What does your eternal future hold?
For most Christians, the blessed hope is that once the rapture occurs or they depart from this world after death, they will spend eternity in heaven with Jesus Christ. For those who trust in Him, this is true. However, few Christians realize they will also face judgment before Jesus Christ. Not judgment for our sins, which were cleansed by Christ’s blood on the cross. But judgment for our works here on earth. Jesus will hold each of us accountable for the deeds performed in our earthly lives, and although our eternal destiny is never in question, the size and scope of our reward is.
Jesus Christ as the Ultimate Judge
The scriptures are filled with references to the ultimate judgment of our works, yet somehow many Christians have either failed to understand, or have chosen to ignore, what the bible says. Nevertheless, we will be judged. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NLT)
Jesus confirms Paul’s assertion, revealing that each of us will be held accountable for every idle word we speak!
“And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” Matthew 12:36 (NLT)
and Jeremiah says the same:
“But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10 (NLT)
Think of some of the terrible things we’ve said in our lives. In the years and months since, we hope others have forgotten them. But the Lord hasn’t! Even worse, try to remember some of the horrible things you’ve thought. Even our thoughts have condemned us! Who then can stand before Christ blameless? Only those who have washed themselves clean of sin from the blood of the cross:
“For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, ‘If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?’” 1 Peter 4:17-18 (NLT)
The fate of those who reject Christ is eternal separation from Him. But for those who embrace Him, we can face His judgment with fearless confidence:
“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.” 1 John 4:17 (NLT)
We can face Him with confidence because have lived our earthly lives like Jesus.
Judgment is Reserved for Christ
When Jesus walked among the crowds of Israel, he never attempted to build Himself up by knocking other people down. Instead, He attempted to lift others up and to encourage them to live godly lives. He knew that praise from God was a far greater reward than the often insincere and fleeting praise of humans. As such, He never looked down on others or proclaimed Himself superior to them. He humbled Himself, and although He had all the power of God, He expended His life to serve others – preaching the Gospel, healing those in need, washing His disciples’ feet, and giving His life on the cross in order to save all.
If we truly wish to live our lives like Christ, we should not be like the Pharisees who condemned others for small infractions of their own created laws and traditions. We should not be like the Pharisees who viewed themselves as morally superior to others. The arrogance they exhibited is the same arrogance that brought on the fall of Lucifer, and left to fester, that same arrogance can bring about the fall of any Christian.
Ultimate judgment of others belongs to Christ, so don’t make personal judgments of others in regard to God’s approval. For He alone knows all the facts. And the day will come when many who are looked down on today, who are rejected and ridiculed and labeled immoral by their own Christian brothers and sisters, will receive great reward from Jesus Christ. And many who are viewed as experts, saints, and holy men in this world will be given lowly positions in God’s Kingdom, while many who are viewed as outcasts, kooks, or poorly educated will be rewarded with the highest positions.
So listen to Paul when he tells us to reserve judgment for Christ:
“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time – before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 (NLT)
“So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’ Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans 14:10-12 (NLT)
Knowing this, we should encourage those around us, building them up with ample praise, careful rebuke, and all the respect deserving of those God has chosen to call His children. We should approach everyone with the same humility Christ exhibited, because we never know what role others will play in the eternal kingdom. The one you look down on today, might be your superior in heaven!
Not Everyone Will Have the Same Status in Heaven
This leads us to another myth which has taken hold of the Christian community – that everyone will enjoy equal standing in heaven. This is not true. Although God loves each of us without end, some will be given positions of higher status, authority, and responsibility than others. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus reveals this truth:
“So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:19 (NLT)
“But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then.” Matthew 19:30 (NLT)
If everyone is equal in heaven, then how can some be “greatest” while others are “least”? This is not a contradiction, but an indication of the true nature of heaven. Whether or not our earthly deeds are deserving of gain or loss is completely dependent upon what we do in our earthly lives. Heaven will simply be a place where true justice will reign.
Eternal Treasures in Heaven
Jesus, knowing the nature of heaven and the rewards that await us, discouraged us from becoming captives of this world and its fleeting pleasures. Instead, he encouraged us to focus on the accumulation of heavenly treasures:
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)
Our treasures in heaven are eternal. Why then do so many of us spend a lifetime hoarding earthly treasures – cars, houses, stocks, and bonds – when everyone of us knows they are only temporary in nature? We can’t take our earthly treasures to heaven, but we can take our heavenly rewards. And if any doubt persists as to how the treasures of heaven compare to the treasures of this world, listen to what Paul has to say on the subject:
“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)
Despite this knowledge, millions aspire to live in earthly mansions, while Jesus continues to prepare for us our own heavenly mansions – eternal abodes that will never catch fire, flood, get termites, or experience any of the headaches of earthly dwellings:
“There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2 (NLT)
Why then, are so many of us concerned with where we live?
