Erwin W. Lutzer

B, Childress
Dec 30 2011

And they shall reign forever and ever.  So says the apostle John of the Lord's bond-servants who serve Him in the New
Jerusalem (Revelation 22:5).  Ruling with Christ is God's ultimate intention for believers; it is our highest possible
privilege.  "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" (3:21).

Those who rule with Christ are overcomers, those who have successfully conquered the challenges of this life.  They
have weathered the storms and have believed in God's promises against incredible odds.  They have willingly suffered
for His name.  They have resisted the threefold seduction of pleasure, possessions, and power.  These are the ones
who genuinely came to believe that "the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God
abides forever" (I John 2:17).

This is the company of believers who proved that they are
worthy of the Savior.  Three times Christ used that word in
Matthew 10:37-38.  Although we have quoted this passage previously, we are now prepared to look it in new light.  "He
who loves father or mother more than Me is not
worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not
worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Italics added).  

Paul exhorts us to "walk in a manner
worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1, italics
added).  And again, "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory"
(I Thessalonians 2:12, italics added).  We are to prove ourselves worthy of our high calling.  We are, says Iosif Ton,
"formed, shaped and tested for reliability, and based on our degree of trustworthiness we are given a position of
responsibility in the kingdom."

We cannot emphasize too often that this is not a privilege which is "earned" in the usual sense of the word.  It is a gift of
immeasurable grace based on our temporal efforts on earth.  As we have seen, rewards are determined by our
response to the opportunities (whether great or small) that are presented to us.


Let us remind ourselves that God wants to produce character in us that is similar to that of Christ.  The qualities seen in
Him are the ones that make for greatness in the kingdom.  As man, Christ was exalted because He had that in which the
Father found His delight.  These qualities are universally ignored by the world.

Many people in the health and wealth gospel preach that we should live like a "king's kid."  What they mean is that we
should strive for money and enjoy it; after all, the children of a king are usually spoiled with all the amenities this world
can provide.

What they forget is that Christ was the "King's kid" who lived a life that is directly opposite to what the health and wealth
gospel promotes.  He was born into poverty and lived without any investments in this world.  And although God might
not require the same form of self-denial for us, the fact is that Christ was as counter-cultural as one could possibly be.  
He modeled poverty and humility; and this, He taught, was the path to greatness.

Christ chided His disciples for confusing the blessings of the coming kingdom with the lifestyles of earth.  If they wanted
to be great tomorrow, fine; let them learn that this could only be achieved by taking the lowest roles today.  Bonhoeffer
was right when he said, "The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard."

Christ had already promised the disciples that they would rule with Him in the coming kingdom, but this was not quite
good enough for the mother of James and John.  She came to Christ with her two sons in tow, requesting that they get
to sit on Christ's left and right when the kingdom age got under way (Matthew 20:20-28).  The conversation developed
like this:

"Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You."

"What do you want Me to do for you?"

"Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left."

When the other ten disciples heard about this secret discussion they were indignant, angry that this request was made
behind their backs.  The other disciples wanted to compete for the two chairs next to Christ and His throne.  Our Lord
was not upset with their request, but He did point out that they did not understand the nature of true greatness in the

First, He asked them whether they were willing to suffer with Him, earning their place in the kingdom.  "You do not know
what you are asking for.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" (verse 22).  They replied that they
were able.  This is the first test of greatness, the ability to suffer with Christ.  Indeed, He was perfected through
suffering, and we should be too.  Greatness is not ease or luxury; it is pain and tears.  As Alexander Maclaren said,
every step on the pathway to spiritual progress will be marked by the bloody footprints of wounded self-love.

Christ apparently agreed that they had the determination to suffer with Him.  He continues, "My cup you shall drink; but
to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father"
(verse 23).  The Holy Spirit within us gives us a willingness to suffer, despite our natural hesitations and fears.

