B-1: Resurrection and Rapture?
B-2: What about Evildoers?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: “I will Give Thee a Crown of Life!”
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process
B-5: “I will Give Thee a Crown of Life!”
The Bible often speaks about rewards in the Afterlife. In the Old Testament there was a clear understanding about it: “The LORD knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.” This “inheritance” was envisioned usually as coming on Earth after the Resurrection: “the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:18,11) Beyond this general understanding about future reward, we read in the Book of Daniel the words, often referred to in this study, of the angel Gabriel, speaking in more specific terms:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2-3, ESV)
The above Scripture refers to that great future event known as the Rapture, which leads into the “marriage supper of the Lamb”, a special victory celebration in the Heavenly Dimension for the people of God of all ages. (Revelation 19:19) Of course, it is wonderful to know that there are victory celebrations in Heaven. But we shouldn’t forget there are also times of judgment – or perhaps this can be expressed better as “the review and consequences of our earthly lives”.
Now, regarding the statement in Daniel 12:2 about those who “awake to shame and everlasting contempt”, it is often assumed that this group of souls are non-Christians destined for the “lake of fire” (mentioned in Revelation 19:20, 20:10). But the “lake of fire” is not the same as “shame and everlasting contempt”.
Why? For one thing Daniel’s prophecy states that these who are “raised” at Earth’s final “time of trouble” are the “sons of your people”, whereas those who are sent to the “lake of fire” are anything but the “sons of your people”. The Lake of Fire is meant, first of all, for the demons, and secondly, for those human souls who were rebellious enemies of God and destroyers of mankind.
For example, we learn in Revelation 19:20 that the Antichrist and False Prophet, who will fight against Christ and his armies at the Battle of Armageddon, “were cast alive into the lake of fire”. Then in the next chapter we learn that “the devil. . . was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” (20:10) We can assume then that the Lake of Fire is meant for the rebellious enemies of God, a different class of souls from those who, even though they “awake to shame and everlasting contempt”, are, nevertheless, the “sons of your people”.
But the difficult question is, how could they be “sons of your people” who are “delivered” and yet it seems that some of them “shall awake. . . to shame and everlasting contempt” ? Understandably, it is difficult for believers to see how this might apply to them, even though the passage’s context in this regard seems plain enough.
To answer this, we could start by trying to define who exactly are these “people” whom Gabriel declares will be “delivered”. On the most general level, it probably refers to those of whom Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. . . This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. . . that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. . . No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. . . everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:37, 39-40, 44-45)
These, of whom Christ said He would “by no means cast out”, are the “overcomers” spoken of in chapters 2-3 of the Book of Revelation – those who would by no means be “hurt of the second death” and whose names He would by no means “blot out. . . from the Book of Life”. (2:11, 3:5) (For more information see Post “A-3: The Book of Life”.) They have God’s guarantee – their “names written in heaven. . . written in the Book of Life”. (Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:15)
But then, what does the Lord mean here by “overcomer”. The apostle John explains it this way: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
This is a fairly general level of overcoming, and Jesus expressed it in much the same way: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment [“condemnation” or “damnation” in some translations], but has passed from death into life [that is, their names have been written in the Book of Life and they shall escape the Second Death].” (John 5:24). That is all that is required to gain entrance into the Kingdom.
Anyone who “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” has “overcome” – because their faith also includes a commitment to righteousness. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness.” (Romans 10:10) A person cannot even “come to the light” unless they are doing “what is right. . . what God wants.” (John 3:21, NLT)
Now in that Scripture (Daniel 2:2), Gabriel distinguishes between those who are raised to “everlasting life” and those who “awake. . . to shame and everlasting contempt” ? Could that mean that the “shame and contempt” crowd will have to spend some time in Hell? However, in this passage “everlasting life” seems to refer to rewards, as outlined in the next verse where we read that “those who are wise” and “those who turn many to righteousness. . . shall shine like the brightness of the sky above and like the stars.” (Daniel 12:3)
When Jesus uses the term “everlasting life”, He is using it in a different sense. He is talking to all those who come to Him (even the ones who come and later turn back). These all are granted citizenship in the Kingdom. “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. . . and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:37,40)
So those who come to Christ, then later turn back, are not booted out of the Kingdom. Upon arrival in Heaven, however, they are apt to feel ashamed: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed. . . And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (Mark 8:38, 1John 2:28) These words of exhortation were spoken and written to believers.
This “shame and everlasting contempt” is not the real Hell, the damnation of Hell. But it is the hell of failure, the hell of turning one’s back on the Lord, the hell of not living up to God’s calling, in putting one’s own will above God’s will. These memories are not forgotten the moment one enters Heaven. In time however, this “shame and everlasting contempt”, this remorse over past failures, are wiped away and forgotten, and one is left with the treasures and blessings of his or her heavenly existence.
