Crowns for the Saints
2 Timothy 4:
6 For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.
7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!
8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day — and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.
12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.
1 Peter 5:
1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you:
2 Give a shepherd's care to God's flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God's direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock.
4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.
5 In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
6 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand
It is time to start tying everything together. Few are Called to be Christians, so I have shown through multiple passages of scripture over the course of this series. However, those not Called will be judged to lower standards on the Day of Judgment. Faith has a price. Predestination is not a free pass to Paradise.
Why create a world in which few believe correctly? Why allow Christians to suffer at the hands of unbelievers? Why subject those who Believe to a higher standard of morality? Why require faith?
I can but speculate, but here follows a reason that makes sense to me:
A Training Ground for Kings
5 and from Jesus Christ — the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood
6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father — to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.
8 and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints).
9 They were singing a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand — thousands times thousands —
We who walk the Christian Way are preparing to be kings and priests, to rule with Jesus for a millennium, and perhaps beyond. If we were preparing to live forever in an eternal country club, trials of this life would be almost pointless, on the order of fraternity hazing. But kingship is another matter entirely! An unqualified or uncaring king can do great damage, especially over a thousand year reign. And it is one thing to reign poorly in your own name, quite another to rule poorly in Jesus’ name. Training and testing is quite appropriate.
12 Therefore he said, "A nobleman went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.
13 And he summoned ten of his slaves, gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business with these until I come back.'
14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to be king over us!'
15 When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he summoned these slaves to whom he had given the money. He wanted to know how much they had earned by trading.
16 So the first one came before him and said, 'Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.'
17 And the king said to him, 'Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.'
18 Then the second one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has made five minas.'
19 So the king said to him, 'And you are to be over five cities.'
20 Then another slave came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina that I put away for safekeeping in a piece of cloth.
21 For I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You withdraw what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.'
22 The king said to him, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! So you knew, did you, that I was a severe man, withdrawing what I didn't deposit and reaping what I didn't sow?
23 Why then didn't you put my money in the bank, so that when I returned I could have collected it with interest?'
24 And he said to his attendants, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten.'
25 But they said to him, 'Sir, he has ten minas already!'
26 'I tell you that everyone who has will be given more, but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them in front of me!' "
14 "For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.
15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more.
17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more.
18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money in it.
19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them.
20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, 'Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
21 His master answered, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.'
22 The one with the two talents also came and said, 'Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.'
23 His master answered, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.'
24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, 'Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,
25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'
26 But his master answered, 'Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn't sow and gather where I didn't scatter?
27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!
28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten.
29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
The stakes are high. In several places the Bible promises that some will be made children of God [Matthew 5:9, John 1:12]. Jesus reinforced the point when he said we should pray to “Our Father.” Suppose we take this promise at face value. Animals bear children of their own kind. Trees bear fruit of their kind. Should the pattern hold, those who are chosen are to become of the same kind as God, to become like gods! Such power should not be granted lightly.
What are the qualifications for such power? Consider these qualities for kingship:
- Willingness to follow orders. Jesus is to be High King; we hope for a role underneath.
- Understanding and appreciation of those orders. An underling who just robotically follows order to the letter can be harmful to an organization.
- Understanding of those to be governed.
- Love of those to be governed.
- Proven willingness to exercise the above without supervision.
- Leadership ability.
- Experience in governance.
Make sense? Now how might you train people to have these qualities? Moreover, how to you test? How can you test for love? How can you test for willingness to obey without supervision? How do you train people for leadership before you grant them high office? Consider these questions in light of the following Biblical patterns:
- The importance of following orders is one of the very first lessons in the Bible. Adam and Eve were given a very simple rule: don’t eat the fruit of a particular tree. They allowed themselves to be convinced the order was unimportant – with dire consequences. This lesson is repeated throughout the Bible.
- Of course, most of the orders given are more than mere tests of obedience. The Law offers us a great body of wisdom if we study, practice and meditate upon it. True appreciation requires following the Law side by side with societies which do not. Ancient Israel was surrounded by heathen nations. Christians are tasked to practice their faith surrounded by non-Christians. Under such conditions we get to see the benefits of living God’s way and the consequences of living other ways.
