Part 23 of 23
Imagine that at the end of your life you show up in Heaven. You receive a bevy of rewards for your hard work. However, at the end of the rewards ceremony, what if God says, "I've decided to separate you from myself for eternity, but you can keep all of these rewards I have given you." How would you feel? I'm glad it's only in our imagination because that would be the most crushing blow I can imagine. If it weren't for our relationship with God and Christ, none of the other rewards that He offers would matter at all. That's why the reward we are going to look at in this section, ties all the others together. Without the reward of a closer relationship, no other reward would even be a reward.
So far we’ve seen that victorious disciples will be rewarded with riches, recognition, rights, regalia, and royalty. Now we come to the big one. Without the aspect we are about to see, all the other types of rewards would be truly meaningless. The previous six aspects of Christ’s reward would be nothing but an empty shell if it weren’t for this one thing. What is it? We call it relationship.
The final and foremost aspect of eternal reward is the quality of our relationship with Christ and with God. Did you know that not all believers are promised the same closeness of relationship with the Lord? Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this.
Every believer will have a relationship with God. Also, all believers have a relationship with Christ forever. That's why John said:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
No saved person will be left entirely out of a relationship with the Lord. Everyone to whom Christ gives eternal life will be included in this state of childhood forever. Once a child always a child. You could think of this in biological terms. Once you're physically born, you will always carry the DNA of your parents. Whether you have a good relationship with them or not doesn't change the fact that you will always be their child. In this aspect being a child of God is similar. Once you're born into the family of God, you will always be in the family of God. You will always have a relationship with Him.
It's exciting to think about what will come after this life for all believers. Jesus gave us a glimpse into the hereafter when He said to His disciples:
I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Have a child of God relationship means that the believer will always be "present" with Christ. He promises that those who have eternal life are guaranteed to spend their eternity with him. Although the capacity which will be fulfilled by each believer may vary, one thing is assured. If you have believed in Jesus for everlasting life, you will spend that life with him. That's why Paul could confidently say:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
In talking about what we've come to call “the rapture,” Paul indicates that every person who has been born again, regardless of their performance, will always be with the Lord. This will be accomplished in the endless years that follow that special event.
Although we could spend much more time on the promises given to all believers, it’s valuable to move to what all believers will not have in common. Though each saved person will have a relationship with the Lord, some will have a more rewarding relationship than others. This might, at first, surprise you to find out that the Bible doesn’t offer an equal eternal experience for all eternally living believers. In fact, the Bible draws a line between those who have been faithful and those who have not.
The greatest reward on Earth and especially in Heaven is Relationship. Intimate fellowship with Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God is the thing to be sought above all. On hearing that statement, some people might be concerned, thinking that I'm talking about some emotional experience with God. Too often we've made feelings the metric by which we judge our relationship with the Father, rather than looking at the criteria that the Bible gives us. So if this kind of discussion concerns you, don't worry, it will be made plain and simple by the verses we will look at in this section.
The first thing to understand is what constitutes intimacy with Christ. I recently received a question from one of my readers who said she didn’t feel the presence of God anymore and was concerned that there was something wrong. I brought her attention to what the scripture says about having a close relationship with Christ, which is what I will do with you as well. The first statement I’d like you to see comes from Jesus’ own mouth. He said to His disciples:
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
It's so important to see that intimate fellowship with Christ has to do with obedience. Those who rely heavily on having an emotional extravaganza for proof of closeness with God may well miss this point. To be a friend, and I'll say a good friend of Jesus, requires obedience to what He taught. Regardless of how you feel, if you refuse to obey the teachings of Christ, you're no friend. You can be a child of God and yet be a rebellious child. You can be saved but not act as a friend of Christ. The quality of your relationship is connected to obedience to the Lord.
Now with that said, let's look at the reward of relationship. What is the greatest reward you could receive? If you've got your wits about you, you'd answer with the plainest Sunday school answer there ever was: God is the greatest reward there is. To be in His presence, and to experience all that He wishes to allow us to experience through relationship with him. In fact, the scriptures indicate this early in the Bible.
