Jesus taught about treasures in Heaven on several occasions. This is not simply a matter of wisdom and good works applied to money and possessions. Our attitude to treasure analyses and reveals the state of our hearts. His promises reveal an enticing vision of our gospel inheritance.
In the following passage notice the parallel negative and positive instructions accompanied by an illustration.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).
There is also a play on words which might be missed in our English translations. Literally it reads: ‘Do/do not treasure up treasures’ or ‘Do/do not store up stores’. This translation helps us to think about treasure in two distinct but related ways. There are those things which are precious and there are those things which we store or stockpile.
The stockpiles of my security
The negative side of storing things up is illustrated in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus tells the parable of a wealthy landowner. His land produced abundant crops, so he decided to build bigger barns and take life easy. There is nothing wrong with barns or storing crops, that is just good sense for a farmer. Joseph was commended for his wisdom when building food reserves for an entire empire (Genesis 47). It is not unreasonable to have savings for the future. It is prudent to have something set by for fixing the roof and to manage our money well.
The mistake was building bigger barns. He was not a wise steward but had become a foolish hoarder. In place of thanksgiving and dependence on God, trusting him for future harvests, the man trusted his bigger barns. Instead of acting with generosity towards those who had few resources or less successful harvests, the eyes of his heart were fixed on his own comfort. His life ends and he cannot benefit from what he stored. Saving for a rainy day may be wise, but saving so much that we forget our God will prove to be a futile investment strategy.
The danger of wealth is further illustrated in the story of a young man who met Jesus (Matt. 19:16-22). We learn that he had great possessions and that he was a religious man asking about eternal life. Jesus gives him an answer which he was not expecting and which he did not like. He should follow Jesus, and a specific application to him was selling his possessions and giving to the poor. He was promised treasure in Heaven, but he could not let go of his treasures on earth. They had become a snare for him. It is a sad scene as he walks away from the path of life. He was offered a great deal. His wealth was at risk from destruction or theft. The treasures of Heaven are everlasting.
At this point we must acknowledge that riches do not necessarily become a snare to everyone. They do however come with a serious health and safety warning. We must not sidestep the serious warnings which Jesus brings.
Last year I visited the Tutankhamun exhibition in London. It contained an impressive array of artifacts including gold and precious gems, buried with the Pharaoh to help him in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of the treasure would somehow be translated to the heavenly realm. This is not what Jesus is talking about! Do not think that there will be a pot of gold waiting for you in eternity. What use would it be to you?
Perhaps you have seen the British crown jewels or a great work of art in a museum. At the Millennium Exhibition there was a display of blue diamonds which were worth millions. This is not the treasure of Heaven. Pure gold and precious stones are building materials in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:9-21). The treasures of earth and the treasures of Heaven are not the same. We must think in a different way.
Do you have prized possessions?
My answer to this question mainly includes items which were given to me by people whom I love: my wedding ring, a watch which belonged to my grandfather and my dad, pictures painted by my children. These are things which I am going to store up and look after.
You may also have heard the question, ‘What would you save first if your house were burning down?’ The answer for most people would be their family. The people we love are treasures which we want to keep safe.
These questions can help us to understand at least two things which might be considered heavenly treasures. They are things which are precious to the Father and valuable in his kingdom. We can also begin to understand how to go about laying up these treasures.
The service offered by his people is worthy of reward.
Without specifying precisely what those rewards are, Jesus makes several promises about them. This includes giving to the poor, prayer, fasting and suffering for the sake of righteousness (Matt. 5:12; 6:4,6,16). This can almost sound selfish but the instruction about treasures explicitly tells us to store them up for ourselves. We are humbly and simply responding in faith to the gracious generosity found in the promises of God. We can look forward to good things in his kingdom.
He sent his Son because he counts his people as precious.
The apostle Paul can help us to understand this. He refers to the Christians at Philippi and Thessalonica as his crown (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19). As we serve together in the gospel, we can hope to see eternal fruit in the heavenly kingdom. As sinners are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God we will rejoice together for all eternity. There will be no decay and we cannot be stolen away.
The treasure that is Heaven
In Matthew chapter 13:44-46 we read two short parables.
The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The kingdom of Heaven itself is worth more than all we own or ever could own. Being part of the kingdom through faith in Jesus is the most important treasure. Nevertheless, such is the astonishing generosity of God we are instructed to lay up even more. In Christ we are rich beyond measure.