Part 18 of 23
I was seventeen. It was summer. I needed a job, or so my parents told me. I was aiming for a part-time situation with little responsibility and minimal hours. After all, I was still a kid and wanted to enjoy as much of the summer as I could. I was hoping to still be able to sleep in, and not work afternoons.
Without much trouble, I got minimum wage work at a local veterinarian clinic scooping droppings out of animal cages. I accepted the job, figuring it would please my parents. Before I had even put in my first day at the clinic, I got a second offer from a regional environmental attorney. He would pay four bucks more an hour, I could set my own schedule, and best of all it was a media job. I would be tasked with making digital video packages for upcoming court cases. I'd get to use all kinds of high tech equipment, something I loved. Needless to say, the media job made scooping animal poop seem like a crap job. However, since I had already accepted the job at the vet clinic, I decided to spend my summer doing both. I worked mornings in the poop factory and spent my afternoons in the air-conditioned studio making media magic.
This was my first time to have an income stream, not to mention two. I felt like I had true riches. It was interesting how rapidly money changed things in my life. I no longer needed to rely as much on my parent's help. I had an increase in self-confidence. I could do things in my leisure time that I had never been able to afford before. I was even able to take my high school girlfriend to the theater. Having to manage money was what began my shift from being a child to being a responsible adult.
As everyone is aware, having money has its problems both practical and spiritual. There are basically two main spiritual problems that arise from the possession of wealth. First, riches can make it hard for a person to get saved. Here’s how Jesus put it:
“…How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
It's struggle and suffering that often remind us that we need the Lord. A comfortable life, especially one padded by wealth, can numb our spiritual senses. Money softens the harsh blows of life, blows that some people need to become aware of their need for a savior. My mentor, a brilliant East Texas pastor, recently reminded me that believing in Jesus for salvation requires that we mentally admit that we need help, that we need salvation. Requesting help is easier for a broke, homeless, single mother than a billionaire tycoon. The habit of asking for physical help sets trends that spill over into the spiritual life. This connects to how easy or difficult it is for someone to admit they need salvation.
Jesus warns of a second danger associated with riches. Here is a famous saying given to us by Christ:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The second risk is that riches make it hard to serve God. Serving God is not what brings salvation, only faith in Christ can do that. However, serving God is what brings fulfillment in this life and reward in the next life. There’s a kind of irony in this. For a believer, seeking only wealth in this life assures that he will have none in the next. Pursuing riches ensures heavenly poverty.
Building upon this idea, Jesus told a story of a rich man who came to trust in his own wealth. He spent his time thinking about how to get more wealth for himself; then unexpectedly the man died, and all of his belongings were given to someone else. Jesus then gives this lesson:
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Jesus warns that wanting wealth in this life can shipwreck our ability to have any in the next life. He instructs us to be wary of the dangers of earthly wealth. However, He adds a call to look toward the kind of riches that God gives. What kind of riches does God give? Will they be physical and tangible wealth in Heaven, or is this a metaphor for something as yet unknown. Basically, will there be money in Heaven?
It seems that most have the notion that everything will be free in Heaven. If everything is free, then there would be no need for money? But where did that idea come from? As I began to do research for this chapter, I offered google this question, "Will the Kingdom of Heaven have an economy?" After wading through about five thousand links to health and wealth preachers, I came across a great quote that stood out to me. Bruce Wilkinson seems to think the answer to that question is "yes." In September of 2002, he said in an interview,
“There is an economy in Heaven. There are cities in Heaven, and there are people who lead and people who don't lead, people who are rewarded and people who are not rewarded.”
This quote brings up all sorts of exciting imagery that we could explore. However, the thing I want to focus on at this point is the question of money and whether it will be a facet of daily life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
When I was in my twenties, I worked as a videographer. I got hired to shoot a video teaching series by a group out of Dallas, TX, called Grace Evangelical Society. In that series Dr. Robert Wilkin, an Author and theologian said:
"In my view, the word treasure refers to riches… Most likely it refers to money. I think in the Millennial and Eternal Kingdom believers are going to have some sort of monthly trust fund they live on, and that money will be used, of course, to glorify God. I know people don't tend to think of the Kingdom as having an economy. They don't think of spending money, but why shouldn't we think that way? If Adam and Eve had not sinned wouldn't we have developed an economy on Earth? Wouldn't we have cities, roads and everything else? It seems to me there will be an economy in the Kingdom of Heaven."
