What did Jesus mean? How were the disciples to go about ‘seeking the Kingdom’?
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Many have read this passage:
Matthew 6:33 But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (AKJV)
A number of “prosperity theologians” have made people believe that if they just “seek the Kingdom” or “put God’s work first”, by giving money to the preacher and his “kingdom work”, then they will be blessed and prospered, financially and in other ways. But, Matthew 6:33 has nothing to do with churches and preachers. That verse records something that Jesus said to his disciples, those who were listening to him there and then, in the first century. And:
As we all know, they were not prospered while they lived here on Earth. Instead, they were persecuted, and many of them had to suffer and some were even killed. So, really what was Jesus saying to those disciples?
We find a parallel to Matthew 6:33, in Luke 12:31 with its context. Let us consider that passage, because it adds some details to this matter.
Luke 12:31 “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (HCSB)
If you read that scripture-quote, you perhaps noticed that in contrast to what “prosperity theologians” say, Jesus told his disciples to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. They were not to be collecting earthly treasures but instead a heavenly one. Even Matthew 6 records Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. We read:
Matthew 6:19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (HCSB)
An important note: That does not mean that people of our day should sell their properties or belongings. Jesus directed the instruction which is recorded in Matthew 6:19–21 and Luke 12:33, to his disciples, people of the first century. They were in a very special situation. Because of what was relatively soon to happen to them, they had no need to heap up earthly savings. The article nga040.htm has more on this. – When it comes to things and people of our day, things are different.
So, really what did Jesus mean? In what way were those disciples to “seek the Kingdom”, Matthew 6:33? And, what about the part regarding “righteousness”, same verse? This article considers those questions.
This is regarding Matthew 6:33 and its context. Again, let us note who it was that Jesus was speaking to.
The story begins in Matthew 5. It could be that even some in the crowd which tried to see and reach Jesus, heard what he said on that occasion (in the so-called “sermon on the mount”), but it is quite clear that he was talking to his disciples, teaching and instructing them.
Matthew 5:1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: 2 and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying […] (ASV)
Jesus went away from the multitudes. And, he sat down. This indicates that he spoke to the disciples who came up to him, and not to the crowds below.
Now, we can safely assume that many of Jesus’ disciples indeed did “seek the Kingdom”, Matthew 6:33. But, that did not lead to a care-free life for them. “All things” were not “added” to them, during their earthly lives. Instead, they were persecuted, and they had to flee. Some of them were imprisoned, and even killed. That – hardships and suffering – is what was in store for those disciples, during their life here on Earth. Jesus told them that it would be so:
John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. […] (HCSB)
John 16:33 […] You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (HCSB)
Other, similar passages:
Acts 14:22 […] “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.” (HCSB)
Romans 8:36 As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. (HCSB)
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (HCSB)
Those who served and followed Jesus, had to go through hardship and lack and suffering. An example: The apostle Paul was several times beaten, scourged and imprisoned. Once he was even stoned.
So, regarding Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31 – it is obvious that Jesus meant that if and when the disciples made it to the Kingdom of God, then all their needs would be taken care of. During their earthly lives, they had to suffer.
Again, it is clear that the words “all these things shall be added to you” referred to a time when the disciples had made it to the Kingdom and were no longer mortals. But this still leaves us with the question, how were they to go about “seeking” the Kingdom? And, there is also the matter of righteousness, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – exactly what did that mean and refer to?
Here, it can be good to consider what and where that kingdom was and is. And also, what the mention of righteousness might have referred to. (Luke 12:31 does not contain that word, but Matthew 6:33 does.)
The article noa010.htm has more on what, when and where the Reign or Kingdom of God actually is, but here are some notes on that matter.
First, let us consider a slightly different translation of Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31.
Matthew 6:33 but seek ye first the reign of God and His righteousness, and all these [things] shall be added to you. (YLT, highlighting and comment added)
Luke 12:31 but, seek ye the reign of God, and all these things shall be added to you. (YLT, highlighting added)
As you see, some bible-versions have “reign” instead of “kingdom”. How should one understand that? The word in the Greek text of those verses is the noun basileia. Here is point 1 in the entry on that word in the OLB Greek lexicon:
1. royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
a. not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
b. of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
c. of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
Above, the primary definition for the noun basileia is given as “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule”. Now, it is clear that those disciples were to “seek” the Kingdom or Reign of God for the purpose of receiving everlasting life. But, there is even the fact that Jesus promised royal power to them:
Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said to him, See, we have given up everything and have come after you; what then will we have? 28 And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you that in the time when all things are made new, and the Son of man is seated in his glory, you who have come after me will be seated on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or child, or land, for my name, will be given a hundred times as much, and have eternal life. (BBE)
As you can see, verse 28, Jesus promised those disciples that they would serve as representatives of God’s Reign, as judges. (Not while they were mortals, but after their change/resurrection.) – Here on Earth, they had “given up everything”, verse 27, but things were to be different, when they made it to the Kingdom and became immortals.
Again, the article noa010.htm has more on this, but in short: The Reign or Kingdom of God is a tangible government. Let us assume that it rules over this whole Universe, and perhaps even more. Its headquarters are in Heaven. That is where Jesus rules with his Father.
Psalms 103:19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. (NLT04)
So, when Jesus told his disciples to “seek” the Reign or Kingdom of God first and foremost, that was a truly lofty goal for them. And, in order to make it there, they had to forsake earthly goals and plans and things.
