8. Eternal Rewards
William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army had a vision where he died and went to heaven. In heaven he was greeted by a number of people that asked him whether he had told their relatives about Jesus. When he said that he had not, they walked away saddened. He then saw Jesus approaching him with a group of people whom he realised were heros of the faith. These were those who accomplished great things on earth and who were now enjoying a wonderful relationship with Jesus in heaven.
When Jesus walked up to him, he noticed that He was not smiling but had a sad expression of His face. Jesus told him that he had made it to heaven, but would not feel at home there because he had not totally followed Him on earth. Jesus then said to him that he could go back to earth and gave him another opportunity to make an eternal investment with his life. He returned to earth and started the Salvation Army, which led thousands of people to Christ. For the remainder of his life, he lived a life of total commitment to Jesus and became a zealous soul winner.
I heard of another pastor, who had a vision of the judgement seat of Christ. He saw a pile of wood in font of him. Jesus came up to him with a torch and set the wood on fire. There was a sudden blaze and when the fire had subsided, all that was left was ash. He had nothing to show for his life on earth worthy of heavenly rewards and felt so ashamed. He was saved from hell, but he was bankrupt in heaven.
The issue of eternal rewards is an important theme that occurs throughout the whole New Testament. There are also references to it in the Old Testament. Jesus gave many parables about heaven and the importance of being prepared to go there. The most important event that will ever take place in our lives, is the day that we stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our lives on earth. For some it will be a wonderful day of rejoicing, for others it will be a day of regret.
Our life is like a race which begins, the day when we accepted Jesus as Lord. The race track are the opportunities that God gives us on earth. The finishing line is the day we die, and the prize giving will take place on the day we stand before the Judgment seat of Christ in eternity. Paul refered to that event as ‘that day or the day.’ This was so important to Paul that he wrote, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
We read in the New Testament, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Although we are saved by faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, we will be rewarded according to our works that we have done on earth. Faith will get us into heaven, but what happens to us in heaven will depend on what we do with our lives on earth. The issue for us as believers is not wherewe will spend eternity, but howwe will spend our lives in eternity.
The Bible says, “… we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10,12)Notice the words “we all” and “every one of us.” The word for judgment seat is the Greek word ‘bema’ which is not a judgment to punish us for our sins, but a place where rewards are given. We will all give an account and be rewarded according to what we have done with our opportunities, resources and talents that God has given us. That is why it is so important to “redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity.” While we are on earth. (Ephesians 5:16)
There is another verse that says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;” (2 Corinthians 5:10) Again, the Greek word ‘bema’ is used. It says in this verse, “we all” and “every one,” which refers to Christians and not to unbelievers. We will receive according to what we have done, and not only according to what we believe while living in our bodies, on earth.
The next verse says, “Knowing the terrorof the Lord we persuade men…” (2 Corinthians 5:11) The word “terror” is the Greek word “Phobus” which means fear. If we know that we will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will live in the fear of the Lord. 1 Peter 1:17says, ” And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:”
Let’s look at another important verse which is found in1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s workshall be made manifest: for the dayshall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
This is a frightening passage! It is possible for a Born-Again Christian who has received Jesus as Savior, to die and suffer loss. The apostle John confirms this truth, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28) This verse implies that it is possible to be ashamed before Him at His coming. That is why it is so important to abide in Christ, have an intimate relationship with Him and obey His word.
I do not want to go into detail about the meaning of gold, silver and precious stones. These are costly materials that can endure the fire. Firstly, it could speak about the price we pay to follow Jesus. Jesus said, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) It means that we have totally surrendered all to Christ and put Him first in every area of our lives. Secondly, it speaks about doing something for Jesus that will have a lasting value on earth. Jesus said that we should bare fruit that remains, fruit that has eternal value. (John 15:16)
For example, when we lead people to Christ, it is an eternal investment. Paul said, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?”(1 Thessalonians 2:19) Jesus also said, “… he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life…” (John 4:36)When we influence people for Christ, help the poor, or plant churches, we are making eternal investments. We need to ask ourselves the question, “what am I doing today, that will last forever?
Six things that will affect our eternal rewards:
(1) When we are not ashamed to tell others about Jesus and make a stand for Him.
There are so many verse that speak about this. We have already read in John 4:36“And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life…” They that lead souls to Christ, make an eternal investment. Jesus also said that if we confess Him before men He will confess us before His Father and holy angels. (Matthew 10:31)
We must not only tell others about Jesus but also be willing to bear His reproach. We read in the book of Mark, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”(Mark 8:38) There are wonderful rewards for those who are persecuted for their faith. Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12” Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”
(2)When we are faithful with our finances.
Jesus said inLuke 16:11, Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in unrighteous mammon, who will give you true riches.” If we have been faithful with our finances on earth, God will reward us with true riches in heaven. We need to be faithful with our tithes, offerings and giving. Generosity on earth will be an important issue in heaven. Jesus said to a rich young ruler, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”(Matthew 19:21)What we do with our possessions and money on earth, will determine our riches in heaven! Our love for Jesus must be greater than our love for money, for where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.
It is important that our finances are in order. The Bible says,” Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” (Romans 13:8)We must make an attempt to pay back money that we owe, pay our taxes and return the money that we have stolen. Paul gave us a warning and wrote that “thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”(1Corinthians 6:10)
(3) When our relationships must be in order.
