While our ticket to Heaven has already been paid for by Jesus on the cross, there is still a great incentive for us to dedicate our lives to his work while we await his return or our death. Scripture clearly teaches there are degrees of eternal reward that will be given at what is known as the Judgment seat of Christ—or (in Greek) the béma seat. The béma was a platform where athletes were crowned after competition.
We read about it in 2 Corinthians 5:10 where we read, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
We learn more of the details about this event in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 where Paul wrote, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Among the rewards given are what Scripture refers to as crowns. Whether these are literal crowns, or whether they represent certain levels of responsibility and oversight, or both, I’m not sure but there are at least five crown rewards mentioned in the Bible. We will also, likely, be given various opportunities to rule and reign with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6) based on what genuine work we accomplished while here on earth (see Matthew 25:14-30).
Just as there are degrees of reward in Heaven, there are degrees of punishment in Hell.
Luke 12:42-48 describes varying degrees of punishment symbolized by either many or few lashes. To be blunt, Hitler will suffer far worse than the average lost soul in Hell.
Carefully notice the last 4 words from this passage in Revelation 20:12-13 where we read, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”
According to their deeds. One thing we need to keep in mind always when considering eternal punishment is that God is 100% fair in his dealings. As you’ll recall our earlier discussions about God’s attention to legal detail in the unseen realm—remember this applies in the afterlife as well. Someone has to pay for our sins because we can’t get right with God on our own. Jesus paid the penalty and offers us the most amazing gift ever given. It is free to us but it cost him everything.
If we reject his offer to pay our sin debt, then we are 100% fairly judged based on our specific actions while we lived. Unfortunately, if we want separation from Christ in this life, he has no choice but to answer that prayer in the afterlife. The truest definition of Hell is complete separation from God.
How Does All of This Relate to Spiritual Warfare?
Here’s how. When you know what the enemy knows you have an advantage. You are not prone to deception. You also have hope in the promised future with all of its wonder and majesty. His promises are sure and so is the future of those who are in Christ. That encouragement and knowledge protects you and I from the schemes and deceptions of the enemy.
It should also give us great comfort to know that one day God will set everything straight. Literally every evil act will be punished and every truly good act will be rewarded. Understanding that there are degrees of reward in Heaven should help us focus on eternal matters and provide the impetus to finish strong. Understanding that there are degrees of punishment in Hell should encourage us knowing that God is not capricious in His judgment, but is—by his nature—fair, righteous, all-wise, and perfectly just. God’s hand is on the wheel and he knows what he is doing. We can truly rest in Him!