We do all we can to prevent suffering, but God nevertheless brings trials into our lives.  Although He heals some from
disease, many experience years of relentless pain and agony.  Every affliction, it is said, comes with a message from
the heart of God.  Looked at from the standpoint of eternity, it is a gift to be cherished, for it enhances our eternal joy
and honor.

But there is a second quality needed en route to the throne.  Christ points out that greatness in the kingdom means
humility and servanthood.

    You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is
    not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to
    be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
    give His life a ransom for many. (verses 25-28)

The law of the kingdom is directly opposite to that of the world.  In the world, greatness is determined by the number of
people whom you rule; to rule over ten thousand is better than to rule over a thousand.  In the kingdom, greatness is
determined by the number of people you serve.  Humility is the badge of highest honor.  Indeed, Christ Himself was
exalted because He came not to be served, but to serve and to "give His life a ransom for many" (verse 28).

Paul makes an explicit connection between Christ's humility and future exaltation.  "And being found in appearance as a
man,  He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God
highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:8-9).  His lowly
submission to God is the reason why God highly exalted Him.  He taught us that
the way up is down.

Incredibly, Christ's servant role will continue in the kingdom!  Indeed, it appears as if He shall serve us when we sit down
to dinner!  Christ exhorts the disciples to be ready for His return, to be the first to open the door to Him when He
knocks.  "Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will
gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them" (Luke 12:37).  Serving is
not just fit for earth,  but also for heaven.  The humility of Christ toward us should bring tears to our eyes.  As Augustine
said, "God humbled Himself, while man remains proud."

We serve as a stepping-stone to greatness, but serving itself is greatness; it is being like Christ.  Ironically, if you want
to rule with Christ, don't try to seek this reward by finding a lofty position and using it as a stepping-stone to something
greater.  Find a towel, a basin, and some dirty feet and take the role of a servant.  Within God's good time, He may see
fit to give you greater responsibility.  "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt
you at the proper time" (I Peter 5:6).  To want exaltation is fair enough, but it can only be achieved through humility.  
the very thing we seek, greatness, is found through its opposite, humility!

If we wish to be great in the kingdom, we must begin by serving our spouses, our children, and any needy person we
can help.  We must die to our natural desire to be served and begin to serve, taking the initiative in meeting the needs
of others.  And if poor health or such limitations prevent us from active service, let us serve others through our prayers
and encouragement.

Michelangelo, it is said, looked at a block of marble and said, "I see an angel in that block of marble."  God goes into the
quarry of sin, takes rough stones, and hews them into the shape of Christ.  He is pleased when He looks at us and we
remind Him of His only begotten son, who was a servant.


When we specifically ask what rewards are, the Bible gives a variety of descriptions.  The book of Revelation is filled
with figures of speech that help us peer through the window to see what the inheritance of the faithful might be.

Special Privileges

Just contemplate the generosity of God.

  •    "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7).

  •    "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11).

  •    "To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a    
    new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it" (Revelation 2:17).

  •    "And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations"
    (Revelation 2:26).

  •    "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and
    I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes
    down out of heaven from My God, and My new name" (Revelation 3:12).

We need not pause to interpret such passages except to say that all of them speak of special privileges or intimate
fellowship with Christ.  Whether it is eating, receiving a secret name, or becoming a pillar in the temple of God, all of
these speak of close proximity to our Lord in Heaven.  John Bunyan was right when he said, "He who is most in the
bosom of God, and who so acts for Him here, he is the man who will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of

Some Bible scholars insist that all Christians are overcomers because these passages in Revelation do not speak of
what happens to the "nonovercomers."  However, the warnings to these churches make clear that some of the believers
were not overcoming in their witness for Christ.  Indeed, the promises are never made to the church in general, but to
specific individuals within the congregation.  Thus the singular pronoun: "he who overcomes."

We are not well served by a theology that does not recognize the possibility of serious moral and doctrinal defection on
the part of believers.  We've learned that Paul himself beat his body lest he be "disqualified."  He lived with the healthy
fear that he could end in disgrace and failure.  Think about the man in the church of Corinth about whom Paul wrote, "I
have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of
the Lord Jesus" (I Corinthians 5:5).  The same could be said for Paul's companions Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom
he also "delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme" (I Timothy 1:20).

