Teaching series from Revelation

God's Eternal Kingdom (Part 4)

Revelation 22:12

Teaching t23027


We come to our last study on the book of Revelation. Revelation ends with a vision of God’s eternal kingdom, which we spent three weeks studying. We’ve looked at how awesome His kingdom will be. Even more awesome is the fact that God offers it to everyone as a free gift (read 22:17). Jesus paid our entry price through His death – and the only condition is that we receive His forgiveness.

This morning, we will look at another aspect of God’s eternal kingdom, which Jesus announces in 22:12 (read). Jesus is urging His followers to faithfully serve Him because He will soon reward them for their service. This is something over and above entry into His kingdom; it is a reward (or award) for faithful service. Many other New Testament passages speak of this reward. Let’s look at one of those passages...

Jesus’ evaluation for reward

Read 1Cor.3:8. You can see that Paul is referring to the same thing Jesus speaks of in Rev.22:12. Read 3:10-15. He says there is a specific future day (3:13) when all Christians (2 Cor.5:10; Rom.14:10b,12) will undergo this evaluation.

The purpose of this evaluation in no way affects our salvation (3:15), but rather determines the reward for each Christian (3:14). This is like the Olympic judges’ evaluation of the athletes in an event. Their evaluation is not retributive (e.g., shoot the losers); it is remunerative (i.e., award the top 3).

This evaluation reveals “the quality of our work” (3:13), or our service to Him as Christians. Once we receive Christ, we are all “building” something with our Christian lives. We can build by serving Christ and advancing His purpose (“gold, silver, precious stones”) – which Jesus will reward on that day (3:14). Or we can build by not serving Christ (“wood, hay, straw”) – which Jesus will not reward but rather mercifully burn up on that day (3:15).

In truth, all of us will have plenty of “wood, hay and straw” – I know I’ll have a good sized bonfire, and I’ll be glad to have them burned up! And later in this passage, Paul says that each Christian will receive some reward (4:6b).

What is this reward, and how should this future event affect my current life? This passage sheds light on both of these questions. But first I want to respond briefly to three common objections that prevent many Christians from benefitting from this truth...

Common objections

“This contradicts God’s grace.” Since the reward is related to our deeds, it seems to turn eternal life into something we merit by our good works. (“You’ll be cleaning sewers in heaven unless you shape up!”)

Actually, it emphasizes God’s grace! Suppose you committed grand theft, and then the victim forgave you, absorbing the full cost. And then suppose he rewarded you for subsequent steps toward a responsible life. Would you call that legalistic? This is what Jesus did. He absorbed the price of our sins so we can be forgiven and spend eternity in God’s kingdom. And then He rewards us for our service between now and then! This is “grace upon grace!”

“This gives unfair advantage to certain Christians.” This objection (wrongly) assumes that people who were Christians for longer periods of time, or who served in more public ways, or who had more/greater spiritual gifts will be rewarded more than those who did not have these things (as happens in the world).

Actually, this evaluation will be completely fair. The issue will not be how we compare to other people's service, but rather how faithful we were with what God gave us. Those who grew up in healthy homes or came to Christ early in life have no advantage over those who grew up in broken homes or came to Christ later in life. Those who were given powerful gifts or serve in public arenas have no advantage over those who were gifted to lesser degrees or serve in behind-the-scenes ways. The issue is the same with everyone: How faithful have we been to serve Christ with what we have been given? For this very reason, Jesus tells us that “many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first” (Matt.19:30). This should be a great encouragement to those of us who feel less privileged, and it should be a sobering reminder to those of us who have been given much!

“This encourages mercenary service.” “Mercenary” means serving for the money, not because of sincere commitment to the cause (e.g., SOLDIERS). In our world, the prospect f reward corrupts people all the time. People sabotage others’ jobs to get a promotion; they steal secrets to be the first out with a product; they treat other people as impersonal means to their end. And Christians sometimes have been mercenary in their pursuit of Christ's reward. They can view non-Christians as stepping stones to reward; they can view other Christians as competitors to be beaten, etc.

Actually, this teaching encourages just the opposite. Jesus says that He will not reward service with selfish motives (Matt.6:1), but that He will reward service that is done because of genuine love for God and people (Matt.6:4). Likewise, Paul also says that God sees and weighs the motivation of our service in His evaluation and reward (read 4:5 – “the motives of men’s hearts”).

With these important clarifications, let’s consider what Jesus’ reward is. Paul describes two aspects of it in this passage (there are more described elsewhere), and it may surprise you...

What is Jesus’ reward?

One aspect of His reward is the satisfaction of seeing the significance of your service. Read 3:13a (“each man’s work will become evident”). Evident to whom? Since God is omniscient, He already knows the quality of our service fully and perfectly. The point is that it will become evident to us (and secondarily, to others). Jesus will walk us through our Christian lives, and His evaluation will be surprising.

