March 17, 2016

A menu of rewards

by Jesse Johnson

When one of my daughters loses a tooth, I reward her with chocolate. A dentist might find this ironic—“Do you want her to lose the rest of them?”—but I feel that the reward is an essential element of this rite-of-passage.

A wiggly tooth is frightening to a child. The idea of the tooth falling out…well, that can be downright terrifying. And my normal go-to parental response of: “suck it up girl, this happens to everyone!” doesn’t quite assuage the fears.

But chocolate does. In fact, my girls so love chocolate that they actually look forward to loosing their teeth. The existence of the reward took something that induced fear, and it transformed the trepidation into expectation.

Yet the existence of a reward does not make the inevitable conditional. It is not as if a child could say, “Since I don’t like chocolate, I guess I’ll just keep all of my teeth.” No, the teeth are coming out regardless of weather or not the girl actually wants the reward.

With this analogy in mind, consider why Jesus ends each of Revelation’s seven letters with the promise of a reward. In this section of scripture (Revelation 2-3) Jesus writes to a few bad churches, a few excellent churches, and a few decent churches. He tells some of them that wrath is coming, some of them that rescue is coming, but to all of them he describes a Christians’ future rewards.

In fact, if you look at the end of all seven letters, Jesus describes fifteen different rewards:  

Pers_Rewards_Rev3.002These rewards can seem all over the map—and that’s because they literally were. They are not described in the seven letters in any kind of chronological order, because instead they are following the geographical progression of the seven letters themselves (the letters would have been delivered in the order they are written in, following the Roman postal route).

That doesn’t mean the rewards are random. Instead, Jesus chose facets of future glory that would be particular to the struggles and strengths of the church that received the letter. So in that sense, each of the letters is its own stand-alone unit, and each unit describes a reward that is referenced latter in the book of Revelation.

With the unity of each letter in mind, Jesus’ words to the Philadelphian church stand out. This letter is unique because they receive a description of rewards that happen at different stages of future glory. Jesus begins by describing the rapture, then the tribulation, then the kingdom, and finally the eternal state.

With that basic eschatological outline in mind, it is helpful to view all of the rewards offered in terms of what stage of future glory they are received. In fact, think of the rewards as a menu; when you go to a restaurant, they don’t just give you an alphabetized list of all that they offer. They don’t sort it by price, or by preparation time. Instead, they sort it by the typical way a person would receive it—appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.

So let’s look at the rewards of Revelation 2-3 through the lens of a menu—a menu of rewards:

Rescue of the Rapture (3:10):

Because the book of Revelation describes the cataclysmic events of chapters 4-19, and then obviously describes the church ruling the nations with Christ (2-3; 19-20), then it would be logical to assume that the church must somehow pass through the events of Revelation 4-19. So chronologically, the first of the rewards experienced is the rescue “to keep you out of the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (3:10; also described in John 14:3; 1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:17, as well as Rev 12:5).

Reunion with Rewards (3:11):

After the rapture (or for those who proceed the rapture), the next stage of history will be in the presence of God in glory. It is at this moment when we awake in the presence of Christ, aware of our unworthiness. There Jesus will clothe us in white our name will not be blotted out of the book of life, and Jesus will confess us before angels and before our heavenly father (3:5).

After that, we will receive a white stone, demonstrating we have a right to be there (2:17). We will receive the crown of life, and no longer be in fear of the second death (2:10-11). We will have access to the hidden manna of God’s power (2:17). This is the scene also described 2 Cor 5:10 and Rev 19:7-9.

Reign of the Kingdom (3:12a):

After our reunion with Christ in glory, he will return to earth with his glorified church. He will subdue the nations, and we will rule over them with an iron rod (Rev 2:27, 3:9). We will reign with Jesus as he sits on his throne (3:21), and as his temple is established (3:12; also described in Rev 20).

Restoration of Eternity (3:12b):

As Revelation draws to a close, believers will see the new Jerusalem descend from heaven, and the city of God will be with man for all time, and we receive a new name for eternity (Rev 3:12, Rev 21-22; 1 Cor 15:28).