Christ Will Award Us with Crowns
Some of our heavenly treasure will take the form of rewards we receive from Jesus Christ. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have – Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials – gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NLT)
For the Christian, belief in Jesus Christ is only a beginning. This is the foundation of our holy existence, and no one can lay a foundation other than Christ. Upon this foundation, we are expected to build a portfolio of works which benefit the Lord. Not one of these works is necessary for our salvation, but if we truly believe in Him, it will be our pleasure to perform such works. On the day of judgment, each work will be tested to see if it has eternal value. Only that which has everlasting value will result in reward.
So how do we know what works will have everlasting value? We must remember it is not our deed alone the Lord will judge, but the motive which caused us to perform the deed in the first place. The Lord, who knows the deepest secrets of our hearts and minds, will know the motives upon which our earthly lives were built. And the only motive which will result in a reward is one that desires glory for Jesus Christ.
Among the many rewards we’re eligible to receive, the Bible specifically mentions five crowns:
The Crown of Victory
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NLT)
The prize to which Paul refers is a crown. This crown is reserved for those who, through careful discipline, have overcome the desires of the flesh. Through means of the Holy Spirit, they have managed to gradually wane themselves from the power of the temptations of this world. Just as an athlete trains to perfect his performance in an athletic contest, Christians must train themselves to overcome the desires of the flesh.
If you want to win this crown, make sure to listen to and abide by the Holy Spirit within you. Train yourself so that your every thought, feeling, and action is measured and judged in accordance to God’s will for your life.
The Crown of Rejoicing
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” Philippians 4:1 (NLT)
“After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 (NLT)
This crown is reserved for those whose efforts have led to others becoming believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul states, this crown will be a source of pride and joy for all of eternity, represented not only in the form of a crown, but in the form of actual fellow Christians who will be a source of joy for the Lord for all of eternity.
If you want to win this crown, make sure to share the Gospel of Christ with others whenever God presents an opportunity.
The Crown of Righteousness
“And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
This crown is reserved for those who eagerly and patiently await the promised return of Jesus Christ. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus encourages us to be good and faithful servants, prepared for the master’s return. One day, He will come “like a thief in the night” – unexpectedly – and only those who have lived their lives in daily anticipation of this moment will be awarded this crown.
If you want to win this crown, make sure to live every day of your life with the constant expectation that Christ could return at a moment’s notice.
The Crown of Life
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10 (NLT)
This crown is reserved for those who endure testing, temptation, persecution, suffering, and martyrdom for Jesus Christ. Believing in Christ is not a recipe for carefree living in a world which hates Him. For if the world mocked, ridiculed, and murdered Jesus Himself, then why should His followers expect to avoid suffering? We can not. Some will suffer worse than others, but everyone that remains faithful will receive the crown of life.
If you want to win this crown, make sure to love Jesus Christ more than you love your own life.
The Crown of Glory
“And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” 1 Peter 5:1-4 (NLT)
This crown is reserved for those who are placed in a position of authority and responsibility in our earthly lives. With others looking to us for leadership by example, this is a task of enormous importance. Such people must exhibit love and humility, carefully watching over those with whom they have been entrusted. Their motives and hearts must be pure, focused on serving God rather than serving themselves. Those who lead others by example will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
If you want to win this crown, make sure to be a good example to others, especially those who look to you for guidance. And be a good and faithful steward of those God has entrusted to your care.
Our Rewards in Heaven Directly Correlate with Our Efforts on Earth
In addition to the previously mentioned crowns, Christ has a number of additional rewards waiting for those who love Him. But our ability to receive each reward is in direct correlation with how we handle the earthly opportunities he gives us. Jesus clearly illustrates this concept in Matthew 25 with the Parable of the Talents. In this story, each servant is entrusted with a certain number of talents, each according to his ability. In the end, each is rewarded by the master on the basis of how he has invested the talents. In the same way, each of us will be rewarded on the basis of how we have advanced the kingdom of heaven.
Yet another promise of reward from Jesus Christ appears in Matthew 19:
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life.” Matthew 19:29 (NLT)
How many stock market investors would be ecstatic to experience just one 100-fold investment return in a lifetime? Yet the opportunity to receive an everlasting 100-fold return is available for anyone who invests in advancing the kingdom of heaven!
All who trust in Jesus Christ will experience eternity in His presence. In heaven, there will be no sorrow, death, crying, or pain. However, there is no guarantee that we will not experience regret. Despite our greatest efforts on His behalf, each of us will probably look back on our earthly lives and wish we had done more to advance the kingdom of heaven. We won’t look back out of jealousy or envy or pride, but with the simple wish we would have glorified His name to a greater degree. In heaven, we’ll have all of eternity to reflect on what we could have done for the Lord. As such, we should take advantage of the time we have left.
The things of this world should be of little value to Christians. We know that accumulation of wealth, career advancement, and earthly pleasures have no lasting value. Only a life which gives glory to Jesus Christ has lasting value. So don’t waste another moment!
Rearrange the priorities of your life, and look forward to His coming with great confidence. Live your life in accordance with the example set by Christ, and you will experience great reward for all of eternity. The time to do so is now, for we never know when our window of opportunity will close forever:
“Look, I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” Revelation 3:11 (NLT)
“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:12-13 (NLT)
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus, come!