Monday, December 16, 2013

Here Comes Trouble - The Time of Tribulation, Part 1

Growing up in Southern California, I experienced a number of earthquakes including several severe ones. In a few short moments amazing destruction can take place and that without any warning at all. People don’t know that an earthquake is coming and are simply going about their daily routines giving no thought to a disaster that would come upon them just minutes later. It is the sudden unexpected arrival of an earthquake that adds to the terror of the event.

Today people are going about their daily routines (as they should) but very few are giving serious thought to the great disaster that is coming upon this planet; the period commonly known as “the tribulation.” And just like you cannot stop an earthquake from hitting, so no man can stop the Tribulation from taking place. It will be an unprecedented time of trouble for earth’s inhabitants. Jesus, following several O.T. prophets, taught the unprecedented trouble of this time.

“...for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor every shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” Matthew 24:21-22

The Apostle Paul spoke of the sudden, devastating arrival of this period of time when he stated the following.

 “While they (the unsaved world) are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pains upon a woman with child; and they will not escape.” 1 Thessalonians 5:3

The Scriptures have a large volume of material about this period of time and in this article, and several that will follow, our purpose will be to blend many of these passages together and attempt to present the order of events of the Tribulation period. But before we do that, it is probably helpful to be reminded of several key facts.

Five Key Facts About the Tribulation Period
(1) THE LENGTH OF THE TRIBULATION. From Daniel 9:24-27, we learn that this period of time will last for 7 years. However, the period if divided neatly into two part of 3½ years each. But the two halves, while equal in length, are not equal in the intensity of activity and judgments. In fact, Jesus referred to the second half as “the tribulation, the great one. In this study, however, we will be looking at the three distinct parts of this period: the first half, half time and the second half.

(2) THE CHURCH AND THE TRIBULATION. The true church (the body of Christ) will be removed out of the Tribulation period before it begins. It is not within the scope of this study to detail the reasons why the church is removed, but basically the church will not experience the “wrath of God”, and the entire 7 years is the wrath of God. And furthermore, this period is said to be dealing with the Covenant people of Israel.

(3) THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF THE TRIBULATION. The main reason for having a tribulation time is to bring God’s salvation to His people Israel. God made the New Covenant with Israel and they, as a nation, have never been brought into it, thus fulfilling God’s stated purpose of their salvation. After almost 2000 years, Israel nationally is no closer to their redemption. But the Tribulation will change all that and God’s stated purposes will be fulfilled (cf. Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 31:31-34). It is this period of trouble that will cause Israel’s spiritual blindness to be removed and “all” Israel shall be saved (cf. Romans 11:25-30).

(4) THE SECONDARY PURPOSE OF THE TRIBULATION. Most often, when the Tribulation is discussed, it is the terrible judgments and destruction that are emphasized. God will indeed deal with wicked men and nations who have turned their backs on His grace. It will be, as Jesus declared, the worst of times on this earth, unlike anything that has ever taken place. It is so terrible that it is likely that upwards of 80% will die of those who entered this period of time. But we must remember that God does not need seven years to bring judgment on men (He does, however, need time to save men). He could execute His fierce wrath in a matter of seconds (as He did with Sodom, Gomorrah and the cities of the plain). But judgment is secondary to His work of saving millions of people during this time. But great will be the judgments upon the wicked.

(5) SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY IN THE TRIBULATION. This will be a time in which occurs the greatest display of supernatural activity since the creation itself. The great miracles and sign events come from God and they also come from Satan and his forces. (cf. Matt. 24:24; 2 Thes. 2:8-10; Rev. 13:13; etc.). The scriptures are quite clear that this is not “business as usual” on the planet. The outpouring of the supernatural will be breathtaking as God and Satan fight for the souls of men. It is unlikely that anyone will claim to be an atheist or an agnostic during the Tribulation period. The great issue will not be “is there a god?” but rather will you believe and follow Him, or will you align yourself with the Antichrist and Satan. These are going to be very different days on planet earth.

In the upcoming articles, we will be approaching the Tribulation by looking at the people and events found in the first half of the time; and then our focus will turn to the game changing events at the mid-point of the Tribulation; and finally to view the last half, the “great Tribulation.”

It is good to be informed and make preparations for coming events. And as with earthquakes where we just don’t know exactly when they will occur, so it is with the Tribulation. And, yes, spiritual preparations need to be made and truth shared with those who right now face the prospect of entering this amazingly horrible period. One of the emphases that Jesus made in concluding His prophetic discourse (Matt. 24 and 25) was on making personal preparations in light of these coming events. We would be wise to follow His advice.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life In Eternity - The Best Is Yet To Come

“Won’t it be great to live forever in heaven with Jesus?” This question was posed by Mrs. Slater who labored each Sunday to try and teach us junior boys something. We boys, however, did not share her enthusiasm for eternity because we thought it would just be a lot of singing and things like that. The thought of an eternal church service was not particularly attractive to those of us who had a real tough time with services that went beyond and an hour and ten minutes.

We were, of course, immature boys. But it is somewhat surprising that many older Christians do not appear to have advanced much beyond that perception of Mrs. Slater’s junior boys.

The Two Phases of the Future Kingdom of God
The Scriptures are clear that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming that no creature (angel or man) will ever again usurp His ruling authority. At that time, the future kingdom of God is in place and it is there permanently. As Daniel expressed it in Daniel 2:44:

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”

What Daniel did not know, but what later scriptures explained, was that while God’s kingdom is forever, it will have two distinct phases to it.

(1) PHASE ONE – THE MESSIANIC (Millennial) KINGDOM. This first phase is necessary in order to fulfill the Covenant that God made with Abraham. What God promised, He has yet to fulfill. It is required that Messiah reign in order that those many unfulfilled promises be fulfilled. The characteristics of this Messianic kingdom are found in abundance in the O.T. prophets and it will be an incredible period of time. It is the N.T., however, where we informed that this phase of the future kingdom of God will last for 1,000 years.

(2) PHASE TWO – THE ETERNAL KINGDOM. Once the reign of King Jesus is completed, He will turn ruling authority over to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24) and the final resurrection and the final judgments take place. These events then prepare everyone for the final, forever phase of the kingdom. It is this phase that we want to highlight in this article.

Six Facts About the Eternal Phase of the Future Kingdom of God
The Apostle Paul’s statement is true that all of our earthly knowledge and experiences do not make clear “all that God has prepared for them who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). But there are some truths found in our Bibles that let us in on something of what it will be like in eternity.

(1) OUR BODIES WILL BE CHANGED AND MADE MATURE. Sickness, disease and many kinds of limitations are the common experience of people today. These experiences are not at all what God originally designed when He created our physical bodies. In eternity we will have bodies that have been changed. The Apostle Paul reflects the desire of us all when he says in Romans 8:23,

“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

Our bodies will be made like the body that Jesus had at His resurrection. He is called the “first fruits” which means that His body is the “proto-type” of our bodies. Looking at Luke 24, which recounts two resurrection appearances to the disciples, gives us some insights into what that body will be like. Our bodies will be like His; mature and free from any deficiencies. There will be no physical illness, no mental or emotional retardation or deficiency. This perfect body will live forever, never dying.

