Revelation Explained at Last!

by David C. Pack

Chapter 20: The Three Resurrections|19911|book%20of%20revelations||C||46238300761&gclid=CLDB7O7Mgb4CFYsWMgodL0QA5Q

Chapter 20 introduces Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. At this time, the world will truly be “paradise,” since Satan will have been bound and cast into the bottomless pit (vs. 1-3). This chapter also explains the three separate resurrections that are central to God’s Plan.

Verses 4-6 describe the first resurrection and the reign of the saints with Christ for 1,000 years, which you now know occurs when the seventh trumpet is blown and Christ returns to earth.

In Matthew 25, which is actually a continuation of the Olivet Prophecy of chapter 24, Christ speaks of this momentous event. The angels come from heaven with Him when He establishes His kingdom.

Notice the picture once Christ is established on His throne: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats: and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:31-34).

This is a stunning and wonderful scene. Just before Christ’s crucifixion and ascension to heaven, He said, “If I go, I will come again” (John 14:3). Here, Christ gives the reward to each of His saints. They “inherit the kingdom” with Him and rule for 1,000 years.

But we must ask a larger question, beyond the immediate events prophesied through the first 19 chapters of the book of Revelation: What will take place after Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth?

The description of other events is found starting in Revelation 20:7 and continues through the end of the book. Verses 7-9 actually describe a prophecy pertaining to the end of the millennium, when Satan is briefly loosed from his prison and seeks to reverse the 1,000 years of peace. Verse 10 describes his fate.

Starting with verse 11, the next five verses describe the second and third resurrections, of which most have little or no knowledge. Let’s read first: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works”(vs. 11-12).

This has been referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment, in which all human beings who have ever lived will receive an opportunity for eternal life. This is when all mankind, since Adam, will be resurrected to physical life for 100 years (Isa. 65:17-25). All these masses will be “judged” from God’s Word—“the books” of Revelation 20:12. This judgment is nothing like the supposed “judgment” that most envision, where people are thought to at some point in God’s Plan “line up in heaven” before Him for “sentencing.” The period described here is a judgment that lasts 100 years, and people are given a full opportunity to respond to, or reject, God’s Way—and eternal salvation!

Then verse 13 states, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [the grave] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” The first part probably still refers mostly to the second resurrection, but the latter part directly refers to the third resurrection, with verse 14 adding, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

When it speaks again, a second time, of men being judged according to their works, this is plainly referencing the third resurrection (vs. 14) because the context pertains to hell (gehenna) and death (the entire idea and reality of physical and eternal death—Rev. 21:4) being destroyed in the lake of fire. Notice: “And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).

This last fulfillment—the third resurrection—occurs at the very end of God’s Plan, the time after He will have given every person who has ever lived a full opportunity to qualify to enter His kingdom.

There will be no escaping the final result of unrepentant sin—the “second death” in the “lake of fire.”

Christ stated, “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). He explained that everlasting fire—the lake of fire—was prepared for the “devil and his angels [demons].” In verse 46, Christ continued: “And these [disobedient people] shall go away into everlasting punishment [not punishing]: but the righteous into life eternal.” Those judged unfit—disqualified—for eternal life will be thrown into the lake of fire!

When cast into the lake of fire, these people will go through what God defines as “the second death,” from which there is no resurrection: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Those cast into this lake of fire after the millennium will be burned up forever.

May all fear such a fate!

When chapter 20, verse 10 refers to the Beast and False Prophet being cast into “a” lake of fire (19:20), it is a type of the second death. They will be raised in the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-13) and receive their first opportunity for salvation.

Chapter 21: New Heavens, Earth and Jerusalem

Finally, chapters 21 and 22 picture the last phase of God’s Plan with the establishment of the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem!

Eventually, at the end of His Plan, God will dwell on earth, instead of in heaven. John records the time when the new Jerusalem will come here from heaven.

Chapter 21 reveals more about the completion of God’s Plan of salvation, and the purging of the earth by fire (II Pet. 3:10-12). Verses 1-3 state: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle [dwelling] of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.”

At this time, the earth will become the headquarters of God’s government. This government will continue to grow, literally, without end. Take time to read Isaiah 9:7 and Luke 1:33.

God’s master plan encompasses eternity. Those entering His kingdom will not be idle. They will be active and productive—and will continue to fulfill His purpose! Hebrews 2:6-8 explains that God will ultimately place man in authority over “all things”—the entire universe. (Read our free booklet How Religion Deceives You About Your Incredible Future to see this thoroughly explained.)

It is difficult to grasp the glory and magnitude of what we will be doing for eternity. But Revelation 21:5 gives a hint: “Behold, I make all things new.”

Chapter 22: Promises and Warnings

In verse 7, Christ says, “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” Reread this promise until it sinks in!

Now read verses 18-19, which give a dire warning to any who would add to or take away from either this book, or Scripture in general. Reread this warning until it sinks in!

Verse 15 describes those who, unwilling to repent of their degenerate lifestyles, will never be in the kingdom of God: “For without are dogs [false ministers], and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.” Also see Galatians 5:19-21.

There is urgency in Christ’s words throughout Revelation 22. For a second time, He states He will come again, but this time reveals what He brings with Him: “And, behold, I [Christ] come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (vs. 12; also see I Cor. 15:50-54). Christ is coming to earth, bringing rewards for each saint with Him—not the other way around. The saved do not go to heaven!