It should be noted, by the way, that the word “everlasting” refers to the everlasting realm of the spirit – the domain that is permanent, as opposed to the temporary one we dwell in now. It doesn’t mean a hopelessly infinite amount of time. (More on this point later in Post C-4.)
To shed further light on the question of what happens to believers in the Afterlife, we can look at this statement in 1Corinthians 3: “each one’s work. . . will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. . . If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (3:13,15)
Those who build their lives with “wood, hay, straw. . . suffer loss”. Nevertheless, they are “saved”. They do not lose their salvation; they are citizens of the Kingdom. As overcomers who have come over to Christ, they “shall not be hurt by the second death” in the Lake of Fire, as Jesus promised. (Revelation 2:11)
However, although they have escaped the Second Death, that does not mean they have escaped the “fire” altogether. “Fire”, as we shall learn further ahead, is symbolic of purging. And for some souls (or maybe all of us to some degree or another) will need some purging. And that is what happens in the Judgment Seat of Christ; we “receive a reward” for those works built with “gold, silver, precious stones” and “suffer loss” from whatever was built of “wood, hay, straw”.
In the Revelation Book also, we find there are different levels of dedication and reward, different levels of overcoming. For example, Christ seems to make a distinction between “overcomers” who will escape the Second Death and have their names in the Book of Life and those who not only “overcome” but “keep My works until the end.” To them Jesus said He would give “power over the nations”. (Revelation 2:26)
During His time on Earth, there was a clear distinction between those who had come to Him but later, because of a “hard saying. . . walked no more with Him” and those disciples who wanted to “continue in His Word”. (John 6:60,66, 8:31 – KJV)
This principle of enduring faithfulness with its accompanying reward is conveyed also in the Scripture, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This statement is made from a positive viewpoint, throwing out the challenge for believers (overcomers) to aim for maximum return on their life’s investment.
Then comes the statement – “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – which is followed by the basic guarantee, the minimum that believers (overcomers) can expect. It is a negatively worded statement which, nevertheless, promotes the great reassurance for believers that “he who overcomes shall not [by no means] be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11)
The idea here seems to be, it is one thing to “overcome” and escape the “second death”; coming to Christ is in itself a measure of great courage and submission to God. But greater yet is it to “be faithful unto death.” That is, to keep going for God till the end of one’s life – either by natural death or, in some cases, by martyrdom. The reward for such faithfulness goes well beyond the reward of escaping the “second death”, but includes a “crown of life”.
Hebrews 11:6 conveys a similar idea; it is one thing to “please God” and “believe that He is”, but the kind of faith that pleases God even more goes further and believes “that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)
The whole Book of Hebrews, in fact, is an exhortation against falling away, against throwing away one’s confidence in God – to persevere, to be faithful to the end, to accept discipline from the Lord, to aim for a better resurrection, to seek diligently after God, knowing that He will reward our efforts.
And Jesus said much the same thing in His several parables. He taught that there is a difference between those who are “born again” and those who, in addition to being born again, manifest a great deal of faithfulness during their lifetimes. (John 3:3) There are “in a great house. . . vessels for honor and some for dishonor.” (2Timothy 2:20) What we need to keep in mind, though, is that all are vessels who have a special and treasured place in God’s “great house”.
Yet at the same time, there is this obvious general division amongst believers – comparable perhaps to that in the sporting world, between the players on the field and the cheering crowds in the stands. They are all on the Lord’s side, but obviously, the ones doing battle on the playing field deserve more honor and reward.
Where or how God draws the line we don’t really know. But perhaps the following Scripture offers a helpful guideline: “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8) Now the thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of where we end up on the scale, our hearts will be so overjoyed to be united with our Savior and our minds so overwhelmed to have entered that glorious Heavenly Realm that nothing else will matter so much.
And although there are different classes in the Heavenly Kingdom, it is not the same situation as on Earth where, because of injustice and lack of mobility, there is much dissatisfaction and rivalry. In a just heavenly society, where everyone’s needs are met and there is general contentment overall, that envy between classes won’t exist – a difficult concept for us in this life to grapple with perhaps. But surely, in God’s glorious Heaven there will be overall a spirit of happiness and satisfaction that all of its citizens will experience.
And yet we may conclude from His several parables that Christ did establish two broad categories of reward, making it clear that there would be a difference between believers and followers.
Believers accept Jesus’ teachings as true; they believe in Him, believe that He is their Savior, and they are saved. Jesus made it clear that belief in Him is sufficient for salvation when He said in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s a wonderful thing to be a believer! It brings with it everlasting life, eternity with God.
Walking the path of discipleship means that someone makes the choice to add action to belief. It’s going beyond the acceptance of the teachings and involves choosing to follow the teachings, to apply them in daily living.
(“At the Heart of Discipleship” by Peter Amsterdam.)