What the Bible says about
Reward of the Saved
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Before embarking on a journey, it is very important to understand where one is going! To succeed in any endeavor, one must have a clear-cut goal, a well-defined destination. This principle holds true in the Christian life. We must know what our goal is in order to be successful in attaining it. What is the ultimate purpose of Christianity? What is the reward of a saved and converted Christian? This is one of the most misunderstood facets of the Christian religion. If a poll were taken of the general population about what they thought was the reward of the saved, most people would probably say, "Heaven."
Most professing Christian churches teach just that. However, when we look into the Bible, we find that it says no such thing. Jesus Christ says that we must "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33). God's Word shows that His Kingdom will be here on earth, not in heaven. The promise of God to His faithful people is not some ethereal concept of floating on a cloud and strumming a harp! In this lesson, we shall see that God has given His people a solid promise of reigning and ruling on earth—administering God's government—in positions of authority under the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ!
Initially, the promises pertaining to salvation were given to Abraham and his Seed, who was Christ. Then God extended the promises to all Christians—those whom He has called to salvation at this time (Galatians 3:16; Acts 2:39).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: The Reward of the Saved
Clearly, "a certain king" refers to the Father, and the king's son, the bridegroom, is Jesus Christ (John 3:29). The bride is God's church (Revelation 19:7-9), but it is not a primary issue in this parable, nor is the marriage itself. However, the marriage feast is prominent, illustrating the full benefits of God's truth: fellowship with God, excellence, abundance, and happiness. God offers such a spiritual banquet to "the called." The glorious feast He has spread includes pardon of sin, favor with God, peace of conscience, exceedingly great and precious promises, access to the throne of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
In Luke 16:19-31 appears the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which Jesus spoke to those who would not repent. Jesus uses it to help them understand His earlier words: "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:27-28). In the parable, the rich man—representing all workers of iniquity, all sinners—illustrates what is to befall the unrepentant.
The wicked will be raised to physical life in their resurrection, and then, immediately knowing that they are doomed, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire designed by God to consume them. The Lake of Fire will burn them up completely and finally. Jesus pictures the rich man crying out for help because of his mental and physical anguish at this time, but he is not burning eternally in hell fire. He is soon consumed while Lazarus the beggar dwells safely in immortality.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part One)
Perhaps no other doctrine more clearly exposes the effectiveness and thoroughness of Satan's deception of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Jesus plainly states in John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of man who is in heaven." Yet, most of the Christian world believes that immediately upon death a person's soul wafts off to heaven to be with others of the dearly departed.
This verse does not stand alone; many scriptures confirm Jesus' testimony. Peter says regarding the highly respected, man-after-God's-own-heart David, ". . . he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens . . ." (Acts 2:29, 34).
Other scriptures remind us that, when a person dies, he is without consciousness:
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. . . . Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10)
Psalm 146:3-4 adds, "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans [thoughts, KJV] perish."
Jesus identifies Himself in Revelation 1:18 as, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen." He says something similar as He begins His message to the church at Smyrna: "These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life" (Revelation 2:8). Who are we to believe, a God who never lies or the tales of false prophets? Was Jesus telling the truth when He said He was dead - that He was not off in heaven during those three days and three nights, conversing with the Father, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses? If we believe the Bible, the answer is beyond question.
The gospel Jesus Christ brought reveals the Kingdom of God as the Christian hope. The Bible teaches that a person must remain in his grave, unaware of events in the conscious world, until a resurrection occurs, when his life is renewed (just as Jesus' was), his body is changed to spirit, and he enters God's Kingdom.
In I Corinthians 15:50-54, the apostle Paul teaches that the resurrection does not occur until Christ returns. Then, those who "died in Christ" will be resurrected from their graves with spiritual bodies, and the living saints will also be changed, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. . . . [T]he dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (verse 52).
Galatians 3:29 speaks about our reward: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise," confirming that those who are true Christians - "in Christ" - will receive the same inheritance Abraham was promised. Romans 4:13 establishes beyond doubt what Abraham will inherit when he is resurrected: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith."
Furthermore, regarding those who will be resurrected with Abraham, Revelation 5:10 adds, "[You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." Later, Revelation 11:15 says, "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
Many centuries of pagan tradition have convinced people that heaven is their "home" and their reward when they die. Nevertheless, the biblical record is unassailable: God's Kingdom will be established on the earth He created for mankind, and it will be an everlasting Kingdom with Christ as its King.
