In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and corrosion destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor corrosion destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). While the comparison shows that heavenly treasures are not susceptible to decay or burglary, questions persist: How can people on earth store up treasures in heaven, and how does this heavenly bullion benefit the earth-bound believer? A look into Second Temple text and tradition provides the answers. In ancient Jewish thought, sins accumulated debt before God, and earthly charity produced the heavenly treasure that could pay down the debt of sin.

Shortly before Jesus refers to “treasures in heaven,” he asks God to “forgive us our debts (ὀφειλήματα; opheilémata) as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In this case, Yeshua does not describe earthly, financial debts; rather, he asks God to pardon sins. In Jesus’ native language of Aramaic, the word for “sin” and “debt” was the same: חובא (hova). In the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible that began in Jesus’ day, the translators render the original Scriptures to reflect this economic metaphor. For instance, in the Hebrew Torah, Pharaoh says to Moses, “Carry away (שׂא; sa) my sin (חטאתי; hatati) just this once” (Exodus 10:17). The Aramaic Targum reads, “Remit (שׁבוק; shevoq) my debt (חובי; hovai) just this once” (TgExod 10:17). Jesus shares this targumic understanding of sin, and he asks God to forgive the record of debt in the heavenly ledger. 

It is in this context of sin as debt that Yeshua says to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Just before the Our Father, Jesus declares, “When you give alms (ἐλεημοσύνην; eleemosúnen)… may your giving be in secret” (6:3-4). Immediately after his reference to heavenly treasure, he encourages having a healthy eye (ὀφθαλμός; opthalmós; 6:22-23)—a common Jewish metaphor for being generous with one’s funds—and concludes that one “cannot serve God and money” (6:24). The Second Temple Jewish text of Tobit (c. 200 BCE) provides a precise precedent for Jesus’ principle that giving charity results in heavenly treasure. Tobit says to his son Tobias, “Give alms (ἐλεημοσύνην; eleemosúnen) from your possessions, and do not let your eye (ὀφθαλμὸς; opthalmòs) begrudge the gift when you make it…. Thus, you will lay up good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For almsgiving delivers from death and… is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High” (Tob 4:7-11). For Tobit, and for Jesus after him, alms are personal sacrifices that reflect a healthy eye; giving money to the poor helps to pay down the debt of sin by building up treasures in heaven.

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104 COMMENTS

  1. שלום My name is David. I'm 12 years old and I love reading the original scriptures, that is why I'm always excited whenever you post a weekly article. But Pls Dr. Nicholas where can I get a physical Hebrew/greek bible with NT to read and follow along with what you teach. תודה.

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    • In psalm 41:1 (Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.) Please what can you comment corresponding to Dr. Nicholas article. It's also an alms given but the effect of it is "deliver from trouble".
    • Contact SDHS (the Society for the Distriution of Hebrew Scriptures)
      They will be able to supply you with a suitable bilingual copy of the scriptures for a nominal charge to cover the printing and distribution costs. Although I am not sure if they actually cover Nigeria.
  2. Interesting article! A very different perspective from what I know of and have been taught with respect to "treasures in Heaven", which was investing money in expanding the Kingdom of God. As for your final statement, are you implying that giving money to the poor pays for some amount of debt of sin that accumulates after trusting in Jesus? Are you implying that Jesus' sacrifice is not enough to cover all of my debt of sin and I have to offer personal sacrifices such as "alms"? So if Jesus says we must pray for God to forgive us our debts, do we continue to accumulate sin-debt even after accepting Jesus as Savior and must we make personal sacrifices to pay off this sin-debt? Pardon me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that belief partly addressed when the Catholic Reformation occurred? Thanks for reading my comment and I hope you reply!!
    • I think you are right and the author of this article is not. There is no 'payment' to get to heaven as that debt has been paid providing you follow the teachings of the Christ. Jesus was the 'Blood Atonement' for sin. Repentance is our responsibility. The Path is narrow.
    • Thanks for your good questions, Jasmine. Jesus gives his life as a "ransom" (Matt 20:28) and thereby "saves his people from their sin" (Matt 1:21). In other words, Jesus is the ransom payment that eliminates the debt in heaven. While almsgiving can pay down sin-debt incrementally, Jesus' sacrifice obliterates sin completely. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount prior to his death, so when he notes that charity pays down sin-debt, he's doing so before he offers himself as payment, and he's simply being true to the Judaic sin-debt/charity system that he knows from texts like Tobit. Almsgiving was one of several ways that one could have their sins pardoned; sometimes, just asking did the trick (e.g., Numbers 14:19-20). Thus, the notion that one "must" give to the poor to secure forgiveness is unwarranted. Finally, there's a difference between "forgiveness" and "atonement" -- Jesus notes (rightly) that charity can lead God to "forgive" (ἀφίημι; aphiemi; cf. Matt 6:12), but "atonement" is something that humans do (via blood manipulation) to purge away sin completely (cf. Lev 17:11). This is why Jesus tells his disciples, "This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the remission (ἄφεσις; aphesis) of sins" (Matt 20:28). For Matthew, God can grant forgiveness for any reason (including almsgiving), but atonement comes through Jesus.