(2) THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH WILL BE MADE NEW. God created a beautiful, perfect, physical world for people to live in (Gen. 1, 2). There was no sin, death, curse or imperfection of any kind until the Fall. Revelation 21:1 declares that God is going to create a “new” heaven and a “new” earth. This word emphasizes the fact that it is a “fresh” version of what was created before. The reason for the “new” heaven and earth is the same as the original one; that is, it is the dwelling place for people. Eternity will apparently be spent on the new earth. We are going back to paradise. God’s original plan was absolutely excellent and He is going to restore everything that was lost in the Fall. Apparently the one thing about the new earth that John wants us to know is that “there is no longer any sea.” What does that mean? We are used to a world where 70% is covered by water. Apparently that is not what the original earth looked like. We would understand that much of the present water is the result of God’s judgment with the flood of Noah’s day.

(3) OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WILL BE CHANGED. We will experience a level of fellowship and relationship with the Lord God that we (even in our best moments) have never experienced. It will be a full and uninhibited fellowship (note Rev. 22:4). Revelation 21:3 tells us that God is going to come down onto the earth and will “dwell among” His people. While Adam and Eve were visited regularly in Eden, we will have a much richer and more permanent relationship than they had. We possess the very righteousness of Christ (Adam did not) and this will enable us to enjoy a level of fellowship that neither we today or Adam in Eden ever experienced. There is no sin or guilt to get in the way of enjoying the Lord.

(4) WE WILL HAVE PRODUCTIVE, MEANINGFUL LIVES. We will be “serving” the Lord (Rev. 22:3) which tells us that the Lord will give us important and meaningful activities. We spend much of our time involved in dealing with the consequences of sin (from weeding the garden to fixing machines, people or situations) and so it is hard to imagine what it is we could be doing. Adam was given meaningful activity in tending the Garden and “ruling” over creation. So while we cannot at this moment put together a “to do” list, we can be sure that whether it is worshiping, ruling, serving or learning, our lives will be full and satisfying.

(5) SOME REALITIES EXPERIENCED NOW ARE EXPERIENCED THEN. Not everything will be strange and different. There will be kings and nations in the eternal state (Rev. 21:24-26). We will eat and drink (Rev. 22:1-2). There will be a city there, the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-27). There will be a universe with sun, moon and stars to gaze at and investigate. (Note that Revelation does not say there is no sun, but rather that there is no “need” for the sun in the new Jerusalem). Having a “fresh” earth means that there will be meadows and mountains, rivers and lakes, trees and flowers, making it much like what we can enjoy now.

(6) SOME REALITIES PRESENTLY EXPERIENCED WILL BE ABSENT. Of great importance also is what will not be there (Rev. 21:4; 22:3). There will no longer be pain, death, crying, sorrow and the curse. It is nearly impossible for us to imagine what life will be like without these entities that we deal with daily. No more fearing death. No crying which comes from disappointment, failure, the ending of a relationship, the death of a friend, loneliness and a host of other negatives. Life without these things will be amazing. We cannot really imagine what it will be like with these things gone.

“Thou will make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

What the Lord has for us is not at all what we junior boys thought back in our class of junior boys. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Great Salvation in the Great Tribulation

The Scriptures inform us that this age will climax with a chamber of horrors commonly known as the Tribulation. This seven year period of time will bring an unprecedented time of trouble for the whole world. (Note particularly Matthew 24:21; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:2). There never has been, nor will there ever again, be a time like it.

Tribulation Terror
Most people, even those who are not believers in the Bible, have some knowledge of “armageddon” and realize that the Bible talks about the earth ending with great catastrophes. While the Mayan prediction of the year being 2012 has come and gone, still many movies are made and TV shows created which have end times destruction as a theme. But even these miss what the Bible says.

God’s wrath will be poured out in a most powerful way during those seven years. In giving us the basics of the judgments of God’s wrath, the Apostle John records, in Revelation, that there will be 19 specific judgments. These judgments are said to be “birth pains” indicating that after they begin they will grow worse and worse and closer together as the seven years proceed along. This lets us know several basic points: (1) that the majority of judgments take place in the latter part of the Tribulation, and that (2) the last judgments will be worse than the initial ones. These 19 judgments will devastate the world. Body counts are given for 2 of the 19 judgments (the 4th Seal and the 6th Trumpet). In these two judgments, 50% of the population of the earth dies. But when we look closely at the rest of the judgments, it is quite clear that the death toll far exceed 50%. We are probably not too far off by saying that 80-85% will perish. So if the Tribulation begins with the population of the earth being 7 billion, then those that die under the wrath of God will be around 6 billion. All that in 7 years.

But death will also come at the hand of Satan. Satan will use the Great Harlot (Rev. 17) and the Antichrist (Rev. 13) to shed the blood of millions of God’s people. This incredible loss of human life coupled with unprecedented earthquakes (two of them that move the entire crust of the earth), burning of earth, destruction of the oceans and fresh water sources will make this the worst period in all of human history. It is no wonder that Jesus observed that unless God had limited this time to just 7 years no human being would be left standing (Matt. 24:22).

Tribulation Salvation
In spite of all this mayhem and destruction, judgment is really not the main reason for the Tribulation period. If all God wanted to do was judge evil men and nations, then he could do it in 7 minutes (such as with Sodom and Gomorrah). He would not need 7 years but could get His point across much quicker. But salvation of people is God’s great purpose and that does take some time. The gospel must be proclaimed and men hear it and then chose to respond to Jesus Christ or not.

(1) Saving Israel. In His covenant promises to Abraham (and Abraham’s descendants) God declared that He would bring Israel into the New Covenant, which is the covenant dealing with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. In all the centuries since Jesus came the first time and died on the Cross, as a nation, Israel has never turned to Him. And yet Jesus was abundantly clear when He declared that He would not return to the earth again (the 2nd Coming) until Israel turned to Him in faith (Matt. 23:39). Saving Israel is God’s first and primary order of business in the Tribulation. And He will accomplish this great goal as these Scriptures state with clarity.

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in: and thus ALL ISRAEL will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” Romans 11:25-27

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people (Israel) and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.” Daniel 9:24

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you...I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25

Israel begins the Tribulation as an unbelieving nation, but that rapidly begins to change, probably as the 144,000 Jewish evangelists begin to make an impact. Jesus said that about half way through the Tribulation, Israel would begin to be persecuted “on account of My name” (Matt. 24:9). Now Israel has been and continues to be persecuted by the gentile nations, but not because she has identified with the Lord Jesus Christ! The 144,000 (Rev. 7) along with the “two witnesses” (Rev. 11) apparently have a huge impact on the nation of Israel, so that by the end of the Tribulation “all” Israel has come to faith in Christ. With the salvation of Israel, the Great King Jesus can now return. But before He does there are many more that need saving. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3---“in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

(2) Saving gentiles. In the Old Testament, it was always God’s plan to reach the gentile nations through Israel. The Israelites were to be a light to the gentiles. Unfortunately they behaved badly and never really were that light bringing the knowledge of the Lord Jehovah to the nations. But that changes dramatically in the Tribulation. They will be a beacon light in that terribly dark period of time. According to Revelation 7:9-14, millions upon millions from every nation will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It is important to observe that these people (of Rev. 7) were saved during the Tribulation period and not during the ages of the church or some other time. And while they died for their faith, the number of them runs in the millions.

Some Concluding Thoughts
This short study should remind us that the Lord delights in saving people and is committed to doing that. Judgment is not what He delights in, but rather the regeneration of lost people. The Tribulation, while having terrible judgments, is primarily a time for salvation. God will fulfill His commitment to save Israel, and Israel in turn will be the ones who spread the truth of God which results in so many gentiles coming to know Jesus. (It is likely that with all of the outpouring of the supernatural that there will be no atheists or agnostics during the Tribulation. The issue is whether you will side with Jesus or with Satan/Antichrist).

