Actually, this verse has been largely mistranslated and misinterpreted among sectarian translations.
Jesus instructing disciples
Jesus is continuing his instructions to his disciples, which began with this verse:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1)As indicated by the verses between this and the above instruction, Jesus is not addressing the crowd, nor is he addressing mankind in general as purported by ecclesiastical teachers.
Rather, Jesus is communicating something profound to his students utilizing metaphorical language.
Let's understand his instruction more carefully.
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."
In fact, Jesus does not even mention "the poor" in this statement at all. This is a mistranslation of the New International Version. Let's look at the original Greek of this statement:
The word πωλέω (pōleō) can mean "to sell" but also "to barter" - indicating a trade of some sort.
However, the word ὑπάρχω (hyparchō) does not mean "possessions." According to the lexicon, it actually means, "to begin," "to make a beginning."
And yes, δίδωμι (didōmi) does mean "to give" or "to give something to someone" but more specifically, "to give over, deliver: to reach out, extend, present - of a writing - to give over to one's care, intrust, commit - something to be administered - to give or commit to someone something to be religiously observed."
Furthermore, the word ἐλεημοσύνη (eleēmosynē), construed to somehow refer to the poor, actually means "mercy, pity." And what is "mercy" and "pity" in a real sense? It is compassion. Compassion for others besides myself.
Yes, compassion can certainly be part of giving to charity, or giving a donation or giving alms, if the consideration is for the things of the world. But Jesus was not speaking of the things of the world, confirmed by the phrase, "a treasure in heaven." But Jesus did not say this.
Rather, he was using a metaphor. He was paraphrasing. In modern English this paraphrase might be something like:
"Make a new beginning."
In this case, even the phrase, "make a new beginning" might seem odd for someone who is not a native English speaker. They might ask, 'how can you "make" a new beginning? Wouldn't you "start" a new beginning?"
Yet we use the phrase, "make a new beginning" because the concept of a new beginning is something that must come internally. We must produce the new beginning by changing our consciousness.
This is the same element Jesus is using here. To "trade" means to take something and internally convert it into something else.
We must also remember this discourse follows one of Jesus' students requesting of Jesus:
"Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." (Luke 12:13)This was followed by Jesus discussing the pitfalls of materialism and the problems with focusing upon the material world and the physical body. Jesus thus instructed them:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." (Luke 12:22)And then later,
"And do not seek what you will eat or drink; do not be agitated about these. For the people of the world run after all such things, and your Father knows your needs. But seek to surrender to Him, and these will be added to you." (Luke 12:29-31)Followed by Jesus' statement just preceding Luke 12:33:
Thus we find a contradiction in the notion that Jesus is following up these statements by telling his students to sell their possessions. What possessions do they have if they are concerned about their next meal or getting something to drink? And why would selling their possessions somehow relieve them of their anxieties regarding their next meal?
We know from other verses in the New Testament that Jesus' students were primarily very poor, and many of them had already left their homes and were basically penniless. And the student who asked about inheritance was obviously in need. So why would Jesus now instruct them to sell their possessions?
The concept of trade - or selling
Jesus was instructing them to make a new start, and convert their anxieties regarding what they will eat or drink next into compassion for others. He wanted them to trade those anxieties for their personal welfare in for becoming focused upon others.
Why? Because Jesus wanted them to follow in his footsteps and become a servant of God and a servant of humanity. He wanted them to not be anxious about their personal situation and instead become merciful - and anxious for others welfare.
This is why Jesus utilized the concept of "trade."
This concept of trade or conversion is rooted within our true nature. Lust, for example, is a perverted reflection of our natural inclination to love. And anxiety for our physical body is a perverted reflection of our natural inclination to care about and have compassion for others.
Thus we can see clearly by this statement and the following is that Jesus was speaking metaphorically regarding trading ones self-concerns for a concern to serve the Supreme Being and His children. This is confirmed as Jesus continued the metaphor:
"Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys."
What kind of "purse" is Jesus speaking of?
Is he talking about a "purse" like a woman's purse? Actually, the word "purse" is being translated from the Greek word βαλλάντιον (ballantion), which can mean "money bag" or "purse."
But since Jesus is not speaking of money at all here - he is speaking metaphorically about them trading in their personal anxieties for having compassion upon others.
And yes, the rest of Jesus' statement does indicate he said something to the effect that this particular money bag or purse - speaking of compassion - does not wear out (παλαιόω (palaioō)) or be subject to being stolen by a thief or eaten by moths.
