Eschatology is a big theological word that encases the study of future events as recorded in the Bible. It is no secret that noble, Bible-believing Christians hold divergent viewpoints on what the Scriptures teach concerning the specifics surrounding the Second Coming of Christ.
One thing, however, that most believers do agree on is that the study of the believer’s personal future—as depicted in the Bible—should prove to be highly motivational and directive in the here and now.
I therefore believe you will find this study quite compelling, directional and motivational. Like the Apostle Paul in numerous passages, I cannot escape the gravity and significance of what follows relative to viewing my life with a very sober eternal perspective—all in preparation for what Scripture calls the Bema Seat judgment. I pray God will use this study in your own life in a similar, profound way. Read on.
Are you spending, wasting, or investing your life? Are you having the maximum impact on the maximum amount of people for all of eternity? These huge, sobering questions require solitude, introspection, prayer, and sobriety in order to answer them with integrity.
I ask you to gather your courage and immerse yourself into these passages. How will you adjust or refine your life’s direction as a result of digesting what follows?
II. THE DATA ABOUT REWARDS
The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 5:10 to the believers at the church in Corinth:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
In very plain, straightforward language, Paul is communicating that every believer will undergo a judgment—not to determine if he will go to heaven or hell1, but to determine the believer’s rewards and the breadth of his reign in the millennial kingdom. This judgment of believers is termed the Bema Seat judgment and occurs after the rapture of the Church and prior to Christ’s Second Coming with His saints. Thereafter, He will set up His throne in Jerusalem and reign with His bride, the Church, for 1,000 years.2
Specifically, regarding this understanding, at the end of Revelation 20:4b, the Apostle John states, “and [the believers] reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Most interestingly, the word here for reigned (ebasileusan) is the verb form of the noun basileus, which means “king” in the Greek. The words Kings and reigning go together as a subject and verb. In English we say, “Bakers” (noun) “bake,” (verb) “Gardeners garden,” and “Climbers climb,” but we don’t say (as they do in biblical Greek) that “Kings king.” In English we say, “Kings reign,” which is how Revelation 20:4 is translated in the New American Standard Bible. Revelation 20 then declares that all believers in the future “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him a thousand years” (20:6).
Implicit in the context and borne out by these and other passages is that believers will be judged and recompensed according to their faithfulness and obedience to Scripture in this life. Their reward—specifically the breadth of their reign as kings under the King of kings in the millennium—will be directly related to and proportional to their actions of obedience to God during their earthly lifetime. Take heed! Make no mistake about it, states Romans 14:12 in parallel meaning to 2 Corinthians 5:10 which we have already briefly examined, regarding believers at the Bema Seat judgment:
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
Whereas salvation itself is based on Christ’s work on our behalf: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…” (Ephesians 2:8), these passages teach the following:
Each believer’s rewards are based on his or her faithfulness and industriousness in Christ.
The following outline represents some of the pertinent biblical teaching regarding our understanding of the believer’s future judgment and the accompanying idea of his or her rewards. Notice first that there are degrees of rewards.
III. THE DEGREES OF REWARDS
At the Bema Seat Judgment there will be various degrees of reward. Paul makes this evident in 1 Corinthians 3:12–15:
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
As you can see, this passage is pregnant with truth related to this study. First, the word foundation is a reference to the corporate Body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:20). Paul is writing to the corporate body of Christ in Corinth, i.e., the Church he founded years prior in the city of Corinth.
Contextually, this passage relates to the implied idea of expanding the Body of Christ—both in the sense of expanding God’s kingdom here on earth and in eternity. This passage then pertains to how a believer can best go about doing that. Gold, silver, and precious stones represent effective, dedicated spiritual service done correctly, with the aim at building up the Body of Christ. On the other hand, wood, hay, and straw convey the idea of shallow activities in a believer’s life—a life that is bent on pursuing worthless things with no aim, sight, or tangency to matters of eternal value or significance. Wood, hay, and straw represent the work of self-centered saints whose concerns in this world are other than those of the One who saved them by His power and grace.