Christ’s very last words in Revelation are: “He which testifies these things says, Surely I will come quickly. Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (vs. 20).

God help you to heed the warning of this book and to receive reward from Christ when He returns—SOON!

A Great Prophecy Being Fulfilled

To conclude his booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last! Herbert W. Armstrong wrote the following, under the subhead “Where Are We Today in Prophecy?”:

“But now, finally, do you realize where we stand today? We are in the semi-chaotic lull between the second and third world wars. But one thing is prophesied for now! One of these prophesied events is taking place this instant. In His great Olivet prophecy, which was the very key to the symbols of Revelation, the disciples asked Jesus privately what would be the sign of His coming, and the end of this worldtoday’s world!

“When Jesus told them of the many who would go forth preaching in His Name, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, yet deceiving the world as to Christ’s Gospelthat was not the end. The famine and the pestilence to come was not the sign of His coming and of the end of this world. The series of world wars was not the sign of His coming, and of the end. It is only in verse 14 of this prophecy that He gave it. I want you to notice the tremendous significance of this: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come’ (Matt. 24:14).

There it is! Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom of god—which is the good news of the world tomorrow! Soon men went out proclaiming Christ—they appropriated His Name and the prestige of His Name in order to deceive the world, and to hide from the world the message that Christ brought. But, in this end-time, when the end of this age is at hand, this same Gospel of the Kingdom of God—the government of God—being born into the family of God—this same Gospel is now once again being announced to all the world! That prophecy is being fulfilled...”






The Two Resurrections


The resurrection of the human body from the grave is clearly taught in God’s Word. Job, the oldest of the patriarchs, said: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). It is evident that Job was firm in his belief in the resurrection of his body and a future life beyond the grave.

Abraham, the founder and father of his race, lived to be one hundred seventy-five years old, and “died in a good old age” (Genesis 25:7-8), but “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). He never saw that city in his earthly pilgrimage, for earth to him was a “strange country.” The godly old patriarch shared with others who “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). But Abraham believed that the heavenly city would be inhabited by a fleshly body, “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . .” (Hebrews 11:19).

David was confident of a future life. He said: “My flesh also shall rest in hope” (Psalm 16:9), and “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). These words of the man of God refute the erroneous teaching that the resurrection refers to the spirit of man, and not to his body. Neither the soul nor the spirit of man dies, but it is his body which dies and is buried. Therefore it must be the body that is raised from the dead, and not the soul or spirit.

When our Lord Jesus was here upon earth, He taught that all men who die will be raised again at some future date. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth . . .” (John 5:28, 29). We affirm and avow our belief in the resurrection of the human body from death and the grave. Without this hope our Christian faith is vain, our brightest hopes are merely bursting bubbles, the Bible is not a true and reliable record, the men who wrote it were poor deluded victims of falsehood, and Jesus Christ is the world’s biggest impostor. But so clear is the Bible on the subject of the resurrection that we admit no confusion or doubt.

A Wrong Conception

Many people, among them some Christians, have been taught to believe that there is only one “general” resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. This is a serious error which has robbed many believers of joy and victory in this life. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we taught that the bodies of all men will be raised at the same time. It is true that all the dead will be raised and brought into judgment, but neither the time, the place, nor the judgments are the same. The Bible clearly distinguishes between a first and a second resurrection.

. . . All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29).

When men are raised, not all will be raised at the same time nor in the same condition. There will be two resurrections for two classes of men. One will be raised to eternal life and immortality, while the other will be raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord. There is a “resurrection of life” and a “resurrection of damnation.”

And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14).

There is, then, a “resurrection of the just,” and since “all shall come forth,” there must of necessity be a resurrection of the unjust. Since the dead in Christ shall rise first, the implication is that the dead out of Christ (or without Christ) will be raised afterwards. Luke makes no mention in the above passage about a resurrection of the unsaved. Indeed the unsaved shall be raised, but not for a considerable length of time after the saved have been raised. When Paul testified before Felix, he said, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). The Apostle John makes a clear distinction between the two. He speaks of the redeemed who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).

Every believer has passed out of death into life (John 5:24). His life “is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), and the exceeding greatness of God’s power in resurrection toward us who believe is the same “mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). And by that same power will all the unbelieving dead be brought out of their graves to stand before the judgment of the Great White Throne.

The First Resurrection

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Surely language could be no clearer than this--“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” We see first that the time of the First Resurrection is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of Heaven to rapture all of the saints to Himself. Here we must distinguish between Christ’s coming for His own before the millennium and His coming again to raise the rest of the dead (unbelievers) who remained in their graves during the thousand years. Let there be no misunderstanding that it is a settled fact that there is at least a one thousand year interval between the First and the Second Resurrection. The Apostle John, by Divine inspiration, confirms this,

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5).

At the consummation of the First Resurrection there are three companies of believers who will have been raised at different times. Let us say, for clarity, there are three stages of the resurrection of believers:

(1) When our Lord was crucified on the Cross, we read: “And, behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matthew 27:51-52).

(2) There is the second stage of the First Resurrection to which we already have made mention (1 Thessalonians 4:16), when all true believers are raised at the first appearance of Christ. To this we add the Apostle Paul’s word in First Corinthians: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

(3) The third and final stage of the First Resurrection occurs about seven years after the resurrection of saints at Christ’s coming at the rapture. “Those resurrected near the close of the seven years’ period of the tribulation are the multitude of believers who were led to the truth through the witness of the 144,000.” Because they would not receive the mark of the beast in their hands and foreheads, they were martyred. These are brought forth from the dead at the end of the Tribulation just before Christ comes to earth to reign for one thousand years.

