by | May 5, 2022

Christian Reconstruction & Wealth

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but

the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.”
Proverbs 13:22

“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

Proverbs 13:4

When it comes to the topic of wealth many Christians are rightly wary of both the prosperity gospel and the internal temptation toward greed and idolatry of material goods, and for good reason. Scripture is full of examples of the dangers associated with the idolatry of money. Yet in their understandable zeal to guard against the prosperity gospel and the pitfalls of greed and excess, have believers inadvertently adopted an unbalanced view of the Bible’s comprehensive teachings on wealth?

Several misconceptions about the connection between scriptural teachings and wealth have infiltrated Christian circles, leading to a harmful imbalance in believer’s lives. In the pursuit of Christian Reconstruction, it is imperative that this imbalance be corrected. What are some examples of these wayward notions about the Bible’s teaching on wealth?

  • We should not seek material prosperity in the New Covenant era in any way.
  • We should not consider material wealth as blessing from God to be desired in any sense.
  • In the Old Testament, God’s earthly blessings were only material whereas in the New Testament God’s earthly blessings are only immaterial.

 But is any of this really true? Does the New Testament contain no continuing validation of the connection between blessing and material prosperity? If so, does this rescind Old Testament teaching? If it doesn’t, what do we do with all that Old Testament teaching? Does New Testament teaching actually go so far as to abrogate the connection between blessing and material prosperity for all times? Or even further, should Christians see material prosperity as a curse to be avoided as it ties us to the things of this world and distracts us from our heavenly destination? These are the questions we will explore.

In the first part of this article, we will discuss a few hermeneutical starting points, identify covenantal and eschatological presuppositions influencing the various perspectives, and survey the connection between blessing and material prosperity in Eden. We’ll look at instances in the New Testament where the connection between blessing and material prosperity is reaffirmed.

In the second part, we will dive deeper into the New Testament and compare exhortations about wealth and the promises of God in the Old Testament. We will dig further into the unique historical redemptive setting in which many of the New Testament teachings on wealth were given and suggest a corrective for how many go about interpreting admonishments about wealth.

First Things First: Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics is a fancy word theologians use to refer to how to interpret and understand the Bible. Below are three basic but crucial factors involved in it. Engaging in biblical interpretation without knowing these following three key factors is like driving while blindfolded. If you aren’t careful, you’re going to drive into a hermeneutical ditch and lead others there with you.

Factor 1: Cognizance of the overarching comprehensive biblical trajectory.
 The story of the Bible isn’t just fall and redemption. The pattern is creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Redemption and new creation bleed together at points.

Factor 2: Recognition of the unique historical circumstances in the nation of Israel.
We must take into account the historical reality of Israel as a covenanted nation and the specific time period of redemptive history in which the text is written.

Factor 3:  Understanding of authorial intent for the audience being addressed.
We must remember the immediate audience being addressed in any given passage and consider how they would have been meant to understand what is being written in order to properly calibrate the application for today.

Starting Points

All throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, greed, covetousness, irresponsible stewardship, and neglect of the poor, widowed, and orphaned are all prohibited. We are not to be materialistic nor are we to worship God’s gifts rather than the giver. This is true whether we are talking Old Covenant or New Covenant.

Still, we must be careful not to make the mistake of crudely applying covenant promises given to whole nations and apply them individually to each and every person. This is the point where many modern prosperity preachers fall. We must categorically deny the idolatrous heresy of the prosperity gospel which teaches that the reason the sinner should come to Christ is so that they can be rich and make much of themselves. This doctrine of demons robs the church of credibility and puts forth money as an idol and a false god. Its end is ruin.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the ultimate blessing upon mankind, the blessing that makes all other blessing possible, comes in the form of the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the culmination of all the blessings promised to Abraham and those in Abraham by faith.

That said, what are we to make of what the Bible has to say about wealth and material blessing? Though it is at times underappreciated, the Bible certainly still has a lot to say about it, whether we are talking about the law and the prophets, the Psalms and Proverbs (tons!), the parables of Christ, the Epistles, and even the book of Revelation.

