REVELATION #41 HEAVENLY REWARDS

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The entire New Testament teaches us to invest in heaven, to put our hopes and desires there; our treasure. The Lord sees the things you do that no one else sees. He knows the  battles you have fought alone; the things you have done for which others got the credit. And his grace is such that he not only gives us a salvation that we could not earn, he rewards us for treasuring him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 41

Revelation #41. Revelation 20:11-15 Part B.

Before we move on, let me make sure that we have a solid foundation on which to do so. If we trust Jesus, our names are written in the book of life. If our names are in the book of life, we are not thrown into the lake of fire, which I believe is what we normally call “hell.” We do not escape hell, and enter eternal life, based on anything that we have done or not done. Our basis for being saved from hell is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As someone once put it: “When I look at myself, I do not see any way that I could be saved; but when I look at Jesus, I do not see any way that I can be lost.” This is exactly what Revelation 20:11-15 is telling us. If you want to depend on your own works, on your own goodness, then you will be judged based on what is written in the books of deeds, and unless you are totally perfect, you will fall short. On the other hand, if we depend entirely upon the righteousness of Jesus, upon the suffering of Jesus on our behalf, upon the power that raised Jesus from the dead, then we will find that our names are written in the book of life, and we have nothing to fear from what Revelation calls “the second death.”

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the story of the master who hires workers for his vineyard. He pays the people he hired for an hour the same amount that he agreed to pay those who worked all day. I believe this parable is about salvation. Even if you trust Jesus late in life, you too, receive the same salvation as those who have faithfully followed Him for their entire lives. Salvation is not earned. It is not a reward for being good. It is the free gift of God.

I’m going to cover some new ground now, but if, at any point, what I say next appears to contradict what I have already said here, then please ignore it, or ask me about it. I stand by what I have just said, and I have no intention of undermining it or contradicting it.

There are two additional pieces to this passage that I didn’t cover last time, and about which I think many people have questions. After my first sermon on this text, a number of people had questions about the relationship of death, Hades, Hell, and the lake of fire.

Remember that the book of Revelation is very picturesque and metaphorical. There are some things which we certainly ought to take literally. With other things, we ought to focus more on the general idea, rather than get bogged down in specific details. Let me lay out what I believe, and then explain why.

First, I do believe there is a literal hell. Virtually all Christians throughout history until recently also believed it, for the very good reason that Jesus clearly considered hell to be a real place where those who are not in the book of life suffer torment forever. (Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 5:22; 5:29; 10:28; Luke 16:19-24). The New Testament clearly teaches it, including a significant passage from Revelation, that is, 14:9-13. If you have not listened to my sermon on that Revelation passage, I strongly, vehemently, urge you to do so:

https://clearbible.blog/2018/08/07/revelation-31-hell-and-the-love-of-god/

All right, so we have hell. In our passage today (Revelation 20:11-15) hell is represented by the lake of fire.  Sometimes, the New Testament also talks about Hades. Mostly, in the New Testament, Hades is just another word for hell. But, in the book of Revelation, it is sometimes used as simply “the holding place for everyone who has died.” That second concept comes from ancient Greek culture, not from the Bible, but some of the verses in Revelation could be interpreted that way, including those here. Since Revelation was written to people who were part of ancient Greek culture, it could very well be that John is using it to say first, that every single person who has died, no matter where they were waiting after death, now appears before the throne. So even if they were in a place called “Hades,” they will be brought before the throne. And, as far as Hades being thrown into the lake of fire, he is saying, “Look, even the holding-pen for the dead will be destroyed. The day will come when you are either in the Lake of Fire, or in the New Heavens and new earth. There is no middle ground, no neutral place, after you die.”

So, this is how I think it goes:

1)When you die, if your name is in the book of life, your soul goes to be with Jesus, and awaits the time that your body will be resurrected. Not all Christians agree with me on this. Some would say that you are unconscious of anything until the resurrection. They may be right, I don’t know. I do know, however, that in some way, Moses and Elijah were present at the transfiguration of Jesus. I know that John saw the souls of those who had been martyred, waiting for the final judgment. I know that Jesus told the thief on the cross: “Today you will be in paradise with me.” That all suggests (but does not absolutely confirm) some sort of afterlife before the final resurrection.

2) If your name is not written in the book of life, perhaps you remains entirely unconscious, or perhaps you goes to some sort of “world of the dead” (Hades). Consider 1 Peter 3:18-19:

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.
19 In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:18-20, HCSB)

So, perhaps there is a Hades, where those who reject Jesus await judgment. Or perhaps they are unconscious of anything until the resurrection. The Bible isn’t exactly clear; except to say that after the final judgment, there are only two destinations: the lake of fire, or the New Heavens and New Earth.

