An Eternal Inheritance, Not a Temporal One
In the Old Testament, material blessing was given for obedience (Deuteronomy 28:2), yet in the New Testament many of the saints were poor (Matthew 8:20; 2 Corinthians 11:27; James 2:5). (The same is still true today for the majority of believers not living in the Western world.) Enjoying worldly wealth is emphasized in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 28:11; Joshua 1:15; Proverbs 15:6), yet the New Testament talks of giving away possessions (Mark 10:17-21; 1 Timothy 6:17-18). By their obedience, the Israelites avoided persecution (Deuteronomy 28:7), but by their obedience Christians incur persecution (Matthew 5:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 1:6).
Why this disparity? Because God was determined that New Testament saints would understand that their home is in another world. No book better demonstrates the relationship of Old and New Testaments, and the two worlds on which they center, than the book of Hebrews. The new covenant is said to be “founded on better promises” than the Old (Hebrews 8:6). The Old Testament is copy and type and shadow. Accordingly, the material blessings promised to Old Testament saints are to remind us of our future heavenly blessings—but never are they to replace them. The new covenant brings not the temporal inheritance promised Israel, but an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
We no longer sacrifice animals, because the Lamb of God has come. We no longer worship in a temple, because we ourselves are temples of God’s Holy Spirit. We no longer go to a priest, because Christ is our high priest, and we ourselves are a believing priesthood. We no longer look to material riches, because of the spiritual riches that are ours in Christ.
God demonstrated to the nations surrounding Israel His superiority to their gods by prospering the people of Israel when they obeyed Him. Now He wishes to display Christ’s lordship and presence to the world around us through a better faith and morality, not a higher standard of living.
The Israelites were citizens of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:7-9; 11:8-12). Their destination was on this earth. But New Testament saints haven’t yet arrived at their destination and won’t until our lives here are done. We’re told our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11). The Promised Land was a foretaste of the glory that awaits us. We are to stake our claim in the ultimate Promised Land: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22). The earthly Jerusalem isn’t our destination. It’s only a signpost pointing the way, just as earthly blessings aren’t our ultimate rewards, just foretastes of what’s coming.
Hebrews speaks of promised blessings, a great inheritance of lasting possessions (Hebrews 6:12; 10:34; 11:13-16). These promises must be patiently awaited, because they come not in this world but the next (Hebrews 10:35-39; 11:13, 16). Our destination is as much superior to the Promised Land of Palestine as Christ’s blood was superior to the blood of bulls and goats. The effect of prosperity theology is to promote “Heaven on earth.” But prior to Christ’s return there can be no Heaven on earth. When earth becomes our Heaven—when we see God’s blessings as being primarily immediate and temporal—we lose sight of who we are, why we are here, and what awaits us beyond the horizons of this world.
Our Far Greater Spiritual Riches
Our greatest resources are spiritual, not material. They come from another world, not this one. Even in the worst of circumstances, it’s possible to experience a full, deep life in this world that’s under the Curse, and that’s what sets the Christian life apart. This soul-level abundance means that poor believers who are living in oppressive circumstances can be far more joyful and satisfied than unbelievers who are living in luxury and popularity.
In the New Testament, the Greek word ploutos is used six times for material riches put to evil purposes (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; 1 Timothy 6:17; James 5:2; Revelation 18:17). Yet the same word is used eleven times in the positive sense, each time referring to spiritual, not material, riches (Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:18; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27). Once we experience those riches in Christ, we find them so profoundly satisfying that we can never again elevate earthly and material riches to the place of importance they once held.
We’ll also use the resources that God does entrust to us as means of investing in eternity, and preparing for the life to come. “Your plenty will supply what they need. . . . You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 8:14; 9:11). Don’t assume that God prospers you beyond what you need just to raise your standard of living. It’s more likely, according to these verses, that He prospers you to raise your standard of giving. He provides in excess not for us to live excessively, but so we can become rich in good works.
As thoughtful Christ-followers, we should never assume that financial abundance is God’s provision for us to live in luxury. We should assume that God entrusts us with His money not to build our kingdom on Earth, but to build His Kingdom in Heaven. A good question to ask God is, “Lord, whose kingdom am I focused on building: yours or mine?”