The former will stand the test of fire; the latter will not. “Revealed with fire” connotes God’s discerning judgment regarding the aforementioned. What endures His testing are those areas that survive His scrutiny and judgment—that which the believer has accomplished in His power for His glory. This fact is substantively supported by the following passages: Matthew 25:21, 23; Luke 19:11–27; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 3:13, 14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; and Revelation 22:12.
Again, note that the passage we are presently examining pertaining to the subject of the believer’s future rewards is about the believer—not the unbeliever. The believer’s eternal security is not in question in 1 Corinthians 3:12–15; rather, the passage clearly states, “but he himself will be saved.” This inclusion is what ensures our understanding that this passage pertains to believers.
Accordingly, if you take the time to examine the previously listed passages, Scripture is teaching that:
There are degrees of rewards for believers—and they include the breadth of their reign during the millennial kingdom.
Specific to the biblical concept of the believer’s breadth of reign, let us pivot to examine one of the aforementioned passages from my previous list: Jesus’ parable in Luke 19:11–27. Specifically note verses 17–23 as follows:
“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept, put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’”
This profound parable contains many insights into God’s expectations regarding His chosen ones—His called-out saints, His kingdom builders. Save explaining the whole of the parable, capturing the concept that Jesus meant to communicate that varying degrees of rewards will be bestowed by Him in relationship to the faithfulness of a servant is quite easy. Given the previously stated connection between the words reign and king per the book of Revelation, it is not a far-fetched conclusion to take the ruling over cities as a king in a literal sense. Again, the point: the reigning of Christians as kings under the King of kings is the definitively literal meaning of Revelation 20 given the fact that Jesus mentions literal cities in this parable! In conclusion, keep in mind that the similar source is Jesus in both the parable as recorded (by Luke herein), and in Revelation (as recorded by John from Christ via an angel per Revelation 1:1–2).3
To interpret these passages figuratively, when the text provides no indication of the author’s intent for a figurative meaning only, is to cavalierly change our hermeneutical approach to Scripture—from the Grammatical-Historical-Normative school of interpretation to a Figurative approach for no particular reason or justification.
Given what has been learned thus far, the following four questions are in order:
- Are you preparing to reign eternally?
- What will your master say at your judgment?
- What category of rewards will he apply to you?
- What will be the breadth of your reign?
The answers to these four questions directly relate to your faithfulness while here on earth to what is important to Him in what He has communicated to you in His Word.
Per my “shopping list” of passages, an overwhelming number of other passages punctuate the concept of rewards relative to a believer’s faithfulness today. In fact, there are so many passages as to make this idea of the believer’s coming judgment scream out at you from the pages of Holy Writ! With this concept now explicated from Scripture, seeing how the following passages fit into this bigger picture is much easier.
A. MATTHEW 6:20–21
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
B. LUKE 6:22–23
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.”
C. LUKE 12:18–21
“Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
D. LUKE 12: 42–44
“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.’”
E. 1 CORINTHIANS 3:8
“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”
F. 1 CORINTHIANS 13:3
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
G. GALATIANS 6:9–10
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
H. EPHESIANS 6:7–8
“With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”
I. COLOSSIANS 3:23–24
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
J. 1 TIMOTHY 6:18–19
“Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
K. 1 PETER 1:4
“To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
L. 2 JOHN 8
“Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”
M. REVELATION 11:18
“And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
N. REVELATION 22:12
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
Conservative theologian Wayne Grudem says the following about rewards:
It would be morally and spiritually beneficial for us to have a greater consciousness of this clear New Testament teaching on degrees of heavenly reward. Moreover, in our own lives a heartfelt seeking of future heavenly reward would motivate us to work wholeheartedly for the Lord at whatever task He calls us to, whether great or small, paid or unpaid. It would also make us long for His approval rather than for wealth or success. It would motivate us to work at building up the church on the one foundation, Jesus Christ.4
Again, these insights from Scripture are what led me into full-time ministry years ago. I couldn’t get away from the profundity and significance of these passages relative to investing my life for eternity … in preparation for the Bema Seat judgment … versus spending (or wasting) my life on superfluous activities which are so often nothing but self-serving, ego-gratifying ventures.