This is a big subject but we are commanded to love one another, receive one another and forgive those one another. Jesus said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) It could be possible to enter into eternity only to find out that God has not forgiven us! There are probably many today, who thought they were going to heaven, but because of un-forgiveness, they landed up in hell!
Our relationships with the church are important, especially the way we relate to those in spiritual authority. The Bible says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)This implies that the joyful account of those who rule over us will be “profitable” for us in eternity.
(4) When we are living in obedience and holiness:
We have a serious warning, “Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which, no man shall see the Lord.”(Hebrews 12:14) If we do not take holiness and right relationships seriously on earth, we may be in danger of not seeing the Lord in eternity. Holiness is the beautiful life of Jesus in us and is manifested through our thoughts, words and actions. Holiness means that we are free from sexual impurity and unclean behavior. This does not mean that we are perfect, or that we will never sin again, but we make holiness and purity a high priority in our lives.
We are warned, “…that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” (1 Corinthians 6:9) We cannot deliberately continue in these sins and expect to go to heaven! Our obedience to the will of God on earth will affect our lives in heaven.
Jesus said, “Not everyone that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:22) A well-known preacher once had a vision of a huge multitude of people who thought they were going to heaven but were turned away at the gates of heaven. He remembered seeing the shock and dismay on their faces. They called Him ‘Lord, Lord’but did not do the will of the Father!
(5) When our love for God and our relationship with Him is important:
The next verse says “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23) The word, ‘know’ is the word, ‘to know intimately.’ The degree that we love Jesus on earth, will determine our closeness to Him in heaven. One of my favorite verses is found in Malachi 3:16-17, “Then they that feared the LORD spoke often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels;”
Our words and thoughts of love for the Lord are recorded in a book, called the Book of Remembrance. What is written in this book will be revealed in eternity. Notice, that God calls these people, His jewels! Every time we pour our hearts before the Lord in worship, love and adoration, a record is kept in eternity. Paul wrote to Timothy and said that there wasa crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
(6) When we have the right reaction to the trials we go through on earth.
There are many verses that speak about this in the New Testament. Paul says that “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” (2 Corinthians 4:17) In other words, when we go through various trials and we have godly reactions, we will be rewarded in eternity. Instead of being bitter, we forgive, instead of complaining we rejoice and instead of being discouraged, we believe.
The Bible says, “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:2) In the book of Hebrews we read about those who were joyfully experiencing the plundering of their goods, who would have a better and enduring possession in heaven. (Hebrews 10:34) If we pass the difficult tests that we go through on earth, we will be greatly rewarded in heaven. We will one day reign with Jesus in eternity, our training on earth is preparation for reigning.
What are the rewards in heaven?
The Bible does not give us much information about these. I suggest the following:
– We will be rewarded with levels of authority. It says in Revelations that there will be those who reign with Jesus for a thousand years. (Revelations 20:6)Jesus spoke about those who are faithful on earth will one day reign over cities. (Luke 19:17)
– We will be rewarded with joy. There may be levels of joy in eternity. Jesus speaks about the parable of the talents and said to those who were faithful, “enter into the joy of the Lord.” (Matthew 25:23) This could mean that there will be levels of joy and fulfillment in heaven.
– We will be rewarded with a wonderful relationship with Jesus. I believe that there will be varying degree of closeness to the Lord in eternity. In the book of Revelations we read that there will be those who will follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were called the first fruits to God. (Revelations 14:4) Our relationship with Him on earth will determine our relationship with Him in eternity. If we do not love Him here, how will we love Him there?
– We will be rewarded with privileges and benefits. These may apply to where we will live in heaven. One man had a vision of heaven and said, God showed him that there were three levels in heaven. These can be compared to the Tabernacle in the wilderness which the Bible says is a pattern of heaven. (Hebrews 8:5) The outer court is the lowest level but the biggest section of the Tabernacle. He said that this is still a wonderful place, and most people will be going there. However, they will not experience frequent visits from the Lord. The Holy place is even more glorious, and fewer will go there. In the Holy place there is a greater level of God’s presence. The highest level is likened unto the Holiest of all. This is where the throne of God is found. Paul spoke about being caught up to the third heaven. (2 Corinthians 12:1)
This could be speculation, but we also read in Hebrews that there were those who chose to go through hardship on earth so that they could have a better resurrection. (Hebrews 11:35) Whether or not his vision was from God, or not, I firmly believe that our works on earth will affect our standard of living in eternity.
There may be many other issues that will be important at the judgment seat of Christ and will affect our eternal rewards. When we read the life of Paul, we notice that his whole focus was on eternity. He was running a race on earth to one day stand in heaven to receive a reward. His final words to Timothy were, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (1 Tim 4:8)
Paul was ready to die and be with the Lord. He had finished his course and had done everything that God called him to do. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. (1 Corinthians 9:25)Therefore he says in the previous verse, “run in such a way to obtain it!” (1 Corinthians 9:24)
If we read church history, we notice that the early believers were so eternity focused that many willingly gave their lives for Jesus. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “are we ready to die? Or do we have some unfinished business still to do? Jesus said, “… behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:12) We should be living in such a way, that we are ready to die at any moment, but we plan our lives as if we will still live for another twenty years.
A famous missionary, Jim Elliot who was martyred for his faith in South America said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, in order to receive that what he cannot lose.” Therefore, let us redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity. Amen