Beginning in Eden

To address the full biblical picture of wealth and understand how we should think about wealth here and now in this specific point in redemptive history, we must not start in the New Testament of first century Jerusalem, nor in Israel under Moses. We need to start in Eden.

This leads us to the first point we need to consider:

God’s initial design in creation did include a connection between blessing and material prosperity for all humanity. This connection was not a defect. It was not introduced as a result of the fall but pre-dated the fall. Therefore, there is nothing in this dynamic that needed to be rectified by Christ or his new covenant.

Right from the beginning in Genesis 1–2, God lays out His purpose for Adam and Eve. The mandate was that they would go forth and multiply and fill the whole earth and subdue it. They were to flourish and prosper throughout many generations as all humanity was to pursue material prosperity, abundance, and dominion. This was all to be done joyfully without greed, malice, or envy as unto the Lord in order to glorify him. Adam and Eve were God’s people under his rule and with a task before them. There was no tension between the pursuit of material abundance and prosperity and giving glory to God. This pursuit resulted in blessing for man and was honoring to God.

In the land of Eden, God placed gold, bdellium, and precious stones for their enjoyment (Gen. 2:12). He gave them gardens to work and cultivate, fruits to harvest, and animals to name and tame. There were lands outside the garden which were to be worked and subdued as the garden would be extended. Then sadly in Genesis 3 we read that with Adam’s sin, the entrance of the curse and death was foisted upon the world. This Godly pursuit of dominion, flourishing, and material prosperity would become greatly hindered, but not obliterated.

Man’s original task and purpose became an exercise in toil, suffering, and frustration as we see with Cain, Lamech, and the rest of the pre-flood crowd enter the picture in Genesis 4. Rather than working in harmony, mankind became greedy and began to war over resources while attempting to build their own kingdoms autonomously from God’s rule. Man even began to use violence to enslave and impoverish his fellow man in order to use him like cattle as a tool for his own selfish enrichment.

The pursuit of material abundance and prosperity, which was supposed to be performed in faith, love, and hope as unto the Lord, was now being pursued by violence, oppression, and greed. Taking care of one’s neighbor and the aim of ensuring the flourishing of all humanity was tossed to the wayside and was exchanged for a battle of the survival of the fittest. The pursuit of wealth, abundance, and care over the earth was no longer treated as a stewardship entrusted to those responsible to God, but as a means of fomenting rebellion against God.

Moral failure put the prospect of dominion and flourishing on the earth in jeopardy. If this sinful nature within mankind was not eradicated, the race of Adam was doomed to fail in its task of dominion and was heading for total destruction. Mankind would have to face physical death with the prospect of an eternity of the enduring wrath of God upon them.

Thankfully, God, in His mercy, graciously covenanted with man and promised a Savior who would not only atone for man’s sin in rejecting God but who would set up a Kingdom and establish a new covenant where the Holy Spirit would be outpoured upon his people. This was to be done in order to sanctify and redeem his people and restore them so as one day to disciple all the nations back to obedience to Christ. They would be restored to the project for which man was originally created: Dominion and rule over the earth to the glory of God together with Christ.

In Christ, we are made alive for a singular purpose: to do good works unto God. This is the reason we are being redeemed and restored. All of this is dependent upon the continual relationship God has established between blessing and prosperity, including material prosperity.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10

Material Blessing for Nations & By Creational Ordinace

It is here that we must make a crucial distinction. God sends blessing in the form of material prosperity in different ways. There are blessings sent by general covenant to his creation indirectly (for all of humanity), and there are blessings given by specific covenant to particular nations who follow and obey his moral law

In his covenant with creation in Genesis 1 and 2, which is also reaffirmed in Genesis 9, God set up dynamics that are predictable and constant. The covenant was made for his people to live under his rule but it also means some benefit for all of humanity: The sun comes up the sun goes down. The seasons change predictably. Time marches on in a constant manner. The water cycle, astronomical movement, gravity, inertia, photosynthesis, chemical reaction, boiling point of water, supply and demand, DNA patterns, you reap what you sow, etc.—these principles remain fixed for all peoples everywhere. This covenant with creation is a blessing and produces material prosperity indirectly for all of mankind.