He acknowledged that his view is speculative since scripture doesn’t explicitly speak to the subject, but he felt confident that this was the way things will be when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom.
In my research for this book, I sent out scads of emails to my theologian friends and acquaintances trying to take their pulse on this concept. Most returned with confidence that there would be an economy in the kingdom when Jesus brings Heaven on Earth, but much of it was inference, and only a few biblical references surfaced. So it feels as if I am stepping into uncharted waters here, but that's exactly where the treasure is usually sunk. So let's sail on and see what we can find. The first port is Deuteronomy.
In Deuteronomy God is talking to the Nation of Israel about what they can expect if they obey. God makes this amazing statement to them as a promise for the future of their kingdom:
For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
Can you think of a time when Israel has ruled over many nations? I’ve searched the history books. It hasn’t happened yet. This points us to the future. It hasn’t happened yet, but God promised that it will. This must mean that this will happen in the coming Kingdom of God. Notice the first half of this promise where He says, “You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.” In telling Israel about their future reign in the Kingdom era, God revealed something that is significant.
For there to be lending and borrowing, there must be something to lend and borrow. Therefore there must be something beyond barter of commodities. There must be currency to be lent and borrowed. Where there is currency, there is economy. This is the first clue that there will be a money system replete with international banking in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
I'll ask you again. Can you think of a time in history when Israel acted as priests for a worldwide religion and was fed on the wealth of the nations? Nope? I didn't think so. This also is something that hasn't happened yet. We know that this is talking about the future because of what Jesus said. It was from this same chapter that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth. He read the first four verses and then declared that those four verses had been fulfilled. However, he didn't say that the following verses, which include the one above, had been fulfilled. That's because they wouldn't be fulfilled until the Kingdom had begun.
What does this verse mean when it says, “You will be called priests… and will feed on the wealth of nations."? What's in view here is the tithe. In Old Testament Israel the tribe of Levi had a special job. They were the priests of God's temple. The Levites were allowed to collect a tenth of the other eleven tribe's income in return for their priestly services. So the wealth of the nation went to feed the priests of God.
When Isaiah, talking to the entire nation of Israel says, “You will be called priests of the Lord… You will feed on the wealth of nations…,” He's telling us that there will be a planet-wide tithe that nations will pay. In the Kingdom, the nations will send their tithes to support the work that Israel is doing. The nation of Israel, acting as ministers of God, will feed on the wealth sent in by the nations. In the eternal kingdom, there seems to be a reference to something similar when it says that the kings of the nations will bring their splendor into the new Jerusalem. It’s an amazing window into what the world will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven.
There must be some type of international exchange of currency on both the individual and governmental level. The economy of the Kingdom will likely be even more advanced than ours is today.
Evidence shows that there will be an international economy, but will individuals buy and sell? Though the Bible doesn't answer this question directly, it does indicate that the familiar functions of life will exist in the kingdom. There will be traveling, eating, and drinking in the Kingdom. In addition to banking, there will be property ownership, construction projects, farming, productive labor, and childbearing. In today's world, all of this costs money. In the world of tomorrow, it makes sense that much of this will still come at some expense.
However, we do discover that are certain commodities that will be able to be “bought” without cost. Jesus says that during the Eternal Kingdom access to the fountain of the water of life will be available to everyone for free. Again in the next chapter, He repeats the idea when He says, "Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." This may be related to Isaiah’s words:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
This may be a reference to what will be available in the Kingdom to everyone without cost. This makes sense when we consider that the Earth will be so fruitful in the kingdom era that the basic needs of life will be met even for those who have no funds. Food crops will thrive with incredible quantity year round. The deserts and wildernesses will become lush and productive land. Even those who have no resources with which to buy are invited to partake in the abundance that the Earth offers in the Kingdom era.
The Kingdom economy will be quite different in some ways and very similar in others. It is in this economic system that Jesus’ encourages us to invest. He instructs those who will listen with these eternally rewarding words:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Jesus not only makes us aware that we can be rich in Heaven, but He encourages us to focus on it. Investing in the pleasures and comforts of this life will be of no benefit in the next. Instead, He instructs us to fill our treasure chest that is in Heaven.