In awe of what he saw, John declares in Revelation 21:1-4:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven [to the earth] from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
The Bible contains much more on this facet of the gospel. Yet, with just this small sampling of verses, there should be no doubt remaining that the gospel teaches that the inheritance of Christians is this earth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
It is evident that a specific descendent was implied: that one of Abraham's "seed" had the same promise made. The promises entailed so much more than justification by faith. If that were the main or only promise, it had already been given to multiple characters throughout the Old Testament (Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc.). Even Noah, living before Abraham, "became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith" (Hebrews 11:7)—yet none of these received the promises (Hebrews 11:13)! The promises made to Abraham cannot be limited to justification because all of these "men of faith" mentioned in Hebrews 11 did receive that. The promises entail eternal life, inheritance of the earth (Matthew 5:5, not heaven), and being born into the Family of God.
These promises were made to Abraham and Christ. Abraham died without receiving them (Hebrews 11:13), which means he must live again in order for the promises to be fulfilled. Christ came to earth to confirm that those promises were still in existence and to set in process a means by which true Christians could inherit them. This will be fulfilled at the first resurrection, when the firstfruits are changed into immortal beings, given a full measure of God's Spirit, and begin reigning on the earth with Christ (Revelation 5:10; 20:4-6).
David C. Grabbe
This verse tells us that our warfare is against demons, and they—angels who rose up against God—look upon us as invaders. As any invaded people would, they see themselves as rising to defend their home and territory despite the fact that they probably know that God has given this earth to us as an inheritance.
This is a spiritual parallel of Israel coming out of Egypt, going through the wilderness to their inheritance in Canaan, but Canaan was already inhabited. The Canaanites rose up to defend themselves against those they saw as invaders. Who knows if the Canaanites knew that God had promised their land to Abraham and his descendants? Rahab seemed to understand this in Jericho, so it is likely that the Canaanites also knew these things.
God does not do things in a corner; He witnesses to people when He acts. The demons are well aware that they are defending themselves from those who will take over their estate—and they are going to fight to hold it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What I Believe About Conspiracy Theories
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Because Paul writes, "And thus we shall always be with the Lord," many assume that since Christ lives in heaven, the changed saints will too. But is this assumption valid?
They Bible shows that the reward of the saved is eternal life as kings and priests ruling and teaching here on earth (Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:10). But where will the saints go at the moment of Christ's return? The clearest verses that show Christians immediately returning with our King to the earth are Zechariah 14:3-5, 9:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. . . . Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You [Him, margin]. . . . And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. (See I Thessalonians 3:13.)
If our Savior is going to rule "over all the earth," the saints will have to settle for earth too!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Caught Up in the Rapture
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Some churches attempt to prove from this verse that heaven is the reward of the saved—that Christians will go to heaven and be there with Christ forever. But where did the idea that heaven is the reward of the saved originate? Does the Old Testament teach it? Did Jesus and His apostles teach it?
A perusal of various encyclopedia articles on "heaven" will show that this doctrine originated with the pagan, polytheistic Greeks and Romans. Their deified heroes and other favorites of their multiple gods were supposedly given admission to their "heaven," which they called "Elysium."
Various peoples evolved their own versions of Elysium. The Germans and Scandinavians had their Valhalla. The American Indians had their Happy Hunting Grounds. The eastern Buddhists have Nirvana, which offers the dubious promise of "the extinction of all desire and personality." Interestingly, the Western, professing Christian heaven is more similar to the original Greek concept.
The Old Testament shows clearly that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, it will be to set up the Kingdom of God—on earth, not in heaven.
Daniel 2:36-43 describes four major kingdoms, empires, or governmental systems that have ruled over the greater part of the civilized world: the Chaldean-Babylonian Empire (625 to 538 BC); the Medo-Persian Empire (538 to 330 BC); the Greco-Macedonian Empire (333 to 31 BC); and the the Roman Empire (Established 31 BC. The imagery suggests that it will exist in some form until the end of the age.) Clearly, these physical empires existed on earth. But verses 44-45 say that God's Kingdom will encompass all of these previous kingdoms—on earth! Daniel 7:17-18 says much the same.
Daniel 7:27 adds a vital piece of information to our understanding of where God's Kingdom is:
Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.
God's everlasting Kingdom, then, shall not be in heaven but "under the whole heaven"!
Why then should we be surprised that God's Kingdom will be on earth? God tells us through Moses that ancient Israel was a type of God's Kingdom and, in fact, could have been His Kingdom had they obeyed Him (Exodus 19:5-6).
