Just as the Christian’s hope isn’t realized on the death bed, it’s ultimate fulfillment doesn’t occur at the rapture either. We will all be changed, either through transformation or resurrection. But the redemption of our bodies carries us to the next step of our hope’s journey, the judgement seat of Christ. As you read what follows, take comfort in the knowledge that His throne is the Mercy Seat.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. KJV
Recall that rewards are earned, not given. The wages of our body will be paid based on the actions we took with them. The extent of our life was set when we were born again through faith by grace. We will live forever. The judgment seat of Christ will determine the quality of that life.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. KJV
“He’s gone to his reward,” we often say when a saint dies. But this isn’t true. A full accounting cannot be done until the age is rolled up and justice cannot be meted out while we are disembodied. What evil we did, we did in our bodies. What good works we accomplished through Him, we did in our bodies. Reward and punishment must be given to us while we are in our bodies.
We have seen that our bodies will be redeemed through transformation or resurrection.
2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. KJV
The Lord Jesus gave several examples of what this judgment will look like. He said that the faithful and wise servant found feeding His household when He returns would be made a ruler over all of His goods. But the servant who lost hope and abused his fellow servants while indulging in his own gluttony would be “cut asunder” and cast out with the hypocrites. The example documented by Luke is even more sobering. After reviewing the blessed state of a steward being found faithful when the Master returns, Jesus turns to the subject of the faithless.
45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,
46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. NKJV
We would do well to take Jesus’ warning literally. He is the Living Word that can divide—cut asunder—soul from spirit. His representations of everyday life in His parables reflected human experience accurately. We have no reason to believe His words regarding the afterlife are any less accurate. He said the judgment would be like being beaten with stripes. I think perfect bodies will feel the sting of the lash perfectly. When we know what we should do and don’t, we are in line for greater punishment because to whom much is given, much is required. Sins of ignorance are still punishable sins. But transgressions—willful sins in full knowledge of what is right—are more egregious.
Verses 47 and 48 above cover both types of sins, sins of commission and sins of omission. Doing wrong is a sin of commission. Not doing right is a sin of omission. Both are punishable.
If whips don’t scare you, perhaps fire does.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. KJV
Gold, silver, and precious stones can all be refined and thus enhanced in value. Stubble, hay, and wood are dead objects from once living things, namely reeds, grass, and trees. The table below is a snapshot of the symbolic significance of the elements listed in 1 Corinthians 3:12.
Our work is what we have done and as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:10, it is in our bodies that we will receive reward for what we have done, be it good or bad. God’s promise is that we will be like Christ. We can discipline ourselves to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and walk in sanctification or He can burn the dross out of us should we appear before Him with unwashed sins. Either way, we will be baptized in fire. It is my personal belief that the pain of that fire will be directly proportional to what is burned away. The more wood, hay, and stubble we carry to the judgment seat of Christ, the greater our suffering. The more gold, silver, and precious stones we arrive with, the greater our reward.
2 Corinthians 5:11
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. KJV
The quality of our resurrection is of personal and cosmological importance. The resurrection of the body isn’t a one-to-one event. It may commence that way, like Jesus before His ascension. But it doesn’t end that way. Remember, we are followers of Jesus. He walked a path that we will journey. We are going to be like Him. Look at the stages of His resurrection.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. KJV
This was the Jesus that Thomas and the rest of the disciples saw after He was resurrect. He looked like an average man, a gardener or a fellow traveler. He ate with them. They handled him. Compare this reality with the Jesus John saw.
12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. KJV
John doesn’t stretch out a tentative hand to touch the forge-bright brass feet of Jesus. On the Mount of Transfiguration, they had the presence of mind to debate on the finer points of tent building. The appearance of this shinning Jesus made John fall over like a dead man. He was not recognizable as a simple human being, let alone Jesus of Nazareth. This is the truth Paul was endeavoring to teach the Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 15:35-45
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. KJV
Our current body is the grain, the single seed. The resurrected body is the tall blade of grain-bearing grass it gives rise to. Not all grasses have equal glory, not all bodies have the same quality, not all stars shine so brightly. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
The day is coming when the Lord will call to the dead and they will hear Him. His trumpet shall sound, and we will join Him. Our bodies will be remade and rewarded according to how we have lived in Him. And forever we will dwell with Him on a new earth under a new heaven in bodies incorruptible and immortal capable to serve Him in love for all eternity.