Prophecy Studies - No. 6

The church in glory will be rewarded by the Son of God. It is a wonderful thing to hear, "Well done!" from someone who knows the effort we have made. As I write this, we have just come through an exciting Winter Olympics. Contests of speed and skill, on ice and snow, entertained many of us for a couple of weeks. After each competition, medals were awarded to the winners. Medals that, in the minds of the athletes, not only recognized they were the best at what they did on that given day, but acknowledged all the discipline and hard work it took to get there. Sometimes, years of training went into a race that was decided in hundredths of a second!

We all enjoy being appreciated. And in this study we shall look at the day when, in the presence of Christ, our service for Him will be recognized and rewarded. In our consideration of God’s prophetic plan, the church has been raptured, caught up to be with Christ. Meanwhile, on the earth, a scene of escalating chaos and divine judgment is unfolding. This will climax at the end of seven years with the return of Christ at Armageddon. But what of Christ and His church in the meantime? That is the main focus of our discussion in this lesson.

To begin, please turn to the book of Revelation. The “revelation” John received on the island of Patmos is the most extensive prophetic book in the New Testament. It is written with a particular plan in mind which is quite easy to discern.

1) What are the three categories of things about which John is instructed to write (Rev. 1:19)?

2) What is it that John already “has seen” by the time he hears these words (Rev. 1:12-18)?

3) “The things which are” concern conditions in seven what, of John’s day (Chapters 2-3).

INSIGHT: The location and order of the seven congregations to which John was instructed to write was both practical and providential. A look at the map will show that if a messenger came ashore from Patmos, with John’s seven letters, the nearest city to him would be Ephesus. And each of the other cities follows in a definite loop, just the way a letter carrier might travel.

The providential order of the seven churches needs a bit more explanation. Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation may actually have a kind of triple application to three different settings. 1) Each was a real church, active in Johns day, with specific characteristics--both good and bad--that are addressed by the Lord. 2) We know that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, there are lessons conveyed in the seven letters that apply to our own churches today. 3) It is possible (though we cannot be certain about it) that God chose these seven churches to provide a kind of prophetic summary of the Church Age, from beginning to end. A number of Bible scholars take this view, and it is remarkable how the seven seem to relate to the flow of church history since Pentecost. (Some dates are approximate, in the following list.)

1) Ephesus - The Apostolic Church (30-100 AD), when those who walked and talked with Jesus were still alive

2) Smyrna - The Heroic Church (100-313 AD), during over two centuries of terrible persecution

3) Pergamos - The Institutional Church (313-590 AD) when Christianity became the favoured and protected state religion

4) Thyatira - The Roman Church (590-1517) when the church was ruled by the bishop of Rome, and church tradition dominated

5) Sardis - The Reformation Church (1517-1727) witnessing a return to the Scriptures and salvation by grace through faith

6) Philadelphia - The Renewed Church (1727-1910), a time of extensive evangelism, revival, and world missions

7) Laodicea - The World Church (approximately 1910-Present) the church of the last days, struggling with worldliness, and a drive for “unity” that too often ignores sound doctrine

INSIGHT: With Chapter 4 of Revelation we step beyond the life of the church on earth into the area of future things--“the things which will take place after this” (1:19). (Note that Chapter 4 begins “after these things.”) The last section of the book describes three periods: 1) John is caught up into heaven, as the church will one day be raptured. “The first voice I heard was like a trumpet...saying, ‘Come up here’” (Rev. 4:1). And John sees the scene around the throne of God (Chapters 4-5). 2) A series of judgments are poured out on the unbelieving earth (Chapter 6-18) during the Tribulation. (The church is nowhere in sight in these chapters.) 3) Christ’s return with His glorified church, to put down His enemies and set up His thousand-year earthly reign, followed by the ushering in of eternity. (Chapters 19-22).

4) What does Christ promise will happen in connection with His return (Rev. 22:12)?

5) We know that salvation is “not of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). How is that truth pictured in First Corinthians 3:11?

6) We are to build on this foundation works of enduring value (I Cor. 3:14). What would you say are some characteristics of such works?

7) Writing to Christians, in Romans 14:10, Paul identifies where this evaluation and rewarding will take place. Where is that?

INSIGHT: Later, all the unsaved will be called before “the Great White Throne” (God’s royal throne) to be condemned to a lost eternity (Rev. 20:11-15). The “judgment seat of Christ” is quite different. The judgment seat (the bema, in Greek) was what they called the judge’s stand, in the ancient Olympics. That is the word the Bible uses for the place Christians will be rewarded. It is not a place of condemnation, because our condemnation has already been borne by Christ (Jn. 5:25; Rom. 8:1).

Olympic winners were summoned before the judge’s stand to receive their prizes. In those days the prize was not a medal, but a laurel wreath (sometimes made of real leaves, other times of gold fashioned as leaves). That is the word our English versions often translate as “crowns” when speaking of our future rewards. It is not a royal crown that is meant in each of the following passages, but a laurel wreath rewarding the victor.

