Word Study #131 — Treasure — “in heaven?”

This subject needs to be studied in combination with W.S.#72, “Riches”, which I commend to your attention. The concepts are parallel, not only in their partial reference to material prosperity, but also in the diversity which both encompass.

The verb, thesaurizo, used 8x in the New Testament, refers (L/S) classically to the collection, preservation, or storage of anything of value: primarily fruits or grain. The use of a public granary, or reserving resources of any kind for a particular purpose, is also included, as is the less-noble idea of hoarding.
The noun, thesauros, used 18x, referred to the vaults of a bank, a granary, any receptacle for valuables, a mine, a military strong-room or magazine, a cavern or subterranean dungeon, an offertory box, or the contents of any of these, as well as to anything or anyone that was highly valued.
More rarely, the “borrowed” Persian terms, gaza (Ac.8:27) and gazaphulakion (Mk.12:41, 43; Lk.21:1, Jn.8:20) were used of a formal national or religious “treasury.”

Much of the same diversity is seen in the New Testament. The “treasures” opened when the magi presented their gifts (Mt.2), for example, were probably articles of their traveling baggage!
Paul urged the Corinthian brethren (I Cor.16:2) to set aside (“save up”) their promised contribution to the relief offering in a systematic way.
The “treasures of Egypt” in the context of Heb.11:26, probably referred to all the perks of royalty that Moses abandoned in favor of identification with God’s people.
In the previous two posts, we noted “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.2:3) reserved for the faithful in their identification with the Lord Jesus.
A similar connection appears in II Cor.4:7, where Paul speaks of the glory of God having been entrusted to us in “earthen vessels”, reminding us that the treasure [glory] involved is the Lord’s and not ours to brag about.

Interestingly, the “treasure” words appear more than twice as often in the gospels as they do in the epistles, although many are in parallel passages. In these, it is as important to note what is NOT said, as to hear what IS said.
For example, consider the story of the wealthy young man who was contemplating discipleship (Mt.19:21, Mk.10:21, Lk.18:22). Only Luke quotes Jesus as saying “sell all you have” – the others say “what you have” or “your possessions” – but all specify, “give to the poor.” NOT “to the temple hierarchy”. Not even to Jesus’ own ministry. Paul, too, goes to great pains to emphasize (II Cor.12:14) that he does not ask anyone to support his work, or him personally – only to share with needy brethren. Certainly there is no encouragement or mandate to support the flamboyant lifestyle of the “builders” of megachurches or TV shows! “Giving TO THE POOR” is the vehicle for “laying up treasure in heaven”, as is Jesus’ concluding invitation, “Come, follow me!” (W.S.#101).
Jesus weighs in, in a similar vein, in his criticism of the “rich fool” (Lk.12:21)who “accumulates treasure for himself …”, and in his instructions not to “store up for yourselves treasures that are subject to bugs, corrosion, or theft (Mt.6:19, Lk.12:33,34) – obviously material possessions of various kinds.
I suspect that it is selfishness that Jesus is addressing, rather than the specific items of anyone’s hoarding.

This is also evident in James’ later distillation of that teaching, (Jas.5:1-6), where the abuse of others in one’s accumulation of goods is the principal focus.
Peter (II Pet.3:7) and Paul (Rom.2:5) deal just as sternly with the eventual results of choosing to ignore justice and right in favor of one’s own self-interest. Please note: this is NOT represented as punishment or retribution, but simply the inevitable result of selfish behavior.
Note also that Jesus did not hesitate to include “for yourselves” in the alternative, “heavenly” storing-up, and its effect upon one’s heart.

Jesus also uses the idea of “treasure” in a context that is clearly not material at all. In Mt.12:33-37 and Lk.6:43-45, he points out that a person’s communication reveals the character of what is “stored” in his heart, and that any final analysis will be made on the basis of simple and very obvious evidence.

Matthew also records two teaching incidents that do not appear in any of the other accounts. Both concern “the kingdom of heaven”, which is referred to by the other writers as “the kingdom of God”. Please refer to studies # 19, 20, 21, and 118 for exploration of these concepts.
After an extended period of teaching about the Kingdom, Jesus remarked to his disciples (Mt.13:52), “Every scribe [teacher?] trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure both new things and old.” He had just been explaining to them a collection [“treasure”?] of parables, and it is reasonable to assume that he expects that teaching to be remembered and replicated. This assumption would fit as well with Paul’s uses of thesauros in II Cor. and Col. already cited.

Earlier in that same teaching session (Mt.13:44), Jesus had likened the kingdom itself to a “treasure”, so valuable that its discoverer deemed it worthy of the exchange of “everything that he has” – a stark contrast to the incident where the wealthy young man turned away (Mt.19 and parallels). And please note that in neither case is the “treasure” deferred to some sort of future existence! I strongly suspect that the excited buyer of that field had already started to dig up his treasure by the time the ink was dry on his deed!

It is significant that “treasure” is spoken of as “in heaven” only three times, out of the 26 New Testament occurrences of thesaurizo / thesauros. Perhaps if proper attention is paid to what we seek to collect or preserve here on earth, and how we choose to use it, we need not worry unduly about the rest.
May we help each other faithfully to administer whatever kind of “treasure” comes under our control, and to value the Kingdom itself above all!

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One Response to Word Study #131 — Treasure — “in heaven?”

  1. Thanks for always bringing the here and now right down to the here and now.

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