The very churches that misuse I Thessalonians 4:17 could better understand its meaning by studying the words of the so-called "Lord's Prayer": "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10; see Micah 4:8). Jesus instructs His people to pray for God's Kingdom to come—to earth—not to be taken away to it!
Obadiah 1:17, 21 tell us specifically where God's Kingdom will be set up. Likewise, Micah 4:1-2 shows that Jesus Christ will dwell on earth in Jerusalem, accessible to physical people and nations.
Matthew 24:3 shows that the disciples knew, and therefore were taught by Jesus Himself, that He would come back to this earth, when they asked Him, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
In His reply, Jesus continually repeats that He will come back to this earth:
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west; so also will the coming of the Son of manbe. . . . Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. . . . But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Manbe. (verses 27, 30, 37; see also verses 39, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50)
Some might argue that, because Jesus went to be with God the Father in heaven after His death and resurrection, we must go to heaven to be with Him. However, in John 14:3, Jesus tells His disciples that He will come again to earth and will here receive them to Himself to be with Him: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." If He wants us in heaven, why would He have to come here to get us? The Parable of the Minas or Pounds (see Luke 19:11-15) also makes this clear.
After all of Jesus' teaching, the disciples, although still limited in their knowledge and understanding, knew for sure that Jesus was to restore His Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). In Acts 1:9-11, their understanding is greatly enhanced:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."
He will come down from heaven, through the clouds, and will set down on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4). He will be clearly visible to human eyes.
Christ reveals to the apostle John in Revelation 19:11-21 that He will not return meekly or unnoticed to this earth. His return will be witnessed by the whole world whose kings and armies (verse 19) will gather to battle against Him. No secret, quiet "rapture," whisking Christians off to heaven, but the most terrible battle in man's history.
Consider the context of I Thessalonians 4:17, and notice the previous verse: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (verse 16). This clearly proves that the timeframe is that of the second coming of Jesus Christ, not the death of each Christian.
Notice also that Christ is descending from heaven. We will not meet Him in heaven but in the atmosphere of the earth as He is on His way down.
Now comes the central question of this matter. We have just met Christ in the air! Where do we go from here? Up to heaven or back down to earth? I Thessalonians 4:17 says that we are to be with the Lord forever, but where will the Lord be? Again, many scriptures give the clear answer, but Zechariah 14:4 gives a concise one:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south.
Could this be some "heavenly" Mount of Olives? No, it is the one "which faces Jerusalem on the east"! Could it be some "spiritual" Jerusalem? No, Jesus is going to split it in half!
He will have arrived on earth. Who will be with Him? The second half of verse 5 tells us: "Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You." All the resurrected saints or holy ones will be with Him.
Will He stay on earth? Notice verse 9: "And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—'The LORD is one,' and His name one." Yes, He will stay. The Kingdom of God and the reward of the saved are on this earth! As Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 5:5, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Jesus will come again to earth, this time with His saints and with His army of angels too. He will take His rightful place on His glorious, earthly throne and share power with His saints over the physical nations of the earth (Revelation 2:26-27). God tells us in Revelation 5:10: "And have made us [the saints; verse 9] kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth."
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
Christ, by inheritance, has obtained the promises. Are we not co-heirs with Christ? Will we inherit the same things that He did? Verse 4 says, ". . . by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they [angels]." Is He greater than angels? There is no comparison between what He is now and an angel! He is their great Creator.
The writer of Hebrews is tracing the inheritance of the promises from the standpoint of Jesus, the Man, dying, being resurrected from the dead, and ascending to heaven. He is the inheritor of the promises that came to Him as the result of meeting the terms of the covenant given to Abraham. He became the heir, and what was His inheritance? This passage says that His inheritance was to become God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Thirteen)
Now, since we are co-heirs with Christ, we are co-heirs with Him of all things—everything that God made through Jesus Christ: the universe and everything that is in it! Are we, in the rush of life, forgetting who we are? Are we neglecting the fact that God will turn the governance of the things He has made—this awesome universe—over into our hands? When that happens, we will not be as poor and pitifully weak as we are now.
But we should not undervalue what we are. If we do, we will not take Passover in the right attitude, because what Passover represents was done for us so that we would be in a position to inherit all things. We do not have to feel like we just crawled from under a rock! We have been blessed beyond our wildest imaginations, but for now in God's plan, we are a little lower than Elohim. Yet, what a future lies before us!