Christ the Firstfruits

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

The word “Firstfruits” is a significant one. In the ceremony of the Israelites there were certain national feasts kept annually. The third order of these was the Feast of Firstfruits, an annual occasion of consecration that was solemnized at the beginning of harvest time.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest. (Leviticus 23:9-10).

Dr. Martin DeHaun points out that the harvest was divided into three parts. It was one harvest, the fruit of one season, presented on three different occasions. First, there was the sheaf of firstfruits, the earnest or pledge of the greater harvest that would follow. This beautifully typifies the Resurrection of Christ who, by coming forth from the tomb, accomplished the work of the redemption and guaranteed for all who believe in Him a greater resurrection when He returns. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept”(1Corinthians15:20). Just as the firstfruits were a pledge of the coming harvest that would be presented to Jehovah, so our Lord’s Resurrection is a promise that all who are in their graves who have died trusting Him will be raised and brought into the presence of the Father. Speaking to believers, the Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit says: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

After the firstfruits followed the harvesting of the larger part of the crops. We read: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Our risen Lord is now in Heaven. Even so “Our conversation is in Heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21). Our physical bodies have in them sickness, weakness and death, but our all-powerful, all-victorious Saviour has said: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). He will come again even as He said. Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.

But the harvest is not ended as yet. It is not completed until the gleanings are added. Always there are loose ears that fall by the way, and these must be gathered up. This is called the gleaning. We recall how Ruth “came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers” (Ruth 2:3). The gleanings are those tribulation saints who had not heard and believed the Gospel before the rapture of the Church. So we have Christ the firstfruits, then we have the harvest or the resurrection of the saved at the rapture, and finally the gleanings or the saved of the seven years’ tribulation period. Then follows the millennial age during which all the saints of every age will reign with Christ a thousand years. What bright prospect for those who put their trust in the Son of God! But tell me, are you prepared for the coming of the Lord and the first Resurrection?

The Second Resurrection

When the thousand years are expired, Satan will be loosed for a season and will carry on his rebellion where he left off before the millennium when he was cast into the bottomless pit. Then God will have done with Satan forever, for “the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). We shudder at this unceasing torment without intermission, this never-ending existence in painful agony.

But the devil’s doom is not the blackest page in the Biblical records of God’s dealings. There is yet an account to be settled with all those who died in rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Great White Throne has been erected. We are about to view the greatest assize ever conducted. The Judge is our Lord Jesus Himself, for “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Here the hated and despised Nazarene will sit in righteous judgment of all who refused to acknowledge His Messiahship and Saviourhood. It is the gloomiest hour for that part of the human race that spurned the love of God and denied His only begotten Son. This is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. There are those who remained “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Though they are spiritually dead having not eternal life, they are standing before God physically alive in their resurrection bodies. From every part of the earth the bodies of the wicked dead are raised to receive the final sentence, banishment from the presence of God and eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

The final resurrection occurs, John says: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; . . . The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12, 14). Who will be judged here? The answer is that there will not be one single believer in Christ that will appear before the judgment of the Great White Throne. Only the unsaved will be there, appearing in a physical body to be condemned to Hell. All will be there by their own personal choice. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). You had your opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, but you turned from Him, and by so doing you have chosen eternal torment in the lake of fire. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

Many unbelievers seek to stifle their conscience by uttering their unbelief in a physical resurrection. They count it a thing incredible that God could raise a physical body that had been trampled under the dust for more than one thousand years. Certainly God knows where the dust is, and since He fashioned the body of Adam out of particles of dust, it is only reasonable to believe that He can fashion it again. The world is His, and the fullness thereof. He fixed the stars in their courses and named them all; the wind and waves obey His will; the innumerable grains of sand by the seashores are under His divine control; He numbers every hair on our heads. The logical reasoning of any thinking mind and the inner convictions of the honest man tell us plainly how foolish one is to deny the existence of life after death.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the confirmation of the resurrection of the human body and future judgment. When the mighty Apostle Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians on Mars’ hill, he said that God commands all men everywhere to repent, “because He hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). It is true that man died here, but since both his Judge and his day of judgment already have been appointed, he must be raised after death if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled. Certainly they are not dead men whom God will arraign before his solemn tribunal. They will be alive and conscious of that great hour. So in order that man might be assured of a future judgment, Christ arose as the criterion of the law of resurrection. The living Christ is a positive attestation of the fact that there is a day of judgment. We are not intimating nor are we presuming a day of judgment, but we are merely standing with the Apostle Paul in affirming a positive assurance God gave to the world when He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We read in “The Apostles’ Creed” how Christ “. . . was crucified, dead and buried; the third day He arose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .”

The last judgment in the Bible will be that of the unsaved dead who will stand before the Great White Throne in living, resurrected bodies to receive their final sentence of doom and be cast into the lake of fire. This will not be a judgment to see if sinners are lost, for they are lost already because “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). Christians will be present, but only as witnesses. The judged will be those of the Second Resurrection whose bodies have been brought out of the grave and whose spirits brought back from Hell.

