WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM

by Thomas W. Finley


Chapter Eight

THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST - PART II

After His encounter with the young ruler, Jesus told His disciples about the Kingdom reward that awaits everyone who leaves houses, farms and family for His sake. But what about those believers who do not give up all to follow our Lord? What awaits them at Christ’s Bema? We saw that they forfeit the blessing and glory of the Kingdom. However, there are some further details yet to be seen concerning this.

The Scripture also tells us of other issues, besides Kingdom exclusion, that come out of Christ’s judgment of believers. We need to look at these other issues. Why? Because they are rarely ever taught, and yet they relate directly to our future welfare. Surely, we should have a desire to know the truth about our future, especially if it is significant truth. Our actions today will influence our welfare tomorrow. So please approach this chapter with prayer, an open mind, and a willingness to see what the Bible really says. "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:31-32).

It is at the Judgment Seat where the consequences of the life we have lived as believers is decided. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). If the deeds done were good or bad, then the appropriate recompense can be good or bad. To argue otherwise is illogical and defeats any true judgment according to works. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly" (Gen. 18:25)? All of the many passages in the New Testament that deal with the potential future rewards, positive and negative, can not be covered here in detail. I can introduce the reader, however, to many of these verses in this chapter in the hope that it will stimulate you to search further. It is your future.

SHARING AUTHORITY WITH CHRIST

As previously stated, the important most important characteristic of the future Kingdom for the overcoming believer will be his experience of the fullness of the life of God. A second outstanding feature for these blessed believers will be the investiture of responsibility by Christ to reign as his fellow rulers during that age. Human beings were created to be productive and to rule over God’s creation (Gen. 1:26).

Those believers who have proven faithful to Christ in this age in various ways will be rewarded with rulership in the next age. We see this truth in a number of Scriptures. In Matt. 25: 21, 23 (as well as in Lk.19: 17,19) the good and faithful slaves are given authority over many things (in Luke, authority over cities). The faithful slave in Matt. 24:47 was put "in charge of all his [the master’s] possessions." The martyred overcomers who refuse to worship the beast or to receive his mark also reign with Christ for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4).

To the overcoming saints in Thyatira, the Lord Jesus promises: "And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations." (Rev. 2:26) This promise finds its fulfillment in the millennium, as do all the promises to the overcomers in the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. The overcomer in the church of Laodicea, who responds to the Lord’s call to abandon lukewarmness and "buy" (pay a price for) genuine spiritual experience, is similarly promised future authority: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Rev. 3:21) In summary, "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." (2 Tim. 2:12)

Particularly worthy of comment under this heading are the five crowns that can potentially be awarded to believers. A crown is a symbol of one having authority, ruling over a certain kingdom. Watchman Nee comments that "a crown represents a position in the Kingdom."[1] Each of these five crowns is awarded to a believer based upon some aspect of the believer’s faithfulness in the Christian life.

The imperishable crown

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Paul presented this crown as one to be gained only by the successful runner, not by all in the race. It is awarded on the basis of self-control, especially the keeping in control the body from which sin so easily emanates (Rom. 6:6). When Paul wrote First Corinthians, he had still not finished his "race", which lasts our lifetime. Thus, his gaining of the crown was still uncertain; he still risked being disqualified. It was only shortly before his martyrdom that he could declare: "I have finished the course" (2 Tim. 4:7).

To live one’s life in self-control, with victory over the sinful passions of the flesh, is surely a great accomplishment worthy of a certain honor being bestowed by God. Let us be spurred by this prospect and not give in to our passions, but instead put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Of course, even as we learn the way of victory by the Spirit we will have some failures. These failures can be erased from our record through confession and the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus. (1 Jn. 1:9)

The crown of rejoicing

"For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" (1 Thess. 2:19, NKJV)

This crown is awarded on the basis of fruitful labor for the Lord in the lives of others. According to the context of First Thessalonians Chapter Two, this labor includes the sharing of the gospel (vs. 2,4), as well as the shepherding of others in order to prepare them for the coming Kingdom (2:7-12). Our joy in the next age will be especially magnified if we are those who help others to know the Lord and to grow in Him.

The crown of righteousness

"In the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).

This crown is given to those who love His appearing. Do you yearn for the Lord’s appearing, or are you indifferent? Do you watch for the Lord’s appearing or is His coming just a doctrinal matter to you? Also, in context, I believe that the matter of the Lord’s appearing was an incentive to Paul for righteous living and proper service (2 Tim. 4:1), and, therefore, he fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith (4:7). Based upon Paul’s righteous living, motivated by his love of the Lord’s appearing, he was assured of being awarded a crown of righteousness by a righteous Judge. What a marvelous recognition by the Lord in that Day! All who are living righteously in anticipation of His return will be awarded special position and responsibility in Jesus’ Kingdom.