Taking all of these together should give us a grand view of our future. It should have the effect of causing us to look at the world which always seems to be wiggling on the brink of disaster, and know persecution can come and go, because God has rewards for his believers that will remain forever.

Jesse Johnson

Posts Twitter Facebook

Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Pingback: A menu of rewards | Talmidimblogging()

  • Jane Hildebrand

    I know this is a hairy question, but who exactly will we reign over?

    • Rev. 2.27 says “the nations of the earth.”

      • 4Commencefiring4

        But who are “the nations of the earth”? Aren’t they us? “The meek shall inherit the earth”, and I’m sort of counting on that being me and others of like mind. Maybe that’s not being too meek, I don’t know.

        Whether one is thinking millennial kingdom or the new Earth, both of which–if I understand the doctrines correctly–are populated by saved people, it begs the question: If “he who overcomes” [a true believer] is granted the right to “rule over the nations”, then who is left to rule over that isn’t also himself an “overcomer”?

        Or perhaps it’s not to be taken literally, but as language simply meant to convey divine reward and blessing for a life of faithfulness.

        • chrisleduc1

          The Millennium is populated both believers and non-believers alike.

        • Well, Jesus says that you will “rule them with an iron rod.” So I’d stay away from the idea that you are ruling yourself with an iron rod, or that you are ruling humble people with an iron rod. Those both seem kind of strange.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Stranger still is the idea that in any future age–however defined–there will be a notable number of people who we’ll need to rule over at all, as though they are unsaved and unruly and wandering about free on Earth. As Seinfeld would say, “Who are these people?”

            In other words, will the age to come be one where there is a significant mix of saved and unsaved, living side by side, under Christ’s–and our–rule? I’m not sure that meets the typical description of any coming Golden Age of peace, tranquility, security, and long life that the millennium is supposed to be. If there are whole nations of rebels who need ruling over, we’ve got a whole other thing going on where lambs and lions won’t be lying down together, either. It’ll be pretty much like this present age, except with Jesus here personally.

            According to millennial theology–the “knowledge of the Lord will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea”, so these unruly nations–whoever and wherever they are–must be living in complete isolation from the knowledge of the Lord. The “sheep and goats” judgment is said to be referring (incorrectly in my view) to a divine determination of who will take part in the millennial kingdom upon Christ’s return to Earth. And, as we see, He admits the sheep only. There are no goats who go into that age (they were sent off to eternal punishment at the same event), so if there are any goats in the millennium as the years go on, they would be descendants of the original sheep.

            Which would mean that believers, in an age when the knowledge of God is exhaustive and universal, and where Christ Himself is present in the flesh on His throne, somehow manage to raise whole nations of anti-christian progeny who will require a rod of iron to control.

            No wonder it’s not going well at present. We’re not going to do a lot better even then, apparently. Unless we’re taking these passages a bit too literally.

          • Jason

            I think you may be mixing descriptions of new earth and the millennial kingdom.

            Revelation 20 states (in a way that it can’t be argued to be asynchronously mentioned with new earth) that the first resurrection has occurred and those who are priests and rulers in it will never die again. It also states that “the rest of the dead” will only be raised after the 1,000 years. Finally, it teaches that Satan is bound, but when he is released he gathers up a rebellion from among the nations.

            Judgement has not yet occurred (which occurs after the thousand years). It will likely be a time of great blessing, both for the leadership being godly and for the lack of adversity (our adversary is locked up). However, after the 1,000 years the people STILL rebel.

            Only after all of that is judgement, and new earth comes after those who are wicked are cast into the lake of fire. Therefore, new earth must come after this reign.

            “No wonder it’s not going well at present.”

            Exactly. This is the last act in the “men are basically good” play. We see that even with blessings aplenty, and godly leadership to boot, man is still wicked.

            Kind of puts into perspective the thought we could have a perfect life if only we elect the right people, reach a certain level of enlightenment, or implement the right programs, doesn’t it?!