3) At the resurrection, we have the scene described in our text today. Those whose names are in the book of life are resurrected to eternal life in the New Heavens and New Earth. Those whose names are not, are thrown into the lake of fire. At that time, there will be only two alternatives: the lake of fire, or the New Heavens and New Earth.

Another question many people have is about judgment. Our names are written in the book of life, and that saves us from hell, and gives us a place in the new heavens and the new earth (more about that next time). Does this mean that we are not judged in any way at all? I’m not talking about the judgment concerning salvation and hell. But these verses do seem to imply that every single person – even those whose names are in the book of life – seem to go through some process of judgment.

This is a question about which good Christians have disagreed. Therefore, if you think I am wrong in what I’m about to say, I don’t mind terribly much, and I hope we can continue in Christian fellowship together. However, the New Testament does seem (to me) to teach that in addition to being in the new heavens and the new earth with Jesus, there are rewards for the things that we have done as we follow Jesus. Consider the following verses:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:6)

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:26-27)

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:7-8)

I could quote many more verses that say something similar. These rewards cannot be heaven or salvation, because, we have already seen that to earn our salvation is impossible. We’ve already said that if we are judged by the books of our deeds, we will fall short. The entire New Testament teaches over and over again that we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves, it is a free gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-10). Therefore, these verses must be talking about some sort of reward in addition to being with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. The apostle Paul describes it like this:

For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

So, we have the foundation of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no other salvation, there is no other foundation. We do not earn it. But it also seems that as we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, there is the possibility that we will receive, in addition to eternal life, some sort of reward. And there’s also the possibility, that if we do not build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, or if we build poorly, that though we are saved, it will be “like an escape through fire.” Now, certainly, the new creation itself is far more than any of us deserve. But God’s goodness is such that he offers us even more than that. He gives us far more than we could ever earn or deserve – and that is just the beginning. He also gives us (I believe) an opportunity to see that our work and faithfulness is indeed noticed.

Now, at first this might dismay you. Perhaps you are worried that you might feel jealous of someone else’s reward, or disappointed in yours. Remember, this takes place as you are being made perfect. Jealousy and envy won’t be inside you anymore. You will be able to honestly rejoice when others are rewarded. You will be able to whole-heartedly accept your own reward.

I meet a lot of people who say something like this: “That’s all fine, but all I care about is being there at all.” I understand that, and it’s true, in one sense. But too many people twist that. They seem intent on just barely squeaking in to eternal life, trailing fumes of booze and cheap perfume. What I mean is, they aren’t really interested in the rewards of heaven. They are primarily interested in enjoying life on earth, and then avoiding hell. I don’t know, but I often wonder if such people really do understand all that Jesus has done for them, or, if they even truly care, beyond their own self-interest.

All throughout the New Testament, we are told to invest in heaven, not on earth. Now, frequently, investing in heaven means showing love to people on earth. Serving the poor, praying, giving, ministering, taking the gospel to people oppressed by fear and false religions (or giving toward that end) – all of these make a difference on earth. But we don’t get anything tangible back from doing them. By serving the people around us, we store up heavenly treasure. Jesus himself told us to store up treasure in heaven.

19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

You see, if you are not really interested in storing up heavenly treasure, I wonder where the treasure of your heart truly is. If heavenly treasure makes you go “meh,” then perhaps your heart is fixed on earth, not heaven. And if that is the case, again, I wonder if you really grasp, or even care about, God’s grace to you. The apostle Paul urges us to also live our lives with a heavenly focus:

23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.
24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. 26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:23-27, HCSB)

3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter. 5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to get a share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:3-7, HCSB)

Now, a lot of people who are faithfully following Jesus are never noticed, while many who appear to be charlatans get fame and fortune. You may have heard of Albert Schweitzer. He was a medical doctor who won the Nobel prize in 1952 for his humanitarian efforts in Africa. In previous generations, people revered Albert Schweitzer the same way we honor Mother Teresa. Now, contrast that with my  former neighbor, Henry Farrar. Henry was a doctor who did incredible things for the people of Nigeria. I’ve met other medical doctors who have visited both Henry’s hospital, and Schweitzer’s, and told me that Henry did far more than Albert Schweitzer. On earth, no one knows Henry’s name. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. But I believe that his work did not go unnoticed in heaven. All those things that Henry did without complaining, without recognition from others – they were recognized in heaven, and he will know it on the last day.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book about heaven called “The Great Divorce.” It has nothing to do with divorce or marriage, but anyway, it’s a terrific book about the joy of heaven. One of the characters visits the edge of heaven, and sees a woman there who is surrounded by a magnificent triumphal procession. The character inquires breathlessly if it is the virgin Mary. His guide says, “No, that is Jane Smith. No one on earth knew her, but she is quite the hero here, because she blessed so many children with love and service.”

