When I was in college my friends and I held a fundraiser for a mission trip. Our campus Christian club got together and drove to Dallas to work for a day at Six Flags Over Texas. For those who live under a rock, Six Flags is one of the greatest places on earth. It's an amusement park. Think Disney Land, but Texas style. I grew up going to Six Flags at least once a year. It was the place of dreams, especially for a kid.
For our fundraiser, we were tasked with running various fair-style games in the kid's section of the park. I had been to Six Flags at least a dozen times, and I was very familiar with the park. At least I thought I was. I had only been to the park as a general access ticket holder. However, being an employee for a day gave me an entirely different view of the place. With our temporary name badges, we were able to go in all of the employee's only locations. This was fascinating to me since I had always wondered what was behind those closed doors. I discovered special employee cafes, four-wheel carts for quick transportation, and secret passageways that allowed workers quick access to rides and attractions. Six Flags was great for people who bought a general admission ticket, but there was even more to see for those who had all-access badges.
Heaven is going to be great for everyone, but there will be special experiences and privileges for those who are given access beyond entrance. There will be an amazing set of rights that overcomers will be entitled to in Heaven. However, before we explore what God’s faithful will experience, it’s important to learn what rights all believers will have. As you are probably aware, there are certain privileges which He will give as gifts to everyone who has salvation. That means that certain rights are not rewards in the definitive sense. Instead, the rights that every believer has ride along with the free gift of salvation.
In that sense, we may think of these things as the bill of rights for all Kingdom citizens. In fact, citizenship in Heaven is the first right that every Christian will hold for eternity. All believers are entitled to citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. We know this because Paul, in speaking to believers who were at various levels of commitment, explained:
For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior.
If you’ve believed in Jesus, then your immigration papers are signed, sealed, and delivered. Your documents await you at the citizenship office of the Heavenly Kingdom. Though we are citizens, it would be inappropriate to live in that country with the flesh we now have. Our lowly, broken and sinful bodies would not be a good fit for our eternal existence in Heaven. It’s for that reason that Paul doesn’t stop at citizenship, but goes on with these words:
We also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.
So Paul shows us that we will not only have citizenship, but we will gain the right to live out that citizenship in a glorified body. The body will resemble the glorified state of Jesus after His resurrection. The New Testament teaches that this glorified body is not a reward for hard work, but instead a free gift that all believers get for their faith in Christ. Your spirit was reborn at the moment you first believed in Christ. Your body will be resurrected when Christ returns. Your eternal existence will be lived out in a physical body which can do all the things that you currently can do and much more that you can’t do now.
Another inalienable right for the saved described in the fourth gospel. John gave us another angle on the salvation of all believers when he demonstrated that each one who believes has the right to be called Children of God. He said it this way:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
Every person who has believed in Jesus’ name has the eternal right to be called the children of God. There will never be a time when they stop being God’s child. This right to childhood is not bought by our good works. Instead, this special relationship with God was paid for by Jesus’ blood. In that sense, it is not a reward but a gift from God.
Jesus gives us another item on the list of the heavenly bill of rights. He explains all believers will have access to the water of life. This is not the only place that talks about the living water which is free for anyone who wants it. Jesus said:
I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
Notice that there is no caveat or proviso to drinking the water of life. Anyone who has citizenship in Heaven will be able to drink deeply of that cool eternal flow. Although drinking from the fountain of the water of life will be a grand experience, more rights will be offered free to all kingdom citizens. Isaiah gives us a peek behind the curtain of Heaven when he says:
“Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
Not only the basics of living will be covered but also luxury eating will be available for all kingdom citizens. In the ancient world, the poor might often feed on water and bread, but the rich had a regular diet which included wine and milk. No more will there be people suffering from hunger and thirst in the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, all kingdom citizens will have the right to eat and drink. No one will starve in that glorious place. Although there are likely a scad more rights which every citizen of Heaven will experience, I hope you see the scene.
Although the rights of all saved people are fantastic and enjoyable, there are more rights to which Christ's overcomer will be given access. The rights of the overcomer are greater than the basic rights of Heaven. Heaven will be grand for those who simply believed, but those who also stayed committed through their life will have a greater set of privileges.
Although all Kingdom citizens will have the right to drink and eat, a select group will have the right to dine with Christ. Reference to the right to a seat at Christ’s dinner table is found in a number of places. He hinted at it at the last supper when He said to His disciples:
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Notice that He compares the feasting He did with His apostles to the feasting that will happen in the kingdom. The Lord’s Supper, as we call it, was an intimate setting. The crowds were excluded, and in fact, even many disciples were excluded from this meal. He allowed only His twelve apostles to join Him at this private dinner.
What's amazing is that Jesus indicates this same style Passover dinner will be eaten in the Kingdom. It's astounding to think that this is something that Jesus looks forward to. He likes to sit with His friends and fellowship over a meal. It was something He enjoyed with His apostles, and it is something that He will enjoy with certain kingdom citizens. We find out in another speech of Jesus that not all will be allowed to join Christ at His feasting table. He once said:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So there will be subjects of the kingdom who are barred from the feast. The subjects of the kingdom who are cast out of the feast are saved believers who showed little or no faithfulness during their lives. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with many from all over the world will be allowed to dine with Christ. Yet, there will be some, possibly many, who are not allowed this right and privilege. How do we get a seat at that table? Jesus answers that question in a famous passage:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
Many have mistaken this passage for an evangelistic one. However, the context shows that it’s clearly talking to saved believers who have become prideful and distracted from their walk with Christ. Jesus instructs them, as He instructs all of us. The right to dine with Christ is reserved for those who listen to His instruction, respond well to His discipline, and repent of anything that hinders them from following Him. All believers will be given the right to dine, but only an overcomer will be given the right to dine with Christ.
