For most of my Christian life, I have had the impression that Jesus lived on earth as a poor man. Matthew and Luke quote Jesus as saying, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). I’ve heard people use this quotation to state that Jesus was poor, even homeless. Was this the case?
Lately, a few verses have come to mind which have made me think that Jesus was not as poor as I have previously been led to believe.
The Offering of Two Doves
Some people suggest that because two doves were offered as sacrifices for Mary’s purification after childbirth, and not a lamb and a dove (Lev. 12:6), Mary and Joseph must have been poor (Luke 2:22-24 cf. Lev. 12:8). Offering only doves, however, was completely within the Law for purification after childbirth. It was probably only the very wealthy who went to the extra expense of sacrificing a lamb for this particular rite.
The Gifts of the Magi
When Jesus was still an infant, he was presented with expensive gifts from the wealthy and noble Magi (Matt. 2:11). I wonder what Mary and Joseph did with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? No doubt some of it would have come in useful to help fund their emergency trip to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15).
Life in Nazareth
It has been thought that Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was a village inhabited mostly by poorer people. Archaeologist Ken Dark, however, sees evidence in the ancient structures and artefacts of Nazareth that are consistent with an economic level that is higher than some scholars have imagined.
It is unlikely that Jesus’ family was poor. Joseph and Jesus were builders. During the early reign of Herod Antipas, there seems to have been plenty of building work in Galilee, especially in the nearby town of Sepphoris. So Jesus’ family would have been neither very rich nor very poor, relative to the living standards of the day.
The Patronage of Wealthy Women and Men
During his ministry years, Jesus freely associated with the sick and the poor; however many of his friends were wealthy, including his more notorious friends (Mark 2:15-16). Moreover, Jesus’ ministry was sponsored by many women who accompanied Jesus and ministered to him out of their own resources (Luke 8:2-3 cf. Matt. 27:55-56). This money was put into a communal purse (John 12:6 NRSV).
Martha and Mary of Bethany were wealthy and hospitable women. Jesus was their friend and a welcome guest in their home (Luke 10:38). An example of their wealth is demonstrated by Mary pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The perfume was worth a year’s wages (John 12:4-8). Martha and Mary of Bethany were devoted to Jesus, as was Mary the Magdalene and others. No doubt there were many grateful women and men who opened their homes to Jesus and made sure that he was well-provided for. Was the provision of the upper room and the Passover meal a generous gift? (Matt. 26:17-19; Luke 22:7-13).
Jesus’ Seamless Tunic
When Jesus was being crucified, Roman soldiers took his clothes. The soldiers saw that Jesus’ tunic was well-made and had value: it was seamless and woven in one piece. Each soldier wanted to own the tunic; they did not want to tear it into smaller pieces of cloth. So, to settle the matter, they gambled for it (John 19:23-24). Had the tunic been a gift to Jesus? Had it been lovingly woven by one of his followers?
A Rich Man’s Tomb
When Jesus died, he was placed in a tomb that had been freshly hewn out of rock. The tomb was owned by a disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man (Matt. 27:57-60).
It appears that throughout his life on earth, from his infancy to his death, Jesus was amply provided for.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught his followers not to worry about food and clothes and material possessions. He had taught his followers that, instead of worrying, they should put their trust in God’s provision (Matt. 6:19-21, 25-34). We can safely assume that Jesus practised what he preached. Furthermore, we can see in the Gospels that God’s provision was not stingy.
Divine Provision that uses People
There is really no reason to assume that Jesus was poor. The man who could produce a coin from the mouth of a fish (Matt. 17:27), or produce gallons of fine wine from six jars of water (John 2:6-10), or could multiply five loaves and two fish in order to feed thousands, was probably never in need of anything (Matt. 14:16-21). Despite Jesus’ supernatural ability, however, God mainly used people to make sure that Jesus was provided for.
God is still using people to share and provide for those who are less well off (2 Cor. 8:7-15): people like you and me.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Jesus in Matthew 25:34-39
 Compared with the glory of heaven, Jesus earthly life was poor (2 Cor. 8:17), but he was probably no poorer than the average Jewish person living in first-century Galilee. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 merely refers to the nature of his itinerant ministry.
 Ken Dark, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41, no. 2 (2015), 54-63.
 Nazareth was only 7kms from the Sepphoris, the largest town in Galilee. “Sepphoris was rebuilt and fortified after Galilee came under the rule of Herod Antipas. He made Sepphoris his capital until he built Tiberias in 19 A.D. Some scholars believe that Joseph and Jesus may have helped in the reconstruction of Sepphoris.” (Source) Sepphoris (also known as Zippori) is never mentioned in the New Testament, however. It was a Hellenized city with pagan Greco-Roman customs, and it is possible that devout Jews like Joseph and Jesus may have avoided it. [See also my essay “Galilee in the First Century CE“.]
Larry Hurtado, commenting on Ken Dark’s essay, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41, no. 2 (2015), 54-63, 72, remarks about the differences between Nazareth and Sepphoris which are indicated by archaeological discoveries:
The pottery and other items found nearer to Nazareth suggest a more observant Jewish culture (e.g., stone vessels, which did not contract ritual uncleanness as did pottery ones), contrasting with the artefacts found closer to Sepphoris. This would mean perhaps an effort in Nazareth to maintain a cultural distinction from what may have been regarded as the too-accommodating posture of Sepphoris.
 Joseph died when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30 (cf. Luke 2:41-42). Jesus was most likely a builder and would have supported the family after Joseph’s death, up until the time he began his ministry at around the age of 30.
 Judas Iscariot appears to have been in charge of the communal purse: and he stole from it! (John 12:4-6; 13:29).
Image: The Magi, Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915 (Wikimedia Commons)
Saving Faith in Action: James 2:14-26
“Equality” in Paul’s Letters
Martha, Mary and Lazarus of Bethany
Paul’s Thanks and the Grace of Giving: Philippians 1:3-6
Money and Ministry: Philippians 4:10-20
Partnering with Jesus in his Plans and Purposes
Christmas Cardology (4): Born in a Barn?
Galilee in the First Century CE