I think heaven might be a little bit like that. God sees you. You may labor in obscurity. No one may notice how you quietly serve others here and now. But God notices. And he will reward you for it. Your reward is not salvation – no one can possibly earn that. But the injustice you suffer now is not unnoticed. Your quiet labor is gloriously trumpeted in heaven.

Let the Holy Spirit Speak to you today.

ARE THERE “EXTRA” REWARDS IN HEAVEN?

IRS Treasure in heaven

The concept of rewards in addition to simply being in heaven is one of the least-taught, least understood aspects of the New Testament. Too often we look at the subject as though in heaven we will still struggle with resentment, pride and envy.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 57

 

Matthew #57 . Matthew 16:27-28

My wife recently told me that I’m still trying to pack too much into one sermon. So this time, I’ll attempt to cover only the next verse in Matthew:

For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done. (Matt 16:27 HCSB)

If we just stop and think about this for a moment, it could be problematic. I mean, I have always taught that we are judged based on our response to Jesus, not on the good works we have done (or failed to do). But here, it sounds like we will be rewarded based not on our faith in Jesus, but on our behavior. If we investigate, we find something puzzling: The New Testament appears to teach both things.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul brings up the issue of rewards in heaven:

Now the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Cor 3:8-9)

According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1Cor 3:10-15, HCSB)

This is one of the least understood and taught doctrines in the New Testament. Paul says the foundation is Jesus Christ. But then he talks about the quality of what we build on that foundation, and receiving rewards for what our work. But Paul makes sure we understand that it starts with the foundation of Jesus Christ; in fact, the foundation that was revealed by Peter’s confession. Let’s begin by making sure of it.

The Bible teaches in numerous places, over and over again, that we are saved only through God’s grace, which comes to us through a faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here are just a few of many, many, many verses that affirm we are not justified before God by what we do, but by God’s grace given to us when we trust Him. I’ll italicize a few parts for emphasis:

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:3-9, HCSB)

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:27-28, HCSB)

He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, HCSB)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. (Gal 2:16-17)

Clear enough for you? Over and over again, the New Testament teaches that we are saved when we trust Jesus Christ, and our own “good works” have nothing to do with it. So we know that our eternal destiny – whether we go to heaven or hell – is determined not by us being good enough, but by trusting Jesus. That is the foundation. Paul says, you can’t build on any other basis (1 Corinthians 3:11). If we have that foundation, we will spend eternity with Jesus and our loved ones in the New Heavens and New Earth. The whole Bible is crystal clear on that.

However, we do find many places in the New Testament, including several places in Matthew, which talk about rewards for doing good works. Now, we have just reiterated that heaven itself is not a reward for doing good. So when the New Testament talks about some kind of reward in the afterlife based upon what we do here, it cannot mean salvation. Well then, what kind of reward does Jesus mean here?

This is actually very important for how we interpret the Bible. When we read any other book, we assume that the author will not deliberately contradict herself. It should be the same with the Bible. So if the Bible says clearly (as it does) that salvation is not a reward for good behavior, but only the result of faith in Jesus; and then it says there is a reward for good works, we have to assume that the reward for good works is something other than salvation. As it turns out, there are many Bible verses that talk about these rewards. Just a few of them are Revelation 22:12; Matthew 5:11-2, 6:1-6, 17-18, 10:41-42; Luke 6:35; and this one:

7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:7-8)

James writes that not many should presume to be Bible teachers, because they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Well, as a Bible teacher I know that my salvation will be judged based on whether or not I trust Jesus. So in what way will I be judged more strictly? The logical answer is: in the matter of my work, and any reward I might get for it.

Now, for many people, the idea of reward in heaven presents some problems. First, some people feel that it implies that there might be inequality in heaven. Second, some people feel it implies unhappiness there also.

Scripture is clear that in heaven, God wipes every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more grief or suffering or pain (Revelation 21:3-5). So rest assured, reward or not, your joy will be complete.

In addition, when we think this way, we forget that jealousy and resentment are the product of sin, the flesh and the devil. In eternity, all these things will be defeated and destroyed. We will be able to fully rejoice at the triumph of another, and bear in humble joy our own situation, unmarred by sin, bitterness, resentment or envy. Seeing someone else rewarded more than you will lead only to praise to God for his goodness, mercy and justice.

What Paul says in the Corinthians passage I quoted above is that those who have no reward will still be saved, but it will be like an escape through a fire. If we really imagine that, we get a sense for what it is like. Ultimately we will be safe, and will find joy in that. But as we initially enter heaven, if we have built poorly on the foundation of Jesus, we might find the judgment day to be harrowing.