- A king who was once a peasant will view peasants rather differently than a king who grew up in a palace. Perhaps this is why Jesus said that few of the rich and powerful will be allowed in the Kingdom, why the least will become the great.
- We live in a world with consequences. How else could love be exercised? Love often carries a price. How else could it be tested?
- We live under very light divine supervision. Indeed, we must take it on faith that our works will be rewarded. Our true character gets thus exposed. Do we behave well; do we love, purely in the hope of future reward? If so, we are selfish beings unworthy of the gifts to be granted. With doubt, we must have love and true appreciation of God’s laws to complete our assigned tasks.
- One of the great features of democratic government is that our leaders must campaign to achieve high office. They must learn to persuade before they can rule with power. Electoral campaigns are thus good leadership training. Likewise, evangelism is leadership training for Christians. If all were Called, evangelism would be too easy, and opportunities to evangelize too few.
- How are the poor and the weak to learn how to govern? One answer is within the family. Another is within the Church. Spiritual gifts are divided up so that few if any have them all. This provides opportunity for all to actively participate. And church participation once meant far more than singing in the choir or organizing potlucks; Paul called for Christians to govern themselves.
1 Corinthians 6:
1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints?
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits?
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!
4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church?
5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians?
Treasure in Heaven vs. Unearned Grace
12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates.
13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side.
14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
28 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Now we return to a central mystery of the New Testament: grace vs. works. Paul wrote extensively on faith and grace vs. works and the Law. Jesus spoke of earning treasure in Heaven and people being judged according to their works. How do we resolve this apparent conflict?
Some would say that we live under a new dispensation, that works and following the Law were required in the past, but now we live under new rules. This idea bothers me greatly, as it renders 90% of the Bible moot, a bad joke even. The idea also contradicts the writings of the other apostles, writings done after the Crucifixion, after the new dispensation was supposed to go into effect. Even some of Paul’s writings go against this interpretation. Taking Paul out of context is a dangerous game, as he employed lengthy complex arguments.
This passage inspires a cleaner interpretation, one more in tune with the rest of the Bible:
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.
18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.
19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Here, Jesus affirmed the Law, including the least bits. But he also offered hope for the many future Christians who would teach/act otherwise: many of them will also be in the Kingdom; however, they will be called least in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven will not be a democracy, nor will it be a communist utopia. It will be hierarchical. Jesus will be at the top, the King of Kings. Twelve apostles will be kings over the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Some will rule over a single city, some over multiple cities. Keep in mind that the term “king” in the Bible can refer to rather petty rulers, barely over the rank of small town mayor; note the number of kings in Canaan alone during the days of Abraham.
Some will be priests. And like kings, priests range from high priests down to minor priests. In the days of the Levites, few served in the innermost parts of the Temple. Somebody had to polish the silverware.
Getting into the Kingdom is more important than rank within the Kingdom. Love and charity might be more important than obeying the lesser commandments correctly. Jesus declared charity to be a salvation issue [Matthew 25:31-46]. Perhaps this is why Paul emphasized love and charity over the Law. To legalistically follow the Law without love can lead to being a bitter nit-picker, unworthy of leadership, or possibly any position, in the Kingdom.
But why settle for being least in the Kingdom? A thousand years is a rather long time to polish silver or rule over a small remote village. Rank in the Kingdom is valuable. Jesus said so. He said it was a hundred times more valuable than keeping one’s earthly possessions. It’s more valuable than retaining important body parts.
At least, that is how I read these passages today. Please meditate on these scriptures yourself, including those below, and come to your own conclusion. Get a modern literal translation for those passages where the King James is unclear.
And when you are done, I invite you to continue on to the next article, where we will explore the Kingdom as it relates to the world today, before the Second Coming. Though the Christian Way is a narrow path, we can still have a taste of the Kingdom now, if we follow Jesus’ call to be salt of the earth.
1 Corinthians 3:
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw,
13 each builder's work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done.
14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.
15 If someone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
2 Corinthians 9:
6 My point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.
7 Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Timothy 2:
20 Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use.
21 So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.