Today God wants us to share the Good News about Jesus. And perhaps our obedience in this matter, will cause some in the Tribulation to come to Christ. Imagine if you shared the gospel with a person on Wednesday (and there is no response) and then the Rapture takes place on Thursday. The seed we planted could still bear fruit in those days of the Tribulation. God simply loves to save people.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Series: Payday Is Coming

Again, What Good Is Bible Prophecy?

 In our last study, we addressed the very common question of the value of Bible prophecy. Unfortunately, many Christians whether they are in the church or the academic community, believe that biblical prophecy is not very important. They reason that it is too controversial, too unclear or much too irrelevant for life in the present. However, this attitude would come as a real surprise to the early church. For example, when the Apostle Peter wrote his two letters (which are not seen as prophetic epistles), he spoke some 25 times about future events. The writers of the New Testament understood that prophecy was designed to shape the way we view life right now by influencing our choices and priorities.

In our previous study we observed three realities that indicate how important Bible prophecy is in the life of the believer. We noted that Bible prophecy (1) helps us in our struggle with sin, (2) provides a framework for making decision and prioritizing life and (3) gives a needed perspective in times of trial and temptation.

There are several other truths which refute the common idea that prophecy is not all that important for us today.


If there is anyone who ought to live in this world with confidence, it is the child of God (cf. Titus 2:13). If there is anyone who ought not live under the load of defeat, fear and depression, it is the child of God. While none of us are exempt from painful situations in life, we should not live hopeless, negative, defeated lives because we understand where all of life is headed and that we have an amazing future that is ours as believers. “Let us rejoice and be glad” (Rev. 19:7) will be the prevailing sentiment for the redeemed.

This attitude of hope is not wishful thinking because it is grounded in the commitment of God to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. Man’s willful disobedience brought about the loss of paradise, of fellowship with God and of the privileged position of ruling the earth. When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have wiped everything out and started over again. (After all, what would He have lost but two people and six days of work!). But instead He promised that there would be restoration and reconciliation through the “seed of the woman.” And at that time He embarked on the path that would bring about the restoration of all things that had been lost.

When we turn to Revelation 20-22 we discover that those three things that were lost will be fully regained because of the Cross and the powerful working of our Creator God. Unhindered fellowship with God, a wonderful paradise and the opportunity of ruling with Messiah will again be the experience of people. Biblical prophecy lets us in on this marvelous ending and gives us the confident expectation which assists us in living well for Christ right now. Biblical prophecy provides us with a clear, comprehensive worldview which in turn generates biblical hope because we are dealing with a God who is faithful to His promises.


The problem of the presence and apparent success of evil has been a thorny theological and philosophical problem for all of man’s history. Biblical prophecy does not deal with the origin of evil but it does deal with the end of evil. Wickedness will not prevail and evil people will be punished and will not “get away with murder.” It is clear that evil and evildoers will be removed from life that will be lived forever in God’s forever kingdom.

“But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)

“...and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those who names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:27)

“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev. 20:11)

As the Scriptures describe the fate of the unbeliever, it is a terrible fate that they face. As we contemplate the eternal end of the unbeliever, it is not good that we become satisfied with our own wonderful futures but that we are motivated by biblical prophecy to share the good news with those who futures are horrible.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels....and these will go away into eternal punishment...” (Matt. 25:41, 48)

The Apostle Paul graphically adds to this statement by Jesus.

“...when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thes. 1:7-9)

Paul’s prophetic word on the fate of unbelievers is terrifying. They not only will be sent into eternal fire, but their lives will be ruined eternally (“eternal destruction”). It is the opposite of that quality of life known commonly as “eternal life.” This one passage removes the ridiculous suggestion that anyone will have a good time partying in hell, or any other such nonsense. That which God designed life to be and have by way of meaning and purpose will be gone and gone forever.

The banishment from the presence of the glorified Lord Jesus is the very heart of eternal punishment. The result will be to deprive them of the Lord’s favor and all which gives purpose and joy to life.

It will be like being eternally depressed, where forever life has no meaning to it. And furthermore, they will be “away from the presence of the Lord.” Today even the wicked are recipients of God’s common grace and are therefore blessed. But in the lake of fire, there appears to be a complete separation from any of God’s grace and mercy. Can anything be more terrible than what Paul describes in these verses? These forceful statements about the fate of the unbeliever ought to resonate in the hearts of believers causing us to be more compassionate and more active in giving out the good news.

Believers who are armed with this prophetic knowledge will be encouraged by the demise of evil, even it appears on the daily news that evil is winning the day. In the world to come it is righteousness that reigns.


The prophet Isaiah powerfully declared that God is sovereign over all men and nations (Isaiah 40). No person, no nation or combination of nations can for one second thwart the plans and purposes of God. And while we might be impressed or even intimidated by the authority of those in Washington DC, Moscow, Berlin or Tehran, God is not. Bible prophecy reveals that our sovereign God will bring to pass everything that He said He would do. He is sovereign. And biblical prophecy reinforces that significant reality.

So, again, has biblical prophecy an important place in the life and thinking of the believer? Perhaps the average believer, whether in the pew or the halls of the academy, need to give serious reflection to the Word of God on the strategic role of prophecy in our theology and our living.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Good Is Bible Prophecy?

In the middle of a conversation about his church and his ministry, a pastor shared with me that he thought that Bible prophecy was not all that relevant to the present day needs of his people and so he stayed away from it in his preaching. He went on to explain that biblical prophecy tends to be “sensational” and, when all is said and done, to be quite confusing to people.

This pastor was one that seemed to have a high view of the scriptures and one that sincerely wanted his people to mature in their walk with Christ. From our conversation it was clear that he wanted his people to be helped in their struggle with the world, flesh and the devil. With that in mind I asked him if he had thought about how Christ and the Apostles employed biblical prophecy in helping believers grow spiritually, suggesting that Jesus and the NT writers sprinkled future events liberally in their teaching. Bible prophecy was used by them to change the way people thought and lived; that the basic purpose of prophecy is to change the way we all live in the present. To his credit, he indicated that he really needed to rethink his view of biblical prophecy.

Here are some of those truths that show us the great value of biblical prophecy and why the prophetic element is found interwoven everywhere in the Bible. Biblical prophecy is not only “relevant” to our lives today but it provides a biblical mindset found in those who pleased God. (See Hebrews 11:9-16).

#1 – Biblical prophecy understood and embraced gives needed help in our struggle against sin. Serious believers are very aware of the “sin that so easily entangles us” (Heb. 12:1) and wish for victory over sin. When we keep future events fresh in our thinking, that we are going to see Christ and appear before His judgment seat, we are apt to not allow sin to take up residence in our lives. We can say “no” to sin much easier. This was the point the Apostle John made.

“And now little children abide in Him (keep in fellowship), so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming...And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 2:28; 3:3)

It is when we cease thinking that Jesus could appear at any moment and bring to pass the end times as described in the Bible, that we get careless in the way we live. Remember Jesus’ powerful statement that it is the evil slave who says “my Lord delays his coming” (Matt. 24:48). The believer’s struggle against sin will never stop in this life, but that believer is fortified in the inner person by the truths of what may soon take place.