Consider it this way: do you think it would be fair if Mother Theresa, with all her self-sacrifice, receives nothing more than me, with all my self-centeredness? We are both saved entirely by God’s grace. But shouldn’t she be rewarded somehow for the fact that in Jesus Christ, she used her life more faithfully than I used mine? Shouldn’t heaven celebrate and appreciate those who have done good things for the Lord on earth? Again, I think what we know of the kingdom of God is such that there will be no resentment involved.

Now, I want to speculate a bit on what the rewards mean. I do have some scripture that suggests what I think about this, but I can’t nail this down for sure. In other words, what I am going to share next falls more into the realm of conjecture than solid biblical teaching. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the Talents. In it, three servants were given different resources to use on behalf of the Master. They were rewarded according to how they made use of those resources. The reward is that they were given additional resources to use, according the ability they had demonstrated.

This makes me think of rewards in heaven in terms of capacity. Picture two buckets. One bucket can hold one gallon of fresh, clear water. The other bucket can hold five gallons of beautiful clean water. Now imagine both buckets, filled to the brim. Which bucket has more water? Obviously, the one that can hold more. But they are both full. The one gallon bucket has as much water as it can possibly hold. It doesn’t have as much as the five gallon bucket, but then, it can’t. It is still completely full. I think maybe heaven will be like that. We will all be as full as we can be. But some people will be able to contain more of God’s fullness and joy than others. The ones with smaller capacity will still be completely full and satisfied – but the ones with greater capacity will experience their joy to level that the others can’t.

Here’s another way to look at it. In my left eye, my vision is about 20/100. It cannot be corrected, and so I am considered legally blind in that eye. Now, my right eye is basically fine, and it does most of the seeing work for me. I can drive, and watch movies, appreciate visual art and generally enjoy life. Where my half-blindness affects me most is in depth perception. I have a horrible time shooting a basketball. Things that are far away look equally distant from me. If I see man standing 100 yards away, and another man 200 yards away, the only way I can tell they are not next to each other is because one looks smaller than the other. I can get some experience of 3-D movies, but not the same as other people. Binoculars only work for me if I close my left eye. But I was born this way, I have never seen correctly out of my left eye, and so I’m perfectly happy with my vision: I don’t really know what I’m missing, except the basketball hoop. I don’t feel sorry for myself and I enjoy my vision fully, and I feel no lack. But if there was something I could do to get true binocular vision, I would be a fool not to do it. Though I enjoy the visual aspects of life as much as I can, wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow exercise my eyes to get full range of vision?

One more analogy. When I was younger, I could eat all day long, and it did not affect my weight, my health or even how I felt. Now that I am older, I can’t eat so much, and certainly, what I eat has greater consequences for my body. I even get full faster. Sometimes I find myself at an event a party where there are all kinds of delicious food. At such times, I wish I could eat like I did when I was younger. I could enjoy more of that delicious food, if my metabolism was still young. I have a close friend who has aged differently than me. He can’t eat like he’s twenty, but he can still eat more than I can, with fewer consequences. Sometimes I envy him. I wonder if I had made different choices, if I might still have been able to enjoy as much food as he does. Now, what if I had the chance to get that metabolism back, so I could enjoy delicious food all the time without feeling too full, gaining weight or negatively affecting my health? There’s a billion dollar industry trying to sell people exactly that: everyone wants that.

You can get that, in heaven. You’ll have all the delicious food you can handle. But maybe some people will be able to handle more. I think this is probably how rewards in heaven will work. Everyone will be happy. They will get as much joy as they can handle. But if they had made different choices while they were living on this earth, they might have been able to experience much more in heaven. C.S. Lewis explores some of these ideas a little bit in his excellent and entertaining book, The Great Divorce, which is all about Heaven (it has nothing to do with divorce; the title was not well chosen). He speculates that perhaps even after we get there, we can still increase our capacity to experience more joy and fullness.

I used to say that heaven itself was enough reward for me, and so it should be – it is, in fact, far more than I deserve. Even so, what a fool I would be to waste any opportunity to enjoy heaven to the fullest possible capacity! Think of it like this: Do you really want to make a deliberate choice to enter heaven by the skin of your teeth, with the minimum possible capacity to enjoy it? That is an attitude that comes not from the Spirit, but from the flesh. And it is ridiculous, when you think about it. It’s like a teenager saying, “I don’t care about my future after High School. As long as I’m alive and can work a minimum wage job, I’ll be fine. So right now I’m not going to study or learn or prepare for the future. What is important is not life after graduation, but only life right now.” Some people have that attitude, but it is a very short-sighted one, and most people who do take that approach end up regretting it within a few years.

Jesus’ words should encourage us to take a more spiritual approach to the future, and to the here and now. It should be helpful to know that we do or endure here and now does not go unnoticed. It should motivating to think of the joy that awaits all of us who trust Jesus.

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