Are there rewards in heaven?
Dr. Jim Denison
The Academy Awards are presented each February. The winners each receive something called an “Oscar,” though no one knows why. One possible answer is that early on, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences librarian said the statuette represented her Uncle Oscar.
An Oscar weighs 8.5 pounds and stands 13.5 inches tall. It depicts a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film. It takes twelve people twenty hours to make one of the 50 statuettes produced each year. The Oscars are then shipped in unmarked cardboard boxes for security reasons. Security isn’t always effective, however—a few years ago they were stolen and found nine days later next to a dumpster.
Who won last year? Which movie? Which stars? The year before? How long will you remember this year’s winners and losers? Millennia after our culture has disappeared, eternity will only have begun. Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). What was “paradise” like for that convicted felon? What will it be like for you and me? Why does it all matter today?
What is heaven like?
When Ronald Reagan was running for Governor of California, a woman confronted him by his car one day and berated him severely. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were St. Peter.” He smiled and replied, “No problem. If I were St. Peter, you wouldn’t be living in my district.”
What do we know about “St. Peter’s district”? We’re all fascinated with the subject of heaven. Every one of us has loved ones there; I assume we all would like to spend eternity there ourselves. So let’s learn from God’s word about his home.
What is heaven?
What does our Father tell us about our eternal destiny? First, he tells us that heaven is real. It is certain—no figment of religious imagination, no superstition, no “opiate of the people” (Karl Marx). He revealed it to John: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). According to God himself, heaven is real.
Second, heaven is a place (Revelation 21:1-2). John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2; emphasis mine).
Third, heaven is where God is (Revelation 21:3). John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God. Psalm 11:4 is clear: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.
Fourth, heaven is a blessed place (Revelation 21:4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). It’s a place of reward: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). And this reward is eternal: “An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
Such a glorious place is celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). In heaven, we’re royalty. We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
To sum up, in heaven God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). No more Fall, or sin, or death, or disease, or disaster; no more earthquakes or fears or tests or grades. Everything is new. No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64.4).
What will we be like?
First, let’s set aside a popular misconception: in heaven, people are not angels. God created angels before he created us, and we are completely different. When Jesus said that people in heaven are “like the angels” (Luke 20:36), he meant that we never die, as they do not. Not that we have “wings and a halo” (they don’t either, by the way). We are not angels. But we do receive heavenly bodies: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Will we recognize each other? I think so, for these reasons. Jesus said that in heaven we will take our places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 8:11), so apparently we will recognize them. On the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples easily recognized Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:3-4). Paul promised that in heaven we will “know as we are known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I like what one preacher said: “We won’t really know each other until we get to heaven!”
Why does heaven matter?
I would imagine that the biblical truths we’ve rehearsed so far are good news. But let me ask: how often did you think about heaven this week? Did its existence change anything you did? Why should it? For this simple reason: when we lose heaven we lose the transcendent. We lose our sense that there is something more than this world, and we who live in it. And that is always a bad decision.