The crown of life

"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him" (Jas. 1:12). "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)

This age is an age filled with trials and tribulations (Jn. 16:33). All kinds of troubles can afflict us: sickness, the death of loved ones, poverty, dealings with difficult people and situations of all types, and even persecution for our faith. The experience of these trials could cause us to lose heart and wane in our love for the Lord and our service to Him. But, amazingly, some believers grow in their love and single-minded devotion to Him in spite of all these things. There is a coming day of reward when Christ will reward all these suffering ones who have remained steadfast. What an encouragement and incentive this should be for believers undergoing tribulation!

This crown is promised to the believer who remains faithful under trial and does not succumb to it. He loves the Lord in spite of his trial and does not become bitter. And it is his love for his Lord that keeps him faithful.

The crown of glory

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

The crown of glory is a reward presented to the genuine, faithful, godly and pure shepherds of the flock. They have a pure desire to see others grow in the Lord. They sacrifice their time, their money (Acts 20:33-35), their energy and even their lives to see believers progress with Christ. They do this out of love, and out of the Lord’s will, not out of selfish desires. A special reward of glory awaits them for such a caring life. But, all of those who have claimed to be shepherds, yet do not meet these exacting requirements, will be disqualified.

D. M. Panton comments on the conditional nature of any crown’s award:

That a crown may be lost to a believer is as certain as any truth in the Holy Scripture. "hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown" (Rev. 3:11). For crowns are rewards, not given unless the conditions are fulfilled. "If also a man contend in the games, he is NOT CROWNED, except he have contended lawfully" (2 Tim. 2:5). As God has made holiness the passport to the crown, so the crown is only the manifestation of the holiness. A crown is given, not at the beginning of a race, but at the end; it is the circlet of glory granted only to the successful runner; and a successful runner is an athlete who has carefully observed the regulations of the race.[2]

Degree of reward in the coming Kingdom can vary. As respects crowns, some believers may be awarded one crown and others may receive several. From the parable of the minas (Lk. 19:11-27), we see that one faithful believer gained ten minas from one mina and was given authority over ten cities. Another faithful believer gained only five minas and was given authority over five cities. Also, those who are persecuted and falsely accused on account of Jesus will receive a great reward in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:11-12), as will those who love their enemies and do good to them (Lk. 6:35). The great reward is in distinction from a more common reward (Matt. 6:1-6).

THE OUTER DARKNESS

In the last chapter we saw that some believers will be denied entry to Christ’s coming Kingdom. We also discussed this matter somewhat in Chapter Five under the heading, "Salvation from loss and ruin during the millennium to the enjoyment of Christ’s millennial Kingdom". There, we looked at the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In that parable we see that the lazy slave does not enter the joy of His master (i.e., the Kingdom) like the faithful slaves did (Matt. 25:21,23). Rather, the master (the Lord) judges the slothful slave by taking away his stewardship (vs. 28-30), and having him "cast out". "And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness, in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 30).

The phrase "the outer darkness" is used three times in Scripture (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It seems to be implied also in Luke 13:28 where the rejected ones are "cast out" of the Kingdom. All of the four references cited depict the place of outer darkness as one where the inhabitants experience "weeping and gnashing of teeth." The Lord Jesus used this picture of being cast out into the outer darkness as an illustration of exclusion from His millennial Kingdom. G. H. Lang, one of the great expositors of the twentieth century, explains the use of this illustration and its impact on the excluded one:

A too little considered feature of the three references to "outer darkness" is that each pictures a house of feasting...In Matthew 25 the lord of the house has returned thither from his journey, which is to be celebrated as a time of joy, implying a feast; it is to share this joy of their lord that the faithful servants are welcomed, whereas the unfaithful man is cast into outer darkness. In the second instance the man is bound hand and foot.

This element of the one picture really gives the clue to the interpretation, when it is remembered that in the East such a festivity usually took place at night. Staying in a native quarter in Alexandria I was on the other side of the road from a large Oriental mansion. One night the whole house was brilliantly lit, a blaze of light from every room, evidently for some special affair. By contrast the street outside and garden around were in black darkness, and nothing further was required to correspond to the term "the darkness the outer", which term equals the darkness which is without, outside the house.

It were but an event to be expected that an Oriental despot, of royal or lesser rank, if offended with one of the slaves, should order that he be bound and thrown into the garden. There the unfortunate man, with common Eastern emotionalism, would bewail the dark and the cold, and the danger from hungry dogs and jackals, and would gnash his teeth at being deprived of the pleasures forfeited...

It is outside the kingdom of heaven when pictured as the temporary festivity at the return of the Lord of the house or as the wedding feast of the son of the house. It is marked by loss of liberty (bound hand and foot), by forfeiture of privilege (the "joy of the lord"), by decrease of knowledge (the pound withdrawn), by deprivation of service and reward ("have thou authority"). It will be healthful that these solemn elements weigh upon our minds and warn and stimulate, though where and how the realities they picture will be experienced may not be known.[3]

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Watchman Nee, The Gospel of God(Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), Vol. III, p. 401.

[2] D. M. Panton, The Judgment Seat of Christ , (Hayesville, N. C.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1993), p. 26.

[3] G. H. Lang, Pictures and Parables (Miami Springs: Conley and Schoettle Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 306-307.