"... it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle ...” (Matthew 19:23-24)

"Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)
Jesus turns to tell his disciples this after he had instructed a man to sell his possessions and give to the poor:
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:22)

What kind of 'needle' is Jesus referring to?

Notice that this was not the first time Jesus taught his disciples this, as he says, "Again I tell you...".

Many have debated whether the kind of “needle” Jesus is speaking of is a sewing needle or an entrance into a city, which was also supposedly called a “needle.” 

Theoretically, in order to enter the city walls through such a "needle," the camel had to stoop and lower its bags to enter.

But here the Greek word ῥαφίς (rhaphis) is being translated to "needle." The Greek lexicon and translation sources all agree that the word means a sewing needle, as the root of rhaphis is rhapto, which means to sew.

Thus the argument about it describing an entrance into a city is moot. Jesus was speaking of a sewing needle.

Why were his disciples 'greatly astonished'?

The fact that Jesus is referring to a sewing needle is also confirmed by the response of Jesus' disciples after he said this:
‘When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, and asked, “Who then can be saved?”’ (Matthew 19:25)
So we know from this that it is not a matter of a camel dipping down underneath a city gate to get in. That would be quite possible. But it is physically impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. This is why Jesus' disciples were astonished.

Jesus is stating that it is practically impossible for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God.

But what about those students of Jesus who had wealth - such as Martha who had a house and such as Joseph of Arimathea - who offered the tomb Jesus' body was put in? None of these could enter the kingdom of God?

Jesus goes on to clarify this seemingly impossible task in his response to his disciples in the next verse:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

What does the 'kingdom of God' mean?

Notice that Jesus says “enter the kingdom of God.” What does ‘entering the kingdom of God’ mean?

The "kingdom of God" is being translated from the Greek phrase, βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. The word "kingdom" comes from βασιλείαν - which means, according to the lexicon, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule - not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."

This means Jesus was not speaking of a physical place here. He was speaking of accepting God's dominion over everything: This means accepting God's dominion and taking refuge in God. 

This is not a physical place - it is a consciousness.

To “enter the kingdom of God” means entering a consciousness where God is the center of our life. This can take place where ever we might be currently residing.

Oftentimes we see depictions of heaven in popular media, and even accompanying some ministries. Some of these contain images where God is not even in the picture.

Those who depict heaven without God don’t want to accept God's dominion. This is precisely why we are here, and precisely why it is so difficult for us to accept that God is the center of our life and our Best Friend and only shelter.

It is so difficult to enter such a consciousness because we are too wrapped up in our own desires and goals. We are too involved in ourselves.

This is also the reason we are away from God at the moment. We reside in temporary physical bodies designed specifically not to be able to see God. This is because we rebelled against God, and became self-centered.

We still want heaven, mind you. We still want all the goodies of a heavenly place. But we don’t want God there. We want to enjoy heaven without God because we want to be the center. We want to be the center of the universe. We want to get all the goodies. 

We want to own the land, and own the gold and own the children. (Often referred to as "the white picket fence.") We each want to be king of our own little kingdom - whether it be family, business, or nation.

This is why we can't accept God as the center of our lives.

Why is it so hard for a rich man to get to heaven?

So why does Jesus say “a rich man" will find it nearly impossible to enter the kingdom of God? Being a “rich man” according to Jesus means a person within a physical body who thinks of himself or herself as being rich. 

Such a notion, however, is an illusion. Nothing here actually belongs to us. Everything is on loan here. We might possess something temporarily, only to lose it later. If we don’t lose it during our physical lifetimes, we will lose it at the death of our body.

If something cannot be controlled, it is not owned. Control is required for ownership. So if we cannot control it, we do not own it. If we have temporary possession of it, and then it will be taken away from us later, then it must be on loan to us. We must be borrowing it. 

Who then, owns all these possessions? The true owner is God. God controls all things. Since He is the controller, only He is can be the owner of any thing.

But a person identifying him- or herself as "rich" is in the illusion that they own their possessions. They are falsely identifying themselves as the physical body, and falsely identifying the physical possessions their body temporarily maintains as being owned by them. And this brings them great pride. This is the same consciousness discussed above. We want to be king.

A person in this consciousness cannot enter God's world because to enter God's world we have to accept that God is the king. We have to accept that God owns everything, and despite the relative wealth that may be in my possession temporarily, each of us is actually poor: Only God is rich, because He is the owner and controller of everything.

The illusion starts with our identification with the physical body. When we identify ourselves with the temporary physical body, we become attached to physical possessions. This attachment prevents us from entering God’s kingdom because we are covered with desires for more physical things. We do not see that all of this - our physical body, these possessions, and those around us - all belong to God. In other words, everything is already part of God’s kingdom.

We don't have to enter God's kingdom because we are already in God's kingdom. We simply have to accept that God is king (and we're not).

Can we 'enter' God's kingdom now?

We can enter God's kingdom immediately, simply by taking shelter of God, knowing Him to be our Best Friend, our Protector, and Master. This was also taught by Jesus elsewhere:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
However, doing this will require we give up our self-centeredness. We will have to give up the consciousness that we are the center of our lives.

This is the difficult part. It requires a change of heart, and a period of gradual training. This is impossible without God's help, as Jesus confirms in his next statement.