Chapter 2

Rewards & Resurrection Bodies

In his book The Future Life, Rene Pache writes, “Here is a searching word—the motive of our work is what counts. In that day God will test everything by His standard of truth, and if it meets with His approval, a reward will be given. The reward is not salvation, for salvation is of grace, altogether apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). But this reward is for faithful service, because of salvation.

“We will have bodies fit for the full life of God to indwell and express itself forever. We will be able to eat but will not need to. We will be able to move rapidly through space and matter. We will be ageless and not know pain, tears, sorrow, sickness, or death. We will have bodies of splendor. In a promise to the Old Testament saints, the Lord compared our glorious bodies to the shining of the moon and stars (Dan. 12:3). Christ’s glorified body is described as shining like the sun in its strength.”

Who will receive rewards? Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Lk. 6:22-23).

“The whole subject of rewards for the believer in heaven is one that seems to be thought of only seldom by the ordinary Christian, or even by the average student of the Scriptures. It is at once both a joyous and a solemn theme, and should serve as a potent incentive for holiness of life.” So wrote Wilbur M. Smith many years ago, and circumstances have changed little since then with regard to this topic.

There are spiritual teachers who regard the whole concept of rewards for service as a very secondrate motivation. They liken it to offering candy to a child if he will be good. But Jesus in no way offered support to this viewpoint. In fact, He taught the reverse. The apostle Paul also taught about rewards in several of his letters.

No meritorious acts of ours can win salvation, for that is a result of God’s incredible and unmerited love. But the very fact that Jesus spoke of rewards for service on a number of occasions would indicate that He considered their granting an important article of faith. But in no way did He suggest or imply that service was a method of accumulating merit and thus receiving salvation. Eternal life is a gift, not a reward.

The language in which the biblical concept of rewards is expressed is highly symbolic and metaphorical and should be interpreted accordingly. Of course, faithful service will bring rewards in this life as well as in the life to come. Both are mentioned in the following verse: “ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’ ” (Lk. 18:29-30).

The New Testament opens with the Lord’s promise of reward in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Mt. 5:11-12). This reward is for the person who endures slander and persecution for the sake of the Lord.

The New Testament closes with the Lord’s assurance, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

Since Jesus said that the reward for affliction suffered for His sake is great and is a cause for rejoicing, we should take His words seriously and not dismiss them carelessly as some do.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." —2 Corinthians 5:10

Paul is equally definite on this point: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). From this passage we learn that our past deeds will confront us at the judgment seat, but it is equally clear that there the salvation of the believer is not at issue. That important matter was settled forever at the cross, when our substitute graciously bore the judgment that was justly due to us for our sins. As a result of that blessed event, Paul assured believers, “Through Him [Christ] everyone who believes is justified fromeverything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). The blessed consequence is, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

So the believer doesn’t need to fear that he will lose eternal life at the judgment seat. But it might be objected, “Didn’t Paul have a fear of being a castaway?” When Paul wrote of that possibility, it was not because he was in fear of losing his salvation. The word castaway, as it is rendered in the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 9:27, is better rendered “disqualified.” Paul was speaking in the context of competing in the Isthmian games. The fear he entertained was that, after having exhorted others how to run so as to win the coveted prize, he himself might be disqualified for the victor’s crown. After all, eternal life is not a reward but a gift.

All true believers who stand before the judgment seat will qualify for heaven, but not all will receive the same reward. Someone once said, “Rewards will be calculated more on the basis of fidelity and suffering rather than on successful ventures.” We are strongly exhorted, however, to “watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 Jn. 8). In the parables of the minas (Lk. 19:11-27) and the talents (Mt. 25:14-30), Jesus taught that each believer has differing abilities and capacities. That is something over which we have no control and for which we are not responsible.

The parable of the minas teaches that where there is equal ability but unequal faithfulness, there will be a smaller reward. On the other hand, the parable of the talents tells us that where there is unequal ability but equal faithfulness, the rewards will be the same. Christ’s judgment and the reward bestowed will be according to the use we made of the opportunities given to us.

These parables, and indeed the whole subject of rewards for service, underline the importance of how we act here and now. It is now that we are determining our future status and reward in heaven. Charles Wesley wrote the following:

In hope of that immortal crown,
I now the cross sustain
And gladly wander up and down,
And smile at toil and pain;
I suffer out my threescore years,
Till my Deliverer come,
And wipe away His servant’s tears,
And take His exile home.

What do the promised crowns signify? The apostle Paul wrote, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8). The rewards promised in heaven are sometimes represented by the symbol of a crown. In the Greek culture a crown might be either an ornamental headdress worn by a king or queen or a wreath worn as a symbol of victory.

