(Revelation 4 and 5)
The 24 elders of Revelation 4 and 5 are the glorified church. They all have crowns on their heads, which is an indication that they received rewards from the Lord:
In their Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 943, Profs. Walvoord and Zuck say the following about these crowns: “The crowns were similar to those given victors in Greek games (stephanos), in contrast with the crown of a sovereign ruler (diadema, ‘diadem’). The crowns seem to indicate that the elders had been judged and rewarded.”
Peter says that “the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). That refers to the judging of the believers’ works. Jesus said: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his works” (Rev. 22:12). When the Lord comes, He will reward His servants and judge the wicked:
The golden crowns that will be awarded to the glorified church are earned through grace by virtue of what the Lamb has enabled people to do; that is why they are laid down before His throne:
Only He is worthy to receive the glory for what has been achieved by His faithful witnesses on earth. It is through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that they could work for the Lord and be found faithful in what He had commissioned them to do. Even so, it still calls for commitment, self-discipline, obedience, and perseverance from their side. But the means of grace to do this work, all come from the Lord.
Although the judgement seat of Christ is not explicitly discussed in Revelation, the evaluation and rewarding of works is accepted as a given. It is also very obvious that this judgement will occur just after the rapture. To the martyrs in the church of Smyrna Jesus says: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). There is clearly a specific crown that will be given to them. To His faithful witnesses in apostate Thyatira, He says: “Hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:25-26). At His Second Coming He will reward them. To the faithful ones in the dead Sardis church He promises: “He who overcomes shall be clothed with white garments” (Rev. 3:5). To His beloved servants in Philadelphia who kept on serving Him despite their great poverty, He says: “Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). They must remain worthy right to the end if they wished to be rewarded.
Regarding this spirit of perseverance to the end, John wrote to the congregations even before he was exiled to Patmos: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28). By then, it was already obvious that serious problems and spiritual backsliding had occurred in many of the Christian congregations. The second generation Christians were, in most cases, not up to standard. Even some of the older ones also faltered. Not all were overcomers.
All Christians have a definite appointment to appear before the judgement seat of Christ – whether they were good servants or not. Some of them will receive rewards, while others will stand empty-handed. The fact is that the servants of the Lord will have to give account of themselves. Paul said to the church in Corinth:
The word bad can also be rendered worthless. Many of the works of Christians will, on that day, prove to be worthless as they have no eternal value. The Lord Jesus says to every congregation: “I know your works…” He will reward everyone according to their works, whether they be good or worthless.
Paul gives the same message to the Christians in Rome:
To the Corinthians, Paul explains in much more detail how God will test the works of believers by the fire of His judgement. From the context it is clear that the works of faith that were done after repentance are to be tested, but that the works of some believers will nevertheless be found to be carnal and therefore rejected. Paul also clearly indicates that as co-workers of God we have a definite task to perform in the kingdom of God. But we must beware how we do it – not in the wisdom of the flesh but in the power of the Holy Spirit:
A few important points are quite evident from this passage:
· The foundation of repentance, which is the beginning of the new life in Christ, must first be laid in our lives before we can work for the Lord.
· After repentance we are commanded to work for the Lord by being His witnesses and thereby make our lights shine in the world. We must be fellow workers with Him in the extension of His kingdom.
· We cannot assume that all we do for the Lord is done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and therefore acceptable to Him, since we may also do worthless works that emanate from the carnal human nature (1 Cor. 3:1-3). These works are the wood, hay and straw that have no value for eternity and will be burned up.
· To those who do unacceptable works in the power of the flesh, the question is asked: “Do you not know that… the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). They should dedicate their lives to the control of the Holy Spirit and start serving the Lord in His power. That is the normal Christian life.
In a parable in Luke 19:11-27, the Lord Jesus also referred to the day when His servants will have to give account of their lives. He says that to each of them money was given, which refers to a God-given gift to work in His kingdom, i.e. the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. The command to the servants: "Do business till I come" (Lk. 19:13) means: "Manage the affairs of My kingdom till I come." When He returns as King He will first summon His servants to see what they have earned through labour. To the one who made ten-fold profit He will say: “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Lk. 19:17). Another one gets authority over five cities, while the one who buried the money given to him will appear before the Lord empty-handed and be strongly reprimanded because of his uncommitted life.