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Only problem with all that is the rather simple and straightforward remarks Jesus made regarding what would happen upon His return to earth:

            “When the Son of man comes, and all the angels with Him, then [THEN, not 1,000 years from then] He will sit on His glorious throne.” To do what? Set up a 1,000 year kingdom? No. “And the nations [made up of saved and unsaved] will be gathered before Him.”

            Then what? He separates them as sheep from goats, right hand/left hand, and reviews their works. What’s the outcome? The goats on the left go away into “eternal punishment” and the sheep on His right hand go into “eternal life”, which isn’t the same as the millennium, and He calls their destination “the kingdom prepared for you (note: “you” includes Jews and Gentiles–“the nations” that are gathered there) from the foundation of the world.” The millennium is supposed to be a fulfillment of promises directed to Israel, so what are Gentiles doing taking part in this? The millennium is supposed to be the Jews’ big reward. But this event puts Gentiles, who never got any particular promises made to them, into the same reward scheme as the Jews. What’s that about?

            I prefer to understand difficult passages like Revelation (which is chock full of symbolism and visions from start to finish and is not very clear) by what what I can glean from easier passages.

          • Jason

            The analogy of the fig tree makes it clear that those who believe are grafted into Israel (and unbelieving members of Israel have been cut out). Those who have been cut off will be restored if they believe. All of the promises and commands to Israel are only fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17, Colossians 2:17). The sons of Abraham discussion had with the Pharisees describe how those promises relate to blood (God could turn stones into sons of Abraham).

            I don’t think what Jesus said in Matthew 25 precludes the possibility of a period of reigning over the nations that are gathered before him. Nobody’s saying that the judgement won’t come after that, which is the next thing Jesus chose to focus on.

            Could you share how you understand the verses in Revelation?

          • 4Commencefiring4

            The natural flow of the narrative in Matt 25 gives the distinct impression–to me, anyhow–that the judgment of all men will immediately follow the “coming of the Son of man.” One must try real hard to wedge into that sequence another 1,000 years between His return and when that judgment takes place. I don’t see it.

            Add to this the fact that, according to millennial theology, He returns to rule over a kingdom where the enemy isn’t yet completely vanquished–he’s just on restriction–death still exists, sin hasn’t been eliminated, and He must still fight one last battle. This is our victorious Savior coming to rule and reign? Sounds more like a weigh station somewhere between this present sin-cursed world and the real fulfillment of total victory of a conquering King of Kings whose reign is eternal.

            Try to reconcile all that with the statement of the Psalmist that says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand UNTIL I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.'” That is language depicting total submission and conquest of whatever is under your feet, not something still able to get loose later on.

            But millennial teaching says Christ will have left that seat at the right hand of God 1,000 years BEFORE His enemies are finally and completely put down. That doesn’t work for me.

            As for the book of Revelation, one must first understand that it is a book of visions, symbols, characters, scenes. Very little in it can be understood as a literal depiction of anything. For instance, it speaks of a red dragon whose tail sweeps away a third of the stars; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon beneath her feet; a beast rising from the sea with seven heads and ten horns; two witnesses who are killed and whose bodies lie in the streets of “Sodom and Egypt”; a “great star” that falls to the earth…on and on.

            These are symbolic descriptions of spiritual truths or events, not a prediction that on a beach somewhere in the future, an actual beast with several heads and horns will come up out of the surf, or that an actual dragon is coming in the future with a tail billions of miles long which will partially destroy the universe. In Ch 8, fire comes down from heaven and destroys ALL the green grass, but in the next chapter the locusts are told not to hurt any of the grass. Clearly, either literal grass isn’t what’s meant, or something’s out of sequence. And a “great star” is going to fall to the Earth–something thousands of times our size–and somehow only land on a third of the trees, etc?

            We all understand these as symbols of something–just what they stand for is debatable. Whole volumes have been written about that. I won’t offer my feeble guesses.

            Remember when Peter had a vision of animals being let down from heaven in a sheet, and he was told, “Arise, Peter. Kill and eat.” Was God wanting him to actually come to the sheet, kill an animal and consume it? No. What then? It was a vision he was given to teach him a new lesson: there was new truth now where the OT law was fulfilled, and Peter was to understand that the old ways were over. God symbolized that with animals that, in OT days, were unclean. Peter refused the invite, which led God to instruct him about this new truth. The point wasn’t to literally eat an animal; it was about the New Covenant.

