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Receiving Crowns at the Bema

November 17, 2018

 

 

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

 

Someday all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. This judgment is not to be confused with The White Throne Judgment that will happen after the millennium and will be for unbelievers. The judgment seat is for Christians only and will take place after the Rapture. The term "judgment seat" comes from the Greek word Bema, which was a platform in Greek towns where orations were made or decisions handed down by rulers (see Matt 27:19; Acts 12:21; 18:12). It was also the place where the awards were given out to the winners in the annual Olympic Games [1]

 

The purpose of this judgment is not to account for the wrong things we have done since Jesus paid for our sin in full on the cross. The purpose is to give an account for the deeds and service we have done as believers (Rom 14:12). Jesus will determine if what we did was good or bad (worthless). The Bema will be a place of revelation. Our works will be tested with fire to reveal if what we did had any value. If the deed survives the flames, we will receive a reward. If our work is burned up, we will suffer loss (1 Cor 3:13-14). 

 

Is it wrong to be motivated by the promise of reward? Jesus said, "When you put on a luncheon or a banquet, don't invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you" (Lk 14:12-14 NLT). Paul says in Philippians 3:14, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." In I Corinthians 9:24, he tells us to "run in such a way as to get the prize." Paul talks about our troubles being temporary that produce for us a glory that outweighs anything we suffer now for His sake and tells us to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).

 

If it is wrong to be motivated by the promise of reward, then why does Jesus and Paul both encourage us to live our lives in view of the prize we will receive when we stand before Him? Why are we told to press on to win the prize? Why did Paul live his life motivated by his eternal reward in heaven? It seems that Jesus is saying we can find strength in living for our reward. John Piper says, "There is nothing morally inferior about looking for reward for our behavior, provided that the reward is ultimately more of Christ as the supreme joy of our souls. And the reason that is not morally inferior is that Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Christ." Paul also says it is his goal to please God (2 Cor 5:9). Receiving a reward for what we have done should not be the only reason we want to serve Christ. I am only suggesting that it is not wrong to be motivated by eternal rewards. In fact, this is a new concept for me, as I always thought it was somehow wrong to want rewards. I believed that rewards were a by-product of the good deeds we did, but not something we should think about. Note, though, that heavenly rewards are not like earthly rewards.

 

When John records what Jesus is saying to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, he mentions several "rewards" for those who overcome within the seven churches. To the church in Ephesus, Jesus promises to give them the right to eat from the tree of life (2:7); to the church in Smyrna, He tells them they will not be hurt by the second death (2:11). The church in Pergamum will receive some of the hidden manna (2:17), and the church in Thyatira will be given authority over the nations (2:26). The church in Sardis will be dressed in white and never have their name blotted from the Book of Life (3:5); the church in Philadelphia will be pillars in the temple of God and never have to leave (3:12); and the church in Laodicea will be given the right to sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21). Although these were seven literal churches during the time John was writing Revelation, they have significance for churches and believers today. The rewards that are promised to the seven churches are also promises for believers if they overcome. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn 5:5).

 

Some rewards are called crowns in Scripture. There are five crowns that are specifically mentioned:

 

  • The Crown of Righteousness is given to those who have longed for His appearing (2 Tim 4:8)

  • The Incorruptible Crown is given to those who discipline themselves like an athlete who goes into strict training (1 Cor 9:24-27)

  • The Crown of Life is given to those who persevere under trial (Jms 1:12)

  • The Crown of Glory is given to those faithful, willing church and ministry leaders who are eager to serve (1 Pet 5:4)

  • The Crown of Exultation is given to those who have brought someone into the kingdom of God. It is seeing that person standing there in the presence of Jesus (1 Thess 2:19).

 

We are told to guard our crowns (Rev 3:11; 2 Jn 1:7-8) because we can lose them when we do something for the Lord with wrong motives (Matt 6:2). In  other words, why we do something is important. God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7) The Bible tells us the twenty-four elders of Rev 4:10-11 lay their crowns at the throne and say, "You are worthy, O Lord our God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." Most likely, we will respond the same way as the elders did, out of gratitude and the knowledge that He alone is worthy.

 

It is interesting to note that Jesus wore a crown of thorns before He was crucified and the ones who put it on his head also mocked him saying "Hail King of the Jews" (Mt 27:29), but how wrong they were about Jesus. When He returns a second time, it will be an entirely different scene. Revelation is the unveiling of Jesus. We will see Him in all His glory (Rev 19:11-19). Notice He is wearing many crowns. Could these be the crowns that the saints have given back to Him?

 

 

Sources:

[1] Warren W. Weirsbe: The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL:Victor Books, 1989), 646-647

[2] Five Crowns and Rewards in Heaven

 

 

 

 

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