Of course, these believers were legally perfect in Christ; they were overcomers, judicially speaking, for they were
accepted by God on the merit of Christ.  But they were not overcomers in their practical experience.  God exhorts us to
be overcomers of the world and its multifaceted temptations because He delights in seeing us be victorious in daily
living.  The fact that we are secure in Christ does not mean that we are incapable of serious failure, and with it the loss
of rewards.

If you are not convinced that there will be important distinctions in the kingdom, remember that Christ spoke about those
who would be "great" in the kingdom and others who would be "least" in the kingdom.  Again I emphasize that there will
not be two camps in heaven, the haves and the have-nots.  Rather, there are probably many different levels of
responsibility because there are so many different levels of obedience and disobedience.

Rewards, particularly ruling with Christ, should not be taken as a foregone conclusion for all believers.  We have
observed that almost every time reigning with Christ is mentioned, it is always conditional.  Successful suffering,
overcoming, and faithfulness are generally spoken of as the qualifications.  With these come special honors.

Special Honors

Rewards are not only privileges, but also honors.  Since the Scriptures speak of certain crowns being given to the
faithful, some people believe that our eternal rewards are actual crowns that we will gladly lay at Christ's feet.  This has
given rise to the idea that our rewards or lack of them are really quite unimportant eternally.  Whether we have one or
many, we cast them at the feet of Christ at a great ceremony and then everyone gets on with eternity, enjoying
essentially the same privileges.

    The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and
    ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive
    glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were
    created."  (Revelation 4:10-11)

If we are given actual crowns in heaven, I'm sure that we shall gladly lay them at Christ's feet.  But it is wrong to think
that our rewards are crowns and nothing more.  If we join the elders in casting our crowns before Him, I believe He shall
give them back to us so we can join Him in ruling "forever and ever" (Revelation 22:5).  Whatever might happen to the
crowns, our rewards are eternal.  Rewards are primarily not medallions, but specific honors.

Christ spoke of rewards as being "repayment" or of having "treasures," or of ruling with Him (as in the case of the
disciples).  Paul and John use the terminology of "crowns," but I believe that they intend this to be symbolic of our
privilege of ruling with Christ.  They would, I believe, be quite surprised that some interpreters think that our rewards will
officially end when we throw our crowns at Christ's feet.  

Although all crowns are based on faithfulness, there are different ways to be faithful.  Enduring persecution might gain
one person kingdom rule, whereas suffering with leukemia successfully might gain another the same privilege.  Or
perhaps single-minded generosity will introduce us to "the true riches."

Also, it is possible to win more than one crown.  This is another indication that we should not make crowns equal to
rewards.  It would be odd indeed to try to fit five crowns on the same head!  As you read through this list, you will see
that although it might not be possible for one person to win them all, one could certainly have more than one.

What are some of the crowns?  In the New Testament there are two words for "crown."  
Stephanos is a wreath crown,
diadem is a royal crown, the kind that Christ wears.  In the passages listed below, the word stephanos is used, a
crown given to winners.

    1.   The Crown of Rejoicing

    The people we have led to Christ and nurtured in the faith are a "crown."  Paul wrote, "For who is our hope or joy
    or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?  For you are our
    glory and joy" (I Thessalonians 2:19-20).  This is another clue that crowns are to be understood as honors rather
    than a literal crown made of some cosmic metal.  Meeting people we have known on earth will be a crown.

    2.   The Crown of Glory

    For elders who serve well, there is special recognition.  Peter wrote:

    Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a
    partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 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.

Again, this is an expression of reward for faithfulness.  We should not think that elders will be identified in heaven
because they are wearing a crown that is distinguishable from others.  Faithfulness in being a good shepherd on earth
will merit special honors from the Good Shepherd in heaven.

