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In Luke 12:11, Jesus warned His “friends” that they would be judged unjustly. Verse 12 then assures them that the Holy Spirit will give them the right words to say at that time. Luke 12:13-15 then gives a short incident that appears to tell us when NOT to judge.
13 And someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
In biblical law, the Levites were normally the ones appointed as judges. They sat at the gate of the town and held public court hearings to resolve disputes among the people. But it was better for the people to know the law well enough to resolve their own disputes. Matt. 5:25 says,
25 Make friends [i.e., reconcile] quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way [to the court], in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
If the case cannot be reconciled out of court, the one wronged may still go to the gate of the town and have a judge make the determination. The judge at the gate was officially recognized by the government. But to settle a case outside of the official court would require that both parties agree to present their case to their own judge or arbiter. It would have to be one in whom both parties had confidence.
In the case before us, the man in the crowd wanted Jesus to be the judge in a family dispute over the inheritance. Jesus refused on the grounds that He had not been appointed to that position. In other words, the brother of the man in the crowd, who may have stolen the inheritance (or divided it up unjustly), had not been consulted, nor had he agreed with his brother to make Jesus the judge in this case.
Jesus had no time to become a judge in a family dispute, because He saw a deeper problem that needed resolution—“every form of greed.” The implication is that this problem stemmed from one form of greed. To the man in the crowd, of course, it was simply a matter of justice. To Jesus, it was a dispute over things, and that the disputing parties ought to change their priorities. A man was not defined by his possessions, but by the condition of his heart. We make a living by what we earn; we make a life by what we give.
So Jesus illustrated this with a parable in Luke 12:16-21,
16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘This is what I will do; I will tear down my barns [granaries] and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease [retire], eat, drink, and be merry”.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required [demanded] of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Verse 21 gives us the lesson of the parable. It is about priorities. To accumulate enough wealth to retire early is not nearly as important as being “rich toward God.”
But how does one become rich toward God? There are many clues in the next verses as Jesus continues to teach on this important topic. Luke 12:33 is, perhaps, the clearest statement:
33 Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.
In other words, being productive is good, and certainly the producer has the right to enjoy the fruits of his labors; but he also has the right to use his possessions for the good of others. To do so is to lay up “treasure in heaven.” And, of course, the clearest statement about our priorities is in the next verse,
34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So we see how the man in the crowd stimulated a lengthy warning against materialism. It is not that hard work and productivity are evil, but that one’s heart must be in the right place in order to use one’s possessions for the glory of God. If a man’s purpose is only to accumulate great wealth for his own comfort, his heart is in the wrong place. If it is to be productive so that he can help the poor or support the way of life in the Kingdom of God, then his heart is in the Kingdom of God.
One prominent lesson in the parable is that usually we are unaware of the time of our departure. We do not know when our soul will be demanded by the spiritual agents who come to collect the souls of men. Hence, we make plans for our retirement, assuming that we will live a long life.
This brings up a practical issue about retirement planning. In the Kingdom of God, as legislated by Moses and instituted by Joshua, every tribe was given land and each family received its own inheritance in the land (Joshua 14:1). The land could not be taxed by government, because land ownership was a right from God, not a privilege given by government. Though the inheritance was headed by the patriarch of the family, all family members had the right to live there unless they forfeited that right through rebellion.
Such land ownership meant that people could retire and allow the younger generation to work the land and to support the elderly. Taxes (tithes) were paid only on production, so that during a Sabbath land-rest year, no taxes were paid. But in a Babylonian society (such as exists today), the occupying government assumes eminent domain over the land and then grants men the privilege of “owning land,” as long as they pay for that privilege in the form of taxes—whether they produce anything or not. The constant drain of taxation forces men to continue working the land, even in Sabbath years.
In essence, the Kingdom of God taxes production, while Babylon taxes the value of the land itself. Hence, the elderly, who perhaps have lived in their homes all their lives, are often forced to sell their homes when they are no longer able to work and to pay the property tax.
This difference between the Kingdom and Babylon speaks into the problem that Jesus raised in regard to retirement and food storage. In Jesus’ day land inheritance was still in force, even though the people had to submit to Rome, the fourth beast empire. Rome’s tax system was not biblical, of course, for in many ways it was a graduated income tax. The tax collectors levied taxes according to their assessment of the people’s ability to pay. Neither did Rome limit its tax to ten percent of production from nature.
Today, under the rule of Mystery Babylon, not only is there a tax on production, but also upon wages and upon land ownership. This problem began when God disinherited Israel and Judah from the land when He put them into captivity. While the governments of Jerusalem and Samaria themselves had no right to disinherit the people, God certainly retained that right, for He claimed ownership of the land (Lev. 25:23) and could give to whom He desired (Jer. 27:4-6). Israel’s right to the land of Canaan was not an absolute right, but was a God-given privilege that could be withdrawn on account of rebellion against Him.
In applying Jesus’ parable to the situation today, we may have more sympathy for the rich man as he laid aside more wealth for retirement. But the amount of wealth being laid aside is not the main point of the parable, for we are not defined by our possessions but by our character. In fact, we do not even know how much the rich man was setting aside, nor even how many granaries he had planned to build. The real issue was where his treasure was. It was a heart issue. It is apparent that the rich man had stored food that would last him many years in order to eat, to sell, or to barter.
There is nothing wrong with planning for retirement as such. The problem was how this was being done and with what heart motive. The Babylonian system forces men to lay up more than they would otherwise need. The system creates poverty, and then creates its own solution—Social Security—which at first was a plan to set aside a portion of one’s own earnings into a retirement fund, but which has now become a government pension fund. The US government first borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund, and then, when it could not pay back the money, it simply stole the money and assumed the responsibility to pay a pension to all retirees.
It is harder today to imitate the rich man in Jesus’ parable, on account of government policies and taxes. The more productive we are, the more we pay in a graduated income tax. Even so, the problem of materialism and greed are universal in every society.
Children of the Kingdom, however, are those who keep the Kingdom way of life alive and who teach it to future generations. They retain the hope (expectation) of a time in the future, when the time of the beast empires is complete and the transfer of authority to the saints of the Most High (Dan. 7:27) will be decreed in the Divine Court.
Few people today understand Kingdom life, because the beast systems have ruled the earth (by divine mandate) since the days of Jeremiah and Daniel. If the Judahites coming out of Babylon in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah had already lost much knowledge of Kingdom laws after just seventy years, how much more has the Church lost this knowledge and understanding?
The first and foremost priority for Kingdom-minded believers is to overcome all forms of greed, because greed is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). After this, they should begin to learn the laws of the Kingdom, so that people know how to establish a Kingdom way of life, a Kingdom culture, which will eliminate poverty and be a blessing to all nations of the earth.
When the time of judgment is completed, and the Dominion Mandate to rule the earth is taken from the beast nations, then the saints of the Most High will be called to teach all nations a new way of life under King Jesus. Many believers today know how to lead people to the place of faith in Christ and even about how to be led by the Spirit, but few know how to establish Kingdom government, laws, and culture.