01 January, 2006

The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth?

The Place Of Reward: Heaven Or Earth?

The Resurrection
The Bible emphasizes that the reward of the righteous will be at the resurrection, at the coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16). The resurrection of the responsible dead will be the first thing Christ will do; this will be followed by the judgment. If the 'soul' went to heaven at death there would be no need for the resurrection. Paul said that if there is no resurrection, then all effort to be obedient to God is pointless (1 Cor. 15:32). Surely he would not have reasoned like this if he believed that he would also be rewarded with his 'soul' going to heaven at death? The implication is that he believed the resurrection of the body to be the only form of reward. Christ encouraged us with the expectation that the recompense for faithful living now would be at "the resurrection" (Luke 14:14).
Again the point must be driven home that the Bible does not teach any form of existence apart from in a bodily form - this applies to God, Christ, Angels and men. At his return, Christ "shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20,21). As he now has a literal bodily form, energized purely by Spirit rather than blood, so we will share a similar reward. At the judgment we will receive a recompense for how we have lived this life in a bodily form (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who have lived a fleshly life will be left with their present mortal body, which will then rot back to dust; whilst those who in their lives have tried to overcome the mind of the flesh with that of the Spirit "shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8) in the form of a Spirit-filled body.

There is ample further evidence that the reward of the righteous will be in a bodily form. Once this is accepted, the vital importance of the resurrection should be apparent. Our present body clearly ceases to exist at death; if we can only experience eternal life and immortality in a bodily form, it follows that death must be a state of unconsciousness, until such time as our body is re-created and then given God's nature.

The whole of 1 Corinthians 15 speaks in detail of the resurrection; it will always repay careful reading. 1 Cor. 15:35-44 explains how that as a seed is sown and then emerges from the ground to be given a body by God, so the dead will likewise rise, to be rewarded with a body. As Christ rose from the grave and had his mortal body changed to an immortalized body, so the true believer will share his reward (Phil. 3:21). Through baptism we associate ourselves with Christ's death and resurrection, showing our belief that we, too, will share the reward which he received through his resurrection (Rom.6:3-5). Through sharing in his sufferings now, we will also share his reward: "Bearing about (now) in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit" (Rom. 8:11). With this hope, we therefore wait for "the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23), through that body being immortalized.

This hope of a literal bodily reward has been understood by God's people from earliest times. Abraham was promised that he, personally, would inherit the land of Canaan for ever, as surely as he had walked up and down in it (Gen. 13:17). His faith in those promises would have necessitated his belief that his body would somehow, at a future date, be revived and made immortal, so that this would be possible.

Job clearly expressed his understanding of how, despite his body being eaten by worms in the grave, he would, in a bodily form, receive his reward: "My redeemer liveth, and...shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body ("after my skin is destroyed", R.A.V.), yet in my flesh (or bodily form) shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another: though my reins be consumed within me" (Job 19:25-27). Isaiah's hope was identical: "My dead body shall...arise" (Isa. 26:19).

Very similar words are found in the account of the death of Lazarus, a personal friend of Jesus. Instead of comforting the man's sisters by saying that his soul had gone to heaven, the Lord Jesus spoke of the day of resurrection: "Thy brother shall rise again". The immediate response of Lazarus' sister Martha shows how much this was appreciated by the early Christians: "Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:23,24). Like Job, she did not understand death to be the gateway to a life of bliss in heaven, but, instead, looked forward to a resurrection "at the last day" (cp. Job's "latter day"). The Lord promises: "Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father...I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44,45).

The Judgment
Bible teaching concerning the judgment is one of the basic principles of the one faith, which must be clearly understood before baptism (Acts 24:25; Heb. 6:2). Frequently the Scriptures speak of "the day of judgment" (e.g. 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17; Jude 6), a time when those who have been given the knowledge of God will receive their reward. All these must "stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom. 14:10); we "appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10) to receive a recompense for our lives in a bodily form.

Daniel's visions concerning Christ's second coming, included one of this judgment seat in the form of a throne (Dan. 7:9-14). The parables help to flesh out the details somewhat. That of the talents likens it to the return of a master, who calls his servants and assesses how well they have used the money which he had left them (Matt. 25:14-29). The parable of the fishermen likens the call of the gospel to a fishing net, gathering all kinds of people; the men then sat down (cp. the judgment sitting) and divided the good fish from the bad (Matt. 13:47-49). The interpretation is clear: "At the end of the world the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just".

From what we have seen so far, it is fair to assume that after the Lord's return and the resurrection, there will be a gathering together of all who have been called to the Gospel to a certain place at a specific time, when they will meet Christ. An account will have to be given by them, and he will indicate whether or not they are acceptable to receive the reward of entering the Kingdom. It is only at this point that the righteous receive their reward. All this is brought together by the parable of the sheep and goats: "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 (David's throne in Jerusalem, Luke 1:32,33): and before him shall be gathered all nations (i.e.people from all nations, cp. Matt. 28:19): and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth 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, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you" (Matt. 25:31-34).

Inheriting the Kingdom of God, receiving the promises to Abraham concerning it, is the reward of the righteous. Yet this will only be after the judgment, which will be at Christ's return. It is therefore impossible to receive the promised reward of an immortalized body before Christ's return; we therefore have to conclude that from the time of death until the resurrection, the believer has no conscious existence at all, seeing that it is impossible to exist in any form without having a body.