The fall of man and the curse upon physical creation that accompanied it made it more difficult to reap bountiful abundance from creation, but it did not eradicate this dynamic altogether. This is why we continue to see verses like:

“Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”
Proverbs 2:11

“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
Proverbs 13:4

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”
Proverbs 14:23

Those who think that lasting material wealth and prosperity can come about without diligent effort and a disciplined work ethic will not be blessed. Those who recognize the world they live in, and act accordingly, reap the benefits. Such maxims ring true at all times and in all societies as a continuation of the covenant of creation. It is important to note that this covenant with creation was made for God’s people. His enemies still benefit from these common grace gifts (temporarily) but as a secondary “crumbs under the table” bonus that the enemies of God enjoy for now. This is not an indicator that God’s long-term covenantal favor resides on the enemies of God. The primary purpose is to bless God’s people and allow them to flourish. What sinners labor for will eventually flow to the righteous.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.
Proverbs 13:22

Once we see Israel established as a covenanted nation, we start to see how God deals specifically with nations (all nations, not just Israel in particular). God evaluates a nation’s conduct by his statutes and punishes or blesses them accordingly (both materially and immaterially).

Material Blessings and Curses Upon Nations

Following Israel’s exodus from Egypt, we see various instances were God presents the prospect of blessings and curses, contingent upon their national fidelity to his statues, which he had announced to them through Moses. These blessings and curses included safety from invasion and disease, economic prosperity, and global respect.

We also see that God already has these same expectations for the other nations of the earth besides Israel, and is already cursing them for failure to observe these statutes!

“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”
Leviticus 20:22-23

The point here is that God blesses nations who are faithful to uphold his laws and curses those who are not. The iniquity of the nations are said to figuratively seep into the land and when the land has had its fill of sin, those nations are then spewed out. Sometimes, the sowing of iniquity takes several hundred years for it to reach full measure according to God’s providence. Sometimes, God raises up nations to prosperity temporarily so he can use them to judge and destroy other nations (Isaiah 10:5-19). He then holds the nation he used to judge another nation responsible for their own evil and destroys them as well. Sometimes this is done with a third nation, sometimes by famine or natural disaster, sometimes through economic disaster or combination of all.

One failure of prosperity preachers, therefore, is that they sometimes take biblical promises or curses which were given to nations as nations and apply them individually. They run into all kinds of problems when such promises don’t come true for the individual. On the other hand, this failure of interpretation also should not allow us to get the idea that God no longer deals with nations for their collective sin either. This is precisely why in the New Testament we see no promise of wealth given individually to those who are living in a nation currently under the judgement of God. During the writing of the New Testament, Israel was about to incur the vengeance of Christ upon a nation like no other time in history. We will explore this situation further in the second part of this article.

It should be no surprise to us that the encouragement to the faithful remnant in Israel who would not escape the persecution to come was that they would reap their reward in heaven, and that they would one day inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). These kinds of encouragements in the New Testament should prevent us from throwing our doctrine of God’s historical sanctions over nations into the dumpster.

Material Blessing in the Consummation

The continuing existence of sin in the New Covenant age may present an obstacle towards the attainment of blessing and material prosperity, but this is not the whole of the story. To the extent that the nations are being redeemed in Christ back to the purpose for which mankind was originally created, we should expect to continue to see this connection exist. We have the promised material blessing of a physical new creation and a physical resurrection as a continuing promise in the New Covenant. We will receive spiritual bodies which are physical (like Christ’s). Translational issues aside, we must get this gnostic notion out of our head that “spiritual” is the antonym of “physical”.

After the fall in Genesis 3, mankind not only needed inward, immaterial sanctification in order to resume his project of dominion successfully, they also needed a new material body because the fleshly body is destined to rot and return to dust. Dust doesn’t take dominion.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
John 5:28-29

As you can see, here is a New Testament passage that ties the blessing of God to a form of material prosperity—that is, the resurrection.

