kept(obeyed) the laws of God since he was a boy, and he implied that because he had the obedience, there was nothing to repent of. There was no need for Jesus to question his claim, for Jesus knew he lacked one thing. So Jesus said;

“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22 NIV

Which thing did the rich ruler lack? The answer is his "Faith". So Jesus challenged his faith by asking him to do something he was reluctant to do. This challenge was tailor made to the rich ruler to test his faith.

In Luke 19:1-10, we saw Jesus didn't give any challenge to Zacchaeus compared with the rich ruler, and why was that?

In the statement Zacchaeus claimed in Luke 19:8, he said;

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (NIV)

From Jesus' reply in Luke 19:9, Jesus accepted his repentance to what he did in the past was from his heart, and trust that thereafter he would work according to (obey) the law. His faith was seen by Jesus when Jesus found him as a short guy climbing on a tall sycamore-fig tree. How did this demonstrate his faith? Faith is demonstrated by doing something that requires a sacrifice. The rich ruler did not want to give up his wealth, but Zacchaeus might be willing to give up his life, as Jesus might see him not physically fit to climb when He found him. And therefore Jesus said; "Zacchaeus, come down immediately" (Luke 19:5 NIV)


Please note that in the actual passage of Luke 19, Jesus does not require anything from Zacchaeus, other than "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." It is imperative to recognize that Jesus never told Zacchaeus to give any of his possessions to the poor. It was the willingness of Zacchaeus to have a repentant and submissive heart to give half of his possessions to the poor. Understand that this willingness to give could also have been the conclusion of the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler, but instead of volunteering to give at least half of what he owned, he coveted his own possessions and choose to give nothing and to sadly walk away. This attitude is because Jesus had told him, "You still lack one thing...". That one thing he lacked was to obey one of the commandments that Jesus had intentionally omitted in verse 20: Do not covet. The rich man coveted his own wealth, and refused to give any of it away, and Jesus already knew this. The rich man's delight in this present world far exceeded his own anticipated existence in eternity.

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