Before considering the significance of the crown awarded to victors, we should have a clear conception of the nature of heaven’s rewards, for we are apt to equate them with our earthly reward system— equal pay for equal work. The idea of merit is thus involved. But a heavenly crown is not a matter of quid pro quo. In the heavenly rewards, merit is expressly excluded. Our Lord’s word to His disciples makes this clear:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (Lk. 17:7-10).

Heaven’s rewards are all a matter of God’s grace. They are God’s generous recognition of selfless and sacrificial service. G. Campbell Morgan goes so far as to assert that service for reward is not Christian, but un-Christian! “He emptied Himself. He served ‘for the joy set before Him.’ Yes, but what was that joy? The joy of lifting other people and blessing them” (The Gospel Of Luke, p.197).

The fact that the laborer who was hired to work only at the eleventh hour received the same wage as the one who had worked all day underlines the fact that most of the wage he received was not earned, but was a generous gift from the master. When one of the fulltime laborers charged his master with unfairness, he replied:

Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Mt. 20:13-15).

We are not told precisely what form the crowns in heaven will take, but John MacArthur Jr.’s view has much to commend it: “Believers’ rewards aren’t something you wear on your head like a crown. . . . Your reward in heaven will be your capacity for service in heaven. . . . Heaven’s crowns are what we will experience, eternal life, eternal joy, eternal service, and eternal blessedness” (Heaven, pp.114-115).

In the New Testament, there are two Greek words translated “crown.” One is diadema, a royal turban worn by Persian kings. It is always the symbol of kingly or imperial dignity. It refers to the kind of crown Jesus receives. The other word is stephanos, the victor’s crown, “a symbol of triumph in the Olympic games or some such contest— hence by metonymy, a reward or prize” (Vine). It was a crown of leaves or vines, beautifully woven. This is the word that is used to denote the rewards of heaven.

Here are the crowns mentioned in Scripture:

1. Crown Of Life. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (Jas. 1:12). “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). This crown is bestowed in recognition of enduring and triumphing over trial and persecution even to the point of martyrdom. The motivation must be love for Christ.

2. Crown Of Righteousness. “Now there is in store 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 longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

This crown is awarded to those who have completed the Christian race with integrity, with eyes fixed on the coming Lord. It is the reward for fulfilling the ministry entrusted to one.

3. Incorruptible Crown. “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:25).

This crown is won by those who strive for mastery, for excellence. Here Paul was using the figure of the pentathlon with its tremendous demand of physical stamina. The crown is awarded to the disciplined.

4. Crown Of Rejoicing. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes?” (1 Th. 2:19).

This is the crown of the soul-winner. It will be cause for rejoicing when, in heaven, we meet those who have been won to Christ through our ministry. This crown is open to every believer.

5. Crown Of Glory. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers— not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be. . . . And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

This promised award for spiritual leaders in the church should provide strong motivation for sacrificial pastoral ministry.

None of these crowns, however, is awarded automatically. There are qualifying conditions attached to each, and it is possible to forfeit a crown through unwatchfulness. In the letter to the church at Philadelphia, the risen Lord warned the believers, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). This is a contemporary warning to us as well, who are often surrounded by competing claims for our love and loyalty.

Philip Doddridge wrote:

’Tis God’s all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high,
’Tis His own hand presents the prize
To thine aspiring eye.
That prize with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new luster boast,
When victor’s wreaths and monarch’s gems
Shall blend in common dust.
Blest Savior, introduced by Thee
Have I my race begun;
And crowned with victory at Thy feet
I’ll lay my honors down.

What will our resurrection bodies be like? The apostle Paul wrote, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed. . . . But God gives it a body as He has determined” (1 Cor. 15:35-38). Paul did not go into detail about the exact nature of the resurrection body of the believer, probably because of the small number of revealed facts. Yet he did make several very definite statements. About such subjects the philosopher and the scientist can make only educated guesses. With the inspired Word in our hands, however, we have certainty.

1. It will be a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44), perfectly adapted to our heavenly environment.

2. It will be a real body, not a phantom, but will be like that of the risen Christ, who challenged His disciples, “Touch Me and see” (Lk. 24:39).

3. It will be a recognizable body, having identity with the physical body that has been laid to rest. After the resurrection, Jesus spoke of having “flesh and bones” (Lk. 24:39). The apostles recognized Jesus. To clarify the issue, Paul then proceeded in 1 Corinthians 15 to draw comparisons and contrasts between the physical and the spiritual bodies.

4. It will be an imperishable body (v.42). It will be deathless, not subject to decay.

5. It will be a glorious body (v.43), no longer the body that is “sown in dishonor,” subject to the tyranny of sin and the attacks of Satan.

6. It will be a powerful body (v.43), having thrown off the frailty of its mortality.

While now the body is only an imperfect vehicle of the spirit and often frustrates it, in heaven the new body will be perfectly suited to conditions in its new sphere. “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

It should be noted that the term spiritual body does not imply that it is ethereal and ghostly, but rather that it will be subject to the human spirit, not to our fleshly desires. In addition, the spiritual body will be able to express better the believer’s aspirations than can the earthly body.