Secondly, in the Gospels we are also promised that the meek shall inherit the material earth. This is not a figure of speech. This is making reference to the physical earth.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
            Matthew 5:5

Thirdly, Romans 4 reconfirms that the expanded promise to Abraham included the promised to inherit the whole material world:

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
Romans 4:13

In Romans 8, Paul then fuses the remaking of the physical creation and the resurrection of our bodies as our spiritual inheritance as the hope of blessing we are to set our eyes on:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
Romans 8:18-24

Because of what Christ accomplished, everything is already set in motion back to a redeemed Eden here on the earth. We do not yet see this reality consummated, but we hold to these promises for our future as our hope. Again, these blessings are not immaterial. Material blessing continues to be realized in history to the extent that individuals faithful to God’s statutes can also live within nations collectively faithful to God’s statutes.

Though not the end of the Gospel, it should not surprise us to realize that the arrival of the New Covenant does have a historical impact on the material wealth of God’s people to the extent that whole nations are converted and the obedience of the nations are secured. These kinds of promises are replete within Old Testament prophetic passages about the New Covenant.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.”
Ezekiel 36:26-30

Material Blessing in the Current Age

The consummation is not the only place where the connection between blessing and material prosperity is reaffirmed in the New Testament. In Romans 15, we read about Paul’s plans to journey to Jerusalem in order to deliver “blessing” in the form of financial aid to the saints there which he refers to as a blessing of Christ. He commends the saints in Macedonia for sending money to the saints in Jerusalem and reaffirms the relationship between service to God and material blessing. Paul literally states:

“For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”
Romans 15:27-29

I wonder how many pastors today would deny the connection between blessing and material prosperity when it comes to the offering plate. Better yet, what about for their own salaries? Now obviously we don’t conflate the reality of financial blessing as a one-for-one promise that if you come to Christ, money will just come to you, and you’ll be rich. But Paul does indeed confirm for us that even in the New Covenant, blessing is still connected to material prosperity. There is an “ought” that Paul recognized which was still in place in some sense. Why is this? Because there is nothing about the New Covenant that erases the relationship between blessing and material prosperity.

In 3rd John, the Apostle writes that he prays God would bestow good physical health in like manner to the provision of a prospering soul.

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
3rd John 1:2

There are also many places in the New Testament that affirm the continuity of material blessing as illustrations about the work of Christ, here’s an example from the book of Hebrews where the production of crops are reaffirmed as a direct blessing from God:

“For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.”
Hebrews 6:7

This continuing relationship of labor for God and the receiving of blessing also undergirds many of the parables of Christ which we won’t explore here. In the New Testament, this relationship is assumed to continue and is nowhere overturned.

We also see the New Testament continually reaffirm the messianic promises of material blessings that Christ would bring, which at least partially have relevance in the present age. In this case our Lord quotes directly from Isaiah 61. This is a messianic prophecy that includes material blessings Christ would bring, some immediately at his first appearing and some as a function of his kingdom as it manifests itself in history.

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord”. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
Luke 4:17-21

Obviously, our Lord delivered on the physical blessing of providing sight to the blind during his earthly ministry, but if you look through the entire chapter of Isaiah 61, you’ll also find other material aspects of his messianic kingdom to include the procurement of the wealth of the nations.

If you were to peruse the broader context of many other Old Testament messianic passages quoted in the New Testament you would also see broad promises of Messianic blessing to include such material things as the end of war, the implementation of earthly justice for the poor and needy, longer life spans, the dissolution of harmful taxation, even things like just weights and measures and much more.

The age in which we live has been marked both by incredible advances in health, prosperity, capability and well-being for the average person and yet at the same time we still see much war, poverty, and destruction. While I would argue we possess a far too optimistic view of the past (things were not so great for the average person 1,000 years ago) we must keep in mind that the timeline for the realization of these dynamics in history could be many more millennia. Many ups and downs could occur during that time. This slow, incremental growth is in keeping with the how the growth of the Kingdom is described in Matthew 13.

All of that being said, it is true that we do see a different emphasis about money and blessing in the New Testament. We see an emphasis that tends to warn more about wealth and its dangers than to emphasize its potential for beneficial use in the Kingdom. At this point, however, we must ask: Given that the writing of the Old Testament covers 4,000 years of history in all kinds of settings, including long-term prosperity over many generations, periods of sudden disaster and periods of slow decline, does the fact that the New Testament was written over a particular 40-year time span in history factor into play?