    3.   The Crown of Righteousness

    We've already learned that this crown is given to those who eagerly await Christ's appearing.

    For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have
    fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 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. (II Timothy 4:6-8)

All Christians receive the righteousness of Christ; without it, heaven would be lost.  This crown is a reference to a
special enjoyment of righteousness because of a love for Christ.  Paul wants us to understand that a love for Christ will
attract the attention of Him whom we love.

    4.   The Crown of Life

    This crown is given to those who successfully endure the sufferings associated with temptation.  "Blessed is a
    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).

    The same crown is given to martyrs.  "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" (Revelation 2:10).   Blessed are those who will not give up their allegiance to
    Christ despite the seductions within the soul or the trials found in our path.  The trials of the bride are carefully
    thought out by the Bridegroom!  Remember, the goal is faithfulness that we might be found worthy to reign.

    All Christians are given eternal life.  The crown of life obviously refers to a certain enjoyment of life because of
    faithfulness in enduring the hardships of life.  Thus we see again that the crowns are symbolic of privileges and
    accompanying responsibilities.

    5.    The Crown of Mastery

    This is a crown given to those who run the race successfully, "They then do it," says Paul, "To receive a
    perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (I Corinthians 9:25b).  This is a crown fit for those who have mastered
    the sins of the body, having brought it into subjection.

Special Responsibilities

Now we come to the final drama, the end to which the plan of salvation was directed.  As we stated in an earlier chapter,
God's eternal purpose was to find a bride who would rule with Christ, joining Him on the throne of the universe.

Over what shall we rule?  What will our responsibilities be?  Of course we cannot answer these questions in detail, but
the Scriptures give us sufficient teaching to enable us to glimpse into the future.  We see through a glass darkly, but
thankfully, we
do see.

Our first opportunity for rule will be over the earth in the millennial kingdom.  Christ promised twelve thrones to the
twelve apostles, but there may also be other thrones that will be occupied.  If not, we will be given various
responsibilities, assignments, commensurate with our faithfulness while living on this planet.  Daniel the prophet foresaw
the legacy of the saints in kingdom rule: "But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the
kingdom forever, for all ages to come" (Daniel 7:18).

After the millennial kingdom, a new phase of eternity begins.  The New Jerusalem will come down from God out of
heaven.  Our responsibilities of reigning with Christ will continue, but in a new sphere.  "And there shall no longer be
any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall
illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 22:5).

This rule extends for all eternity.  Paul argued that one of the reasons Christians should not take one another to court is
because this world is practice for greater responsibility in the world to come.  He writes, "Or do you not know that the
saints will judge the world?  And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law
courts?  Do you not know that we shall judge angels?  How much more, matters of this life?" (I Corinthians 6:2-3).

We shall judge angels, not in the sense that they need to be brought to justice, but rather in the sense that we shall rule
over them.  This most probably is what makes Satan so furious.  The fact that sinful human beings, who sided with him
in Eden, will be exalted above the angelic realm of which he was at one time a member is more than he can bear.


When scientists began to understand the size of the universe, man's place in the cosmos seemed to diminish.  After all,
if the universe is 20 billion light years in diameter, and if there are stars millions of times greater than our earth, man is
but a speck of dust on the cosmic landscape.  We ask with David, "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?  
And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" (Psalm 8:4).

The discovery of the immensity of the universe does not diminish but actually magnifies man's role in the cosmos.  For if
Christ is to rule over all things and we are to reign with Him, then we will be ruling over all the galaxies, affirming Christ's
Lordship over the whole universe.

Scientists tell us that there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the beaches of the world.  It
is unthinkable that so much as one of them would wander aimlessly in space without contributing to the greater glory of
God.  In a way that we cannot comprehend, all things will be in subjection to Christ, and we shall be a part of His eternal

Daniel predicted the final destiny of those who belong to the Almighty.  "And those who have insight will shine brightly
like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and
ever" (Daniel 12:3).  Unworthy though we are, there we will be, reigning in accordance with Christ's instructions.  
Perhaps all believers will shine like stars, but some will shine more brightly than others.