There are two current misconceptions about the spiritual body that need correction: (a) That it will be identical with the body that was buried. (b) That there is no organic connection between the body that was buried and that which is raised. If these conceptions were so, there would need to be a new creation, not a resurrection. We must acknowledge that there is mystery here, mystery that will be revealed only in heaven.

In answering the question, “With what kind of body will they come?” Paul enunciated four truths, which are illustrated in the growth of a seed and in the diversity of animals and of the sun, moon, and stars.

1. What grows from the seed we sow is not altogether identical with what is sown (1 Cor. 15:37). An acorn produces not an acorn but an oak, yet both enjoy the same life force.

2. Each kind of seed has a distinctive, God-given body (Gen. 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:38).

3. The fruit of the seed sown has an organic connection with the seed from which it sprang. It is not a new creation but is the product of something already in existence.

4. As there is great diversity in the bodies in the animal kingdom, so it will be in the heavenly kingdom (1 Cor. 15:39-41).

If the resurrection body is not organically related to the body that is sown as it dies, there can be no resurrection. That we are unable to explain this does not alter its truth. We should keep in mind that there are other mysteries, perhaps connected, that we have to live with. Medical people tell us that in a lifetime our total body substance has been changed about 10 times, and yet our personal identities have continued; we remain the same people. Our memory of past events remains unimpaired. This is a mystery too, but it does shed some light on our problem.

In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, Paul contrasted the old body with the new in four respects:

1. It is sown perishable but will be raised imperishable (v.42). There has been only one body not subject to corruption (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27). Sooner or later our physical bodies waste away. We all are victims of disease and, ultimately, death. Although the hearse is now ubiquitous, our spiritual bodies will be imperishable.

2. It is sown in dishonor but will be raised in glory (v.43). There is nothing beautiful or glorious about a decaying corpse. We dispose of it with respect in a grave or by cremation. But the resurrection body will be a glorious body, inconceivably more beautiful and wonderful. This is assured because “the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

3. It is sown in weakness but will be raised in power (v.43). Bible commentator Leon Morris wrote that inevitably the “strength of youth yields to the frailty of age. A dead body is a symbol of weakness, but our new body, like our Lord’s, will be characterized by power. Sleep will not be necessary to relieve weariness or recoup spent energy. Our abilities will be enlarged and we will throw off the limitations of which we are so conscious in life on earth” (First Corinthians, p.28).

4. It is sown a natural body; it will be raised a spiritual body (v.44). The natural body is adapted to life in this world but is not fitted for life in the next. The spiritual body is the organ that is intimately related to the spirit of man, just as his present body is intimately related to his earthly life. No longer will our bodies be subject to the laws that limit our physical life.

“Our bodies are now subject to limitation and deterioration. But when our Lord returns, a glorious transformation will occur.”

Our Lord’s resurrection body is the pattern for ours (Phil. 3:20-21). He ate with His disciples (Jn. 21:9,12-13). He passed through closed doors (Jn. 20:19). He appeared and disappeared from sight. He claimed to have flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39). In other words, there was a real connection and identity with His former body, minus some of the limitations of that body.

Our bodies are now subject to limitation and deterioration, they confine and cramp us, and they are destined to return to their constituent elements. But “we shall be changed.” When our Lord returns, a glorious transformation will occur. Our lowly bodies will become like His glorious body and will be bodies in which our longings and aspirations will find perfect expression.

What was our Lord’s resurrection body like?

It was certainly different from that same body before death.

1. There were three occasions when He was not recognized at first by His closest friends:

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn. 21:4).

“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn. 20:14).

“Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him” (Lk. 24:15-16).

2. While the Lord’s resurrection body was indeed different, it bore similarities to His physical body. He said He had “flesh and bones” (Lk. 24:39). He denied that He was a ghost (Lk. 24:37- 39). He prepared breakfast for His men and ate with them (Jn. 21:9-14; Lk. 24:42-43).

3. However, He was able to pass through closed doors (Jn. 20:19). He was no longer confined by our limitations of time and space.

4. His was a real body. In answer to Thomas’ disbelief, He extended the invitation, “Put your finger here; see My hands” (Jn. 20:27). And to Mary, “Do not hold on to Me” (v.17).

Jesus gave satisfying evidence that He was just the same person as before the cross. He was recognized by His intimates who were now prepared to die for Him—as most of them did.

It is intriguing to note that our Lord’s body retained its scars in the new body. Exactly what this signifies is difficult to say. One interesting suggestion is that scars received as suffering for Christ’s sake will persist in some way, not as blemishes but as eternal badges of honor.

We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, by continuing to use this site you agree to this. Find out more on how we use cookies and how to disable them.