#2 – Biblical prophecy provides a framework for the believer to prioritize life better and to make better decisions. If we knew that the ABC company was going to go out of business in six months we likely wouldn’t take a job with them. Bob and Mary would probably not have bought an old house and spent the last year remodeling it, if they had known it was going to burn to the ground the day after they finished their project. Bible prophecy can play such a life changing role today. When believers become convinced of the truthfulness of these prophetic portions dealing with our accountability and reward and end time events, they will prioritize life differently. They most likely will make better decisions and order their lives in a much more biblical way. The reality of future things sheds significant light on the important issues of life and gives us a framework for evaluating what is most important. Those who live with an awareness of what lies ahead in the plan of God think differently regarding the use of their time, money and resources. The goals and purposes of life are altered by a conviction about future realities. Again, note the Apostle Peter’s exhortation when he says “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” in view of future events (2 Peter 3:11). Understanding and believing what biblical prophecy declares makes an impact on the way we do life now. The Apostle Paul made it clear (as in 1 Cor. 9) that he said “no” to himself and ordered his life differently than many others because he had an eye on the glory that was ahead for believers.


The fact that believers are faced with some burdensome and painful trials in this life is not a new revelation. We know that God has not exempted believers from the sudden death of a loved one or the arrival of a debilitating disease or the appearance of great financial loss. And even if such “major tragedies” do not enter the believer’s life, the child of God still experiences scores of “minor” pressures, griefs, disappointments and setbacks. James, and others, observed that believers can respond well or they can respond poorly to these painful times in life. In order for trials to be successfully endured, James says that the believer must possess God’s wisdom, which is seeing life from God’s perspective. An integral part of God’s perspective is the future that lies ahead. This is how Jesus faced the trial of His crucifixion. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Jesus looked beyond those six hours on the cross to that time in His glorious kingdom when He would be with those that He would redeem and restore. The believer who is focused on this world will likely not do well in trials when things go terribly wrong in this world. Without a working knowledge of things to come, he will have to fall back on the “stiff upper lip” approach or to wishful thinking. The truth is that our best life is not now. But the believer who anticipates the glorious age to come will be better positioned to deal well with the pain and disappointments that accompany trials in this world. After speaking about the universality of trials and the need for God’s wisdom, James references the future (James 1:12). The “crown of life”, also mentioned in Revelation 2:10, does seem to focus on the future reward given to the believer who loves the Lord so much that he does not resent what the Lord has allowed into his life. An incentive for enduring in trials is the understanding that there is future reward for the enduring believer.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)

As James’ letter comes to a close, it returns to the matter of the trials of life and the need to patiently endure like Job and the prophets of old. And here James again appeals to the future to give strength to his friends.

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord....You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” (James 5:7-9)

What believers need in times of trial and difficulty is not positive thinking, but prophetic thinking!

So, does Bible prophecy do us any good? One cannot but answer “yes, yes, yes” when the scriptures are carefully read. These are but three truths we want to observe about the importance of prophecy. Next month we want to continue with this subject which is so vital to the church today and so helpful to believers who live in the world system.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pondering Payday: Some Summary Thoughts, Part 2

It has been accurately said that the Christian life is more like a marathon than a 100 meter sprint. Actually it seems that it is more like a marathon with an obstacle course added! But as hard and as difficult as the Christian life can often be in this unrighteous world, when we remember the finish line we are encouraged to keep on keeping on. When we are finally with the Savior that will make it all worthwhile. Seeing Him in His majestic glory will be an unbelievable moment for all of us. And making our appearance before Him at His Judgment Seat will be an amazing and enlightening moment for sure.

In our last study we began the process of summarizing some of the main points that were made over the past months in this series of studies. Six points were shared in the last study and six more will be shared in this one.

#7 – Failures in life, when repented of, do not eliminate the possibility of significant reward at the Judgment Seat.

What serious believer is there who is not chagrined by some past sin and failure in his or her life. But the believer is to take heart by looking at men who sinned (like David and Peter) and yet will be rewarded greatly. Since all believers have experienced failure in their lives, we are not to become despondent and give up. Repentance of the sin, followed by living diligently for the Lord Jesus, can bring about great reward. As long as we are alive on this earth, the promise in the Scriptures of entering His rest (reward) remains (Heb. 4:1).

#8 – The Judgment Seat of Christ is a necessary event.

Because of the nature of God and because all creatures are accountable to Him, judgment is mandatory. All creature, angels or men, must give an account for how they have or have not adhered to the moral law of God. This is also true of believers. While believers are redeemed individuals they too face judgment. As the Apostle Peter clearly puts it, judgment must begin “with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17) and then proceed to everyone else. It must be clear to all of creation that the Lord is just and righteous as well as being loving and good. How one has lived cannot be overlooked or swept under the heavenly carpet. The Judgment Seat is that particular judgment where believers from the church age give an account for their lives.

#9 – The relationship at the Judgment Seat of sin, grace, mercy and justice is not fully comprehensible to us.

From the teachings of the Lord Jesus and the Apostles, it is apparent that sin will impact the events of the Judgment Seat. It is also clear that the justice of the Lord will be blended together with His mercy (the withholding of deserved punishment) along with His grace (the giving of unmerited favor). Only the Lord, as He deals with His children, will righteously put together the perfect mix of these various elements. It is somewhat of a mystery to us how these will be blended together, along with other matters such as how the length of a person life will be factored in (the believer who has known Christ for 80 years versus the one who was saved on his death bed). The complexity of these things is clearly above the pay grade of we mere mortals. But definitely not that of the righteous judge of the earth.

#10 – The Lord is generous and desires to greatly reward His children.

We know that the Lord delights in giving good gifts to His children, as that is part of His nature. He is not stingy nor is He reluctant to give generously to believers. He does not have a limited supply of rewards that need to be rationed out to His people. That which limits His generosity is not His nature but rather the unfaithfulness of believers. Even the trials of life are designed to make it possible for Him to reward His children in a greater way. He is the creator of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17) and it is His desire to lavish these upon His own children.

#11 – Believers need to carefully evaluate their lives “today” to see if they are truly trusting and obeying.

This emphasis upon “today” being the appropriate time for laboring and evaluating is an emphasis of the book of Hebrews. Believers really cannot afford to live in a condition of spiritual delusion, nor can they afford to put off to a future day serious reflection about their own walk with Christ. It is important to immediately face these critical matters and seek the insight of the Holy Spirit in coming to understand where we really are spiritually. It is vital to decide to live fully and completely for the Lord Jesus now, and then to daily build on that decision in the power and guidance of the Spirit.

#12 – All toil, suffering and sacrifice will be more than worth it when we see our Lord Jesus.

As we noted at the beginning of this study, being a faithful follower of Jesus in this present evil world is not at all easy. It requires all diligence (to quote Peter), alertness and sobriety. Being “in” the world but not “of” the world is the requirement (note John 17:11-16). Christians are seen as aliens, strangers and those who citizenship is in heaven (Heb. 11:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:11). All of this makes the task of being a faithful child of God a difficult one since Satan who is seen as the god of this world is actively opposed to such living.

The believer has impressive resources in the Scriptures, the Spirit and the saints. There is little doubt that when we see the Lord Jesus, any and all suffering and sacrifice will be immediately seen as worth it. In the words of that faithful, diligent man, the Apostle Paul....

“the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

“momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Or to put it in less inspired terms but ones that are still accurate: “only one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

May this coming payday be one that we eagerly look forward to!

(A fuller study of this subject can be found in Dr. Benware’s book, “The Believer’s Payday” and can be found at

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pondering Payday: Some Summary Thoughts, Part 1

Words have failed each of us at one time or another: as we try and express how we feel about a situation, or in trying to describe something like a majestic sunset. When we talk of the great payday for believers, the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, and the awesomeness of that event and the amazing consequences of that event, words are extremely inadequate. The words of the Apostle Paul probably cover the matter for us when he says,

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9)

And while our words surely cannot adequately describe this significant event, we have used many words over the past months in an attempt to discuss fully this great day for believers. It would seem helpful, at this point, to make sure certain key points will be fixed in our thinking. We offer these twelve truths (six this time and six next time) that relate to “payday” for our continued contemplation.

