Whenever an athletic team, or even an individual, wins a major victory, there is a unique level of exhilaration and enthusiasm that erupts. The explosion of happiness cannot be contained. After spending hours in training and practicing, the victory that is being experienced leaves them with a limited vocabulary. The moment itself was overpowering and their lives would never be the same. As I watch those winning athletes, I cannot help but think of a future time when we will be rewarded by the Lord Jesus, the King of Glory. But the joy of those winning athletes is so very superficial when compared with the joy of those believers who have faithfully served the Lord of Glory here and now. For faithful believers, it will undoubtedly be an incredibly emotional moment of great joy and immense satisfaction. To have the Lord Jesus say, “you did a good job and I am so very pleased with you” will make all of the hard work and faithfulness in tough times be worth it all. And, like those athletes, this will have an impact on life from that moment on.
As we look at our crumbling culture with its growing hostility to Jesus Christ and His people, many believers are beginning to think a little differently and to prioritize their lives a little differently. And that is good. According to the Scriptures, how we live now does have a powerful impact on our futures in the coming Kingdom of God. Today does count forever. What we do now for Christ will have a ripple effect throughout the coming kingdom of God. When the Apostle Paul was explaining to the believers at Corinth as to why he willing suffered so much for Christ and the gospel, he said: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Today does count forever and we too can part of the “eternal weight of glory.” In this study, I would like to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance”, by freshening up our thinking on the Judgment Seat of Christ. I want to deal with two questions.
WHEN WILL THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST TAKE PLACE?
The Scriptures indicate that it is at the return of Jesus that rewarding takes place. When a person dies, it is sometimes said that “he has gone to his reward.” While a believer will certainly be entering an indescribable place and seeing an awesome Person, technically this is not the time of rewarding. Jesus put it succinctly in 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.” During His earthly ministry, He stated: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27). In several of His parables (Luke 19; Matthew 25), He connected the rewarding of His servants with His return to earth.
Scripture tells us that rewarding is connected with His return. So, when He returns at the Rapture for His Bride, the Church, that will be the time when church age saints are rewarded. This can also be seen in Revelation 19:8 where, just prior to the Second Coming to earth, the Bride is seen in heaven as rewarded. And on the basis of Matthew 16, we can also conclude that all other saints (from the Old Testament and the Tribulation) will be rewarded at the Second Coming event.
DO THE REWARDS LAST FOR ALL ETERNITY?
It is sometimes taught that after the Judgment Seat, all believers will then be the same. This is largely based on Revelation 4. In Revelation 4:4-10, the 24 elders cast their crowns before the throne of God, and this has led some to conclude that after this act of worship that rewards play no part in future activities, rankings or conditions. But that is probably not how we should understand Revelation 4. That particular interpretation simply does not align well with so many other scriptures. It is true that the rewarded elders are worshipping the Lord by acknowledging that their rewards are ultimately due to His grace. And the fact that they have crowns enables them to have a greater capacity in their worship of the Lord.
However, when we look at Jesus’ teaching in Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 25:14-22, as well as Paul’s powerful message in 2 Timothy 2:5-11, it becomes quite evident that rewards last for a very long time. At a minimum they will have consequences throughout the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus.
In the Millennial (Messianic) Kingdom. In this kingdom, the Lord Jesus will rule for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-10) over Israel and all the nations of the earth (Psalm 2:1-9; Isaiah 9:6-7, 11; Jer. 23:5-8; 33:20-26). Absent from this kingdom will be Satan and his forces as well as the curse placed on the earth by God in Genesis 3. This kingdom will be characterized by righteousness, joy, peace, prosperity and health. There has never been a time like this on earth since Eden, and for those who have been faithful in this present life. there will be the privileged opportunity to co-rule with King Jesus. Our investment (“laying up treasures”) right now will pay amazing dividends for one thousand years.
In the Eternal Kingdom. There is a second part to the future kingdom of God and that is the eternal phase when ruling authority is handed to the Father by Christ after His messianic reign (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). After all judgments have taken place, including that of Satan, unbelievers and the old heavens and earth, then this new final eternal phase will begin. It is likely that this will be on the new earth. But the question for us in this study is “do rewards have consequences in the eternal phase of the kingdom of God?” There is evidence that rewards impact life in the eternal kingdom phase. For example, man will have a place a rulership in this eternal kingdom. Revelation 21:24 says that, “and the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.” In the eternal phase of the kingdom of God, there are nations and there are kings. This means that there are some people who are going to hold honored places on the earth during the eternal kingdom. This strongly points to rewards which are given to believers will have eternal consequences. Again, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The writer of Hebrews seems to support the eternality of rewards when he states that the present heavens and earth will be “shaken” while the kingdom we will receive will not be “shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29). The “shaking” refers to the destruction of the old earth which is in contrast to the kingdom we will be part of which will not be destroyed. This statement comes after numerous exhortations to remain faithful and endure because of the rewards that are coming when Jesus Messiah comes; strongly implying that the rewards and the kingdom are eternal.
While it is impossible to be absolutely dogmatic on the matter of the eternality of rewards, the evidence points us in that direction. But even it could be shown that rewards last for “just” one thousand years, how wise is the believer to live presently with that time in mind. How incredibly wonderful to have a unique relationship and a wonderful responsibility alongside the King, even if it is “only” for a thousand years. If it is eternity that is in view, then wisdom calls us with an even louder voice: “WHAT IS DONE TODAY DOES COUNT FOREVER”. And Jesus’ exhortation to “lay up treasure” may be far more significant than is usually thought.
When we do stand before the judgment seat, King/Judge Jesus will be looking at: (1) our faithfulness, (2) our motivations, and (3) how our lives lined up with His Word. It would be wise of each of us to regularly evaluate our own lives in these three areas, allowing the Holy Spirit to allow us to see how we are doing.
The times we are living in are changing at a breathtaking pace. The accelerating moral and spiritual darkness of this world can actually be a great help to us as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This cultural change is making it easier to see what is of value, especially of eternal value. I think that each of us would love to hear Jesus say “you did a good job, My child”, and then to experience the incredible, indescribable joy that will accompany that moment and ripple throughout eternity. It will far surpass the emotions of athletes who gleefully dance around raising a trophy over their heads. We will indeed “enter into the joy of the Lord.”