The Lord has an appointment at His judgement seat with all those who belong to Him. It is obvious that they will not be judged on the basis of the presence or absence of faith in their lives. They are all saved through grace by faith, and that is a gift of God. Because they are all believers the basis of judgement is something else, and that is the works of faith. These are the works that must emanate from a living faith. James says:
Paul states very clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by faith, without works. No one can earn his salvation by working for it. Salvation is a gracious gift of God. But when a person has been saved and become a believer, it is expected of him to lead a life of devotion and good works. In the text following the one on salvation through faith without works, Paul says: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are clearly called to a life of good works.
We must bear fruit that befits repentance. If no fruit is forthcoming in our lives, it is a clear indication that we do not have genuine faith. Every branch that bears fruit is pruned, that it may bear more fruit. Our lives must be purified and sanctified that we may bear more fruit. Every branch that does not bear fruit is taken away and burnt. Such a person had a false repentance like the seeds that fell on the rocks or between the thorns (Mt. 13:3-23). Such a person must make a new start with his spiritual life.
From this background knowledge it should be evident that the Lord will not reward us for what we are doing for Him but only for what He is doing through us. We should be used by Him. What we do, must be in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must not rely on our own ideas but acknowledge and consult God in all our ways. When we want to talk to other people we must first study our Bible and get a word from God, to be able to say: “Thus says the Lord.”
We must also live holy lives, otherwise the Lord won’t use us. He does not use carnal and worldly-minded fellow-workers. If they do not return to their first love He removes their lampstand from them, as He even does from an entire congregation that deviates from truly loving and serving Him. He will then find someone else to serve Him.
The Lord knows the works of His children and He will reward them for these works when He comes again. Shortly after we receive our resurrection bodies during the first resurrection and the rapture, we will be awarded crowns for faithful service at the judgement seat of Christ. We should, therefore, endeavour to do works that are pleasing and acceptable to the Lord, for which alone He will give rewards. The earthly lives of people who did these works will prove not to have been in vain as they produced works with eternal value under the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord will say to them: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mt. 25:21).
The following crowns are promised to the overcomers:
Holiness basically concerns two matters – sanctification and separation for service. When a Christian dedicates himself in a full surrender to the control of the Holy Spirit, he can expect the following two reactions: Firstly, he will be convicted of sin and carnality in his life, which must be confessed and forsaken. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of holiness and He will not take full control of an impure and unclean temple. Paul says: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Secondly, he must make himself available to the service of the Lord. Paul witnessed the strenuous training programmes of the athletes in Greece, as well as the fact that they abstained from harmful habits. He remarked: “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Do you exert yourself to obtain the imperishable crown for a holy and dedicated life? Paul certainly did. He said: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27).
However, to many people the ideal of a holy and dedicated life remains an elusive ideal. They should keep in mind that there is a distinct difference between justification and sanctification. In justification, one is saved by grace through faith, without any works of self-justification. In sanctification, the saved person becomes a fellow-worker of God (1 Cor. 3:9). A life and works of holiness are realised by combining the power and guidance of God's Holy Spirit with the efforts of the believer.
First, the Lord should touch your life, cleanse it with the blood of the Lamb and fill it with His Holy Spirit. That is imputed holiness, something which God alone can do for you. But you must be willing to humble and deny yourself, take up your cross and surrender your whole life and all your possessions to Christ (Ps. 139:23-24; Lk. 9:23). God will then sanctify you completely, which is a second work of grace after salvation (1 Thes. 5:23).
After this experience, you should act in the power of the Holy Spirit, according to your new convictions of God's will, and abandon everything that is wrong and carnal, while disciplining your body and making it serviceable to the Lord (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Cor. 9:27). Holiness and dedicated service can not be achieved in an armchair. After surrendering your whole life to Christ and trusting Him to fill you with His Spirit, you must rise and do what your hand finds to do. Then, you will never stand before Him empty-handed when you are summoned to appear before His judgement seat.
The great commission that Christ gave to His disciples is that of world evangelism. When He appeared to His disciples in the upper-room after His resurrection, He said: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20:21). Later, He repeated this commission to them: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). It was not to be an easy assignment to proclaim the message of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus in a hostile world, and this is why the power of the Holy Spirit was promised to them: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
For those who lead other people to Christ, the crown of rejoicing is promised. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says: “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 Thes. 2:19). Likewise, all other people who also lead lost souls to Christ, will receive the crown of rejoicing.