#1 – The original purposes of God related to fellowship and rulership will be restored in the future kingdom of God.

The future kingdom of God (Rev. 20-22) is best understood by looking at God’s original intentions in the creation account (Gen. 1-3). The restoration of fellowship through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is fairly well understood by most believers, but the restoration of rulership through the Son of Man is often overlooked. Rulership in the coming kingdom is a matter of focus at the Judgment Seat of Christ and beyond. Servants who endure in this life will rule in the next one. (2 Tim. 2:11-13). This emphasis on ruling and reigning with Christ is a theme found in the N.T. and is an issue that will be featured at the Judgment Seat.

#2 – Salvation is a free gift of God that once received cannot be lost, but rewards can be lost.

The New Testament distinction between rewards that are earned by good works and salvation, which is a gift from God with no human works involved, is one that must be maintained. Salvation is always viewed as a gift freely given by God based on the cross. This salvation is guarded and made secure by all three persons of the Godhead. Man does not earn salvation, nor can he lose it. Believers may, however, lose reward depending on whether their works are “good or bad.”

#3 – Sin does not effect our position as children of God but it can affect our present fellowship as well as our future rewarding.

All sin was fully paid for on the cross by the Lord Jesus. His work of redemption was absolutely complete. This includes sins we may commit today or in the future. While our sins as believers will not remove us from our position as God’s children, we are aware that they do have consequences. These sins, if not confessed, will not only hurt present fellowship, but they will also impact rewarding at the Judgment Seat. So it is unwise and unbiblical to say that since Christ paid for all of our sins, they will not affect what transpires at the Judgment Seat.

#4 – Rewards are presented as a legitimate and a primary motivation for living the Christian life, but are not the only motivation.

Too many Christians view rewards negatively, suggesting that they are a poor motivation for serving Christ. It is vital to remember that rewards are presented by Jesus and the Apostles as an important motivation for Christian living. The Apostle Paul informs us that he was motivated by rewards, by the fear of God, by a love for Christ and by the real needs of people. It is improper to suggest that rewards are an inferior motivation. If so, then Jesus and the Apostles got it wrong.

 #5 – The criteria used at the Judgment Seat consists of the standard of Scripture, our faithfulness and our motivation.

We are not left in the dark as to the standard of evaluation that the Lord will use. The Word of God is central to this evaluation, because in it is revealed the will of God that a believer is to follow. Obedience to the commands and principles of the Word is at the core of our evaluation. Faithfulness is another key criterion, as each believer will be evaluated by what was given to him by the Master. The issue is being faithful, not being famous. Our motivations will also be part of our evaluation. The question will be why we did what we did as we lived for and served the Lord Jesus.

#6 – Believers who live carnally and selfishly have something to be concerned about.

The Judgment Seat is an event where faithful servants are rewarded by the King. But it is also a place where the unfaithful child of God will be confronted by the Master. Not everyone will hear “well done, good servant.” Unfortunately, some will hear “you worthless slave.” Believers who live in self-indulgence and who have not taken seriously living for and serving Jesus Christ face significant loss at the Judgment Seat. Furthermore, the Scriptures inform us that their time at the Judgment Seat will likely be one of shame and grief. Also, there will be ramifications of this in the future kingdom of God. These believers may presently wish to ignore this issue in their lives now but they will not be able to do so in the future.

As we conclude these summary thoughts, we again should reinforce the central truth of the New Testament that our future rewards and status are largely determined by our present living. Whether it is something we deem minor like “the cup of cold water” given to someone in need or that which is seen as highly important like sharing the gospel or teaching the Word, the Lord Jesus is well aware of what we do or don’t do. It should be our goal to live well for Him all the time, avoid the darkness of this world system and be diligent to “abide” (remain in fellowship) with Him. A great day is coming.

Six more summary thoughts will be given next time. (A copy of Dr. Benware’s book, “The Believers Payday” is available at

Monday, May 13, 2013

Payday is Coming - Sin, Grace, and Reward: A Case Study

Our subject these past months has been on the Judgment Seat of Christ, an event which is yet future. No one has yet appeared there and had the experience of receiving or of losing reward. It is precisely because future things have not yet taken place yet that causes us some uncertainties. When speaking of this future event, it seems strange, therefore, to talk about a “case study.” This would be impossible if it were not for the fact that in the Scriptures the Lord gives us a small amount of information about the future of several individuals. By looking at these men who have lived their lives and then at some Scriptures that point to their futures, we can pick up some ideas about the coming payday. We must not allow Satan to paralyze us in our service for Christ by our past sins and failures. There remains for every believer today to receive from Jesus the commendation of “well done, good servant”, as well as the rich rewards He has for such believers.

Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ
Peter was a regenerate man who was first a disciple of John the Baptist prior to following the Lord Jesus Christ. About half way through Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter was selected from the large pool of disciples to be an apostle of Christ and this brought to him many wonderful privileges and responsibilities. Peter did indeed give up everything to following Christ (Matt. 19:27). However, inspite of his many privileges and opportunities, and even his devotion to Jesus, he still experienced sin and failure.

Peter’s Sins and Failures

Undoubtedly the most infamous time of failure and sin in Peter’s life occurred at the time of the arrest and trials of Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter (along with others) failed to watch and pray and support the Lord in His time of trouble. Peter was among those who fled when the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple police arrested Jesus. A little later that evening, Peter went so far as to deny having any relationship with Jesus. His denials were accompanied by cursing and swearing. And this came from one who just hours before had forcefully declared unswerving loyalty to the Lord.

The Scriptures record some other negatives about Peter. He misused his tongue when he rebuked the Lord (Matt. 16:23) and when he was involved in self-promotion involving his place in Messiah’s kingdom (Luke 22:24). In fact, on a number of occasions his pride and arrogance were seen (Luke 9:46). And then, there was the time when his fear of men caused him to demonstrate a terrible hypocrisy which nearly split the church at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). These sins of hypocrisy and divisiveness could have had lasting effects on the entire church if it had not been for the faithful rebuke by the Apostle Paul.

Peter was guilty of pride, hypocrisy, divisiveness, disloyalty to Christ, multiple misuses of the tongue, fearing men and who knows what else could be added to this list. Could such a man receive great reward at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ?

Peter’s Repentance
After his string of failures that culminated in his denials of Christ, Peter went out and “wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:75). While tears are not conclusive evidence of genuine repentance, in Peter’s case they do reflect a broken-hearted man and a repentance that was real. Jesus had said earlier that Peter would fail but that he would “turn again” (Luke 22:32) which is an accurate picture of repentance. And furthermore, Jesus’ response to Peter after His resurrection shows that Peter’s repentance was indeed genuine. (Luke 24:34; John 21:15-19). Peter was truly repentant and his actions generally in the Book of Acts reveal this as well.

Peter’s Reward
In response to Peter’s questions about rewards (Matt. 19:28), the Lord promised that the Twelve (including Peter) would sit on twelve thrones in Messiah’s kingdom and would rule over the twelve tribes. In that section, Jesus is referring to the time of His return to earth when He will fulfill the Davidic covenant and rule on David’s throne. It is then that the Apostle Peter will rule alongside of King Jesus.

Peter will have ruling authority over one of Israel’s tribes in Messiah Jesus’ kingdom and will no doubt receive the Lord’s commendation of “well done, good servant.” The Lord Jesus also told Peter (Luke 22:30) that he would eat and drink with the King at His table, which is a picture of close fellowship.