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
Notice what God calls himself here. Among other things, God names himself Abram's exceedingly great reward. Do you want to have an exceedingly great reward? I do. No reward is more excellent than God. But what does it mean? How can we receive God as a reward? Through relationship.
Did you know that Abraham was called, "a friend of God." Not only in Judaism, but in Christianity, and in the Islamic faith as well. Abraham became known as God's friend. This friendship is a fantastic example of him receiving the exceedingly great reward, that is God.
Those who balk at the notion that we should be motivated by eternal rewards which will be given out in Heaven have likely missed this point. The greatest reward is relationship with God and by proxy, Jesus. Without this, no other reward is even a reward at all. Riches, recognition, rights, regalia, and royalty would be empty without a relationship with God. It's the relationship with Him that will allow us to experience fulfillment for all of eternity.
Overcomers will have a closer relationship to Jesus than those who didn’t obey. There will be those who have a more fulfilling relationship than others in Heaven. That’s why this subject matter is of an eternal importance. The intensity of your relationship with God in Heaven will to a large extent be determined by your faithfulness during this life. The quality of your relationship then will depend on the quality of your obedience now. Remember what Jesus said in Revelation:
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.
Jesus offers himself as a reward for those who live a godly life. He pictures for us an intimate dinner at which we can either leave Him standing outside as He knocks, or let Him in. For those who are willing to let Him in, the reward will be great. The exceedingly great reward will be to share an intimate fellowship with him.
Notice that He gives conditions for this. He doesn’t offer it to just any who believe. It’s not for all believers. Instead, He says in the previous verse:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Responding well to Christ's discipline, repenting of shameful deeds, and accepting the lifestyle that goes along with these things are the requirements to experience this kind of intimacy with the Lord. It's hard to imagine how intensely we will desire to have this closeness when we arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven. We will want to be close to Him more than we will want any other thing. However, at that time, it will be too late to change how we lived on the Earth. That's why we must work hard toward this opportunity.
Jesus adds to the concept of an intimate dinner with these words:
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
Not only will there be the kind of closeness that comes from eating together, but also we will get to work together. What will Jesus' job be in the Kingdom of Heaven? He will be ruling from His throne. That's an important occupation. What He reveals here is that those who seek after the reward of relationship with Him will not only get to spend leisure time with him but also work time as well.
My closest friends are those with whom I both play and work. My wife is a good example. Our intimacy is never stronger than when we get to work together on projects that we love. It’s a beautiful concept to imagine that some will get to spend that kind of quality time with the King of Kings.
In these words, Jesus gives us an indication of the type of intimacy that overcomer will share with him. He says, "I will grant to [the overcomer to]sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Notice that He compares our opportunity to share His throne with His opportunity to share His Father's throne. He seems to be implying that we can have a similar kind of relationship to him, as He has with His Father. That's incredible even to write those words. Imagine the intimacy that the overcomer will be able to experience as they share the chair of power with the King of Kings. This is an exceedingly great reward.
There is something practical in His words. One might ask how sharing His throne could equate to intimacy. The reasoning is apparent when we understand how the Kingdom hierarchy will work. His faithful servants will be rewarded with responsibility and opportunity in the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who receive more authority will have a closer relationship with him. This is similar to the way that the president's cabinet of top advisors has constant access to him, whereas a low-level intern may only have brief interactions. The practicality of sharing Christ's throne seems to be a promise of interactive fellowship born out by Kingdom accomplishment.
But wait, there’s more. Take a look at this statement from Jesus toward the end of the book of Revelation:
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.