All of the unsaved, “small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). In our human courts of law it is often the case that the defendant does not appear. Sometimes a witness, a juror, or a judge can be bribed, and the guilty one escapes trial and the passing of sentence. Sometimes false witnesses can turn court’s evidence and the guilty one goes free. But in that day, the books are opened, including the Book of Life, “and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). While it is true that millions have lived and died of whom the world knows nothing, their thoughts and deeds are divinely written where the memory of them can never perish. An accurately guided hand has recorded the biography of all, and all evil will be accounted for in that dreadfully solemn hour. If you have despised Jesus here, it will mean judgment there. If you have belittled the invitation to Heaven while here, you will be cast into Hell then.

A Literal, Physical Body

God has said by the prophet Isaiah: “Unto Me every knee shall bow every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). The Apostle Paul quoting Isaiah, said: “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, ever knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11). Then the Apostle adds: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him (Jesus), and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Only a part of the human race has agreed with the testimony of God the Father which He has given concerning His Son. But at the final judgment, every unbeliever of every age will bow the knee that once he refused to bend, and confess with the tongue that once he refused to confess Christ with. Yes, literal knees and tongues of every Christ-rejecting sinner will bow and confess in utter humility the Christ they spurned and scoffed at here on earth.

Again we repeat that God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would rather save than have them die in unbelief, but whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. They shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death (Revelation 20:15; 21:8). If you die in your sins, the judgment is sure and certain. You will not escape! No, you cannot escape. If, while you read this message, you realize your need of Christ as your personal Saviour from sin, confess that you are a sinner and trust Christ to save you. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6).

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come),

The Resurrection Body


With what body do they come? (1 Corinthians 15:35)

Death--The Sleep of the Body

No Biblical description of death is so comforting and consoling to the believer as that which is revealed in the familiar word sleep. It is a word that applies to the body only and never to the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death” (John 11:11-13). Of the martyrdom and death of Stephen, we read: “He fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). When the Apostle Paul was yet alive, he said that of the five hundred brethren who had seen Christ alive after His Resurrection, “some are fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). His comforting message to the believers at Thessalonica was, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The Apostle Peter, speaking of Old Testament saints, said: “The fathers fell asleep” (2 Peter 3:4).

The Old Testament saints were comforted by this same truth. More than forty times in the Old Testament it is said of a man who died that he “slept with his fathers.” “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16; 2 Samuel 7:12). Job said: “Now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be” (Job 7:21). In these verses we have a transcendently sublime description of death which assures the believer that it is but “the transient slumber of the body, to be followed by the glorious awakening at the sound of the last trumpet.”1

Death--Temporary Separation
of the Spiritual from the Physical

This temporary suspension of the activities of the body does not mean that the spirit of man is asleep. The body is but the tabernacle or dwelling place of the spirit part of man. Upon the death of the body, the spirit of a believer takes departure, closing the senses of the body until the day of its resurrection. Immediately upon the death of our bodies, we leave the flesh, “to depart, and to be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23), “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).

Here is a simple illustration. Recently I noticed that a butcher shop in our town was no longer open for business. One day while driving past the building I saw a sign in the window which read: “Closed For Alterations.” The owner had suspended his business relations with the public long enough to renovate the store. After about two months the store was reopened with many changes. This is a picture of the death of the believer. He moves out of the body until it has been repaired and renovated, when, at the resurrection, the inward man shall move into his renewed body.2

Raised to be Like Jesus

Death is not to be feared by the Christian. We shall live in a literal body just as real as the one we have now, for, says Paul: “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body . . .” (Philippians 3:20, 21). The coming of our Lord in the air to take us to Heaven will necessitate a change in this purchased body of corruption. The body is as much the Lord’s purchased possession as is the soul. It is dear to Him. “The body is . . . for the Lord; and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). The goal of the Gospel is to bring eternal life and immortality to all who will believe. Since the body of the saints will be “fashioned like unto His glorious body,” we may well wonder what our bodies will be like at the resurrection. John says: “We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). When our Lord ascended into Heaven, He was thirty-three years of age, a young man in the strength and glory of His youth. Senility had not overtaken our Lord when He died upon the Cross for our sins. In David’s Psalm of the exalted Christ in the glory, we read: “Thou hast the dew of Thy youth” (Psalm 110:3). O wondrous thought! We shall be clothed upon with perennial youth. We shall be like Him, fashioned like unto His glorious body.

Christ shall “change our vile body” (Philippians 3:21) we read. The word “change” means to transfigure. It has been suggested that we have here the thought of metamorphosis which is a remarkable change in the form and structure of a living body. When our Lord took Peter, James, and John up into the Holy Mountain, we read that “He was transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2). Christ appeared during that brief period of time in His glorified body. He was transfigured (or metamorphosed) before them. It was a body like His post-resurrection body when He appeared to His disciples behind shut doors (John 20:19). The change of the believer at the resurrection has to do with his body, wherein resides the sin principle, for even the Christian must admit, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The word “change” could not refer to the spiritual part of man, for, as Kenneth Wuest says: “The word ‘change’ is the translation of a Greek word which speaks of an expression which is assumed from the outside, which act brings about a change of outward expression.”3

Biologically speaking, the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly is spoken of as a “metamorphosis.” The ugly, repulsive caterpillar is confined to a tomb which it spins for itself. While in the cocoon there is an apparently dead and formless substance. But after the warm sun of spring has beaten its golden rays upon that cocoon, there comes forth a beautiful butterfly. Though the butterfly is different in appearance from the caterpillar, we recognize the beautiful winged insect as being the same as the caterpillar. It is the same living creature, yet different. So also is the resurrection of the body. Now we have a vile body (or a body of humiliation). The Apostle James calls it a “low” body, “because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (James 1:10). The body of Adam, in its original state, was provided with a covering of glory, but when sin entered the covering of glory was replaced with a covering of humiliation. In our present bodies of humiliation we are unfit for the glories of Heaven and God’s presence, but hopefully we look for our Lord’s return when He shall fashion our bodies of humiliation like unto His own body of glory. It will be the same body in that it will be recognizable, but wonderfully changed.