(The article nba070.htm considers Matthew 16:19 and related passages, the matter of the “keys of the Reign of the Heavens” which the disciples were promised. The articles nba040.htm and nxa100.htm have more on what the Scriptures say about the matter of Heaven.)
Simplifying things, it can be said that their “seeking of the Kingdom” consisted of that they counted earthly things as of lesser value, and set their hearts to making it to the Kingdom. They gave up many things here on Earth, and they did what Jesus told them to do, even when that led to hardship and suffering.
A note: Even people of our day can in a way “seek the Kingdom” – there is more on this later in this article – but one must not read Matthew 6:33 and think that it refers to oneself. What Jesus said on that occasion, was specific to his disciples, people of the first century.
Compare these two translations:
Matthew 6:33 but seek ye first the reign of God and His righteousness, and all these shall be added to you. (YLT, highlighting added)
Matthew 6:33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (DR1899, highlighting added)
The relevant word in the Greek text of that verse is the noun dikaiosunê. That word could refer to the quality of being just, fair and morally upright. And certainly, the disciples were to live in a righteous manner. But, the word dikaiosunê could refer, not only to justness (“righteousness”) but also to justice and even justification. The Latin translation of dikaiosunê is iustitia (justitia).
So, what did Jesus mean when he said to his disciples that they were to seek dikaiosunê, as the Greek text of Matthew 6:33 has it? Again, it is clear that those disciples were to live with dikaiosunê, that is, in a just manner. But, it is also clear that during their earthly lives, there was no justice in sight for them. Here on Earth, they were persecuted and had to suffer. It was only in the Kingdom that they received justice, a just treatment.
(Also: As was noted earlier, Matthew 19:27–28 records that Jesus promised his disciples that in the Reign of God, they were to act as judges.)
Jesus told his disciples to seek the Kingdom of God. They were not to be piling up “treasures” (wealth) for themselves here on Earth, but were instead to be seeking a treasure in Heaven.
Matthew 6:19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (HCSB, highlighting added)
Paul echoed that, in his letter to the saints in Colosse.
Colossians 3:1 […] seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (AKJV, highlighting added)
This is regarding the earlier quoted scriptures which record how Jesus told his disciples to sell their possessions and share the proceeds with the poor, and so on. It is important to keep in mind that those things were something that Jesus said to certain people in the first century. They were in a very special situation. They would not live a long time here on Earth, [a] and so, they did not have a need to plan for a long earthly future. That is why they could sell their possessions (such as land properties and the like), and share the proceeds with the poor. Those disciples were instead to strive for (“seek”) a better life in the heavenly sphere.
a The article nga040.htm considers what happened to the saints, why they suddenly vanished from the scene some time after the middle of the first century.
But, some of the things that Jesus said to those disciples, can be applied even in our day, at least to some part. For instance, it is clear that believers should not be heaping up huge riches for themselves, ignoring the needs of others. Believers should practise good works and in that way help even others, each according to one’s ability. But, since our situation is very different from that of the saints, we should also in a responsible way plan for the present and future needs that we and our families have (including the older generation).
Some might wonder, in regard to Matthew 6:19–21 and Luke 12:31–34, “What about giving money to a church or a preacher?” But, Jesus was not talking about churches or preachers. He was talking about aiding the poor. – The article nma020.htm shows what Acts 20:35 and 2 Corinthians 9:7 actually mean and refer to. Regarding the “tithe question”, see the article nma010.htm.
For the first, there is the fact that right now, the planet Earth is not a part of God’s Reign (Kingdom). Wicked spirit rebels still run and control this world. This present evil state of things on this planet will come to an end only when Jesus returns. Thus, believers can (and must) be praying that God will soon send his son Jesus, so that the Reign of God will be put into effect even here on Earth.
(A side-note: Certain New Testament passages contain wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that the present-day rulers of this world have been “appointed by God” and are his servants. But, as anyone should be able to see, that is not how things are. The article nwa021.htm has some notes on this world’s present-day rulers.)
Secondly – even people of our day can seek “the things above”, in a way similar to what Jesus and the apostle Paul and others told people to do. This is so, even though many of the lofty things that were promised to the saints were specific to them and do not apply to people of our day. Clarification:
Believers can do that “seeking” of God’s Kingdom and his righteousness (or justice), by trying to act and live in a way that is pleasing to God (as best as one understands and is able), including good works, and through prayer, asking God for mercy and for the Holy Spirit and salvation. Believers can “seek” even by personally studying the Scriptures, in depth – that is important, because it is only in that way one can come to know what God really wants one to do, and what is going to happen in times ahead.
Those disciples’ part in God’s Reign is a very special one. If you read and consider Matthew 6, Luke 12 and related passages with more care, you will notice that Jesus was actually telling them to look for the day when he would come for them and take them to Heaven. Also: At least some of the disciples were to assist Jesus in administering the Reign of God, as judges, and perhaps even in other ways.
(Again, the article nga040.htm considers what happened to the saints, why they suddenly vanished from the scene, some time after the middle of the first century.)
It was there – in Heaven – that “all things” were “added” to those people. During their earthly lives, they had to go through sufferings and persecution.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga080.htm
Matthew 16:19, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and “bind” and “loose”. What kind of “keys” and “binding and loosing” was Jesus talking about? → nba070.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm
Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → nma010.htm
Are the rulers and governments of this world appointed by God? The so-called “divine right of kings” – is there such a thing? → nwa021.htm
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