In the second part of this article, we will examine an aspect that is so crucial to our understanding of this topic that without it we will never grasp what the Bible actually teaches. That is the unique historical setting of the New Testament and the effect this has on how we are to apply passages about wealth and material prosperity.


Material Prosperity in The New Testament: The Prophetic Reality
In the first part of this article, we surveyed relevant covenantal and eschatological presuppositions. We plotted the connection between blessing and material prosperity in Eden, looked at instances in the New Testament where the connection between blessing and material prosperity is reaffirmed, and surveyed how God disseminates blessings and curses in the context of nations vs. individuals.

There is yet one highly significant topic to explore without which our study would fall woefully short. We must now examine how the many pronouncements and exhortations about wealth in the New Testament need to be understood specifically in terms of the unique period of redemptive history in which they were proclaimed.


Wealth & the Historical and Redemptive Setting of the New Testament

What was going on in mid first-century Jerusalem when the Bible was written? More pointedly, where was the New Testament Church situated within the covenantal, redemptive history of the people of God? What needs to be understood is that biblical exhortations about wealth can deviate from norms given certain scenarios, especially with an imminent apocalypse around the corner.


Let’s take a look at an example from the Old Testament, then look to the New. Observe how prescriptions about wealth are related to what is going on at that point in redemptive history. Observe how the pattern of guidance regarding wealth in the Old Testament is actually mirrored in the New Testament. If anything, the New Testament continues the dynamic of the Old in this respect.

Consider what is going on in the book of Ezekiel. Having been witness to Israel’s continual rejection of God, Ezekiel prophesies to exiles living far away from Jerusalem in Babylon about what is going to come to pass in 586 BC in Jerusalem. That is the destruction of the city to the ground and the razing of the temple. In the passages that follow, notice the exhortations Ezekiel gives to those engaging in commerce in those days:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes.”
Ezekiel 5:5-6

“The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life.”
Ezekiel 7:12-13

Ezekiel goes on to lament the acquiring of wealth among a people who have rejected God in a time when their wealth was about to be snuffed out. The problem was not their pursuit of wealth but that they had made an idol of wealth and thought that they could achieve satisfaction and victory through wealth apart from God’s rule over them. As judgement, wealth (a blessing) is taken away from them and given to their enemies. Thieves break in and steal. Famine and inflation destroy the wealth of those who hold gold in an apocalypse scenario. You cannot serve both God and money.

“They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them. And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it.”
Ezekiel 7:19-22

“You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.”
Ezekiel 16:17

We could also look where the prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, warns from near the temple in Jerusalem for the people to flee the city due to the impending wrath that is about to come upon them. He also laments their idolatry and pursuit of wealth in a time period where vengeance is imminent.

“And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”
Jeremiah 21:8-10

“Flee from the midst of Babylon; let every one save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance, the repayment he is rendering her.” Jeremiah 51:6

“Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon.”
Jeremiah 20:5

In both books of prophecy, the lesson to be learned is clear: Do not seek to acquire wealth while engaged in autonomous rebellion and idolatry against God. In the midst of covenantal judgment, where apocalyptic destruction is imminent, your wealth cannot save you. 

New Testament Exhortations about Wealth Mirror Old Testament Patterns
We find that the people of God living in the New Testament were in a very similar situation to those in the days of Ezekiel (and those in the days of Noah for that matter).  Jerusalem was about to be destroyed again. The main differences between the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. was that the conditions were even more severe and even more covenantally significant with the impending end of the age and the passing away of the “heaven and earth” (Matthew 24:34-35) of the old covenant order. As Christ prophesies to disobedient Israel:

“Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. ”
Matthew 23:34-37

Then the disciples ask Jesus when this will all happen. The disciples want to know about what to look out for.

“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Matthew 24:1-3


Jesus answers (Luke’s account):

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”

Luke 21:20–33

As can be seen, Christ promises that Jerusalem, the city which Ezekiel proclaimed as the covenantal center of the world, was going to be destroyed again along with the temple. Speaking figuratively, Christ warns that the old “heaven and earth” was going to pass away within the same generation of those to whom Christ was speaking. The age in which the first century church had begun was about to end. They were living in the “last days” of the Old Covenant age, and it was going to go out with a bang.