But Jesus also clearly states that the metaphorical "money bag" or "purse" is "a treasure in heaven" (οὐρανός (ouranos)). What does this mean?
The word οὐρανός (ouranos) can mean "the vaulted expanse of the sky with all things visible in it" but it can also mean, when spoken of metaphorically, the spiritual realm - a place above the realm of the physical dimension.
So how does the metaphorical "purse" or "money bag" of compassion become a treasure of the spiritual realm?
Jesus is speaking of service to the Supreme Being. He is referring to that compassion that would cause his students to spread the message of love for God to others, just as he had been doing. Jesus made this request repeatedly to his students. For example:
"And the gospel must first be preached to all nations." (Mark 13:10)Jesus also prayed to God, referring to his students:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2)
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. (Luke 10:1)
"As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." (John 17:18)So we find that Jesus was requesting that his students "trade" their personal anxieties regarding their personal survival for having compassion upon others by passing on his teachings to them.
The choice of our endeavor
Jesus is indicating that this endeavor does not come with the same problems seen when we endeavor for the things of this world, namely fame, fortune or even survival of the physical body. This is because each of these provides temporary results. A person who spends their time achieving recognition within the world - perhaps as a famous sportsman or politician or actor or author - will simply lose these accolades at the time of death. Whatever fame and recognition - whatever name we make for ourselves - is lost at the time of death. Yes, our name might be remembered for a few years by others. But each of us will leave the physical body at the time of death and leave our name and everything else behind.
This includes all other so-called possessions, including wealth and even family. Yes, despite the misleading teachings of some sectarian teachers that our spouses will still be married to us in heaven - and in the case of one institution that promoted polygamy and stated that every wife would remain married in heaven - we leave these physical bodies, along with their marital and familial relationships, behind at the time of death.
Jesus confirmed this when he was asked this by some Jewish Sadducees:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"This is a clear statement by Jesus that not only do we leave these physical bodies at the time of death (resurrection), but we leave behind those our bodies were married to and related to. Jesus indicates that for those who have achieved love for God and return to the spiritual realm (resurrection of the righteous - Luke 14:14), "will be like the angels in heaven."
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matt. 22:23-30)
This word "angels" is translated from the Greek word ἄγγελος (aggelos), which refers to "a messenger, envoy, one who is sent" and "a messenger from God."
We know from other verses throughout the scriptures that angels are sent by God and are thus coming from the spiritual realm, and are thus above the confines of a physical body. We know from their various appearances they transcend time and space, and thus are not possessing a gross physical body as we do.
In other words, this sectarian notion that we will still be married and still have our families in the spiritual realm is based upon a lack of understanding of our real identity - our identity as spirit-persons temporarily residing within a physical body.
Jesus confirmed this as he said:
"Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)This doesn't mean we do not continue having loving relationships with those we love in the physical world. Certainly our love for our family members and our spouse does not expire at the time of death. That love continues - but it transcends the identification of the physical body.
That is, if we we decide during this lifetime to accept Jesus' instruction to love the Supreme Being and convert our anxieties for our personal welfare into compassion for others' spiritual welfare. Should we follow this and Jesus' other instructions to surrender our life to the Supreme Being, then we will return to the spiritual world and transcend the physical world.
But if we don't, then we must face a continuation of our self-centered life after the death of this body within another physical body. Yes, we will be faced with a continuation of whatever consciousness we have developed in this lifetime - along with the consequences of our actions - within another physical body, which may be human or possibly even the body of an animal or lower forms of life depending upon our consciousness and activities now.
And should we choose this fate, and our family and friends also choose this fate, then yes, they will likely follow us into similar physical bodies and we will continue physical relationships with them in one form or another. But not necessarily within the same relationship we have here. In other words, our spouse of this physical body may well be the brother or sister of the physical body we take on after this body dies. So we will continue the relationship because of our dearness to them, but not in the same physical manner of our relationship now.
But Jesus doesn't want this. He wants his followers to give up the concerns of the physical body - and thus the identification of the body as the self - and give our lives to the Supreme Being and become compassionate for the spiritual welfare of others.
This form of love - this type of relationship - transcends the relationships of the physical body. This relationship with our fellow children of God is one of true love. And thus this type of relationship with other children of God pleases the Supreme Being and endears us to Him. This is confirmed by Jesus' clear instruction:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)