Was Jesus Poor?

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Last night at Bible study – while studying the book of Acts a discussion arose about the financial independence of Jesus.  The simple question was asked, “Was Jesus rich or poor?”  Opinions varied. So, I thought I could go over ideas for both sides and let you land on your own conclusion.

I’ll start with where I first heard the discussion take place — which was while I worked in a Christian book store. The idea of Jesus being poor was a commonly held thought among several members of the staff. I can remember a few discussions I had on this subject with co-workers. There were two Scriptures continually used as evidence of the poverty of Jesus. The first being:

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

The above verse from 2 Corinthians 8:9 clearly states that Jesus was in poverty. On the surface, this seems to close the discussion I am trying to have with you. Bible commentaries will offer that, “The thought is the same as that expressed in Philippians 2:6-7, especially in the words which ought to be translated He emptied Himself.” 

Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:6-7

In other words, the poverty of Jesus is being described as the idea that Jesus gave up His position in Heaven as God (and all the glory and honor belonging to it) in order to become a man – which is an opposite position to hold. The comparison being made is the difference between a master becoming a slave. The position of Jesus was reversed so He could save us.

Did Jesus come to save us by living as a financially poor, indigent beggar? Or was His poverty referring to some other condition of lack?

The second Scripture cited about the financial condition of Jesus is Matthew 19:21 which says, “Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

On the surface this verse gives an instruction to sell your possessions in order to follow Jesus. Again, Bible commentaries speak against this being a verse that should be taken at face value, “This was the counsel which Jesus gave, denoting the stumbling block which lay in the way of the ruler's endeavors after perfection.

The man Jesus spoke with was a rich man who followed the laws of God but was unable to change the condition of his heart. He loved his power and wealth more than Christ. The perfection, or salvation, this man was seeking cannot be found through wealth but through the perfection of Christ alone.  Christ is sufficient to save our souls, meet and exceed our needs, however, those without the heart to know those things will struggle in their faith to follow Him.

Scriptures tell us that Jesus has given instruction to sell our possessions. We also see believers participating in this behavior (Luke 12:33; Acts 2:45; Matthew 19:21). Those believers pooled their possessions to give to the poor, however, there is no mention that their possessions weren’t substantial enough to raise considerable wealth.

Did Jesus ask some believers to sell their possessions? Absolutely. Does that also mean the needs of that group became insufficient? Was the early church poor, hungry and lacking because they had no longer had possessions? If so, how were their own needs met?

Since Jesus is the example we are supposed to follow, shouldn’t we also live in poverty like 2 Corinthians 8:9 describes?  Absolutely. However, is the poverty He asks of us a financially poverty? Or a meek and humble poverty condition of the heart? Or both?

How can a poor person bless another?  If Jesus was poor, how did He bless others? Regardless of financial standing, the Bible tells many of the ways Jesus blessed others was through miracles, signs and wonders. Those miracles signs and wonders continued after He ascended back to Heaven. We see it for the first time in Acts 3:6, when Apostle Peter says to a beggar, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

Did Peter truly have no money to give the lame man or did Peter see a greater need that could be met that money could not pay for?  If we are to follow the example of Peter here, instead of giving money to the poor, shouldn’t God use us to heal the crippled and cast out demons? If Jesus was poor, were His signs and wonders all He had to bless others with?

Do you think believers need to be poor be effective messengers of the Gospel? Do you believe we should be used by God to pray and see the sick healed? Do you believe both? Can your poverty be a blessing to others if you don’t?

Come back later for my article called, “Was Jesus Rich?”

John Simmons is the President of Testimony House Ministries. He writes a daily blog for Testimony House each week day. He is the author of God Has a Sentence for Your Life and Finding Faith. Follow John on social media @newjohnsimmons. You can also watch John hosts various live streaming programs on the Testimony House Network each week.