            So too, I think we have to let ourselves see that God paints word pictures in Revelation; He’s not telling us to expect an angel with an actual chain in his hand, or that locusts are coming that will have men’s faces and lions’ teeth, or whatever. Visions are meant to convey a spiritual message from the Lord, not show us a picture book of coming events in literal terms.

          • Jason

            I don’t take the symbolic language as literal, but I always take their MEANING as literal. The chains and keys represent the restriction of Satan’s operation in this world, and I literally believe that there will be an age in which our adversary is prevented from acting AFTER Christ has overthrown earthly leadership.

            The thrones may or may not be actual thrones, but are representative of ruling. There needs to be some way which we understand that those who opposed the earthly rule of the beast are resurrected and rule with Christ over the rest of the world before judgement. Anything less does nothing short of cutting Revelation 20:6 straight out of scripture.

            It’s great to recognize symbolism as such, but it can’t just be lip service and hand waving while we throw out the scripture all together.

            “There are some things we won’t know until we’re face to face with Christ” is an accurate, even Biblical statement. However, it should never be invoked to cover up willful ignorance of scripture that doesn’t fit our mold.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Well, I erased a longer answer to all that–but I don’t wish to beat a dead horse. All I can say is that when you think through the logical implications of what is supposed to happen (according to popular claims), there are some very unlikely and odd arrangements that are nothing short of bizarre. And it all stems from what I would consider false expectations born of footnotes in study Bibles and not the text itself.

            I’ll read the “Left Behind”-types of material and wonder why the author thinks this adds up. People somehow get saved without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit involved; unsaved people are part of the kingdom despite Paul’s teaching that they (murderers, liars, etc) do not inherit it; Jews and Gentiles share a kingdom that was promised to Israel only…the list is long.

            But, as I say, it’s been done to death. Let’s all just buckle up and see what God meant by what He actually does. We’ve bought the ticket, so let’s take the ride.

  • Vickey Singleton

    Thanks so much for this! Just the encouragement I needed this morning!

  • tovlogos

    Very nice essay, Jesse. The ‘Rescue of the Rapture (3:10)’ section is a good pre-Trib statement.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    3:10 is, I would submit, one of the most misconstrued verses in Scripture. Whatever meaning one assigns to the promises to any given church in this section, it has to at least make sense as applied to the church to which it was first directed. Even if one wants to put an additional future application on it, it must at least be applicable to the church being addressed.

    In other words, He is addressing the church in Philadelphia and says that, because of their faithfulness, they will be kept from “the hour of trial.” Now, if one understands that “hour” as meaning a future tribulation period–a period that wouldn’t occur for at least another 2,000 years (so far)–how does that make sense? The church at Philadelphia, and any of the churches back then–faithful ones, not so faithful ones, hot, cold, and lukewarm ones–weren’t going to go though the tribulation anyhow because it wouldn’t be occurring for many centuries beyond their existence. Their faithfulness didn’t keep them from it; their time in history did. Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, and Mussolini will also be kept from that same “hour of trial”, if that’s what it’s talking about, because they’re all dead. They’ve got nothing to worry about.

    But if that “hour” is Judgment Day, Philadelphia’s faithfulness WILL have everything to do with not being subject to it. And, as it says, it’s an “hour” that is coming on the whole world to try them.

    • Great point. I’ll write about that next week. But I will say this–apply to this the same level of interpretation you do in 1 Cor 15 or 1 Thess 14 or John 14–those are all promises that Jesus will rescue people from the earth at his second coming. Certainly they are true even though the disciples died, the Thessalonians died, and so did the Corinthians. Right? So I hope you understand its not a “problem” unique to the Philadelphians!

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Apples and oranges. 1 Cor 15, 1 Thess 4, and John 14 speak of a moment yet future when the living and the dead will be raised, and those raised will be both the ones directly addressed–who lived 2,000 years ago–and whoever is alive in the future when it occurs.