We learn a vital lesson from Peter’s life that even with much failure there can be much reward. Sin and failure does not rule out the possibility of significant reward. The key was Peter’s heartfelt repentance for his sin and his following through to serve Christ faithfully. His various sins and failures did not automatically put him in the category of the “worthless slave” (Luke 19:22).

Peter’s Example for Us
So believer, even if embarrassing failure is true of you, crying out to the Lord Jesus in repentance not only cleanses from sin but frees you to faithfully and energetically serve Him. And in that there is great reward. We all can easily think of sin and failure that has been true in our lives. Peter’s example for us is that we can still faithfully serve the Savior and experience great reward in that future day.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Some Problems About 'Payday"

#1 – What about those servants who are cast into outer darkness?

There are several places where the Lord Jesus spoke ominously about the fate of unfaithful servants. He said that these servants would be “cut in pieces” and go to a place where there would “weeping” and the “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:48-51). He further declared that the worthless slave would be cast “into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:24-30). Serious statements, to be sure!

There have been some scholars, who believe in the eternal security of the believer in Christ, who also hold that these evil servants are Christians who will suffer the fate of being excluded from the Messianic kingdom. They argue that these unfaithful Christians will pay dearly for their sinful living for that thousand year period. They will experience some pretty terrible times. But is this the only possible explanation for those of us who hold to the eternal security of the believer? I think not.

In interpreting these words of the Lord Jesus there are several key interpretive points that we must be aware of. First, these two references are both found in Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse”, His great prophetic teaching. A key observation is that this discourse was addressing Israel and not the church. The disciples had asked Jesus questions related to Israel’s future and that is what Jesus is answering. Aside from the one statement in Matthew 16 (“I will build My church”), there has been no teaching on the church. The disciples really would have known nothing about the church and so their questions were not about the church. It is essential that we understand the word “you” in the Olivet Discourse. The word “you”, beginning in Matthew 23:33, is referring to Israel. Sometimes the “you” is Israel represented by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day; sometimes it is Israel as represented by apostles; and other times it is “you” (Israel) represented by a past generation or by a future generation. But in each case “you” is looking at the nation of Israel.

A second key interpretive point has to do with the uniqueness of the nation of Israel. Israel is the only nation in the history of nations that is in a covenant relationship with God. No one else can make that claim. All Israelites are part of the Abrahamic Covenant and the covenants that flow from that key biblical covenant (Romans 9:1-5). Believing Israelites and unbelieving Israelites are included as parties to the Abrahamic Covenant. So even if an Israelite was an unbeliever, he would still be a “covenant man”, as strange as that might sound to us. Remember, Israel is unique.

Third, it must be remembered that Israel is said to be a “servant of the Lord.” Isaiah developed this idea of the “servant of the Lord” which, of course, reached its climax in the Messiah as the great “servant.” But the nation of Israel was also viewed as the “servant of the Lord” (e.g. Isaiah 41:8-10; 42:18-22). And it is clear from the Isaiah 42 passage that even in unbelief and unrighteousness they were seen as the “servant of the Lord.” So believing Israelites and unbelieving Israelites were “servants.”

Fourth, in coming to the words of the Lord Jesus we must understand that He is talking to Israel and that within Israel (“servants”) there are both believers and unbelievers.

The servants who are cast into outer darkness, as well as experiencing some other terrible things, were unbelievers. They were never saved people. They were Israelites who were unsaved, but uniquely they were related by Covenant to the Lord. So we conclude that these are not Christians in the church who either lose their salvation or lose participation in the Messianic kingdom of Jesus. The context is about Israel.

#2 – Are rewards eternal or do they “evaporate” after some time?

There is some evidence that what takes place at Christ’s judgment seat will have eternal consequences. First, we should recall that when Jesus returns at His “Second Coming”, He will establish the eternal kingdom of God. (It has two distinct phases of the millennium and then that of eternity). The kingdom of God is eternal and this would suggest that the rewards will be eternal (since they are related to God’s kingdom). Second, the Apostle Paul specifically declared that his suffering for Christ in this life will produce “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). In part, the present sufferings do not compare because the resulting rewards are eternal. Third, the writer of Hebrews seems to support the eternalness of rewards when he states: although the present heavens and earth will be “shaken”, the kingdom we receive will not be shaken (Heb. 12:25-29). The “shaking” refers to the destruction of the old heavens and earth, and he contrasts that with the truth that our kingdom will not be destroyed. Leading up to this statement, the writer has put forth great effort to encourage believers to be faithful and to endure because of the rewards in this coming kingdom. Fourth, there will be differences among people in the eternal phase of the kingdom of God. There will be kings of nations in the eternal phase of the future, forever kingdom of God (Rev. 21:24). The fact is that not everyone will be a king. So, while it is not possible to answer this question with absolutely certainty, it does seem that the scriptures point in the direction of the eternality of rewards.

#3 – Will my failures as a Christian make it impossible to receive rewards from the Lord?

This question was dealt with to some extent in a previous article. The answer is “no”. The scriptures (as in Heb. 4:1) hold out hope to us. So even if we have at times been unfaithful or even committed a really “big” sin, we can still be rewarded. King David is a clear example. David not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, but he was really a murderer as well. Also, David failed to some extent as a parent, and he had a temper, and he showed some amazing unbelief at times. Yet, in spite of all this, he confessed his sins. He came clean with the Lord and humbled himself before Him. As a result, Ezekiel 37:24-27 informs us that David will have an exalted place in the future kingdom.

Peter failed the Lord and denied he even knew Him. And yet, he repented and will sit on one of the twelve thrones in the Messianic kingdom (Matt. 19:28). Failure does not remove us from the possibility of receiving rich rewards.

So while we must never become casual about sin and unfaithfulness, we must not become depressed and hopelessly face the future because of sin. Repentance, coupled with forsaking of sin, makes great reward possible.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Payday is Coming: Rich Rewards and Great Grace

(A Study of Matthew 19:27-20:16)
Is serving the Lord Jesus Christ really worthwhile? Is it worth saying “no” to ourselves and giving up possessions, comfort and opportunities in order to follow Jesus? Most believers would immediately answer “yes” to such questions because to respond otherwise would be seen as an incredibly ungodly reaction.

The Apostle Peter essentially asked these questions of Jesus Himself after observing Jesus’ encounter with the “rich young ruler.” Jesus had told the rich young man to sell everything he had and to come and follow Him. Apparently the young ruler opted not to do this because we never hear from him again. However, Peter rightly noted that he and the other apostles had done that very thing. They had given up everything to come and follow the Lord Jesus. So, Peter wondered, since we have done this, what do we get out of it? A really good question. And Jesus seemed to think so. After all, if you are going to give your life to someone or something, then you really should know if it is worthwhile or not. (Now Peter’s attitude needed a little work which is the subject of the following parable in Matthew 20 is about).

The Matter of Rewards – Matthew 19:27-30
The fact is that Peter and the others had given up normal life and sacrificed a great deal to follow the Lord Jesus (19:27). Jesus reinforces (“truly”) His own previously given teaching on rewards and the world to come. The issue here is that of “following Him” (discipleship) and not that of salvation.

There is a coming “payday”, when Jesus returns, for believers where reward will be given. For the Twelve, their rewards included sitting on 12 thrones in the Messianic kingdom, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. For a thousand years they will reign alongside of King Jesus. On that day, their faithfulness and personal sacrifice will pay off in huge dividends. (I wonder what the rich young ruler will be thinking on that day!)