Answering the Skeptic

Some unbelieving skeptics have proposed the argument that it will be impossible for the same body to be raised since the bodies of those who have been dead for hundreds of years have become decomposed into integrant parts; that is, reduced to powder. They add that those elements which composed one body may have become a part of other bodies. For example, a dead body deteriorates. Over the grave of that body a tree may grow, having fed its roots on the elements of the dead body. If the fruit of that tree is eaten by other men, the elements of the decomposed and deteriorated body in the grave become a part of other men’s bodies. They conclude that it is an impossibility to raise the same body atom for atom.

God anticipated this problem. We read: “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35) To answer this, the Apostle, by the Holy Spirit, uses the illustration of a farmer sowing grain. When a farmer drops a kernel of grain into the ground, he knows that when the seed dies or seemingly rots away, that does not mean the end of his efforts. He knows that one seed will come forth into a fuller life, producing a stalk with several ears bearing many hundreds of kernels like the one he planted. The actual seed that was planted he does not see. Yet there is absolute identity. It is the same with the resurrection of our bodies. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die; And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

It will not be necessary for God to use every part of this body when he raises it from the grave. Such a thought is not taught in Scripture. In fact, it is scientifically true that the component parts of our bodies undergo periodical changes. We are told that through the change of elements, we receive new bodies every seven years. We may not be conscious of the change. Nevertheless we have not the same body today that we had seven years ago. There is an identity that we maintain all our lifetime, and yet there is not one cell in our bodies that was there seven years ago. In the resurrection the bodies of the saints will bear their individual identities. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith has said: “The fact that after death our physical substance disintegrates and scatters, creates no difficulties for God, so that He could not bring those bodies back gloriously transformed.” By the new birth we are born again into the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that can never break down or disintegrate. Because sin can never enter, there is no danger of corruptibility. The resurrection will be the occasion when our bodies become incorruptible and will inherit the Kingdom of God.4

From Corruption to Incorruption --
From Mortality to Immortality

It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:42).

For this corruptible must put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:53).

Death is written on the face of all that is alive. The moment we begin to live we commence to die. The report of the birth of a new baby guarantees the digging of a new grave. The preacher of wisdom wrote: “The strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened . . . man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets . . . Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:3, 5, 7). This is a picture of the body of corruption. Its destiny is death, decay, and dissolution. But if we are to have bodies in Heaven, we must have bodies that are free from corruption. This is exactly the kind of body that Christ will give us when He comes. It was buried in corruption, but it will be raised in incorruption. We have some idea of an incorruptible body in the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah both appeared with Christ. Moses had died fifteen hundred years before. Yet he was there recognizable in a glorious body. Elijah had been caught up to Heaven without dying about nine hundred years before, and he too was there in a glorified body. Our resurrection will clothe us with bodies where disease and sickness will never enter. No pain, no weakness, no fever will touch our resurrection bodies. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

From Dishonour to Glory

It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:43).

The body that is put in the grave is sown in dishonour. The average Christian sadly neglects his body, failing to realize that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Proper care of the body is far more the exception than it is the rule. The bodies of some Christians have been broken and diseased by sin before the persons ever came to a knowledge of truth. The drinking of intoxicating liquors, the use of tobacco, and other sins of the body have brought to the body dishonour. Some do not get enough rest, while others injure the body through laziness and inactivity. Some persons overeat regularly while others mistreat the body by not eating the right kind of food. It is the opinion of the writer that the majority of people are guilty of not giving the body its required care. It is sown in dishonour. But our resurrection bodies will be raised in glory. We shall be like Jesus, in the brightness of His glory. O glorious hope!

From Weakness to Power

It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43).

It is believed that the Apostle Paul was frail in body, afflicted with “a thorn in the flesh.” Weak bodies have their limitations, and many of us can testify as to how the work of the Lord often is hampered by bodily limitations. The tasks we seek to perform become wearisome by reason of the infirmities of the flesh. But in Heaven we shall know nothing of physical weakness. The limitations of earth are not known in Heaven. What a glorious change that will be! Raised in power! Here on earth we find that the spirit sometimes is willing, but the flesh is weak. Some of God’s choice saints cannot as much as attend a church service because of bodily affliction, but in Heaven all will have strong bodies. The new body will be a habitation from God, incorruptible, immortal, and powerful.

From the Natural to the Spiritual

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).

It must be clearly understood that the phrase “a spiritual body” does not so much as infer that the resurrection body will be a body without substance. The word “natural” is from a word used by the Greeks when they spoke of the soul of man. We pointed out earlier in this volume how that man was made of three component parts: body, soul, and spirit. In the physical he possesses world-consciousness through his five senses. With his soul, which is the seat of his emotions, he possesses self-consciousness, thereby having knowledge that he is a personality. By his spirit, he is enabled to know God and to worship and serve Him after his human spirit has been quickened by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies while on earth are natural or soulish bodies and are engaged chiefly with the activities and the environment of earth. By nature it becomes easily adjusted to work and play. The spiritual life is not absent altogether from man, but it occupies a small part of his time and energy as compared with his soul life.