The spiritual care and building-up of the congregation is a very important aspect of Christian service that was commanded by Christ Himself. In Revelation, He refers to the seven churches and their pastors in a very extraordinary way:
A preacher must be like a brightly shining star in the Lord’s right hand. A star (meaning a planet) has no light in itself, but it reflects the sunlight onto the earth at night. Likewise, a preacher must be a reflection of the light of the Sun of Righteousness in a dark world. He is not the light, but he testifies about the Light. Furthermore, the preacher is likened to an angel. “And of the angels He says: Who makes His angels [serving] spirits and His ministers a flame of fire” (Heb. 1:7). The preacher is a messenger who is sent to the congregation with a message from God. He must serve the congregation with the Word of God which is the bread of life, and also with the various gifts of grace with which the congregation is to be built up spiritually.
Peter says that the preacher is a pastor who should lead the flock. He should not do it with murmuring, or as being compelled to do it, or with a view to self-enrichment. He must not be a hard master, but one who sets a good example and who guards the interests of the congregation. If he discharges all these duties in an honest, dedicated and exemplary way, he will receive the crown of glory form the Chief Shepherd:
It is obvious why a preacher will receive a heavier judgement than other people if he does not do his work as the Lord expects of His servants. The Lord will also claim the blood of lost sheep at his hands. On the other hand, he will be richly rewarded if he is a faithful pastor.
One of the reasons for the great falling-away of the last days is that faithful and able pastors who rightly divide the word of truth, are very scarce. The majority will, for the sake of popularity and also under the influence of colleagues who are false prophets, follow the way of compromise by proclaiming an easy but false gospel message. They will perpetuate the myth of declaring people saved who are not born-again. Long ago, Paul warned against them:
Make sure that you are fed with the pure milk of the Word of God in your congregation, and that you and your pastor have confidence to appear before the judgement seat of Christ.
To everyone who lays down his life for the sake of his faith, the crown of life is promised. The Lord Jesus said to the martyrs: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Through the ages there were always faithful servants of the Lord who were prepared, at the cost of their own safety, their work, their families and even their own lives, to hold the flame of faith aloft in a hostile world. They realised the full implications of the words of Christ when He said: “Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves” (Lk. 10:3). He also said: “In the world you will have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33). During the past almost 2000 years, Christians were indeed, in many countries, persecuted, driven away, scoffed at, intimidated, incarcerated in convict settlements and torture camps, while millions were killed for their faith. The Lord will reward them with the crown of life for the price they paid to be His witnesses among cruel and revengeful people.
To a smaller or greater degree, Christians were persecuted throughout the past twenty centuries. It started in Jerusalem shortly after the establishing of the early church, it was perpetuated by the Roman Empire until the beginning the fourth century, practised by the Roman Catholic Church and the governments under its influence for more than a millennium, viciously pursued by communist regimes in the 20th century, and presently also practised in various Islamic countries.
Included in the category of martyrs are those who suffered trials, testing, afflictions and temptation other than being persecuted by fellow men:
Trials of this nature are varied and may be related to poverty and bereavement, physical disabilities, the caring for disabled, sick or poor ones, etc. Such people will be rewarded by the Lord with the crown of life if they remain faithful.
To love the coming of the Lord, calls for the pursuing of things with eternal value. You must lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. If you say that you love the appearing of the Lord Jesus, you clearly imply that He is your King, that you are involved with the establishing and extension of His kingdom on earth, and that you are looking forward to the day when He will be revealed as King. In the meantime you are a stranger on earth, as your eternal home is not here. Paul fought the good fight of faith in proclaiming God’s kingdom in a heathen world. Shortly before he was executed for his faith, he again expressed his strong expectation of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:
When the wonderful day of His soon expected appearing dawns all believers will receive glorified bodies, and, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, we will reign with Christ:
When the children of God have received their glorified bodies and crowns, they will be seated around the throne of the Lamb to judge the world in righteousness with Him. Then the seven seals of the scroll with God’s judgements will be broken in heaven and the Antichrist will suddenly appear as a false prince of peace on earth. With all these awesome future events in mind, the elders in heaven wait in suspense for the first seal to be opened by the Lamb…