Remember, there are degrees of rewards.
IV. A DETAIL ABOUT REWARDS
As if this study were not profound already, it becomes increasingly so. 1 Corinthians 4:5 indicates that the secret sins of believers will be revealed during the Bema Seat judgment. Beloved, this fact in itself should provide ample motivation for godly living! Note this idea in what Paul pens to believers:
“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
Every believer should know this extremely informative passage by heart and ponder purposely as he or she is tempted to sin. Not only will a believer’s sins be exposed— but so will the very motives of the heart! What a chilling and sobering passage!
Your final reward will not be based solely on outward service, but also on inward holiness and motives.
That is to say God accounts the things done outwardly right with inwardly wrong motives as wood, hay, stubble. Wow! Such truth should drive us to our knees. “Search me, O God, and know my heart…”5 must be our constant prayer as we seek to serve Him from a pure heart. As you can see, this important detail is not to be overlooked in a study about the believer’s rewards.
We should not move on from this passage without mentioning another important and timely insight. Don’t judge another’s motives! Evangelicals are too often at fault here in accurately measuring the sin of adultery or the robbing of a bank (outward, manifest actions in the life of another), but attempting to judge another’s motives or heart is to enter into the world of speculation. That judging is God’s job— not ours!
No one can possibly begin to know what compels another person to good or bad deeds. To make verbal assessments like, “This is all about him—not God” while a person sincerely attempts to serve God illustrates the error in but one of many ways. Such spiritual immaturity also fosters a bad Christian culture of self-righteousness. Pharisaic attitudes turn off many an onlooker. This passage specifically teaches that the Lord “discloses the motives of men’s hearts”—not you!
Rejecting judgmentalism and realizing that judgment is God’s responsibility will free you to love people more fully and unreservedly versus harboring unmerited skepticism and jaded emotions! Such easily identified attitudes are both repulsive and ugly. Remember: To judge others’ motives leaves you vulnerable to God’s judgment of your motives—and to losing His reward for otherwise faithful service.
V. THE DELIGHT REGARDING REWARDS
Scripture is clear about the eternal security of believers, or better theologically, the perseverance of the saints. Again, the Bema judgment, as stated, relates to the degrees of rewards—not the finality of salvation. The true believer should have no fear of eternal condemnation. Note John 5:24 in this regard:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
States Romans 8:1:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The day of judgment for believers is a day of determining rewards, whereas for unbelievers that day is one of condemnation—since they possess no imputed righteousness from Christ, having failed to bow their knee to His Lordship. Romans 10:9–10 makes this clear:
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
Having bowed the knee, the believer should delight in his or her eternal security! Eternal rewards then, are best understood as delightful add-ons that we should all be compelled to achieve, stemming from the realization that we are recipients of the free gift of salvation through faith in Christ! What a delight to serve a gracious God who delights in rewarding us!
VI. FURTHER DELIBERATIONS CONCERNING REWARDS
What does the book of Proverbs (and one verse from Philippians 2) further teach about rewards? These passages add some keen, practical insights as additions to this study. The following four points are keys to gaining God’s rewards in your life:
A. OBEDIENCE GAINS REWARDS
“The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13).
This proverb is straightforward about the necessity of obeying God’s Word in order to attain rewards from the Master.
Not only is there a future reward relative to a believer’s obedience to God’s precepts, but as we now walk in obedience to God, there is also a present one. States Isaiah 66:2b, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Conversely, God does not look favorably on, and He does not reward those who are arrogant, proud, and disobedient who disregard His Word.
