Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reward Now, in This Time

Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:28-30)
Some people believe that this passage is all about the next life and the rewards Jesus has there for His followers. But a closer look at this passage and its counterparts clearly shows that He is speaking of this present life. For example, in the parallel passage, Mark 10:29-30, Jesus states that the hundredfold return is “now in this time." Since it is about now and this time, it is temporal reward. Jesus also adds, “with persecutions,” which is another indication that this is not for the eternal state, since there will be no suffering or persecution for the saints in glory (praise be to God!). It is only afterwards that, in Mark’s account, Jesus speaks of the eternal state: “And in the age to come, eternal life.” Both temporal reward (“this life”) and eternal life (“in the age to come”) are in view.

The way to receive the temporal reward is not by seeking after it, but by seeking after the eternal one. It comes for those who give up house, brothers, etc., “for My sake and the gospel’s.” The consideration of temporal rewards as well as eternal ones is not wrong — we are promised both — but they must be kept in proper focus and given proper priority. If we seek after the temporal rewards, we will miss out on eternal rewards; but if we seek after eternal things, we will be well-compensated for whatever we leave behind for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. It is as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

One of the important things to notice in Jesus’ response to Peter’s question is that, not only will those who leave all for His sake and the gospel’s receive a hundredfold return, but they will also inherit eternal life. That is exactly what the rich young man had earlier come seeking (Matthew 19:16). However, he was so attached to the things of this life that he did not understand the value of eternal life. If he persisted in trying to hold on to his many possessions, he would eventually lose them anyway. Ironically, it was Peter and the other disciples who, having left all to follow Jesus, would be amply compensated in this life, and inherit eternal life in the age to come (notice that eternal life is an inheritance — a gift — not a reward).

Jesus ended with, “But many who are first will be last; and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). How ironic for the rich young man! He tried to be first by keeping what he had; he would be last and lose everything. On the other hand, the disciples, though they might have considered themselves the least and the last, would end up the first-place winners. They gave up everything for Jesus, but would receive back so much more than they could have imagined.

The world tries to win by being first and holding on to what you have. Jesus’ way is by loving, giving and serving. All who leave all for His sake and the gospel’s will come out the winners, not only in the next life, but also in this one.