We can imagine a factory worker, ignored here on earth, now exalted to the dizzy heights of rule with Christ on a
celestial throne.  And here is a woman, an invalid, who endured the physical pain of Parkinsons disease and the
emotional pain of childhood trauma as a gift from God to refine her faith.  She prayed for others, gave encouragement,
and lived her life with implicit faith in her Lord.  Now, in her resplendent body, she rules, not taking advantage of her
new authority, but in submission to Christ.  At last she understands what Paul meant when he said, "For I consider that
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).  The person she was on earth determined the rewards she now enjoys.

In 1881 King Charles of Romania did not have a crown; he requested that one be made from the metal captured by the
nation in battle.  It was bought and paid for by Romanian lives.  Just so, the crown we wear will be the result of our
successful suffering with Christ on earth.  He suffered immeasurably in our behalf that we might be in heaven forever.  
Our suffering adds nothing to the completed work He did on our behalf.  But the lives we live after He has saved us
prepare whatever crown(s) we will enjoy in heaven.

What if there are some Christians who do not get to rule with Christ, or are given lesser authority in the heavenly
kingdom?  They will not envy those above them.  In fact, Jonathan Edwards says, in heaven we shall be so free of sin
that we will rejoice in the exaltation of others as though it were our own!  We will not regret that others are above us, but
we will regret that we did not serve the Savior to the best of our ability.

Somewhere I read a story about a wealthy couple who had a son they dearly loved.  Unfortunately, the mother died,
leaving the care of the boy with the father.  He knew that he needed help to raise the lad, so he enlisted the aid of a
housekeeper, who came to take care of the boy.  She came to love him as if he were her own son.

The boy was stricken with a disease and died at a young age.  Soon after, perhaps because of a broken heart, the
father also died.  And, because no will was found, the decision was made to auction his personal effects to the highest

The housekeeper attended the auction, not because she could afford the expensive furniture or the pricey antiques.  
She came because she wanted a picture of the boy that hung in the living room.  When the auctioneer got to it, it sold
for but a few cents.

When the woman took the picture home, she noticed a piece of paper attached to the back.  It was the father's last will
and testament, written in his own handwriting, which read simply, "I will all of my inheritance to anyone who loved my son
enough to buy this picture."

God the Father loves His Son.  And if we love Him, the Father will stop at nothing to bless us, even granting us the
privilege of rule with Him.  "He who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with
Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

Yes, when we receive Christ we are graciously rewarded.  And for those who are faithful there is the prospect of ruling
with Him forever.  That God should be so gracious to those who once were His enemies is the essence of the gospel.   It
is here that we encounter the mystery of God's matchless grace.

Come with me to the city of Rome with its opulent cathedrals, sculptures, and monuments.  Survey the pyramids of
Egypt and the splendor of the Palace of Versailles.  Visit the skyscrapers of New York and the exclusive shops along
Chicago's Michigan Avenue.  Spend your life studying works of art and the great literature of the world.

Now compare these possessions with our eternal inheritance.  The contrast is stark and gripping.

    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will
    be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  Since all these things are to be
    destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and
    hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the
    elements will melt with intense heat!  But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new
    earth, in which righteousness dwells.

    Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and
    blameless.   (II Peter 3:10-14)

What sort of people ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness!  When Sir Walter Raleigh laid his new coat on the
ground so that Queen Elizabeth might be able to walk without getting her shoes dirty, he knew that there is no price too
great for royalty.  Whatever he could do to honor the queen of England should be done.  And whatever we can do to
honor the King of kings, should be done
now.  And with all that is within us.

The curtain of this earthly drama will close, but it will open in eternity.  What we encounter there will have been
determined, to some degree, by the life we lived on this earth.  Only in this life can we impact the kind of eternity we
shall enjoy.  
For we are becoming today, the person we will be throughout all of eternity.

"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has done"
(Revelation 22:12).

Even so come, Lord Jesus!


YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.