B. RIGHTEOUSNESS GAINS REWARDS
“Adversity pursues sinners, but the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity” (Proverbs 13:21).
This general Proverb expresses a recurrent biblical theme. Unrelated to future rewards, this Proverb speaks about a person’s present rewards here and now, namely, what you sow in life you will also reap (cf. Hosea 8:7). This general principle within Proverbs is replete throughout the whole of the Old Testament. Righteousness brings blessing and reward, whereas evil exacts a divine curse. The Psalmist said, “Evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him” (Psalm 140:11b, KJV). In contrast, the righteous are recipients of His grace. Proverbs 11:18 and 22:4 highlight this principle respectively,
“The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.”
“The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.”
C. LOVING YOUR ENEMIES GAINS REWARDS
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21–22).
An ancient Egyptian custom of publicly displaying contrition involved a person carrying coals on his head (in a pan). Why coals? They outwardly symbolized the burning pain of shame, guilt, and repentance going on inside the person’s mind and heart. Accordingly, when a person proactively and publicly loves his enemies, it should bring shame to the offending party relative to their actions of hatred. Further, Paul quotes this Proverb in Romans 12:20 in the context of repaying no one with evil for evil (12:17). “If possible,” he says, “be at peace with all men” (12:18). When a person possesses this strength of character, self-control, and discipline, God will, if not immediately, eventually reward you. It is a promise of Scripture!
Some say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” That’s witty, but it’s patently opposite of what Scripture states should be our response. In Romans 12, God promises that He will bring vengeance on the offender. My experience is that when I follow this teaching, the retribution by God is much more severe and effective than anything I could have initiated. He promises to repay (cf. 12:19). The Lord will reward you if you respond with outward, aggressive and deliberate love toward your opponents! What a wonderful (but difficult) truth to enact.
D. SHARING THE GOSPEL GAINS REWARDS
“Holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:16).
A study on the believer’s judgment and rewards would not be complete without careful observation of this passage pertaining to the subject matter. “Holding fast the word of life” is a reference to the believer’s being about sharing Christ with others. 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1 and 14 make abundantly clear that the “word of life” is a reference to Jesus Christ. And in regard to making Him known (the meaning of “holding fast”), the whole of the stated idea is in conjunction with “the day of Christ”—another term for the believer’s judgment day. It follows that evangelism gains rewards. Those who share the good news of Jesus Christ with others will not be empty-handed when they stand before their Maker.
It follows that there are just degrees of reward: to the saint who serves his Savior more in this earthly life than does another, the former’s reward and reign in the millennial kingdom will be greater than the slothful or naïve believer who diminishes his or her calling in Christ. More pointedly, as to those who are so busy with self-centered pursuits; those who are void of any desire to build His kingdom; and those who have no time even for Bible study, fellowship and prayer, theirs is a life of wood, hay, and stubble.6 Their reward and reign will be less than the faithful follower who in spiritual maturity is guided by an informed life of scriptural intake and habitual obedience.
May this study on the believer’s rewards inform your conscience with a deep and abiding desire to live faithfully and industriously for God’s purposes and glory! Amen.
1. The Great White Throne Judgment, which is for unbelievers, is different and takes place at the end of the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:12).
2. As you can see by my opening paragraphs, I am what theologians term a “premillennialist” in regard to my personal conviction pertaining to future events, i.e., eschatology. Premillennialism, by the way, is by far the most popular view of what Scripture teaches concerning future events among Evangelicals today.
3. To interpret these passages figuratively when the text provides no indication of the author’s intent for a figurative meaning only is to cavalierly change one’s hermeneutical approach to Scripture—from the Grammatical-Historical-Normative school of interpretation to a figurative approach for no particular reason or justification.
4. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1145.
5. Psalm 139:23–24.
6. Scripture is clear that though their life consists of wood, hay, and stubble, they will be saved.