This period leading up to the cataclysmic events in Jerusalem would be coupled with intense persecution of Christians in Jerusalem by apostate Israel. Brother would be set against brother, son against father, mother against daughter. Faithful Christians would be thrown out of the synagogues and flogged, beaten, and murdered throughout the ancient world, not just in Jerusalem. Then when insurrection began in Jerusalem, Christians would be blamed by Romans and tied in with the Jews as usurpers of the emperor. Their persecution would only increase across the Roman empire from there.

It is through this lens that we must view many of the teachings about wealth in this era. Those who foolishly sought to retain ownership over land, title and possessions would be forcibly looted, dispossessed, and be made destitute. The command was to flee Jerusalem as the day drew near and as the signs manifested themselves. Possessions were to be sold off as they were going to be burned up anyways. It was the same exhortation as what would have been said to the faithful remnant in Ezekiel’s day.

Not only would Jerusalem be looted, but all gold and silver coins would become worthless during the Roman siege and the resulting famine. All of this was prophesied by Christ in the Olivet Discourse in the gospels, and in Revelation 6 where we see the price of wheat has skyrocketed.


“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
Revelation 6:5-6

Let’s put it this way: it wasn’t the time for those with means to invest their capital in real estate in Jerusalem. It was time to divest, liquidate, get out of dodge, and wait for the dust to settle. You didn’t want to be caught in Jerusalem with only precious metals to your name when the music stopped. Economically speaking, for the shrewd, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Sell high, get out of town, and come back later to buy low. Give to those in need (there would be many) and don’t foolishly hoard possessions in “the last days” in a land about to be destroyed.

Interestingly this is exactly what happened historically as the faithful remnant heeded Christ’s prophecy and fled to Pella before the Romans came and destroyed everything and killed over 1,000,000 inhabitants of the city.[1] Those who had sold all their possessions in order to use the proceeds for kingdom purposes would be best positioned in the world that emerged following the apocalypse of AD 70.

The Righteous Rich Prosper, the Unrighteous Rich Pay the Piper

Those rich who foolishly and maliciously engaged in hoarding and greed while exploiting and mistreating their workers are warned, not because they are rich but because of their wickedness. Unlike the righteous rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who used his wealth to pay for the burial of Christ, they reject the Messiah and his law. They do not use their wealth for kingdom purposes but for selfish indulgence. They will pay the price both monetarily and in eternity.

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
James 5:1-5

The entire chapter of Revelation 18 is a mockery of apostate Israel and those in Jerusalem whose riches were suddenly taken away. We see the admonishment about not pursuing riches multiple times throughout the New Testament, always in view of the present times in which they lived. It was an extremely uncertain time where long-term plans were not to be relied upon and where wealth gathered could disappear in an instant.

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
1st Timothy 6:17-19

This is exactly the sort of exhortation you would expect to be given to the faithful remnant living in a nation that was about to be destroyed. It is clear to us when we see it in the Old Testament. It is just as clear in the New, if we will only see it.

Failing to Understand the Times & Compounding the Error

Ignoring or misunderstanding redemptive-historical context not only causes us to make interpretive mistakes when it comes to material wealth but in other serious ways as well.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encouraged the Corinthian church not to change their station in life at all in view of the “present distress” and in recognition that “the present form of the world is passing away” about which the “appointed time” of this conflagration had “grown very short.” Whether slave, free, married, unmarried, circumcised, uncircumcised, etc.—stay where you are, an imminent paradigm shift is coming.

Commands like these which Paul gave were not given in a vacuum. They were given in recognition of the times in which they lived. These were not normative commands for all times. Some even misinterpret these passages as teaching the misguided notion that the normative ideal is for Christians to remain single—a great way to end Christendom in a hurry!

Unfortunately, many of us read the New Testament as if there wasn’t an imminent apocalypse about to occur and as if an epoch of history, the end of the age, wasn’t about to take place at the time. We treat exhortations given under those conditions as paradigmatic for all of church history. We ignore the historical and covenantal context of the first century church. We forget that the Old Testament covered 4,000+ years of church history in a variety of stages in redemptive history, and the New Testament covers 66–69 years of one unique stage (some say 96 years) of that history which, according to Hebrews 8:13, the Old Covenant was yet to fully vanish, but was about to very soon.

