The King of the Kingdom Is the Treasure
Jesus said in Matthew 13:44, “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.”
Clearly, the treasure in this parable is identified as the “kingdom”—the rule of Christ, both in future glory and in the King’s present power and fellowship (“Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” Luke 17:21). “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” It does not say, “Jesus is the treasure.” But as Jesus and the writers of the New Testament unfold the meaning of the kingdom, it becomes plain that the value of the kingdom derives from the value of Christ himself (the King!), and is inseparable from him.
When we “enter the kingdom” (Matt. 5:20), whose reign do we enter? When we “receive the kingdom” (Mark 10:15), what is the best gift that we are receiving in it? When Jesus proclaims the kingdom to be “at hand” (Mark 1:15), in whose person has it arrived? When the kingdom is said to “belong” to us (Mark 10:14), whose authority do we have? When Jesus says that the “kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21), who is standing there among them?
The claim of Jesus to be the incarnate presence of the kingdom of God is perhaps most plain when he says, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). More than that, Jesus calls the kingdom “my kingdom” (John 18:36). Paul describes Christian conversion as being “transferred . . . to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). And Peter calls our final salvation an “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11).
Therefore, even though in Matthew 13:44 Jesus says that “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure,” it is fair to infer that he says this because he himself is supremely valuable. And the point of the parable is to underline the value of Christ by showing that he is more valuable than all of our possessions in this world. “In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Selling All with Joy to Have Christ
Two realities give this sentence its force. First, he sells “all that he has” in order to have the treasure. The point is not that you can buy Christ. The point is that he is worth more than all you own—or could own. Second, he sells everything with “joy.” In other words, the “sacrifices” we endure in taking Christ as our treasure are in fact no sacrifice—not ultimately (Luke 18:28–30). The losses are accepted joyfully. Because the gain is infinitely greater.
What then is the point of this one-verse parable (Matt. 13:44)? The primary point is that Christ, in his kingly greatness, is supremely valuable. The secondary point is that the way to have Christ as our treasure is to experience such a joy in his value that he is more to be desired than all our other possessions put together. Receiving Jesus as our treasure really does imply joyfully treasuring him.
Renounce All You Have and Receive Me
The little parable of Matthew 13:44 is applied by Jesus in Luke 14:33. There Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Here the kingdom language has fallen away. The message is riveted on Jesus himself. If we do not find him more valuable than all our possessions, we cannot be his disciples.
Jesus made the same point with the rich ruler who inquired about eternal life (Luke 18:18). “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). In other words, if you value me enough to open your money-grasping fist and let the money fall from your hand onto the poor and put your hand in mine as your new treasure, you will indeed have a treasure forever in heaven—me. But if you value your possessions more than me, you won’t have me or eternal life.
Loving Jesus More than Family
Again, Jesus drives home the message in Matthew 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” The “love” in view here is not the kind of love God shows in dying for his unworthy enemies (Rom. 5:8). This is the kind of love that family members have for their most cherished relatives—a mother or father, a precious son or daughter. Jesus is saying, “You are not worthy of me unless I am more precious to you than your most precious family members.”
To be “worthy” of Jesus doesn’t mean to deserve his friendship. The word worthy (ἄξιος, axios) means fitting or suitable or appropriate, as when John the Baptist said, “Bear fruit worthy [ἄξιον, axion] of repentance” (Matt. 3:8, my translation). That is, bear fruit in keeping with repentance, as is fitting with repentance, appropriate to one who is repenting. So in Matthew 10:37, Jesus means, “It is not fitting that anyone should have me as their treasure who does not treasure me above all other relationships.”
Through Salvation We Have Christ, the Treasure
I think it is fair to say that flowing through all four Gospels is a river that irrigates everything with its vitality. The river may be called “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8)—or more precisely, Christ, our immeasurably valuable treasure. Christ is present in Scripture not mainly as a dispenser of gifts to be cherished, though he is that. He is present in all his gifts mainly as the one who is worthy of being treasured—the one who is himself supremely beautiful and valuable. He does all that he does, and reveals all that he reveals, so that “in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18). Ultimately, the aim of God’s work in redemption is not that through Christ we might have salvation, but that through salvation we might have Christ—the all-satisfying treasure.
This article is adapted from What Is Saving Faith?: Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure by John Piper.