There is more to be said about drinking and eating in the Kingdom of Heaven. Overcomers who are faithful to Christ will be granted the right to eat from the tree of life. Jesus said:
“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
It will be a high honor to eat from the tree of life. The fact is, we don't know a whole lot about this amazing tree. In the story of the fall of man, the tree of life was in the garden of Eden. Apparently eating its fruit offered immortality, which was one of the main reasons Adam and Eve were restricted from the garden and the tree.
Not only is the tree of life a fixture at the beginning of the Bible’s narrative, but it reappears in the last chapter of the Bible as well. We get this description from John concerning it:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The river of life which all believers will have access to is the water source for the tree. However, this is no normal tree. We find out that it bears fruit in every season and twelve different kinds of fruits at that. The fruit is yielded every month. Also, the leaves of the tree have some medicinal purposes. The mortal inhabitants of the new earth will be healed by its heavenly foliage. This is a special tree indeed.
The fact that Jesus said, "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life," is incredibly exciting. Especially considering that if you and I overcome in our Christian lives, we will be given the fantastic right to eat from this amazing tree. There is plenty of mystery yet to be revealed concerning the tree of life. It suffices to say that this is a privilege we will certainly want.
Just so that we can’t mistake what it will take to get this right, Jesus repeats it in the last chapter of the Bible:
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
What will it take to gain the right to eat from the tree of life? It will take obedience. His words, "those who do His commandments," is a reminder that this is a specific privilege for those who are not only saved by faith but also obey Christ in their daily life. In other words, this is not a privilege that all believers will share, but a right of the faithful alone. I can't wait to see that tree and hopefully taste its fruit. What a privilege.
You may have noticed that the above verse offers yet another right that will be available to the overcomer. It says,
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may… enter through the gates into the city.
The city He’s talking about is the New Jerusalem in the eternal kingdom of Heaven. There will be twelve magnificent gates that remain open at all times. Yet, only overcomers will be allowed to enter the city through these honorable passageways. This hints at a whole system in which overcomers have many special privileges yet to be seen. This does not mean that unfaithful believers will be excluded from entering the city; they simply will not have the honor and privilege of entering the city through the main gates. Surely there will be other, possibly smaller, gates through which the others will enter.
Just as there are certain places in the United States White House where you are not allowed to enter, only overcomers will have the right to enter the heavenly city through these gates. The ancient world had a concept for this in their public parades and triumphal entries of important dignitaries. These twelve gates will be reserved as VIP entrances. How cool that the Lord's overcomers will be the ones who get to use them.
Not only will there be special entrances for the Lord’s overcomers, but they will also be given the right to work in the Temple of God. Take a look at how it’s phrased here:
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.
What does it mean to be a pillar? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul called James, Peter, and John “pillars” of the church. The Jewish Rabbis taught that Abraham was the “pillar” of the world. A pillar is a vital part of the structure of an important building. Someone who is made a pillar will be a vital part of the work God accomplishes in the temple. Simpler still, overcomers will be instrumental in doing God's work. The faithful follower of Christ will be given an extremely important occupation that centers on the ever-present work of the Lord. Peter gives us a sense of what that role will be like when he says:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Not only does being a pillar represent important work done on behalf of the Lord, but it implies an incredible closeness with the Lord as well. Since in the eternal kingdom, there will be no physical temple, but instead, the Father and the Son will be the temple this reward is probably an especially wonderful experience of nearness to God in addition to being a key position of support and prominence in God’s eternal kingdom.
This is a reminder that your eternity will not be boring. It's especially true if you are an overcomer because your everlasting life will be packed with important work done directly for the Lord. You will get to work as a vital part of the royal priesthood, proclaiming the story of God to people on the new earth. This is an incredible privilege and right that many will wish they had. Though, only those who are faithful will get to experience it.
Although it will be explored more thoroughly in a forthcoming chapter, the overcomer will be given the right to govern the nations with Christ. Jesus will be the High King, and He will appoint overcomers as subordinate kings, judges, counselors, shepherds and likely many other positions that we don't yet know about. To be sure, each position that Christ gives will fit the overcomer's talents and abilities. Although we find many references to this concept, I'd like to share a single verse.
If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
This simple concept sums up nearly all that we've said so far. If we endure in the faith until the end of our lives; if we work hard and finish well, then we will be given the right to reign with High King Jesus in His royal administration. He will put us in places of authority so that we can do the work that a world-wide kingdom requires. What a privilege that will be.
With this comes a warning, though. He reminds us that if we deny Him, He will also deny us. That is to say, He will deny us the right to reign with Him if we don’t continue in the faith. The Bible never says He will deny salvation to a person who believes in Him for it. However, He often says that He will deny us certain rights, one of which is the right to govern if we deny Him in our mortal lives. Becoming heavenly royalty is a right given only to those who prove themselves worthy of the calling. Notice what Paul says only a few words later, though. In talking to saved people, he says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” Even if a saved person totally fails, Jesus will still remain faithful to His promise of eternal life. Even if a believer is not an overcomer, they will be saved.
We need not ever fear that our salvation could be in question once it's in place. If you have believed in Jesus and have everlasting life, you will have it forever, but if you lean back on that promise and accomplish no good work with your life, the loss will be great when you get to Heaven. The rights demonstrated in this chapter will be available only to the one who overcomes by living a victorious life of faith.