When the resurrection body is called “a spiritual body,” it is not meant that it will be composed of intangible substance. Robert S. Candlish has said: “The words natural and spiritual, as applied to the body, have respect not so much to the nature of the substance of which the body is composed, as to the uses or purposes which it is intended to serve.” On earth we are occupied to a greater degree with the natural body, while in Heaven in our resurrection bodies we will be occupied with all that pertains to God and godliness. The spiritual life of man will prevail.

We might say that the body has two masters, a natural and a spiritual. Paul said: “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). The Apostle was truly God’s child by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, but the natural man was still very much alive and warring against the spiritual. And each of us knows too well what a barrier the natural man is! We are hindered by the attitude of the natural toward the spiritual. But in Heaven we shall be clothed with a resurrection body where the higher principles in man will predominate and the full tide of spiritual life will be in control.

In Heaven all will be incorrupt, immortal, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. Before the throne of God we will serve Him eternally in His temple. O glorious hope! O resurrection day!

1 T. L. Cuyler

2 The use of this illustration was suggested by Dr. H.A. Ironside in “Death and Afterwards.”

3 Philippians in the Greek New Testament.

4 R. C. H. Lenski

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)

The Future Judgment of the Believer

The coming of Christ will be an occasion of jubilation for all saints. When the graves are opened and the dead in Christ shall rise first and the living saints shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, it will be a time such as attends the meeting of a bride with her bridegroom.

Believers never need fear a condemnatory judgment for sin. For every Christian this judgment is already past. When Jesus comes again He will have in His body the marks of crucifixion, and this will prove that the penalty for sin has been paid in full. Our Lord reassures us by His own word: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). To this the Apostle Paul adds: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Our souls rest forever upon these eternal words of our God.

All Men and Fallen Angels are to be Judged

Yet the Bible teaches clearly that all men, both living and dead, saved and unsaved, must give an account to Christ. The Apostle Peter, in his great sermon in the house of Cornelius, said “that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:42). Later, in his First Epistle, Peter wrote that the saints “shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick (the living) and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). Those who were dead, those who have died since or will have died, and the living must give account to Jesus Christ who is ready to judge all men.

The Five Separate Future Judgments

Not all men will be judged at the same time and place. There are five future judgments.

1. The Judgment Seat of Christ. The first of these will be the judgment of the believer’s works, called “The Judgment Seat of Christ.” It is this judgment to which we shall give consideration in this chapter. But first, we shall outline the four future judgments that will follow the judgment of the believer’s works.

2. The Judgment of Regathered Israel. In Daniel 12:1 this judgment is called “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” It will be the punishment of the Jews for their disobedience to God and their rejection of Jesus Christ. During the Tribulation Period and after the close of the present Age of Grace, Israel will pay for her sins, being afflicted with unprecedented misery and woe.

3. The Judgment of the Living Nations. At the end of the Tribulation Period, after Israel has been judged, the nations of earth will be judged by Christ and His Church. This judgment will not be against individuals but against nations for their treatment of the Jewish people. “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land” (Joel 3:1-2).

4. The Judgment of Fallen Angels. This is the final judgment against Satan and other fallen angels who will be judged with him. Immediately after the one thousand years of the Kingdom Age, Satan and his hosts will meet their doom. “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). At that time we shall see the final fulfillment of that great prophecy in Genesis 3:15.

5. The Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead. This is called the Great White Throne Judgment. After the casting of Satan into Hell, the wicked dead will be raised to receive the final sentence of condemnation (Revelation 20:12-15). No believer will be judged at that day as the final judgment is reserved for all who rejected the Lord Jesus Christ on earth.

The Judgment Seat of Christ

The first future judgment derives its name from two passages where the term “Judgment Seat of Christ” appears:

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

This judgment cannot be confused with either of the other judgments because the Holy Spirit used a Greek word to describe the Judgment Seat of Christ that is peculiar and different from the Greek words used in connection with other judgments. Here the word used is bema. It appears in classical Greek to identify the judge’s seat in the arena of the Olympic games. The bema was the seat whereon the judge sat, not to punish contestants, but to present awards to the victors. When Christians stand before the bema of Christ, it will be for the express purpose of being rewarded according to their works. There is no idea of inflicting punishment.

The Judge. Our Lord Himself said: “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). The Apostle Paul said to the Athenians that “God hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man Whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). In this sense every judgment throne can be considered as the judgment seat of Christ, for, as the resurrected Son of God, He has been appointed by the Father to be the Judge of all. However, there is only one bema, a throne erected for Christ for the purpose of awarding the prizes or crowns to the victorious saints.