Jesus calls himself the morning star. The morning star that we see in the sky is Venus. It's extremely bright and circles the sun in a tight crown-like pattern. It rises brilliantly before the morning's first sunbeams. It's sometimes called the herald of the dawn for this reason. When the morning star crests the early horizon, you know that soon the day will follow. Jesus was a star that rose out of Israel to herald the dawning of a new age. He was long awaited, eagerly anticipated, and is the gift of God to the world. He is given to all men and women for salvation by faith alone, but He will be given in a special and unique way to those who overcome. Jesus says:
He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end… I will give him the morning star.
This alludes to an extraordinary kind of relationship which will be shared between Jesus and those who fight for the victory in their mortal lives. This offer stands for any willing to suffer through the pain of a life lived for God. It's not a gift for everyone who believes, but instead a reward for fulfilling a specific condition. What's the condition?
One must overcome, and keep His works until the end. It will be hard work, but the reward will be worth it. The Joy and satisfaction that will be experienced by those who share the Morning Star will be unmatched by those who do not have this privilege.
One of the more enigmatic promises of scripture appears in the same book. Revelation reveals a great number of the rewards that Jesus intends to give. The ones mentioned in this verse are as mysterious as any, but there are some clues as to what they mean. See what else Jesus promises to give to overcomers:
"To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone, a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
At first glance, these promises seem mysterious, but there is little doubt that the original audience would have quickly understood since the ideas are rooted in their culture. For the overcomer, Jesus first promises a portion of the hidden manna, not only to look at but to eat. What is this hidden manna all about?
God fed the Israelites in the desert with a kind of bread that came down from the sky. He also instructed them to take an omer of manna and keep it in the ark of the covenant. It was to remind Israel how God had provided for them in the wilderness. However, the original ark of the covenant was permanently lost in 586 b.c. And the manna inside had vanished before then. Jewish tradition claimed that Jeremiah had hidden the ark and that it would be restored at the end time. This information still does not answer the questions that Jesus’ words raise. Will Jesus give us literal manna, or is this a metaphor for something else?
Remember what Jesus said to the hungry crowd near the Sea of Galilee. The previous day He had fed around five thousand of them. This really intense conversation follows in which the people are trying to pressure Jesus into more miracles. To Him, they said, "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from Heaven to eat.” The conversation continues, but Jesus refuses to give them what they want. Instead, He reveals something profound about himself. In fact, He repeats it many times.
In the 6th chapter of John, the word "bread" is used 17 times. Jesus uses the word 11 times to describe himself. Here are a few:
Vs. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.
Vs. 35 I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
Vs. 48 I am the bread of life.
Vs. 50 This is the bread which comes down from Heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.
Vs. 51 I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
Vs. 58 This is the bread which came down from Heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
Over and over Jesus repeats these same words. It's almost comical how many times He has to say it. Each time, the Jewish audience seemed to resist it a little more. They just weren't getting the message, so He continued to try to drill it into their heads. Jesus tells us about a dozen times in one chapter that He is the manna. He makes it extremely clear that the manna is a representation of what He offers and not the other way around.
As if that were not enough, Luke records Jesus’ words and actions at the last supper. “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Not only does Jesus invite His disciples to eat the bread which represents His body, but He instructs them to do it on a regular basis. This is an image of Jesus offering himself for us. However, there seems to be something it will represent in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now let’s return to the promise of Christ, which we are investigating. He said, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.” What did we learn in John six and Luke twenty-two? We learned that Jesus is the manna. Jesus is the manna. Jesus is the manna. I won’t repeat it 11 times as Jesus did, but remember Jesus said it over and over so that we wouldn’t miss the point.
So Jesus is the manna, but is He hidden? About being hidden, Jesus said, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” Jesus identified Himself as being both manna and being hidden. In every way possible, Jesus represents the hidden manna.
If Jesus is the hidden manna, what does that mean for those who are allowed to eat it? Although we only have a key-hole view of this promise, we can surmise that it has something to do with intimacy with our Lord. The one who lives out a victorious Christian life will be given exclusive access to Jesus, the manna that was hidden for so long. The overcomer will be allowed a kind of experience with their Lord, the Bread of Life.