Even now, we are the "apple of God's eye," the focus of His attention. We are so important to Him that His Son died for us. Truly, He died for the whole world, but right now, before He calls and converts the whole world, it is for you and me that the Creator died so that we could become co-heirs withHim. He wants to share what He made with us because He likes what He made. It is beautiful and has awesome potential, and just as any artist who makes something beautiful wants to share his creation with others, so does Jesus Christ, so that we can appreciate it and emulate it in our own works.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look
The objection people have regarding Hebrews 11:5-7 is that the mention of works and reward in the same breath suggests legalism and working for salvation. Is that so, or is it a misconception on their part? The latter. They misunderstand the salvation process because they do not allow the Bible to interpret itself.
God says in Genesis 15:1, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." His encouragement applies to us as well as to him. God Himself is the reward of those who seek Him. "Those who seek Him" is limited to those God invites to approach Him and who believe enough to take advantage of the opportunity and thus stir themselves up to draw near. The invitation itself is an aspect of God's grace.
Romans 4:4 makes it clear that earning access to God is impossible because it would put God in man's debt. No, access to Him is the result of freely given grace. The pairing of grace and reward is no more inconsistent than God's almighty sovereignty and man's responsibility being linked, or Jesus being both our Lord and our Servant. There would be no reward if God did not first give grace.
Another pairing we need to consider is found in Colossians 3:23-24: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Is not salvation a free gift? Yes, but as servants of Christ, we work, and our reward is eternal entrance into God's Kingdom. Add to this the idea found in Isaiah 55:1, that we are to "buy . . . without money." Salvation, then, is both a gift and a reward.
It should be clear that, in terms of salvation, gifts and works are nothing more than opposite sides of the same coin. Both are involved in the same process—salvation—but they are seen from different perspectives.
One thing is certain: There will be no lazy, neglectful people in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:26-30). Why? Because God is preparing us for living with Him eternally, so we must be created in the character image of Him and His Son, or we absolutely will not fit in. We would live in absolute, eternal misery. Jesus stresses that diligent work is part of His character when He says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Creators work!
Luke 13:24 adds strength to this point: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." The Greek word translated "strive" is actually the source of the English word "agonize." In addition, Jesus urges us in John 6:27 to labor "for the food which endures to everlasting life." God chooses to reward such strenuous efforts, not because they earn us a place in His presence, but because He deems it fitting to recognize and bless them. The Bible shows salvation as a reward, not because people earn it, but because God wants to emphasize the character of those who will be in His Kingdom and encourage others to be like them. The citizens of that Kingdom are workers like the Father and Son.
A second reason why reward and salvation are linked is because salvation, like payment for a person's labor, comes after the job is finished. Among the apostles, nobody worked harder for God than Paul did. At the end of his life, he writes:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:7-8)
Just as wages for work performed are paid after a job is done, God's major blessings are not given completely until our course is finished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
1 Peter 1:3-13
These verses link the unveiling of Jesus Christ with our future and all that the Father is working out. Verse 3 recalls to us our status as children of God, reminding us that our hope lies in the resurrection from the dead, when we will be composed of spirit, able to inherit the Kingdom (see I Corinthians 15:50). God Himself safeguards this perfect inheritance, which can never be diminished, for all those who are regenerated and endure to the end.
Verse 5 reminds us that our salvation will be revealed "in the last time." This gives us reason for great rejoicing, even though various trials may grieve us. Those trials are necessary, Peter tells us in verse 7, so that the genuineness of our faith—the tried and proven character of our faith—may be found when Jesus Christ is unveiled to the entire world (cf. Luke 18:8).
Verse 8 points out the contrast that, at this time, we do not see Him with our eyes because He is still veiled, hidden from the world. His revelation has not yet occurred. Even though we cannot see Him now, we still love Him and can still rejoice because we know that the Father will soon send Him back to this earth. Then, every eye will see Him (Revelation 1:7).
Verse 13 summarizes what we should be doing as a result of this understanding. We need to brace ourselves mentally, and think, plan, and act seriously and circumspectly, setting our hope wholly on the divine favor that the revelation of Jesus Christ will bring to us. For concurrent with the apocalypsis of Christ is the salvation of the saints, both living and dead.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
Just like the apostles and Jesus Christ, we, too, are going to be kings and priests on earth, where the Kingdom will be located. Thus, we find that God is producing a community, and that community is a nation as well as a Family. The members of that Family are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we all have a common Father - the great Creator of everything that is. Like the apostles and Jesus Christ, we are being drawn to a place where we will rule in that Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part One)
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