Jesus then (in 19:29) expanded the discussion beyond the Apostles to all believers who have sacrificed and served for “His names sake”. Nothing done by such individuals will be forgotten or overlooked. In fact, Jesus declared that the value of the rewards will be many times greater than whatever sacrifices may have taken place. And then He added a most intriguing statement: “and shall inherit eternal life.” At first, this statement might seem to speak against our doctrine of salvation by grace and not by works of any kind. But actually it does not do so. We need to understand that “eternal life” is not a static term, but a dynamic concept. Most of the time “eternal life” is seen as our present possession once we trust in Christ for salvation. But about 25% of the time in the New Testament, “eternal life” is seen as something future and which requires effort on our part (e.g. Gal. 6:8; Rom. 2:7). Just like today there are differences in the level or “quality” of physical life that we experience. In a family, for example, one member of the family may have a terminal disease while another member is very healthy (and disease free) and yet another has a nasty “common” cold that they are dealing with. All have physical life, but there are differences in that physical life. And likewise, all believers have eternal life, but there are going to be differences within that category (rewards), depending on what we do.

The Matter of Grace – Matthew 20:1-16
While Peter’s question is a good one, the Lord apparently is concerned about the attitude behind the question (19:30). What attitude? The attitude that the Master is somehow under obligation to me since I have left everything to follow Him. The truth of the matter is that the Master owns us and there is nothing we can do to obligate Him (see Luke 17:7-10). Peter (and sometimes you and I) forgot that the “bond-slave” attitude is the only correct attitude for us to have. Any rewards are really a matter of His grace and generosity towards us. But He is not required to do so because of our “sacrifices”.

The Agreement with the Workers, 20:1-2. Jesus constantly reminded His followers that the operating principles of this world are different from those of His kingdom. In those days, the labor pool was often found in the marketplace. A landowner hired workers for the day and an agreement was made for a day’s wage (which was the “denarius”).

The Hiring of Other Workers, 20:3-7. It soon became apparent to the landowner that the work of the vineyard was greater than those hired could handle and so he returned to the marketplace at four other times (9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm). Since the magic moment of hiring had already past, the new workers had little leverage in the matter of wages and so they agreed to be paid “whatever is right”.

The Paying of the Workers, 20:8-16. In that culture, everyday was payday (What a great idea!). In this case the later shift got paid first. And to everyone’s amazement, they each got wages for a full day (a denarius). That sure fit “whatever is right” to these workers! However, when those who were hired first received their denarius (on which they had agreed at the time of hiring), they were outraged. It was so unfair, they thought. The Master is, after all, obligated to do better than this for us who worked all day for Him. He owes us! Such an attitude perhaps creeps on occasion into our thinking as well.

Some Important Truths for Us to Remember
  1. There are some important reminders that come out of Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer as well as from the parable of the workers that followed.
  2. Christ has committed Himself to reward greatly those who have given up much for “His names sake: even a hundred fold.
  3. We are purchased bond-slaves and, therefore, the Lord Jesus our Master is never placed under obligation to us for whatever we may have sacrificed for serving Him. To think so, to any degree, reveals an attitude that needs some adjusting.
  4. Our Sovereign Lord is rich in grace. Our salvation is by grace and so are rewards that He will give. He is wonderfully generous towards us, and it is likely we will receive far more than we might imagine.
  5. The Lord is not only generous but is all knowing. Those who appear to be “last” (19:30; 20:16) may well receive the greatest rewards because of the Master’s insights and understanding. He will not miss a thing, even a cup of cold water given. Those who are “first” in this world may have a problem with attitude or motives and will not fair so well.
  6. We can happily leave the “bookkeeping” with Jesus. If left to us, trying to figure out appropriate rewarding at the judgment seat for each person is well above our pay grade. But it will be done perfectly by the wise, generous, sovereign Lord Jesus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Payday Is Coming - My Sin and Christ's Judgment Seat

The most common concern of believers when it comes to the Judgment Seat is: “will my sins be brought up there?” All of us are all too aware of those times when we failed badly; when our attitudes, actions or words were really quite sinful. So we worry that these matters will be focused on by Judge Jesus. There are six basic truths that we need to consider as we try to understand the place of “my sin at Christ’s Judgment Seat”.

#1 – All sins were paid for by Jesus on the cross.
The absolutely completeness of Christ’s work on the cross is a significant and wonderful truth. How clear is the book of Hebrews on this matter!

“...we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ...but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God...For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10-14).

Since all sin for all time has been paid for, we will not be “paying” for our various sins at the Judgment Seat.

#2 – Believers still sin and that does impact life today.
Most every believer knows that he or she still commits sin. While it does not impact our status as a child of God, it does impact our fellowship with God. And it does impact the quality of our lives simply because sin brings with it pain, trouble and alienation. So we must confess that sin in order to maintain our fellowship with the Lord. If we don’t, then our lives will experience a variety of possible negatives. This is true even though those sins were paid for at the cross. The cross insured that our status as God’s children remained secure but we still must deal with our sinning.

#3 – Believers’ sinning will impact the Judgment Seat.
In a similar way, the scriptures are clear that there can and will be the loss of reward for the believer who does not live according to the standard of the Scriptures; does not remain faithful to Christ; and whose motives are not proper. The loss of reward comes about because these criteria are not met (which would mean that we were not living righteously, but righteously). A person remains God’s child but will experience loss because of sin. (Recall these passages: 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; Luke 19:22-26; Colossians 3:24-25; Hebrews 3:12-4:11; 10:26-36; 2 Corinthians 5:10). So the truth is that forgiven sin can still negatively impact events and situations in our lives. Christ’s work of the cross does not keep a believer from experiencing negative disciples from God in this life (1 Cor. 11:31-32; Heb. 12:3-11). So we ought not think that there will not be negative disciplines from Christ at His Judgment Seat?

#4 – Confessed sin lessens negative consequences.
Christ’s finished work on the cross does not eliminate the need for believers to confess their sins (1 John 1:9). Not only does confession of sin restore us to fellowship with the Savior, but it also retards the negative consequences of our sin and brings God’s mercy and grace to bear on our lives in fresh ways. Paul is so clear when he proclaims that God is ‘rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Mercy is by definition “the withholding of deserved punishment”. When we deal with our sin now the consequences will be lessened at the Judgment Seat because God is rich in both mercy and grace.

#5 – The sins of a believer do not mean that no rewards are possible.
Even if we know that there has been too much disobedience in our lives, there is good news. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “a promise remains of entering His rest (reward)” (Heb. 4:1. We can leave failure and disobedience behind us and live fully and completely for Christ. Past sins need not remove us from future rewards.

#6 – God’s mercy and grace are factors at the Judgment Seat.
Even though each person receives “his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8), rewards are still a part of God’s grace. God is not obligated to hand out rewards. We can never do enough to put Him under obligation to us (Luke 17:7-10). The reason why we receive rewards for faithful service is because we serve a generous and gracious Lord.

For us to figure out how sin, God’s rewarding criteria, grace and mercy all work out is clearly beyond our pay grade. There is so much that we do not know or even remember. But the Judge of the earth will do what is right.

Sin will have some sort of impact at the Judgment Seat. Confessed sin always lessens that impact. Our loving Lord who delights to give good gifts to His children will fairly and mercifully deal with us.

A Closing Story
A teenage girl, with a new drivers license, took her father’s sports car without asking. This was, of course, strictly forbidden. But she wanted to impress her friends with her status as a new license holder. As she rounded a bend in the road, she lost control of the car and slammed into a fence, pulverizing it, and her skid was stopped when she rammed into a large oak tree. The car sustained thousands of dollars in damage and she severely hurt her knee when it smashed into the dashboard. As she sat in the midst of the ruins and the emergency vehicles which had arrived on the scene, she felt just awful. She didn’t just feel terrible about the mayhem around her, but that she had disobeyed and disappointed her dad whom she loved.

