Prosperity Gospel Now, According to Jesus & Paul
Okay, we all agree that the Bible teaches “prosperity gospel”—a gospel of “health and wealth”—in the age to come:
Health: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev 21:4).
Wealth: The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel … [jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst] (Rev 21:18-20).
But what about this statement by Jesus in Mark 10:29-30 (cf. Matt. 19:29; Luke 18:29-30):
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
To be sure, he promises eternal life to all believers “in the age to come.” (Of course, we have eternal life even now.) But doesn’t he also promise a hundredfold of blessings “in this time”? However, reading the context of this passage (Mark 10:17-31) sheds more light than mere material rewards.
In fact, the immediate context warns us against putting riches above eternal life in the kingdom of God. After the rich, young ruler went away sorrowing because he couldn’t part with his possessions and self-righteousness to follow Christ, Jesus declared, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”Astonished, the disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” And Peter claimed, “We have left everything and followed you.”
So we come to one of the favorite prosperity gospel passages above, the “hundredfold rule” in this age by Jesus himself (Mark 10:29-30). But why is this rule not true for all Christians, much less, even for a few Christians? The answer is that Jesus was not talking about material riches.
When Peter and the other disciples became Christians, didn’t they gain fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters—and homes and lands—by the hundreds because they had become part of the universal congregation of Christ? And so with all of you: Didn’t other believers open their homes and lands to you, not only in your cities, but literally all over the world? Are you not enjoying brotherly fellowship with them, no matter which church you go to? You may even have been cast out or persecuted by your own family and friends, but didn’t you gain many other loved ones and friends in the church?
But that is only one of several verses, including this one:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
Again, Jesus is not talking about material blessings, but about spiritual blessings in the heavenly places that people receive when they are saved. He came to lay down his life for his sheep in order that believers will have eternal life. What can be more abundant in this life and in the age to come than eternal life?
And then here’s Paul addressing believers’ destiny to be rich:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).
However, to suggest that this verse teaches that Christ came, became poor, and died for our sins so we may gain material wealth is absolute nonsense. In fact, the reverse is again true: Paul is saying that since Christ emptied himself of his glory in heaven for our sakes, how much more must we empty ourselves of material wealth for the sake of serving Christ and helping our needy brethren. This is why he says in verse 13, “your abundance at the present time should supply their need.”
Another puzzling set of verses that has become easy proof-texts for prosperity gospellers is Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:29:
For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him (see also Matt 13:12; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18; 19:26).
Take something from someone “who does not have” anything? Give more to the one “who has” so that “he will have more than enough”? Again, context rules, because Matthew 25 is a series of three parables about how believers must be prepared for the return of Christ to consummate his kingdom (Matt 25:1). In the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), Jesus explains how every Christian must use his spiritual gifts wisely and productively for God’s kingdom. When he returns, those who do so will be rewarded with more blessings, while those who are “wicked and slothful” are worthless, false believers, and will be divested of everything and sent to the “outer darkness.”
Jesus and his Apostles taught prosperity gospel, both in this age and in the age to come. In this age, believers have all kinds of blessings, but “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). Scripture does not condemn rich people (Prov 13:4). Some of Jesus’ disciples were rich and powerful (Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea). In fact, Paul warns the rich in the church to be humble and not to trust in their riches alone (1 Tim 6:17). But those prosperity peddlers who have amassed wealth on the back of gullible believers will stand before Christ on Judgment Day and will hear these words:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked
But those who persevere through poverty, suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom, will hear Christ’s commendation:
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)… Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev 2:9-10).
Therefore, be encouraged, because even now in this vale of tears, you who fear the Lord lack no good thing:
|Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!|
|Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!|
|Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,|
|for those who fear him have no lack!|
|The young lions suffer want and hunger;|
|but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psa 34).|
Even today, you are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places where God’s immeasurable riches await you in the coming ages:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-7).
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