Since Christ is the Judge, and a time and place have been set for the judgment of believers, we are warned against any attempt at judging each other in this life. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). We are not judges. Therefore we have no right to judge or to despise our brother. It is not possible for any of us to judge righteously and justly because we do not know the hearts of each other. Jesus warned His disciples: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). We must exercise a careful discrimination in all matters, but our attitude is to be without censoriousness. We are expected to use our reason and the powers of discernment, but never to avenge, condemn, nor damn another. Abraham Kuyper has said: “All human judgment remains imperfect. It can never fully satisfy our thirst after justice.” A human tribunal cannot bring a just retribution upon those who have committed crimes in secret. Too frequently the guilty are set free and the innocent condemned. “Forget not your martyrs.” Because of our limitations we come to wrong conclusions. Therefore we are to leave all judgment with the omniscient Judge who will judge righteously and accurately, but never falsely. When Jesus comes, every Christian dead or alive, will be included in the great throng that will stand before the bema of Christ. We will be there, not merely as spectators or witnesses. The Holy Judge will not need anyone to witness. In that day His word shall stand. “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

The Judged. Only believers will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. In both verses where this judgment is mentioned (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), the words are addressed to Christians only. All the wicked dead (unbelievers) will be judged at the Great White Throne after the one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. But the subjects to whom the Apostle Paul addressed his messages when he said, “We must all appear,” were exclusively the saints of whom Paul considered himself one. Someone will question the possibility of standing room for the countless millions of saints, or another may question the time element of such “an endlessly drawn out pronouncement of judgment upon so large a host of individuals.” The Bible is silent on details as to the exact location of the place of judgment. Whether in Heaven or in the air we cannot tell. However, one thing is certain, as Henry W. Frost has said: “A divine judgment need not take long.” It is absurd even to conceive of a problem of space when we think of the vast expanse in the heavens. “It is possible that this judgment of the saints will be instantaneous, and that each Christian will rise into the air to enter at once into his proper place and appointed rewarding.” If there are problems regarding the exact location and the manner of this judgment, there are none regarding its certainty, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

The Christian’s Works Will be Tested

Let us pause to read carefully the Holy Spirit’s message concerning Christian work and its rewards:

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:9-15).

The great Apostle refers to himself and all of his fellow-workers as “labourers together with God.” This is a wonderful truth when we realize that God does not actually need any one of us to do His work. It is not necessary that He should consider us at all to carry His Gospel, for He can carry out the whole plan of salvation without us. He could send His holy angels to spread redemption’s message, or He could flash it across the skies to the visibility of every person in the universe, but He has chosen the believer to tell the story of His sovereign grace and matchless love.

The foundation for this work is already laid, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (verse 11). Now we are to build upon this foundation, and the work in which we engage ourselves must stand the test of the judgment seat of Christ if we are to receive a reward. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest . . . and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Many Christians who have labored humbly and prayerfully in the Spirit will be rewarded, but that which was done in the energy of the flesh and which is merely called “Christian work” will be consumed by the fire of purging. “If a man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward. If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.” “We shall be judged” according to the secret motives and the character of our work. If you cannot do all that you would like to do, be sure that whatever you do is of the right “sort.” This means that if our work is of the right kind or character, we will receive a reward. Contrariwise, if what a believer does is not of the right character, “he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).

In an interesting and instructive parable of our Lord recorded by Luke (Luke 18:11-27), we have a picture of this present age and the Christian’s responsibility. “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, ‘Occupy till I come.’” The ten pounds were divided equally among the ten servants, thus showing that each servant had an equal opportunity during the Lord’s absence. To each of us has been committed the witness of Jesus Christ. We are to share in the opportunities and responsibilities of making Him known. Not one single Christian can say that he is not responsible for the spreading of the truth of the Gospel. During our Lord’s absence we are to occupy till He comes, for He is coming again, as He said, to render to every man according to his deeds.

“When he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.” Here our Lord describes what will happen when He returns. All of us who are His shall be called unto Him to give an account of ourselves as to how we discharged our responsibilities during His absence. This is the Judgment Seat of Christ, and it will determines our position and service in the Millennial Kingdom. Recently in Philadelphia two men took the same examination with the understanding that the one receiving the highest grade would be appointed to the office of Chief of the Fire Bureau. It is by the same method of competitive examination in faithfulness that the saints will be appointed to rule with Christ. In the parable the servant who gained ten pounds was called “faithful,” and was given authority over ten cities. Likewise the servant which gained five pounds was given authority over five cities. But the servant who resumed his one pound, having done nothing with it, was sternly rebuked. The Lord said: “Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.”

When Jesus comes each believer will receive his or her just reward for service according to the measure and motive of our works. No rewards will be given by political preferment, but only in exact proportion to the genuine effort put forth. Other parables of our Lord which should be studied in connection with Christian service are the Unprofitable Servant (Luke 17:7-10), The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 10:1-16), and The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

Saints Will Differ in Heaven

The Apostle Paul says: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:41-42). Every Christian will be given a celestial body in the Resurrection, but these bodies will differ in the glory that each shall possess and enjoy in Heaven. Paul asks us to notice how the stars differ in glory, some shining with a greater brilliance than others. Then he concludes: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” All believers will have glorified bodies, but there will be difference in glory according to the measure of our diligence and devotedness to Christ and His work. I hold in my hand three coins. One is gold, one is silver and the third is copper. All three bear the same inscription of the United States of America. However, the glory of the gold is one glory, the glory of the silver is a lesser glory, and the glory of the copper is yet a lesser glory than either the gold or the silver. So also is the resurrection of the dead. Each of the bodies of the saved will bear the glorified and heavenly mark of distinction, but the glory of some will differ from the glory of others. Our capacity to serve in Heaven we will take to Heaven with us when Jesus comes.

The Crowns or Rewards

Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Revelation 3:11).

And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12).

The Judgment Seat of Christ will be a crowning day for those Christians who will receive rewards for their works. The New Testament teaches that these are called “crowns.” There are five such “crowns” to be given.