We could easily scan this thinking it's poetic or even metaphorical language. Many have assumed that this is an analogy for something intangible. However, if Jesus is talking about something intangible, it would be strange to state this principle as He has without letting us know that there is no actual treasure in Heaven. The language points to real treasure that has a physical aspect in the heavenly realm.
Treasure in Heaven is one of the rewards for obedient believers. I’m convinced that when He says “treasure,” He means treasure. Considering that there will be a world-wide economy in God’s kingdom, I don’t see any reason why we need to try to turn this into an analogy.
At one point in the mid 80's when there was talk of market volatility, my grandfather took a large sum of cash and buried it below the dirt of his backyard in a coffee can. When he went to retrieve the paper money a year later, it had utterly rotted in the ground. It had become useless. Now imagine that his financial advisor said to him, "If you bury that money it will rot-but if you invest that money in gold it will be safe." It would be strange to think that the buried "money" that the financial planner was talking about is a different kind of money than the gold vested "money." It'd be strange to claim that the buried "money" represents actual cash, while the safely gold vested "money" represents something intangible. You would assume that Jesus meant the same thing when he talked about the money in the coffee can as he did when he mentioned the money invested unless he said otherwise. The same seems to be true of Jesus' teaching. From Jesus' words, I don't see a reason to assume that the money invested for the kingdom now wouldn't result in some tangible riches when we arrive in the Kingdom.
He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” He teaches us something about the nature of riches in Heaven.
First, notice who you are laying up treasure for. He doesn't say, "Lay up treasure for God in Heaven." Instead, He says, “Lay up for yourselves…” For yourselves! God doesn’t need any more treasure. He’s got plenty. In fact, He wants to give it away to His faithful followers. He doesn’t just suggest, but He commands you to do things in this life that will result in you having wealth when the kingdom comes. It’s treasure that you will own. It will be yours. That’s because you’ve laid it up for yourself.
Secondly, notice in that verse that He doesn’t say that treasure in Heaven is something that can’t be stolen, but only that there are no thieves in Heaven to steal it. He implies that no one will break in to steal your treasure, that your treasure is safely stored somewhere. He makes it sound as if it’s tangible and it’s stored at a physical location. The implication is that your treasure will be stored on your heavenly property. This connects to something else Jesus said to His disciples the night He was arrested.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
He’s promising property to His disciples. His faithful servants will have both treasure and property in which to store the treasure. It’s important to see that the word “place” and “Father’s house” are both singular. However, “mansions” is plural in the verse. Jesus teaches that there are many individual places for individuals or groups of believers to live in Heaven.
There are even implications that the dwelling arrangements in Heaven will not be evenly distributed among all believers. Jesus said this at the end of one of His parables:
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
There are everlasting homes. Not only that, but an owner of an everlasting home will be able to "receive" his friend into his home. This is quite natural for us since this is something that friends do all the time in our modern world. If a friend hit a hard time, I'd have no problem letting them crash at my house for a while. If I had a big house, I'd even be happy to have my friends come to live on my estate. So too, there will be property owners in the Kingdom of God. That property will be used to continue relationships with people who you've known on earth, and likely to build new relationships with new friends in the heavenly kingdom.
This verse makes it sound as if there are some who will not receive an everlasting home in the Kingdom, but they will have the option to take up residence with someone who has one. This is also quite natural considering the living arrangements of the original readers of the verse. It was common for one who had wealth and property to take friends into his house as workers. Maybe very faithful believer who is rewarded with a large mansion will be allowed to bring the friends he desires into his house to share in the work Christ has given him. Maybe this is what Jesus is referring to with this statement.
There will be everlasting homeowners, and possibly those who will be given no home in the Kingdom. The ownership of those homes must, therefore, be based on performance in this mortal life.
There is not only treasure stored away in mansions but it will be something carried around and used on a daily basis. Jesus once said:
Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.
A money bag was a small holder for coins which someone could easily carry for daily purchases. He implies money will be used on a regular and convenient basis. The money bag does not grow old, and the money inside it "treasure" never fails. This makes it sound as if there will be a constant supply of money for those who have been faithful. This money is to be spent, and its regular supply is for those who are doing the Lord's work. Maybe God's servants will be given an allowance or a stipend with which they can pay for the needs of their daily transactions. This seems to fit with the fact that Jesus allows the faithful servants to keep their earned profits in the parable of the minas and the talents, presumably to be used in their administration over the cities they are given to rule.