I’m convinced that there is some connection to Jesus’ words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” For the overcomer feeding on the hidden manna might mean gaining sustenance from the words of God. Maybe it means that the words spoken by Christ will directly sustain overcomers. Whatever the case may be, it will be an experience that not all believers will have.
This is not the only promise given in these verses. Let’s review what He said:
“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
We’ve unraveled the mystery of the hidden manna, but what is the meaning of the white stone? Many have proposed ideas to explain this enigmatic statement. There is so little information given that I have to admit I don’t know. With that being said, I have a pet theory that seems most reasonable to me.
I am convinced that the white stone is a reference to a new kind of Urim. Never heard of that? That's fine. I'll explain. In the Old Testament, the temple priests were to keep two small stones in their chest pocket, one white and one black. The stones, called the Urim, and the Thummim were to allow the priest to cast lots to know God's decision on any given matter. You can think of the Urim as something similar to drawing straws or tossing divine dice. The Urim would be used to find out what God wanted the people to do. This was very important in cases where a hard decision needed to be made. Urim is the Hebrew word for “lights” and therefore would logically be associated with bright or white stones.
If this assessment is right, the white stone Christ will give to His champions is a symbol of intimacy with Himself and with God. It seems that the overcomer who receives this stone receives with it access to the inner will and desire of God. The overcomer will have a kind of fellowship with the Lord that not everyone will share. He won't have to wonder from a distance what God thinks. He will have a means by which he can learn the desires of the Lord.
In another reference to a unique intimacy with the Lord, Jesus promises that there will be "on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” In Jesus’ earthly ministry, He liked to give out nicknames. He called Simon, “The Rock,” and the Zebedee brothers, “Sons of Thunder.” He called Nathaniel, “A True Israelite.” Imagine receiving your own unique name from the Lord who made you. We know precious little about what these names will be, but we know they will be unique and special.
Ultimately, this stone represents a personal connection between the recipient and the giver. Jesus will share some inside knowledge with each overcomer. This hints at the kind of fellowship that the Lord offers to His champions. It's not the kind of relationship that a celebrity gives to his fans, but instead the sort of fellowship a friend offers a friend. How Jesus can share this kind of connection with every champion, must rely on His divine nature. Rest assured, that those who have this relationship with the Lord will be incredibly fulfilled. Those who miss out on this are missing out on the opportunity of eternal closeness with the one who gives ultimate joy.
Only a chapter later He gives this promise, which is hard even to fathom:
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
We’ve seen in a previous section what it means to be a pillar in the temple of God. The focus, I’d like to point us to in this section is the fellowship that this will offer. Imagine the kind of closeness one would experience with God being instrumental in the activities of the temple. What’s more, in the eternal kingdom, there won’t be a temple building because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.
Notice the next line where He says, "and he shall go out no more." In the Jewish temple, there was a special place called the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter it, and only for a short time. This was the place where God was most present. By saying, he will go out no more," Jesus is telling us that the overcomer will never leave the presence of the Lord. The temple had outer courts and inner courts, but to enter the holy of holies was a special honor. To get to stay in the holy of holies is an honor that no human has ever experienced. Though, for the champions, God will extend this honor in the kingdom of Heaven. This likely doesn't mean that they will physically stay in one place, but instead that anywhere they go, they carry the palpable presence of the Lord with them. Overcomers will be traveling tabernacles who carry the presence of God with them throughout the kingdom. No matter where an overcomer goes, they never leave the company of the Lord.
The greatest reward that anyone will ever experience in eternity is a maximally intimate relationship with God. The closer someone is to God, the more joy and fulfillment they will experience. As we’ve seen in this section, not everyone will have an equal relationship with the Almighty and Christ when the Kingdom comes. Some will have a closer fellowship with God than others. We should strive to live in a way now that prepares us for the greatest kingdom experience. The greatest reward in all eternity is a closer relationship with the Lord.