The earth was a cursed, barren wasteland. Only thorns and thistles emerged from the cracked soil. Sweat-drenched workers labored in the hot sun, hoping desperately to coax food to grow.
Then, in fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, a special child was born. His father declared, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” His parents named him Noah, which means “comfort.”
The earth healed, although not to the level of the garden of Eden. We humans typically spend at least a third of our day working to put food on the table and pay for our rents or mortgages. Then we have plenty to do around the house. After all this work, we are often mentally tapped and physically exhausted.
Like all creatures on earth, humanity aims to survive, reproduce, enjoy pleasure, and avoid pain. In an affluent society, this goal takes the form of making a “comfortable” living: having basic needs met, some luxuries, stability, and peace of mind.
If we had all that we needed, we could spend our time enjoying creation, learning, and pursuing spiritual matters instead of earning a living. But more money does not solve our problem. Our lives revolve around work so much that our identities are wrapped up in our occupations. High-income earners are often also workaholics. There is an ancient Jewish saying: “More property, more anxiety.”
In a modern society, simply staying alive should not be a constant struggle. Jealousy and lack of resources push people to steal—and provoke nations to fight wars. Humanity will never achieve peace until scarcity is no longer an issue.
According to biblical prophecy, the solution to the problem of need will come with the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus returns and establishes his throne on earth, civilization will finally reach its full potential.
The Bible describes the kingdom and its blessings in many places and many ways. Scripture consistently speaks of this time as one of abundance and prosperity.
The Biblical Vision of Prosperity
Moses described this Messianic Era in Deuteronomy:
When all these things come upon you … the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers. (Deuteronomy 30:1, 9)
The prophets elaborated on this promise. Jeremiah spoke of the great ingathering of Israel at the end of the age, and he promised that afterward, “their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more” (Jeremiah 31:12). Ezekiel confirmed the idea, assuring Israel that the produce of the orchards and fields would be so abundant that they would never again suffer famine (Ezekiel 36:30). The desolate land would become like the garden of Eden (Ezekiel 36:35).
The ancient Jewish sages culled many passages throughout the Bible to paint a picture of an extraordinary world. For example, they closely examined the wording of Psalm 72:16:
May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!
One of the rabbis noted that the Hebrew phrase translated “abundance of grain” is peculiar. It sounds like it means both “bread rolls” and “fine fabric.” To him this proved that when the Messianic Era comes, bread rolls and fine fabric will grow fully formed from the ground. Another sage interpreted the phrase to mean that grain will grow as straight and tall as palm trees.
Moses told the Israelites, “[You ate] the very finest of the wheat—and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape” (Deuteronomy 32:14). In Hebrew “the finest of wheat” is literally “kidneys of wheat.” The sages imagined wheat kernels of the Messianic Era as big as ox kidneys. The Hebrew word for “foaming” sounds like the word for a unit of measure the size of a barrel, yet the word “grape” is singular. In good fun, they imagined that in the kingdom one could cart a single barrel-sized grape from the vineyard and set it in the corner of one’s house, and it would supply thirty full jugs of wine.
An ancient Christian source claims that Jesus described the kingdom in a similar way. Papias, who was born in about the year 60 CE, quoted Jesus as saying,
The days will come in which vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape, when pressed, will give twenty-five measures of wine. And, when one of those saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will clamor: I am better; take me; bless the Lord through me!
Similarly, a grain of wheat also will generate ten thousand heads, and each head will have ten thousand grains, and each grain five double pounds of clear and clean flour. And the remaining fruits and seeds and herbage will follow through in congruence with these, and all the animals using these foods which are taken from the earth will in turn become peaceful and consenting, subject to men with every subjection. (Cited in Irenaeus, Against Heresies)
Seek First the Kingdom
This could plausibly be an authentic quote from our Master. Regardless, the canonical Gospels give us assurance that scarcity will come to an end. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught us not to be anxious about food, drink, or clothing. He asked his disciples,
Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)
This teaching, however, raises problems. There are disciples in the world who lack food and clothing. The fact that Solomon was not as well dressed as flowers offers no assurance to us. Are disciples guaranteed to be fashionistas?