I imagine that He will come to some things, and I’ll think: “Yes! This was one of my best!” – but then He will torch most of it because I did it mainly to impress people.

Then He will come to some other service, and I’ll think: “That was insignificant!” – and He’ll smile and say: “You did that just because you loved Me.”

And then He’ll come to some other service, and I’ll think: “That was a big failure!” – but He will open my eyes to see that He worked through it to do far more than I realized (e.g., REBUFFED WITNESS THAT WAS A LINK IN THE CHAIN; ENCOURAGING WORD THAT PROPELLED SOMEONE FORWARD).

We sometimes get little surprising glimpses of the impact of our service (EXAMPLE), and they are super-satisfying. Think what it will be like to see it all, interwoven with others’ service, used by His grace, rippling out into eternity!

How different this is than the Hindu/Buddhist afterlife! One illustration is that our individual lives are like drops of water that are absorbed into the ocean of oneness. In other words, our individual choices in this life are ultimately insignificant. But the Bible says that our choices set off ripples that go on forever!

Another aspect of His reward is the joy of being praised by God. Re-read 4:5b. Jesus described the reward in one of His parables this way (read Matt.25:21). This is staggering grace - that the God of the universe, the One to whom praise is rightfully due, will not only allow us to spend eternity in His presence, but He will praise us for our service and take joy in it! And hearing His praise will somehow enable us to enter us to enter even more fully into His joy! (ME DELIGHTING IN MY GRAND-DAUGHTER’S LITTLE KINDNESSES & HER DELIGHT IN RESPONSE TO MY DELIGHT) C. S. Lewis describes this in his essay The Weight of Glory:

“Nothing is so obvious in a child ...as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised (by his parents or teacher) ...(to have) the satisfaction of having pleased those whom he has rightly loved and (respected) ...And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when (we), beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, at last learn that (we have) pleased Him whom (we were) created to please... With no taint of ...(prideful) self-approval (we) will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made (us) to be ...(This) moment will forever drown (both our) inferiority complex (and our) pride ... To please God ...to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness ... it seems impossible, a weight of glory which our thoughts can barely sustain. But so it is.”

So what?

How should this promise that Jesus will one day reward us for service affect me today, in my situation, at this stage of my life, with these resources that I have? Paul gives three answers to this question:

It should sober us to not waste our Christian lives. That’s what Paul means in 3:10b (read). If you belong to Jesus, you have already made the ultimate significant decision because you are eternally secure. But what you do in this life still matters forever, and the opportunity to serve Christ here will soon be gone. Don’t get sidetracked into living for worldly counterfeits (e.g., COMFORT; TOYS; PRESTIGE) when you can have the real thing (quote Matt.6:19,20)! Our culture applauds people who sacrifice relationships, time, etc. to win academic degrees, high salaries, and even metal disks – and it scorns people who sacrifice opportunities for these things in order to serve Jesus. But whose rewards will be more valuable 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? I know that I am and will be a far from perfect servant of Christ my entire time down here. I also know that I have wasted certain portions of my Christian life serving myself. But I want to leave knowing that I didn’t waste most my Christian life! Don’t you?

It should motivate us to be faithful stewards of the gospel. Read 4:1,2. We have each been given access to the mysteries of God – the message of salvation. We have each been given certain gifts and opportunities to transmit that message (e.g., witnessing; discipling; encouraging Christians; parenting & grand-parenting; financing ministry). We have each been given a certain period of time (known only by God) to serve Him. We are not responsible to be “successful” by human standards – including western Christian culture’s standards, which emphasize bigness quickly, public notoriety, charismatic personalities, etc. We are responsible to plug away, faithfully stewarding the gospel day by day in our little circles of influence. This is what God values, this is what He will reward!

“Every kingdom work, whether publicly performed or privately endeavored, partakes of the kingdom’s imperishable character. Every honest intention, every stumbling word of witness... every gesture of concern, every routine service... every mumbled prayer, everything, literally, which flows out of a faith-relationship with (Christ), will find its place in the ever-living heavenly order which will dawn at His coming.”

It should free us from the bondage of comparing ourselves to others. Read 4:3a,4b. Can you say this with Paul, or do you live your life obsessing on how other people (EXAMPLES) view you? Read 4:5. Are you following Paul’s exhortation, or have you set yourself up as the umpire of other Christians’ service? Yes, we should listen to constructive feedback from others, and we should give it also. Yes, we should be accountable to other people in certain areas. But Jesus is the One who will give the ultimate verdict on our lives. When I meet Jesus on this say, He isn’t going to be interested in my evaluation of other servants, or their evaluation of me. So I should live for the “Audience of One” and encourage urge my brothers and sisters to do the same.

Jesus speaks frequently of this (cf. Matt. 6:4,6,18; 10:41,42). Misthos is used this way 15 times in the New Testament. Every New Testament letter author refers to this reward.

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1974),pp. 9,10.

Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven and Hell (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p.257.