When dad arrived at the accident scene, a genuinely sorrowful daughter apologized to him. Dad, who knew his little girl well, accepted her heartfelt apology and forgave her for her willful act.

In spite of her genuine apology, certain realities remained. The car remained damaged, her knee was killing her and the fence was still in shambles. On the basis of her repentance, dad chose not to ground her or punish her in any way (that is mercy---the withholding of deserved punishment). Out of his own pocket, he paid the $500 deductible on his insurance and took care of having the fence replaced (that is grace---the giving of unmerited favor). Her knee, however, remained badly injured and, therefore, hospital and doctor visits would become part of life. Her date for that evening with Jason was cancelled and during the next few weeks she would not be driving and others would have to transport her here and there. There were other unintended consequences to be sure. But this incident made her wiser and caused her to think more carefully and maturely about choices and actions in the future. In one sense, failure had brought about a quality of living not before seen.

In dealing with his daughter, the various factors of mercy, grace and consequences were all mixed together. While the father in the story may not have been totally correct in the way he handled the matter, we can be sure that there will be no imbalance or deficiency in the Lord’s decisions and actions on that future payday for believers. The Judge of the earth will do right. He will, in every case, righteously deal in grace, mercy and justice. What a Judge---what a Savior!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Payday is Coming - What Are Those Rewards?

Normally people will not spend time and effort on things that are not worth it to them. Why would an athlete impose difficult regimentations on themselves if they did not see it all as important? Why would a father rise early and work hard all day to take care of his family if he did not see that as something that had powerful consequences.

One day Peter observed that the apostles had given up everything to follow Jesus, and he asked Jesus what they would get out of it (Matt. 19:27). The attitude may not have been the best, but the question was good. And Jesus did not rebuke Peter for the question (though He did address the attitude later in a parable).

 Years later, Peter would speak of these matters. He spoke of an “abundant entrance” into the kingdom of Christ that would come to those who lived well for Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11). In these verses, Peter declares that we are to add seven virtues to our free salvation. He states that believers are to apply “all diligence” (1:5, 10) to make sure that these virtues are both present and are abundantly growing in our lives. He reveals that if we do this then two things will be true. First, our present lives will be useful and fruitful (1:8) as well as avoiding some very negative things in our lives (1:8-10). And second, this diligence will produce future great reward. Entrance into the kingdom of Messiah is by faith, but an “abundant entrance” comes from a life of faithfulness. The abundant entrance pictures the victorious Olympic athlete triumphantly returning to his home city where he might be honored uniquely. He would not come through the usual gate of the city but an entrance would be created in the wall just for him. He would enter through this special gate because of his great success. Using this imagery, Peter makes it clear that those diligent believers will someday be honored in a special way by Christ at His judgment seat.

This study will look at some specifics of the believer’s payday and will try and answer the question: “just what are those rewards that will be given to faithful believers?” Now we need to acknowledge that no matter how hard we try to describe accurately the rewards that will be given, we will undoubtedly not do justice to that which our generous, creative God will give. Certainly, Paul’s words found in 1 Corinthians 2:9 about future glory apply here.

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Our brief investigation will look at four areas of rewards that the New Testament speaks of regarding our rewarding.

#1 – The Commendation of the King
Most every believer wants to hear King Jesus say to them, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17). Of all the rewards, this is the most significant of all. We can hardly imagine what it would be like to have the Lord of glory say this to a believer. To have the commendation of the King of kings will make any sacrifice made or any suffering endured to fade away to nothingness. The pleasure of the King will make it all worth it. We should remember, however, that this will not be what is heard by every believer. The three servants in Luke 19:11-27 reveals an important reality. It is only the first one who receives this praise from the King. The second servant receives no word at all and the third servant receives the depressing word “you worthless slave.”

#2 – A Special Relationship with the King
When Jesus came the first time, it is quite apparent in the gospels that He some people were closer to Him than others. Some disciples He did not reveal Himself to in any significant way (John 2:23-25), while others such as the Twelve were particularly close to Him. Even among the Twelve, it appears that three were closer than the rest and were given special opportunities. So, it should not be too surprising that at His second coming when He sets up His kingdom that there will be some who are closer than others.

Faithful servants are invited to enter “His joy” (Matt. 25:21, 23). While we cannot detail this, it is clearly an invitation into a relationship because they were faithful in this life to the Master. Also, Hebrews lets us know that a believer who faithfully endures will be a “companion” of the king (Heb. 3:14). When we look carefully at the verse in Hebrews, we see that there is a condition for one being a companion or “partaker”. The correct translation is to be a partaker “of Christ” (NASB) not a partaker “in Christ” (NIV). The NIV suggests that the verse is focusing on our position in Christ and this has spawned some interesting interpretations. But “hanging in there” is the condition for being a partaker. A partaker (Gr. metachos) refers to someone who is a sharer or companion of another and is habitually in the company of that individual. Clearly, this is speaking of a close relationship that some but not all will have. We can only imagine what this will look like in the wonderful kingdom of Jesus the Messiah.

#3 – Significant Responsibilities in the Kingdom of Messiah
In the creation account found in Genesis 1 and 2, it was God’s original plan to have Adam and Eve rule (along with Him, of course) the planet. This was mankind’s uniquely wonderful position. This privilege was lost that fateful day when the two chose to disobey God. Rulership of the planet was taken by Satan. And so, one of the key future matters yet to be settled is the taking back of the planet. This is why there is such an emphasis on Jesus, the son of man, coming to defeat Satan and to rule. Psalm 2:6-8 summarizes it wonderfully.

But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, Thou art My son, today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.

And to that, Daniel 7:13-14 adds the following.

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him (the son of man) was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion was an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.

It will be this Man, from the line of David, that will come and rule. This coming King offers to faithful believers the opportunity to rule with Him. Those believers that do will experience that unique role originally given to Adam and Eve. Paul states that “if we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Once again it is impossible for us to know exactly how this will work out in the coming kingdom. But what is clear is that faithful believers will rule under King Jesus. Remember that Jesus specifically promised the Twelve that because they had left all to follow Him that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel when He returned (Matt. 19:28)

#4 – The Crowns that will be Given
Familiar to most believers is the idea of “crowns” being given. The crown (Gr. stephanos) was used of the wreath that was used to honor individuals in ancient times. It is different from the crown of a king. The crowns most likely represent the kinds of things that will merit honor at the judgment seat. It is also likely that the four specifically mentioned in the New Testament are not a complete listing.

(1) THE CROWN OF LIFE – James 1:12; Revelation 2:10
This crown is given to all those who faithfully endure the tests, trials and persecutions experienced in this life.

Paul said that because he had faithfully served Christ that this crown would be his. But he also noted that anyone who “loves His appearing” will receive it as well. The Lord will definitely honor those who honor Him and have a desire to be with Him.

(3) THE CROWN OF GLORY – 1 Peter 5:4
This crown is given to those elders who have faithfully led Christ’s church. It is evident that leading a local church is not an easy task and the Lord acknowledges that with a special crown.

(4) THE CROWN OF JOY – 1 Thessalonians 2:19
This if often referred to as the soul-winners crown. It seems to be for those who have faithfully shared the gospel.

“It will be worth it all when we see Jesus” is good theology. The generous Lord Jesus who loves to give good things to His children. We can only imagine how absolutely incredible will be His rewards to His faithful servants.