We do not live in that inter-covenantal period anymore, and we should not import all applications given during that period in the exact same application for us today. We must cautiously determine how the overall teaching of the full counsel of scripture applies regarding transcendent truths and based on the redemptive-historical covenant reality in which we now live. We must be men of Issachar[2] who understand the times.

None of this means that these New Testament passages are irrelevant for us. Obviously, the church still is engulfed in persecution to varying degrees around the world and so these passages can be instructive depending on the severity of the persecution. They can also help remind us to orient our plans and our pursuits around what God is doing in history and not in idolatrous greed and selfish ambition. They also teach us to be shrewd, an oft-overlooked virtue but a glaringly obvious one, especially in the parables[3].

Storing Up Treasure vs. Kingdom Priorities
Should we make treasure our treasure? Should we worship money? Should we neglect the poor and needy? Should we set our hearts upon the piling up of treasure on earth for our own indulgence? No! We are servants of the King. Christ Himself tells us:

“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…“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.”
Matthew 6:19-21,24

 Of the acquisition of material goods, Christ does not tell us to avoid them. But rather He wants us to properly prioritize them to serve God, not money. He says,

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In his book “Idols for Destruction,” Herbert Schlossberg helpfully states:

“When Jesus told his disciples they could not serve both God and mammon, the reason he gave was that the two were rival loyalties and that if one were loved the other would be despised (Matt. 6:24). This admonition came in the midst of a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that warned against the preoccupation with wealth and material possessions. It did not say, as some varieties of the ascetic tradition teach, that material things are bad, but rather that they must not be sought as ends in themselves, as if they had everlasting life and significance. Instead, the disciples were to seek the kingdom of God first, and whatever material goods they needed would be given to them as well. The mammon described here as the rival of God, therefore, is the idolatrous elevation of money and the material possessions it will buy as the goal of life. The common expression that describes such a value system as “the pursuit of the almighty dollar” is soundly based in the recognition that the exaltation of possessions to the level of ultimacy is the end of a religious quest, one that seeks and ascribes ultimate meaning. Like “all idolatries, it finds ultimate meaning in an aspect of the creation rather than in the creator. And like all idolatries it finds outlet in destructive pathologies that wreck human lives.”[4]

Again, the Bible does not teach that wealth is bad, but it warns against entangling our heart’s desires with anything that isn’t God. When we do pursue wealth and prosperity, it is not for ourselves but for his kingdom purposes.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, what we see in the New Testament is a wealth and money ethic which is the same as in the Old Testament. The only difference is that all the New Testament exhortations about wealth were written during a brief historical period of intense persecution, martyrdom, and imminent apocalypse. While we still can apply these lessons in various contexts today, this period was prophetic and is now long-since past. It is not a prescriptive prohibition against the God-oriented pursuit of wealth in all situations.

Both the poverty and the prosperity “gospels” are toxic deviations from what the Bible teaches. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater, instead we need to reconstruct our understanding of wealth and prosperity on the word of God. If we fail to account for the historical context in which the New Testament was written, our understanding of biblical teaching on wealth will be myopic and skewed. There is much more Godly wisdom and instruction that needs to be accounted for when it comes to this subject. We must choose to make use of the whole counsel of scripture if we are to be good stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us.


[1] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 6, Chapter 9, Section 3, translated by G. A. Williamson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1981), p. 393.

[2] 1st Chronicles 12:32

[3]  The parable of the Unjust Manager in Luke 16 is one such example of “shrewdness” being rewarded.

[4] Schlossberg, Herbert. Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1983.

Theonomic Critics of Theonomy

Theonomic Critics of Theonomy

Setting the Stage Events over the past several years have conspired to expose that much of the “conservative” evangelical pastorate has been asleep at the switch when it comes to the intersection of faith and civil government. These can be touchy subjects, and Pastors...


J.M. Wilson
J.M. WILSON, a husband and father of five, is the Founder of the Recon Tavern, an online platform exploring topics related to Christian Reconstruction. He is deeply committed to fostering an intergenerational legacy of faith and influence for the Kingdom.


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