But Jesus continued by contextualizing these promises: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). In other words, problems acquiring food, drink, and clothing will all be solved in the kingdom of God. Thus, the most effective use of our time and effort in the current age is to usher in and enter the kingdom.
Should we literally expect bread rolls and fabric to grow from the earth? Grape clusters to talk? Not all the later rabbis took these ideas literally. Maimonides, a famous rabbi who lived in the Middle Ages, summarized these interpretations by saying, “It will be very easy for humanity to find their livelihood. With a small amount of effort, a person will achieve great results.”
By Maimonides’ standard, many of us who live in developed countries are nearly there. One farmer today can do the work that a thousand workers were needed to do in Maimonides’ day. Pastries and outfits may not grow from the ground, but you don’t have to make them yourself anymore. You can walk into a grocery store any day of the year and buy fresh apples, oranges, bananas, and exotic fruits from all over the world. Our lives would seem like utter fantasy to anyone who lived in pre-modern times. This suggests that the kingdom is truly around the corner.
All These Things Will Be Added
The world as we have known it for thousands of years is not normal. The normal world is the one God created. Eden means “delight” (in the sense of a treat or delicacy) because life there was enjoyable. In Eden we had a job—gardening—but it was easy, pleasant, and productive. The kingdom will bring us closer to that normal state of delight.
The kingdom will be a time of peace and rest for the world. There will be no war, famine, envy, or competition. Humanity’s real job will be to know God.
Wars are rooted in competition for power, resources, security, and luxury. These will no longer be factors. There will be no point in robbery or fraud. In the kingdom, the resources we would have spent on military and security systems will be freed up to make people’s lives better.
The kingdom will also be an opportunity for the righteous to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Jesus taught his disciples to “lay up for [themselves] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). By saying “in heaven,” he was using traditional Jewish terminology to mean “with God.” The treasures we store up in this life will be waiting for us in the kingdom. As Jesus promised, “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).
In a famous experiment, researchers gave each child in a group a single marshmallow and gave them a choice. They could eat their marshmallows right away, but if they waited a few minutes, they would receive two marshmallows. Then they left each child alone to stare at his or her marshmallow. Some children were able to wait; others were not. The results tended to predict success later in life.
The kingdom is our marshmallow test. Jesus taught, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
The man had many nice things in his life. Those possessions were gifts from God; they were not inherently bad. But the total value of all his wealth paled in comparison to the value of the hidden treasure. The only way to acquire the treasure was to give up everything he owned and held dear. Although the math checked out, the decision to give up everything was not easy.
Jesus told a rich man, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). God does not expect everyone to deny the benefit of all material wealth and devote it to the kingdom, but the hard truth is that for anyone who does, it will be worthwhile.
In the Messianic Era, there will be no more scarcity. There will be incredible abundance, prosperity, production, and fertility. The world will finally experience a restoration to its natural state—the delight of Eden. With complete peace and no worries about making ends meet, humanity will finally be free to seek and know God without distractions.
But before we can arrive at this destination, we must endure in the meantime. We must pass the marshmallow test and let go of the good to gain what is better.
Every generation feels as though they are nearing the end as it sees hints of the redemption breaking through. But our generation really is different. Look at the incredible accessibility we have not only to necessities but even luxuries. The world produces far more food than anyone can eat. This is a hint that the Messianic Era is almost here. Yet the fact that many continue to starve and go without food shows that we are not there yet.
What can you do today to store up treasures in heaven? What is your marshmallow test? And what selfless act can you carry out to bring the world closer to restoration?
In the meantime, keep studying and talking about the kingdom. It is Jesus’ answer to all our problems.