It is a repeated Biblical principle that when Christ returns, then the reward will be given - and not before:

"When the chief Shepherd (Jesus) shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory" (1 Pet. 5:4 cp. 1:13).

"Jesus Christ...shall judge the quick (living) and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom...a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Tim. 4:1,8).

At Messiah's return in the last days, "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth (cp. Gen. 3:19) shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame" (Dan. 12:2).

When Christ comes in judgment, those "in the graves...shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:25-29).

"I (Jesus) come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12). We do not go to heaven to get the reward - Christ brings it from heaven to us.

Jesus bringing our reward with him implies that it has been prepared for us in heaven, but will be brought to us on the earth at the second coming; our "inheritance" of the land promised to Abraham is in this sense "reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" of Christ's coming (1 Peter 1:4,5).

Appreciating this enables us to correctly interpret a much misunderstood passage in John 14:2,3: "I (Jesus) go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you (cp. the reward "reserved in heaven"), I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also". Jesus says elsewhere that he will come again to give us our rewards (Rev. 22:12), and we have seen that these will be given at his judgment seat. He will reign on David's throne in Jerusalem "for ever" (Luke 1:32,33). He will spend eternity here on earth, and where he will be - in God's Kingdom on earth - there we will also be. His promise to "receive you unto myself" can therefore be read as a description of our being accepted by him at the judgment. The Greek phrase, "receive you unto myself", also occurs in Matt. 1:20 concerning Joseph "taking unto himself" Mary as his wife. It therefore does not necessarily refer to physical movement towards Jesus.

As the reward will only be given at the judgment on Christ's return, it follows that the righteous and wicked go to the same place when they die, i.e. the grave. There is no differentiation made between them in their deaths. The following is proof positive for this:

Jonathan was righteous but Saul wicked, yet "in their death they were not divided" (2 Sam. 1:23).
Saul, Jonathan and Samuel all went to the same place at death (1 Sam. 28:19).
Righteous Abraham was "gathered to his people" , or ancestors, on death; they were idolaters (Gen. 25:8; Josh. 24:2).
The spiritually wise and foolish experience the same death (Ecc. 2:15,16).
All this is in sharp contrast to the claims of popular 'Christianity'. Their teaching that the righteous immediately go to heaven at death destroys the need for a resurrection and judgment. Yet we have seen that these are vital events in God's plan of salvation, and therefore in the Gospel message. The popular idea suggests that one righteous person dies and is rewarded by going to heaven, to be followed the next day, the next month, the next year, by others. This is in sharp contrast to the Bible's teaching that all the righteous will be rewarded together, at the same time:

The sheep are divided from the goats at the judgment, one by one. Once the judgment has finished, Christ will say to all the sheep assembled on his right hand,

"Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you" (Matt. 25:34). Thus all the sheep inherit the Kingdom at the same time (cp. 1 Cor. 15:52).

At "the harvest" of Christ's return and judgment, all those who have laboured in the Gospel will "rejoice together" (John 4:35,36 cp. Matt. 13:39).

Rev. 11:18 defines "the time of the dead, that they should be judged" as the time when God will "give reward unto Thy servants...the saints...them that fear Thy name" - i.e. all believers together.

Hebrews 11 is a chapter listing many of the righteous men of the Old Testament. Verse 13 comments: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises" made to Abraham about salvation through entering God's Kingdom (Heb. 11:8-12). It follows that at their death, these men did not, one by one, go off to heaven to receive a reward. The reason for this is given in vs. 39,40: They "received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect". The delay in granting their promised reward was because it was God's plan that all the faithful should "be made perfect" together, at the same moment. This will be at the judgment, at Christ's return.

The Place Of Reward: Heaven Or Earth?

Apart from the above reasons, any who still feel that heaven rather than earth will be the location of God's Kingdom, i.e. the promised reward, need to also explain away the following points:

The 'Lord's Prayer' asks for God's Kingdom to come (i.e. praying for the return of Christ), whereby God's desires will be done on earth as they are now done in heaven (Matt. 6:10). We are therefore praying for God's Kingdom to come on the earth.

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5) - not '...for their souls shall go to heaven'. This is alluding to Psalm 37, the whole of which emphasizes that the final reward of the righteous will be upon the earth. In the very same location that the wicked had enjoyed their temporary supremacy, the righteous will be recompensed with eternal life, and possess this same earth that the wicked once dominated (Ps. 37:34,35). "The meek shall inherit the earth...Such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth...The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever" (Ps. 37:11,22,29). Living in the earth/promised land for ever means that eternal life in heaven is an impossibility.

"David...is both dead and buried...David is not ascended into the heavens" (Acts 2:29,34). Instead, Peter explained that his hope was the resurrection from the dead at Christ's return (Acts 2:22-36).

Earth is the arena of God's operations with mankind: "Heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's, but the earth hath He given to the children of men" (Ps. 115:16).

Rev. 5:9,10 relates a vision of what the righteous will say when they are accepted at the judgment seat: "(Christ) hath made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth". This picture of ruling in God's Kingdom on earth is quite removed from the vague conception that we will enjoy 'bliss' somewhere in heaven.

The prophecies of Daniel chapters 2 and 7 outline a succession of political powers, which would finally be superseded by the Kingdom of God at Christ's return. The dominion of this Kingdom would be "under the whole heaven", and would fill "the whole earth" (Dan. 7:27; 2:35 cp. v. 44). This everlasting Kingdom "shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High" (Dan. 7:27); their reward is therefore eternal life in this Kingdom which is to be located on earth, under the heavens.

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