1. The Incorruptible Crown. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Here Paul has in mind the athlete in the Roman arena. Before the contest each participant practiced self-discipline, being temperate in all things. There were doubtless many pleasures and pastimes that the athletes might have entered into and enjoyed, but they denied themselves these things in order to do their best. A crown awaited the victor. The incorruptible crown for the Christian is the victor’s crown for those who keep under the body and bring it into subjection. There are certain pleasures, worldly amusements, manners of dress, and uses of cosmetics that interfere with one’s progress in spreading the Gospel and winning the lost to Christ. If I live victoriously over all things, “making no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof,” I shall gain the reward for a victorious life which is the Incorruptible Crown. If an athlete must subject himself to many months of rigid discipline and training to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more should we bring our bodies into subjection for a crown that is incorruptible!

2. The Crown of Rejoicing. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20). This is the soul-winner’s crown. The first thing that a Christian should pray for and seek to cultivate is the desire, ability, and wisdom to win lost souls to Jesus Christ. Paul was confident that when he would stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ the Thessalonian converts would guarantee a crown for all those who shared in bringing them to Christ. Every time an individual is converted, there is joy in Heaven; but at the day of the giving of rewards the soul-winner will be exceeding joyful when those are presented to God whom he had won to Christ. What is our hope of reward as Christ’s witnesses? The answer is in those who will be in Heaven because of our prayers, gifts, preaching, and personal work.

3. The Crown of Righteousness. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Here the character of the reward corresponds to the character of the Giver. Both are said to be righteous. The doctrine of our Lord’s return is regarded very highly by God. In spite of the fact that Jesus said He would come again, there are many people who scoff at the thought of Christ’s appearing. This and kindred truths have brought suffering and hardship, and in some cases death, to those who insisted on preaching and teaching them. But how wonderful to know that God has prepared a special reward for all who look for that blessed hope, who wait for His son from Heaven, and who love His appearing.

4. The Crown of Life. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12). “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The Crown of Life is reserved for those who have given all their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Not all of our Lord’s witnesses have been called to suffering and martyrdom. Not all would be willing to pay with their lives to take the message of salvation to the lost. How thoughtful and just our heavenly Father was when He prepared a martyr’s crown for those who suffer persecution for Christ’s sake! Though some of us will not receive the Crown of Life, we will rejoice with those who refused to count the cost and have died proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

5. The Crown of Glory. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:2-5). There are many who have been called and ordained by God to preach and teach His Word. These are the undershepherds who care for the flock of God during the absence of the Chief Shepherd. My brother-minister, let us give ourselves without ostentation to the care of the sheep of His pasture, for the crown of unfading glory awaits us in the day when the Chief Shepherd shall appear.

If there is to be joy and rejoicing for those who receive the crowns, surely there will be disappointment and sorrow for those who will not receive them. God keeps an exact record of the sins and works of His children. The record includes all of our motives and acts, our response to or our rejection of God’s call to faithful stewardship and service. When an unfaithful Christian hears and sees the true record of his unfaithfulness; when he is reminded of the large sum of money he left behind, a portion of which could have been given to the spreading of the Gospel; when he sees how the cause of Christ has suffered because of his neglect and indifference when a Christian who has wronged his brother and never repented of his sin sees that ugly deed dragged out of its hiding place, will that Christian be unmoved by the revealing of his empty and wasted life while on earth? Will there be no regret, no shame, no consternation? Listen once again to God’s immortal declaration: “If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer . . .”

The story was told of a great fire in a city apartment house. The tenants had all been led to safety with the exception of one family on one of the upper floors. The mother, driven to frenzy by the terror that accompanied the flaming and smoke-filled room, leaped to safety into a fireman’s net. But it was discovered that, in her befogged and delirious mind, she completely forgot her children who perished in the flames. She was saved as by fire, but she suffered great loss. May God grant that we should strive to labor in the light of that hour when all of our work shall be judged by Jesus Christ Himself and we shall be rewarded accordingly.

The Judgment Seat of Christ seems a necessity to the writer. Think of the believers, all members of the body of Christ, who are divided because of differences. In organizations, in churches, and in families I have seen Christians who are not on speaking terms. People who were at one time very close and intimate friends are now separated and a bitter feeling exists between them. Each blames the separation on the other, and they continue on, trying to serve the Lord, but their difference has not been adjusted. Now if our Lord returns before there is a reconciliation of such Christians here on earth, it is necessary that they get right with each other somewhere, for certainly they cannot continue on forever in holding hatred and animosity in their hearts. Heaven knows no such actions. Hatred and unforgiveness is sin. Yet there is no sin in Heaven. Hence the necessity of the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is necessary because not one believer has received his reward for any service he has rendered in this life. Often, and frequently at funerals, we hear it said that the departed one has gone to his eternal reward. This is not Scripturally correct. The departed saints are with the Lord, but not one has received his reward as yet. We are not rewarded one by one at death. None of the disciples nor the apostles has received his rewards yet, nor will he until Jesus comes back and all saints are gathered together. Jesus said to the Pharisee in whose house He had dined: “Thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

Dear Christian, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10). “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

One final word! “And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). Ashamed at His coming! What a sorry closing chapter for any believer’s life! How ashamed we will be if we are engaged in dishonest business, unclean conversation, or unholy living. Let us, with singleness of purpose, abandon ourselves to His perfect will for our lives so that we may hear Him say to us: “Well done.”

Related Topics: Rewards, Heaven