The Bible teaches that during the seven-year Tribulation period (Rev. 6-19), Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ in heaven (Rev. 4:1-4). While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21). This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.
God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12).
Every Christian must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” (kakos means worthless, wicked, and evil) things he has done since becoming a Christian. Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).
Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about eternal rewards and their corresponding answers:
Q: Won’t all believers be equally rewarded according to Matthew 20:1-16?
A: The point of Matthew 20:1-16 is that all Christians will be rewarded equally for faithful service to Christ. What this means is that the person who faithfully served Christ for the one day he was a Christian will be equally rewarded with someone who served Christ faithfully for eighty years. The amount of time you were a Christian before death or the Rapture does not limit the amount of rewards you will receive, assuming that you wholeheartedly served the Lord during that time. Other passages of Scripture indicate that there will be varying degrees of reward in eternity (Matt. 16:27; Luke 19:11-26; I Cor. 3:8; Rev. 22:12) because each believer will be “rewarded according to his works.” This means that rewards will vary according to varying degrees of good works among believers.
Q: Won’t varying degrees of reward promote jealousy among believers in Christ’s eternal kingdom?
A: Jealousy will not exist among believers in the Lord Jesus’ eternal kingdom because sin will not exist there. Glorified believers will never be jealous because they will never sin (I Cor. 15: 42-57; Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:1-3). Contentment will characterize their lives in eternity. Therefore, they will be satisfied with what the Lord awards them at the Judgment Seat of Christ. For example, will believers be jealous of the Lord Jesus who will rule over the entire world and possess the wealth of the universe? Will we be jealous of King David who will serve as Jesus’s right-hand man as the prince over the nation of Israel (Ezek. 34:23-24)? Will the apostles be jealous of David who will have more authority than them? Will the citizens of Israel be jealous of the Twelve apostles who will rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28-29)? No, because everyone in Christ’s eternal kingdom will be content. However, they may have regret or shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ if they fail to rule with Christ or they rule to a lesser degree because they squandered the opportunities they were given to serve Christ more in their lifetime (cf. Matt. 22:11-13; 25:24-30; 2 Peter 1:5-11; I John 2:28).
Q: How can there be any sense of regret or shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ since the Bible says there will be no more sorrow or pain in heaven (Rev. 21:4)?
A: The Judgment Seat of Christ will most likely take place during the Tribulation (Rev. 4-19) which is over a 1,000 years before the eternal state begins (Rev. 21-22). So the believer’s sense of regret and shame will be temporary and pass away by the start of the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21:4).
Q: How long will rewards last?
A: Some Bible students think rewards will be given back to Jesus immediately after they are received. They base this on Revelation 4:10-11. Revelation 4:10-11 does not teach that believers will have to return their rewards back to Christ immediately after receiving them. Notice the word “whenever” in verse 9. The crown-casting in verse 10 is repeated again and again and again. Every time the living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8b), the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne. And according to Rev. 4:8b, the living creatures or angels “do not rest day or night…” Casting crowns is an ongoing event throughout eternity. Others insist that our rewards will only last as long as the Millennium, referring to Revelation 20:4-6 where faithful believers will rule for a 1,000 years with Christ. But nothing in this passage suggests that ruling with Christ and other rewards are limited to the Millennium. Instead, the emphasis of the New Testament is that rewards are “imperishable” (I Cor. 9:25) and never fade away (Matt. 6:19-21; I Peter 1:4). If our rewards lasted only a few seconds or even 1,000 years, they would be “perishable.”
The Book of Revelation makes it clear that Christ’s rewards will last beyond the Millennium. Revelation 21 speaks of kings ruling on the earth and honoring Jesus with their rewards (Rev. 21:24, 26). Revelation 22:14 says overcoming Christians will be rewarded with the right to the tree of life and special entrance into the New Jerusalem, both of which will not be on the earth until after the Millennium.
Q: Is it selfish to seek eternal rewards?
A: No, because Jesus commands us to lay up treasure in heaven and not on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). Why? Because wherever our treasure happens to be, that’s where our hearts will be focused. And God wants our hearts to be focused on heaven and that is why we are commanded to invest in heavenly rewards. God knows better than we do what will motivate our hearts for Him. Certainly rewards play a significant role in this. It is actually selfish not to obey God’s command to pursue eternal rewards. Plus, a Christian cannot afford to be selfish in nature, for to do so would disqualify him or her for the eternal reward he or she seeks. Pursuing eternal rewards is one of the strongest motivations for an unselfish and merciful lifestyle (James 2:1-13)!
Q: Do Revelation 2:11 and 3:5 speak of rewards or salvation?
A: The apostle John writes, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11) and “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5). These two verses use a figure of speech called litotes which makes a positive affirmation by denying its opposite. For example, a mother may say to her children, “If you do your chores, you won’t regret it.” In other words, their reward will be the opposite of regret. Throughout Revelation 2-3, John has been addressing rewards to overcoming Christians. So Jesus is saying that the rewards of faithful Christians will be the opposite of being hurt by the second death or losing an eternal name! It will include wearing special white garments (Rev 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Rev 2:7), eating hidden manna (Rev 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Rev 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14).
This does not mean if Christians do not overcome, they will be hurt by the second death or lose their eternal name. For example, if I said, “All mothers are women,” that does not mean that the opposite is true, that all women are mothers. There are women who are not mothers. Likewise, the opposite of our verse is not true. God will not allow the non-overcoming believer to be hurt by the second death or have his or her name blotted out from the Book of Life! Once a person has everlasting life by believing in Jesus, it can never be taken away or lost (cf. John 6:37-39; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39; 2 Tim. 2:13; 1 John 5:12-13).
By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than people. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.