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    • I think some people may be getting the misunderstanding what Dr Nicholas is saying, He’s not saying Jesus doesn’t or has not paid for our sin, He’s telling us how the ancient would of viewed this, our LORD Jesus used ideals and principles of the Torah/Instruction and expounded on them, revealing a deeper truth. Jesus paid for sin, we walk under this covering, but we still commit sin/not practice sin, now that sin is paid for we are made acceptable before GOD and able to offer ourselves/the works of our hands (our grain offering if you will) in righteousness (right acts, as defined by the Word of GOD) and truth. Remember how Paul said count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God, Paul also said offer yourselves as an instrument of righteousness, Peter said ..In Sanctification (making holy) of the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, later in the same chapter it says, Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love etc, purified your soul from what? From the sin of guilt (asham offering) that spots our garments, caused by our offenses against our neighbor, James says, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins, Peter again says, And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” They Peter, James etc reference Proverbs 10:12, obedience to the LORD’s Word are our acts of love, all this to say yes we are saved (delivered) from sin, by grace (favor obtain through trusting Jesus) through faith/trust apart from works, so walk like it is so, thus purified and being purified, holy and being made holy (sanctified and sanctification). May the LORD guide us all to the knowledge and truth of HIMSELF, let us grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, May the LORD bless Israel and protect her, may the hearts of those who come against her “turn” to the GOD of Israel through Jesus “the Word made flesh”.
    • A similar thought went through my mind when I was reading this article. If Jesus "paid it all" for us, then what's the need for another treasure which stores up treasures in heaven which can take away your debt since the account balance on the debit side is already nil.
  3. Interesting observation. But we can build up spiritual riches in heaven with God in ways apart from giving to the poor and needy.
    • But what are "spiritual riches" in Heaven exactly? What is exactly a "treasure" in Heaven? That is the question that I have had for a long time, but no one can answer. Is there a verse that explicitly says what is considered a "treasure" in Heaven? Thanks for your comment!

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  4. Very good question by Jasmine and i had the same query. Dr. Nicholas must have thought about it so he may give the right response.
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  5. As I understand it and I hope this DOSNT come across as being arrogant JESUS ONCE AND FOR ALL PAID MY DEBT AND REDEEMED ME IN OTHER WORDS HE PAID THE PRICE NO AMOUNT OF GOOD WORKSM OR ALMS GIVING ARE GOING TO PAY THE PRICE FOR MY SIN Jesus is the LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKETH AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD. HAVE A BLESSED DAY LOVE TO YOUR HEART I BELIEVE YOUR IN ERROR
    • Perhaps you should read Romans 11:20-22 which is written to BELIEVERS. "You stand by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, TAKE HEED LEST HE SPARE NOT YOU (Believers). Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them that fell, severity; BUT TOWARD YOU GOODNESS, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS: OTHERWISE YOU ALSO SHALL BE CUT OFF." Matthew 10:22. And you will be hated of all men for my name's sake: but HE THAT EDURES TO THE END SHALL BE SAVED. Matthew 25:30. and cast the UNPROFITABLE SERVANT into outer darkness. It seems Mr Vincent that you have the same doctrine that I was taught. Kind of like once saved always saved because you accepted Christ's payment for your sins. READ YOUR BIBLE, I implore you Mr. Vincent ... it doesn't say that. Revelations 12:17. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, AND HAVE THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST. If believers are all good to go once they accept Christ's atonement, why are they judged? 1 Peter 4:17 For the time is come that judgment must BEGIN AT THE HOUSE OF GOD: and if it FIRST BEGIN AT US, what shall the end be of them THAT OBEY NOT THE gospel of God? You must OBEY and do good works as Revelations 12:17. The road is so extremely narrow that almost nobody can even find it. Look up the GREEK MEANINGS for Matthew 7:14 and it will change your thinking: 'narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and FEW there be that FIND IT.' FINAL MIND BOGGLER: Why, in the 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth, are they STILL OFFERING SACRIFICES FOR SIN WHILE THE MESSIAH IS SITTING RIGHT THERE WITH THEM ON EARTH????? (Ezekiel 43-45) Do not be deceived Mr Vincent, God is not mocked, whatever a man SOWS that shall he REAP. There IS a difference between atonement and forgiveness. And if Christ died for sin which according to 1 Jn 2:3 sin is transgression of the law, he died so we no longer transgress, and if we believe we are all good to go because Jesus died for our sins, and none will be held against ourselves, "we deceive ourselves". Study your Bible, I was one of those people who totally believed and taught others the same doctrine. But read your Bible and you will see we do have to do works, and there are few in the kingdom. Jer 3:14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you ONE OF A CITY, and TWO OF A FAMILY, and I will BRING YOU TO ZION:Luke 13:23 'Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for MANY, I say unto you, WILL SEEK TO ENTER IN, and SHALL NOT BE ABLE.
      Love, a friend in Christ
  6. Praise His Name! As Romans 3:25 states Yeshua's blood is an atonement for sin ALREADY committed. We do not get to use His blood as a license to CONTINUE to sin. Hebrews 6:4 and 10:26 assure us that we are not to take His name in vain. There is a point where it is impossible to renew to repentance and there is no longer a sacrifice for sin. All through Revelation, Jesus speaks of knowing our deeds. Our deeds are to be righteous as Dr. Schaser is explaining. What greater act of righteousness than caring for the less fortunate!
  7. I also am curious to read the answer to Jasmine Sedas question.
    One of the foundations of the christian faith is that by his sacrifice Jesus washed away all our guilt (if we do enter into that personal relationship with Jesus Christ), so I truly wonder...thanks!
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
    • Thanks for your question, Betty. According to Matthew, Jesus' death removes the debt of sin through blood atonement (cf. Matt 1:21; 20:28; 26:28). The shedding of blood serves as a ransom payment to God for the debt of sin (see Lev 17:11). However, "forgiveness" and "atonement" are two different (but related) phenomena. Human beings make atonement, and then God forgives. God can grant forgiveness without blood (e.g., Num 14:19-20), but only blood atones. In New Testament theology, followers of Jesus ask for forgiveness for sins based on the payment of Jesus' blood sacrifice (see Heb 4:14-17).
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