by Russell Young
It is the believer’s greatest hope that he or she will be able to enjoy eternity in God’s presence. Modern teaching often leaves the perception that all “believers” will enjoy uniform rewards and pleasure in the kingdom to come, but is this so? The concept of God’s heavenly kingdom has been simplified to the point that its truth has been lost. A careful consideration of the scriptures can shed some light on the nature of his heavenly kingdom.
1. Rewards will not be the same for all. Although it probably makes sense when carefully considered, the one who has given his life in service to the Lord will reap different rewards than those who have confessed Christ’s lordship, but who have enjoyed the pleasures of the world.
Jesus taught that rewards would be person specific. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Mt 16:27 NIV) “And, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12 NIV) Paul taught similarly: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) And, “If what he has built survives [his ministry for Christ], he will receive his reward.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) It is the Lord’s expressed revelation that every person will eventually be rewarded according to their believing (continuous) in him and according to their degree of service. Rewards in the heavenly kingdom will be varied. The Lord prophesied through Malachi, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve (labour for) God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18 NIV)
2. Daniel has revealed that some of those raised at the return of the Lord will awaken to “everlasting life,” while others will awaken to “shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV)
These “rewards” or “inheritances” apply to those who will be resurrected following the Great Tribulation and before the Millennium; consequently, they apply to the children of God, or to those who are of the first resurrection, those whose names are written in the book of life. It should be noted that “shame and everlasting contempt” do not belong to those sentenced to the “lake of burning sulphur.” Contempt does not originate from those of like mind but from those who have recognized and committed to higher standards, and shame is what is felt by those who have been made to recognize failure due to their own lack of commitment. The shame and contempt will belong to those who have pledged Christ’s lordship but who have not lived it.
3.Reason would suggest that not all would be assigned the same responsibilities within God’s heavenly kingdom.
For instance, not all can be rulers. If some are rulers, there must be some who are being ruled. Thought needs to be given to this reality. Although some might debate this observation, once the New Jerusalem descends to earth, it will be the seat of God’s government. Outside are “the nations.” (See Rev 2:26, 21:24) The Lord cautioned the church in Thyatira that he would repay people according to their deeds and that those who “overcome” by doing his will to the end will be given authority over the nations. (Rev 2:26) Outside are those who love to live the lie. (Rev 22:15) They have pledged Christ’s lordship, but haven’t lived it.” (Rom 10:9─10; 1 Jn 1:6)
Jesus also stated, “I say to you many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast (wedding) with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:11─12 NIV) God’s kingdom will have both rulers and subjects. The rulers will be inside the walls of the New Jerusalem while the subjects will dwell outside where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Many envision the Heavenly Kingdom as being somewhere in space. Revelation 21 suggests that it will be on earth but will be heaven-like. “Heavenly” does not necessarily mean “in heaven” but ‘like heaven.’ The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary states that -ly means “like in appearance, manner or nature; having the characteristics of” Those in it will be holy and will walk righteously with their God. The Word does not speak of people dwelling in the heavens above, but reveals God’s kingdom as being present on earth. A great deal of fantasy has been allowed to exist concerning the nature of heaven.
It is very possible that some of those in the eternal kingdom will never enjoy rest. Paul stated that “And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 11:26 NIV) On the other hand the Lord told Moses, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23)
The nature of God’s eternal kingdom needs to be understood. There is room for a variety of honors and positions of responsibility and for the place of shame. Within God’s kingdom some will enjoy his presence, while others will be separated (2 Thess 1:8─9) from him eternally and be banished to outer darkness. (Mt 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30) Only those “worthy” will dwell with God. (Lk 20:35)