Jesus is not passing out treasure and property for free. It’s for those who overcome and fight for victory in the Christian life. Note that we don’t have any examples of Jesus offering any prime real estate to unfaithful believers. In fact, we have examples of unfaithful believers having their property taken away in the Kingdom. On the other hand, we do discover that faithful believers will be given not only mansions but also cities to manage and rule.
There are even more riches than what is mentioned above, though they will be explored more in a later chapter. The apostles tell us that some unique items of incredible worth will be given to those who live out a victorious life of discipleship. Paul says:
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
What a cool headpiece you have there. Thanks. It's fashioned by the Lord of Life Himself. The worth of an imperishable crown crafted in the forge of Heaven is impossible to measure. Though if time is money, and our infinite Lord spent even a second making each crown, the worth of these headpieces would be infinite. Not only will victorious disciples receive imperishable crowns, but some will also receive multiple. More on that later. What goes really great with a fine diadem? Jewelry, of course. Note what Jesus says here:
“To him who overcomes… I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Can you imagine receiving your own custom jewelry with a new name that only you and He knows, from the King of Kings? Some examples of the most famous white gemstones include diamond, sapphire, zircon, topaz, and opal, but there are many more. We don’t know if one of these is what the white stone will be made of or not. Maybe different types of stone represent different levels of faithfulness. We’re not sure if this jewel will be set in a pendant, or a ring, or mounted within a crown, or possibly even kept hidden. Maybe it is different for each person. Suffice to say that this piece of jewelry which Christ will give to His victors will be uniquely made for its recipient and will be of immense value. The word priceless comes to mind. This will comprise part of the riches possessed by each overcomer. It should be said that the richness of this white stone is not in its monetary worth but in the relationship it represents, but more on that later.
What qualifies someone to be a treasure recipient in Heaven? Jesus laid it out when He said to the rich young ruler:
“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Jesus doesn't make it easy; in fact, it's pretty difficult. This young man who loved his wealth was given a difficult task. He could believe in Jesus for salvation and receive it for free, but if he wanted wealth in Heaven, he had his work cut out for him. He was told to sell everything he had and give to the poor. This act of discipleship would gain him treasure in Heaven. Once he'd done this, he was to follow Jesus, which is also an act of discipleship. Salvation is a free gift but gaining treasure in Heaven will cost us dearly. In another place Jesus says to His disciples:
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [wealth], who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?
There is something very practical about Jesus’ instructions. If you were going to set up a world-wide empire and you could pick people to run the finances of the administration, who would you pick? Would you pick people who had a reputation for wasting money on stupid stuff? Or, would you pick people who had a reputation for being very responsible with their money? I know what I would do.
Jesus here teaches that one of the ways in which we will be trusted with "true riches" in Heaven is being responsible with our money here. Although this includes investment in things that will matter in eternity, the scope seems to be broader than that.
Let’s turn the lesson that Jesus gave around into a positive statement. He said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [wealth], who will commit to your trust the true riches?" If we invert that statement, we get this: "If a believer is faithful in his finances, he can be trusted with true riches." Invest the money you have now in things that matter for eternity, and you will be trusted with true riches in Heaven. Your financial advisor might view giving to a gospel teaching charity as a bad investment, but Jesus is the supreme financial advisor. He expects His committed followers to invest in things that matter for His kingdom.
It’s starting to sound like a get-rich program, right? In a manner of speaking, that’s what discipleship is. That’s precisely why Jesus said discipleship is costly. It's an investment. These riches are not for selfish purposes, instead, they are meant to be used for the glory of God, as are all things in Heaven. That's why He's seeking responsible parties to whom he can trust a fortune. Selfish spenders need not apply.
Toward the end of John’s revelation, Jesus says this:
He who overcomes shall inherit all things.…
All things! I get excited just writing that. Not only treasure that never fails, true riches, crowns, and custom jewelry, but all things. Certainly, there are untold riches that we have no idea about. Certainly, there are mountains of invaluable things that overcomers will have access to in the Kingdom of Heaven. It's unimaginable.
Do you want access to these riches? These riches are for those who overcome. Heaven’s gold and gems are not for the faint of heart; they’re reserved for the one who fights for victory in the Christian life, for those who daily seek the kingdom, and ever conform themselves to the likeness of their coming king. As if this were not enough, next we will explore another facet of reward in Heaven. Not only are there riches, but there are special rights come with being an overcomer. We will see them in the next chapter.