INSIGHT: Two of the crowns mentioned we could call the Saint’s Crowns, awarded for holy living.

8) According to First Corinthians 9:24-27, what kind of conduct is the “imperishable crown” awarded for?

9) And what about the reason for awarding the “crown of righteousness” (II Tim. 4:6-8)?

INSIGHT: The expression “the faith” does not refer to personal faith, but to the teachings of the Word of God in which we are to put our faith. Jude uses the word this way also, when he says we are to “contend for the faith [God’s revealed truth] which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

10) How is the conduct of Demas a contrast with Paul’s (II Tim. 4:10; or see I Jn. 2:15-17)?

INSIGHT: The next two crowns might be described as the Servant’s Crowns, awarded for Christian service. There is “the crown of rejoicing” (I Thess. 2:19-20). Paul is speaking to the Christians in Thessalonica, whom he’d had the privilege of bringing to Christ (1:5-6). And he says the believers themselves will be his “crown” when Christ returns. However, it could well be that a “laurel wreath” will be awarded as well. We could call it the Soul-winner’s crown. Daniel says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).

11) For what kind of service is “the crown of glory” presented (I Pet. 5:2-4)?

INSIGHT: The last crowns mentioned in the New Testament are the Sufferer’s Crowns. There are two kinds of suffering described, but for both there is “the crown of life” to be won.

12) The first category is the general trials and burdens of life that all must bear. Under what circumstances can they actually have a positive effect (Jas. 1:2-4, 12)?

13) The second kind of suffering is more specific. What is the reason for it (Rev. 2:10)?

INSIGHT: From this brief review, you can see that there are three pairs of crowns mentioned. 1) The first pair relates to holy living, both avoiding the negative (that which displeases God) and embracing the positive. 2) The second pair relates to serving the Lord, both among the unsaved, and among believers. 3) And the third pair concerns being steadfast in trials, both in a general sense of the kind of suffering all human beings face, and as they come upon the people of God from those who oppose us. It should also be observed that the Lord not only considers outward behaviour, but the attitudes and intentions of the heart. When “the Lord comes, [He] will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (I Cor. 4:5).

INSIGHT: In Second Corinthians 5:10 we read: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The “bad” in this context does not refer to wickedness which must be punished--since our punishment was borne by Christ on the cross. Rather, the word is used in the sense of worthless, good for nothing--like waste that is discarded. We see the same concept in First Corinthians 3:11-15, where behaviour worthy of eternal reward is pictured as “gold, silver [and] precious stones,” while that which is unworthy of reward is called “wood, hay, [and] straw,” fit only to be burned as refuse. Perhaps some of the tears to be wiped away in heaven (Rev. 21:4) will be shed at the thought of what might have been.

INSIGHT: When John views the scene surrounding the throne of God in heaven, he observes twenty-four “elders” seated on thrones around the central one (Rev. 4:4). Many believe these are representative of the church, reigning with Christ in glory. They are clothed in white robes and have golden crowns (again the word for laurel wreaths) on their heads. John describes what he sees when these engage in worship. Read Rev. 4:9-11.

14) What happens to the crowns during this time of worship? And why do you think this is done?

INSIGHT: This happens “whenever...” (vs. 9), indicating it will not be simply a one-time act, but repeated many times.

INSIGHT: When we move to Revelation Chapter 19, the period of terrible judgment on earth is nearing its conclusion (“after these things,” 19:1). John returns to what has been happening meanwhile to the church in heaven. The time of distributing rewards has concluded. And he reveals that our behaviour will not only be recognized with crowns of gold, but with robes of fine white linen (vs. 8), which represent “the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV).

15) What significant event takes place at this time (Rev. 19:7)?

16) How do you think the Bridegroom will feel on this occasion (Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12:2)?

17) And how do you think we will feel, as His bride? (Though the story has a slightly different application, there is perhaps a clue in Luke 15:21-24.)

18) What is the next significant event in which the church will participate (Rev. 19:9)?

INSIGHT: This celebration may take place at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. “Those who are called to the marriage supper” are obviously not the bride and Groom! Rather, they are the guests who witness the occasion. These will include the resurrected saints from before Pentecost, and likely the martyrs of the Tribulation as well. (The resurrection of Old Testament believers comes after the Tribulation, Dan. 12:1-2.)

19) Who describes himself as “the friend of the Bridegroom” (similar to our “best man”) (Jn. 3:28-29)?

INSIGHT: In Luke 12:35-40 there is a parable relating to Christ’s return. While we must be cautious about trying to prove too much from a made-up story, this parable hints at a startling occurrence when “the Master” returns.

20) What startling act does Jesus portray in the parable (Lk. 12:37)?

21) How do you think this will make the guests feel? And why?