        Rev 3:10, according to what I assume you believe, is a promise to a former generation that somehow applies only to a future generation and cannot apply to the one addressed because they will not exist when it occurs.

        Put simply, substitute the phrase “tribulation period” for “hour of trial” in that verse and see if it could have any meaning for the church in Philly to whom it was addressed. “Because you have kept the word of my patience, I will keep you from the tribulation period.” That church, regardless of how they behaved, would never get within a country mile of the tribulation because they were around in the first century. The promise is not applicable to them for the reason given.

        • Tony

          If people come through the tribulation into the millennium, some will not have died yet, right? They will still be married, you can have a lot of kids and generations in a millennium. Then as now generations will rebel, only this time justice will be swift and fatal because The Lion, not The Lamb will be King.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            From what is generally taught about the tribulation and the descriptions of what it will be from Rev 4 thru 19, there should be virtually no one left after the bowls, the trumpets, and the other plagues of God’s wrath on all inhabitants of Earth. If we’re going to take those verses as literal descriptions of future events, then Rev 8:10 alone spells the end of the planet: if a “great star”–or even a smaller one–ever “fell” to the Earth (never mind how that could happen given their distance and our size relative to its), our world would disappear instantly and everyone on it…married or not.

            But that’s wholly irrelevant to the objection I raise with respect to 3:10. There is no way that verse is referring to the tribulation because it makes no sense for Christ to promise a church that existed in 100 AD that their faithfulness would be rewarded by being exempted from an event that wouldn’t take place for at least 20 more centuries. It’s like the Lord promising Moses that because he carried out God’s will in leading Israel out of Egypt, he wouldn’t be drafted during the Vietnam War.

            But many see that verse as a promise to the church in the modern day that believers will not go through that period. And I see no justification for such an interpretation.

          • chrisleduc1

            “There is no way that verse is referring to the tribulation because it makes no sense for Christ to promise a church that existed in 100 AD that their faithfulness would be rewarded by being exempted from an event that wouldn’t take place for at least 20 more centuries. ”

            So then how does Deuteronomy 30:1-5 work? Applying your standards, Moses was a false prophet…or that is all allegorical with no correlation to reality…

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Moses was addressing the nation of Israel and telling them about their future. Israel has been a continually existing entity–an identifiable people–since ancient times. There has never been a time when Jews ceased to exist as a people, during bad times and good. The individuals who were on hand to hear his predictions were not the only ones in view: their descendants would come along eventually and actually be the ones to be dispersed and regathered. But that wouldn’t happen for years. He was telling them what would become of their nation.

            The church in Philadelphia, by contrast, was a specific congregation of limited duration, as were the other churches Christ had a message for, and who were commended for their good deeds (or, as in the case of other churches, upbraided for their bad ones.) Each church had a specific promise directed to it and it alone. “To the angel of the church at __ write…”

            What He told the church in Pergamum was for them, not the church in Thyatira or Sardis. The church at Smyrna was told some of them would be put in prison and “have tribulation ten days.” Whatever that means–and I don’t think it means they would have trouble for a week and a half–it was something they alone would experience, not anyone else.

            Certainly the various warnings or promises we can all take to heart in the general sense (be faithful unto death, he who overcomes is not hurt by the second death, etc), but when He tells Philadelphia they will be kept from “the hour of trial”, and we take that to mean the whole Body of Christ that exists at the end of time will be exempted from the tribulation, we’re making Scripture say things it doesn’t say.

          • chrisleduc1

            “Moses was addressing the nation of Israel and telling them about their future.”

            Moses was addressing his hearers. Moses had no problem speaking about future generations as just that, future generations. He had no problem speaking about and clearly identifying later generations.

            “Israel has been a continually existing entity–an identifiable people–since ancient times. There has never been a time when Jews ceased to exist as a people, during bad times and good.”

