Was Jesus poor? In fundraising seminars I’ve taught in many countries, this question generates the most enthusiasm and even arguments. We want to know how Jesus lived and what that means for us today. Wanting to be like Jesus, some early church fathers became desert hermits. They owned nothing, had no employment, and spent their days in meditation and sometimes preaching. By contrast, throughout church history, many non-hermits considered wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.
The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. – Luke 9:58
But let’s examine the evidence. If Jesus was poor, how poor? Or how rich? Here are some clues on both sides.
- Joseph and Mary presented their baby, Jesus, at the temple with two turtledoves (Luke 2:24). Because they couldn’t afford a lamb, doves or pigeons were acceptable (Leviticus 12:8).
- When the Magi visited Joseph and Mary two years later, they came to a “house” in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11)—not a barn. Had their economic situation improved?
- In Nazareth, Joseph was a carpenter or stone mason (Matthew 13:55). Since Nazareth was only an hour’s walk from the Roman resort town of Sepphoris, Joseph likely kept employment in that ever-under-construction city.
- Though He didn’t have guaranteed lodging each night (our passage today), Jesus doesn’t seem to live on the street. In John 1:39, two curious followers “came and saw where [Jesus] was staying…”
- Did Jesus own property? Matthew 4:13 says He “settled in Capernaum.” The word kataoikeo might imply home ownership. More probably, Jesus settled in Peter’s mother-in-law’s Capernaum home (Mark 1:29 and 35).
- Jesus and the Twelve had a money box (John 12:6 and 13:29). Money for the box was donated by many women who had been touched by Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1-3).
- Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking with sinners (Luke 15:2). Unlike John the Baptist, He didn’t live as a desert hermit.
- The Roman soldiers at the crucifixion would not tear Jesus’ seamlessly woven robe but cast lots for it—implying it was costly (John 19:23–24).
- Jesus identified with the poor—they gladly came to Him. “Jesus’ lifestyle is not of one in a gated community or a corporate office,” says Timothy Johnson, a New Testament professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Johnson says that a “rich Jesus” is a distortion of history.
- 2 Corinthians 8:9 states, “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Jesus certainly became poor by leaving the multi-faceted riches of the Godhead to dwell as a human on Planet Earth. Through His spiritual poverty (coming to earth and dying for us), we become spiritually rich in Him. But this is not a verse about material economics.
- Though Jesus never condemned rich people for being rich, He taught that wealth must not become an idol. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything and give to the poor (Matthew 19:16–22). Since His life was consistent with His teaching, Jesus must have lived frugally and generously.
So, was Jesus poor or rich? What is your opinion? And why are we so curious about it?
Prosperity teachers need a rich Jesus to prove that God wants His followers to be rich. Advocates for the poor prefer a poor Jesus. The debate will continue! But instead of forcing a yes or no answer, how about this conclusion:
Jesus secured enough funding to enable Him to accomplish His calling from God.
This is a model we can follow. Let us obtain enough of this world’s resources to accomplish the calling God has uniquely given each of us. For some, that requires wealth. For others, not so much.
Now, let’s be practical. Would Jesus own a smartphone? If it helped Him accomplish His calling—yes!
My curious friend, what is God’s calling to you? How much funding will that require?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I see that You had enough funding to accomplish the work the Father called You to do. I determine that by Your grace, I will focus on the calling You have put before me. I trust You to enable me to secure enough funding to do what You have called me to do. Amen.
This article is an excerpt from Scott Morton’s new book, What the Bible Actually Says About Money.