Reward in Heaven
Jesus, in the beatitudes, lists many descriptors of those who are considered blessed of heaven—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those hungering for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Then Jesus says about these people:
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12 NIV84)
Oh, what a happy day it will be when all sin is washed away, when there will be no more pain, suffering, distress, heartache, and persecution, and when we receive the promised rewards!
But are the rewards of salvation, of surrendering to Jesus, of living as God would have us only experienced after the Second Coming? Or, while the ultimate rewards of new immortal bodies, face-to-face communion with God, restoration of our departed loved ones, and a universe free from all sin, decay, and death are not experienced until after the Second Coming, are there other rewards that the saved experience here and now?
Can you think of any rewards that come from being reborn into the family of God that we experience here and now—rewards that even those who are persecuted, like the apostle Paul was, experience?
Do you consider the peace we have with God when we surrender our hearts to Him a reward? Is it a reward to experience the removal of guilt and shame and the gain of peace of heart, new motives that lead us to love God and others, joy, patience, self-control, wisdom, discernment, being able to talk with God as one does to a friend, and sometimes specific divine interventions in our daily struggles? Isn’t life better in a love/trust relationship with God here and now than living in the world without God?
Over the years, I have heard various Christians, when they talk about the rewards in heaven, mention things like mansions, streets of gold, and crowns of glory. I have heard the idea put forth that those who have done the most for Jesus here on Earth will be given, as a reward, more “stars in their crowns.” I remember that as a child, each week at church if we could correctly recite our weekly memory verse, we would receive a gold star next to our name on the class roster posted on the wall. As the year unfolded, some of us had many more stars next to our names than others. As a child, I wondered if that is how it would be for the saved in heaven—those who did more good works for Jesus would have crowns with more stars.
As I have grown up though, I have realized that the imagery of stars in heavenly crowns is very much like the gold stickers placed by our names as children—symbols of the real reward we receive, but they are not the reality itself.
In the Greek New Testament, two words are translated as “crown”: diadem, which is a crown of authority, power over others, worldly imperial rule; and stephanos, which is the crown of victory over sin. Peter describes our victory crown (stephanos) as a crown of glory, and Paul describes it as a crown of righteousness:
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4 NIV84).
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV84).
This stephanos crown is real, but it is not a piece of metal laden with jewels; such depictions are merely symbolic—the true crown is the crown of a glorious, righteous Christlike character permanently and fully restored and sealed into the hearts and minds of the saved. This is our reward!
But why will some receive greater reward than others if all receive the reward of being crowned with a righteous Christlike character?
What is it that heaven values most? People! So if we become like Christ, what will we value most? Other people! And, therefore, what will be our greatest joy, reward, happiness, and cause for celebration in heaven? Won’t it be the number of people we know and love who are there to celebrate with us? Won’t our reward, what brings us the most joy, be multiplied by the number of people whom we love and are loved by and whom we can share the joys of heaven with?
This is an outworking of the design law of love—the more you give, the more you receive. As we experience God’s love, are transformed by that love, and allow that love to flow through us to others, we are sowing the good seed of the gospel. And as the good seed of God’s truth and love, flowing through us, reaches other human hearts, God’s saving grace, healing presence, and transforming love will cause those seeds to grow in the tender hearts, the receptive hearts, and those people will respond positively and give their hearts to Jesus.
In heaven, all of this will be made known to us. God will reward us by revealing all these gospel links between people. The connections of love and truth of which we have been a part will be magnified. God will introduce us to those who had a hand in sharing the gospel with us and those to whom our loving service brought the gospel. We will see where our donation to this ministry or that church resulted in reaching a soul for God’s kingdom, or a tract we left in a home, or a pamphlet we edited, or a song we sang, or a conversation we had on an airplane that was overheard and bore witness to the kingdom of God. We will see how the Holy Spirit watered these actions to lead souls to Christ. And we will understand the sacrifice, grace, forgiveness, and service that others did for us, but so, too, we will experience the gratitude, love, and appreciation of those who found Christ because of God’s working through us.
And consider the impact upon the saved when God makes all of these connections known; what will happen in the hearts and minds of these saved people in heaven? Love and appreciation and rejoicing and reward, and that love is described in Scripture as a burning fire (Song 8:6). The more of these love-connections we have been involved in making here on this earth, the more of God’s love flows back through these people to us and the brighter we will shine, the more stars will be seen burning in the crowns of our characters, and the greater will our reward in heaven be!
Truly, it is just as Jesus said: The humble—those who know their spiritual need, those who mourn over the sin-sickness of this world, those who hunger for the righteousness of heaven, who are merciful, compassionate, whose hearts are purified by God’s love, who share that love with others, even blessing those who persecute them—will experience great reward in heaven!