            That has absolutely nothing to do with Moses’ address to the people in his immediate hearing and referring to them personally. He did not talk about their children, or their grand-children, etc. He over and over said “you” i.e. his immediate hearers. If you are going to be consistent in your application of hermaneutics, then you need to apply the same rules as you previously stated (below), or abandon them:

            “it has to at least make sense as applied to the church to which it was first directed. Even if one wants to put an additional future application on it, it must at least be applicable to the church being addressed.”

            So if your statement above is the correct hermeneutical principle to use, then Moses’ statement to his hearers must have been applicable to them as well.

            As it is, you are going into later revelation and your predetermined theology and reading it back into the text and making it say things that the original audience never would have gotten, nor can be gotten from strict historical grammatical exegesis of the text and antecedent theology.

            “The individuals who were on hand to hear his predictions were not the only ones in view:”

            Really? Show me that from an exegesis of the text. You’re simply making an un-proven theological assertion.

            Do you really want to assert that the original reader of the text would have known that Moses was not actually referring to them, or the actual audience of that Moses addressed? You are being glaringly inconsistent here.

            “Each church had a specific promise directed to it and it alone.”

            Really? The promises to the individual churches were not for all churches? I’d love to see some respected commentators stating that!

            Not to mention the fact that Jesus consistently repeated “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” at the conclusion of every single letter. And yet you want us to believe that the promises were only for the original church…?

            ‘What He told the church in Pergamum was for them, not the church in Thyatira or Sardis.”

            So would a church member who moved from Pergamum to Sardus lose the promises he was given while a member at Pergamum? Would he get both promises? Neither?

            Again, that eliminates the whole purpose of Jesus repeatedly saying after every church, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

            “Certainly the various warnings or promises we can all take to heart in the general sense (be faithful unto death, he who overcomes is not hurt by the second death, etc), but when He tells Philadelphia they will be kept from “the hour of trial”, and we take that to mean the whole Body of Christ…”

            This is nothing more then doubletalk. You are arbitrarily picking and choosing what applies universally, and what does not. You have no hermeneutical or exegetical precedence for this. You are simply picking and choosing what fits your pre-determined theology, and what does not.

            The simple reality is that all the NT Scripture was given with the impression and understanding that Jesus’ return would be within the Apostles’ lifetime. No Scripture was given that would indicate there would be considerable delay. This would completely undermine the doctrine of immanency. Everything was spoken as if the Lord could return at any moment.

            And at the end of the day, exactly what Jesus told the churches would happen, did happen, is happening and will happen. The church of Philadelphia was kept from the tribulation. Those who met the criteria to have the lamps put out, did. Those who qualified for the stone with a new name on it, got it, and will still get it.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            He told Smyrna that Satan would be throwing some of their number into prison. If these letters are directed to all churches for all time, shall we expect to also be thrown into prison? Do we also have Jezebel in our congregation whom we tolerate? Have we all left our first love? C’mon–these statements were directed to particular congregations at that time. If there are some general principles and reminders we can take from them, fine.

            The church in Philadelphia WAS kept from the tribulation, as you say. Sure was. Because they all died, not because they “kept the word of my patience.” They could have been the worst church in all of the world and they’d have still missed the tribulation. So that meaning of “hour of trial” is not correct. And for anyone to assign that meaning to it and then use that as a proof text to argue that the final crop of believers over 2,000 years later won’t be subject to the tribulation is also mistaken. The verse has nothing whatsoever to do with any end-time tribulation period. That’s a comforting conclusion, perhaps, but that meaning is just foreign to the verse.

            Now, I’ll be off line for some time after tonight, so you’ll have to argue amongst yourselves. All my best to you and others on CG.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Yes, but if the elect are raptured before the tribulation prior to the millennium, why does it say in Matthew 24, as well as Mark and Luke, “Immediately after the distress of those days (great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now and never to be equaled again)…at that time they will see the son of man coming on the clouds…and He will gather His elect from the four corners of the earth.”

            Are we not to assume that Christ’s visible return coincides with the elect being gathered to Him?

  • Vinod Anand S

    A much needed encouragement, Jesse! Sorry for asking here, is there anyway I can contact the cripplegate guys through mail?

  • Liz

    That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Kids are excited to lose teeth, not fearful.