Treasures in heaven, bad eyes, and the age to come

May 16, 2020

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In Matthew 6, Jesus encourages the Jews to store up "treasures in heaven". Is Jesus telling his hearers that when they get to heaven he will give them a box of Legos or a gold necklace or a white stone if they stop looking at pornography? Jesus' original Jewish hearers would have understood the phrase "treasures in heaven" in a first century Jewish apocalyptic framework and in a manner quite different than modern Gentiles do.


Hey friends, Josh here. I want to talk for a few minutes today about a phrase Jesus uses several times throughout the Gospels. He says in Matthew 6 starting at verse 19

“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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “

This phrase “treasures in heaven” for most Western Christians is pretty ambiguous. Like is Jesus going to give us some great big box of Legos or a gold necklace or something? Again, we need to go back to life in the first century in order to understand what Jesus is saying here. In Jewish tradition, “laying up treasures in heaven” functions as a sort of technical term for helping the poor. We can see this idea in other passages in some second temple literature and the Gospels, like in the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22 where it says:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

So I think it’s super helpful to remember once again that Jesus is speaking with a first century Jewish apocalyptic worldview where history was divided into two distinct ages - this age and the age to come, separated by the day of the Lord. This age is marked by wickedness, sin, and death, while the age to come would be characterized by eternal life, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and the day of the Lord is the climactic day when the Messiah returns, punishes the wicked, rewards the righteous, establishes the kingdom of God, and fulfills his covenantal promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Floating away to an ethereal heaven to play a harp on a cloud in an endless singalong in the sky isn’t what Jesus was picturing when he told the rich young ruler that he would have “treasure in heaven” if he sold everything he had and gave to the poor. But notice what Jesus is contrasting in Matthew 6. He’s describing the way things are in this age - where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal possessions and contrasting that with the age to come, where those things don’t happen. A related passage would be Luke 14:13 when Jesus was dining at the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees, he says: “…when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be paid at the resurrection of the righteous.” So again, Jesus is speaking with this two-age theme, this age and the age to come, and emphasizing that reward comes in the age to come, at the resurrection of the righteous.

Now the next part of Matthew 6, Jesus says:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

This has been often misunderstood and taken out of the context of everything else that came before and after it in Matthew 6, as if Jesus is just changing subjects here where he addresses sexual lust or something. Our unfamiliarity with the Old Testament causes us to miss this, but what Jesus is saying would have been plain to his Jewish hearers. It seems like Jesus has Deuteronomy 15:9 in mind, where Moses writes:

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.

So this passage in Deuteronomy 15:9 is a commandment for the people of Israel to give to their brothers who are poor and in need and not have evil intent and hold back provision for them. Jesus is calling for the people of Israel to keep the commandment of Deuteronomy 15 here, to be loyal to God, to serve him so that they can be the example he’s called them to be, the light to the Gentiles. What’s the consequence if they serve money? Well the entire context surrounding this passage in Matthew 6 is the day of the Lord and the kingdom. The darkness here that Jesus is referring to is the place of judgment, and he wants his Jewish hearers to remember the covenant God made with them at Sinai, and actually obey it so they aren’t thrown into a lake of fire on the Day of the Lord.

And Jesus goes on to be really pastoral. Life in first century Israel was very different from ours, he says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

He continues in verse 32 saying:

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

He’s saying, “Israel, look forward to the day, fix your hope completely on the day that your God displays his covenantal faithfulness, when he sets a son of David on the throne in Jerusalem, when he brings you back to your land, defeats all your enemies, and the Gentiles flow up to Mount Zion to hear his instruction. God will take care of what you need in this age, and your heart will be set on the right thing that won’t disappoint you or leave you wanting or at worst, cause you to be thrown into a lake of fire.”

Jesus’ words are serious here. He reminds his hearers that the issue of generosity and money and worry about provision makes no sense when the heart is treasuring God’s promises above all else. We Gentiles could learn a lot from this… Even though our lives are very different and so much more affluent than the Jews of the first century, we too ought to anchor our hearts in the hope of God bringing to pass all that he has promised in his covenants with Israel. A day really will come when Jesus reigns in righteousness and poverty will be no more. But until that day, we seek to be a mature disciple and walk in humility and generosity with our possessions, deeply confident that God will reward the righteous with eternal life in the age to come.

Amen. If this was encouraging to you, like, share, and subscribe to my channel for more. Blessings to you, and maranatha.

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