THE REWARD OF THE FAITHFUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 2, 3
6-18-61 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Reward of the Faithful. In our preaching through the word of God, we have come to the second and the third chapters of the Book of the Revelation. These are the seven letters of the risen, glorified Lord to the seven churches of Asia. And this morning, we are going to speak concerning the rewards that are promised to God’s people in the earth. At the 8:15 o’clock hour, I spoke a little over forty minutes and did not begin to finish the message. Now I sought, and do, unless I encompass myself in a smaller narrower channel, I sought to explain some of the things as we mention them in the sermon. But if you stop to explain the time is gone; what we need is three or four hours each time we come here, [to] sit down and look at this thing in the Bible, and understand it.
I do not know what to do, so I will just say these things. Then may God grant that their suggestion would be an incentive, an encouragement for you, with an open Bible and in our church library or with a fine group of commentaries, to seek out, and to search out, and ferret out, and find out, and fathom out these illimitable, unsearchable truths that are here in the Word of God. In fact, these sermons are kind of like a pearl diver who goes down and he brings up one and we have time just to admire and to look upon the facets of one beautiful gem. But there are thousands others in the illimitable treasures of God in the depths of the sea of His world.
Now, the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia; each letter has seven distinct parts, and all of the letters follow those seven parts. Each one of them is written exactly like the other one with seven distinct parts. The first part is the address, "To the angel of the church at, Ephesus, or Smyrna, or Pergamos, or Thyatira," first the address.
Then the second part is a citation of one of the holy and divine attributes of the Speaker. In the first chapter of the Revelation, John saw the glorified Son of Man, Jesus our Lord, walking among the seven golden lampstands, and then he describes the Lord. And in all seven of these letters, after the introduction, after the salutation, after the greeting, the second part will always be a citation of one or more of those sublime attributes of the Son of man. For example, the first one, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" [Revelation 2:1]. Always the letter; but you see, that is what takes time. When you pause to point it out, then your time is gone: the second part, always a citation of one of those sublime attributes of the glorified Son of God.
Then the third part is a word of the omniscience of the speaker: he knows, "I know," and then he speaks of what he knows. All of the sayings, and doings, and actions, and beliefs of the churches, of His people – that includes you, that includes this congregation, that includes this church, that includes all of God’s people in all of His churches. As He walks in and out among His churches, He knows all of our works and our thoughts.
And then comes the fourth part: Then the Lord speaks out of His omniscience. He speaks words of encouragement, or of warning, or of admonition, or of censure, or of praise as He speaks to His people concerning the things that they are doing.
Then the fifth part: He always makes reference to His coming again, and the character of that coming with reference to the people in their state of either faithlessness or faith, their dedication or their rejection; how this second return of our Lord will be in its character with reference to those to whom he is addressing the letter.
Then the sixth part of the letter is a universal admonition to hear: "He that hath ears let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" [Revelation 2:7].
Then the last, the seventh part, is a promise to the ultimate victor, like the first one, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." The sixth thing in the letter, then the seventh and the last: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the midst of the paradise of God" [Revelation 2:7].
So those seven parts, and each letter following faithfully those seven sections with this exception, the last four letters; take six and seven and in invert them, the seventh part is number six and the sixth part is number seven in the last four. But all of them follow that same pattern and all of them have those same seven sections, those same seven parts.
Now, this morning, we are going to take a little piece. We are going to speak until the clock goes around, we are going to speak concerning the rewards that God hath prepared and hath in store for His sainted people; the possession of God’s children when the Lord gives us our final, and ultimate, and eternal inheritance. It is highly instructive and it is most encouraging and inspiring to read here on the sacred page what God hath prepared for His people.
Now, the first observation that I would make is this: that the reward is always last, always. Here in the letter, it is last; there in the letters, it is last; and here in the Revelation of God it is always last. Our reward is bestowed last of all. That’s the last thing in the final and ultimate life of the child of God. As in Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I come quickly and My reward is with Me." It is not until He comes, it is not until the end of the age, it is not until the consummation of history; it is not until all things are wrought, and finished, and done. "My reward is with Me when I come," to give every man according as his work shall be.
Now, why is it that a man’s reward is not given to him in this life? Why is it that a man’s reward is not at least bestowed upon him when he dies? Why is it that a man’s reward is not his until the end of all time, and tide, and story, and history? Why is a man’s reward always bestowed upon him at the end? Always at the end? The last thing in the seven letters. Now, the answer is very obvious and very plain. It is because a man’s influence, and his work, and his doings, and the repercussion of his life is not finished until the end of the age. I am saying that a man does not die when he dies, but the workings of his life and the influence of his life keep on and on and on.
Like a sound wave, it goes on; like an ether wave of light, so far as the scientist knows it goes on forever. There are light waves that come from stars and the journey of that light was started billions of years ago – trillions of years ago and it is just now reaching us – and apparently if it does not find a deflection, it goes on forever, like the rippling of a man’s life. A man’s life is like the rippling of a wave and a great ocean; it goes on, and on, and on, until it reaches the final shore. So with what you do, it not only has a reverberation, and a repercussion in the life in which you now live, but after you are dead, and gone, and forgotten, the influences of your life go on, and on, and on, until the end; until the consummation of the story of human life, and tide, and time, and history.
Now, we could not unravel in the scheme of life – each one of our influences – but God can. God will take each man’s life and He will follow the thread of the influence of that man’s life through all of history. And you do not have the full story of the impact and the influence of what you do until that great, and ultimate, and final hour. And when that is summed up, that represents your final, ultimate reward; that is why it cannot be given until the end.
For example, in the First Baptist Church at Amarillo, where I was licensed and where I was ordained, in that church I went to Sunday school with a friend and we were graduated from high school at Amarillo together. We went down to Baylor University together, and to our surprise and to our amazement, he turned out to be an infidel and an atheist. And upon a day, some of us who had been praying for him went to his room to talk to him. And when we went into his room, there sat that friend of mine at his desk, and he was reading Tom Payne’s Age of Reason. Tom Payne died in 1809. That is almost, that is a little over one hundred fifty years ago; but Tom Payne did not die in 1809. His influence has gone on, and on, and on through the years; and it touched the life of that young fellow. A few days ago, one of the members of this congregation, in digging through the attic, dug up a beautiful bound copy of Tom Payne’s Age of Reason. The family gave it to me and I have it on my study table right now – looking at it, just to see what the infidel has to say – but he did not die, I am listening right now to what he says. For evil, did he write the book and for evil, the influence goes on to the end, to the end.
Now, you can turn it around: not long ago, I met a young preacher of the gospel. And the young fellow was doing a wise and a brilliant thing. Here is a young preacher right down here and I want him to listen to this. The young fellow said to me, he said, "You know, I have been reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary." And he said, "My sermons have been enriched with the blessings of Matthew Henry’s Commentary." Matthew Henry will enrich and will bless any preacher’s life and any preacher’s message, and will bless anybody that will read it. When did Matthew Henry die? He died in 1714. That is almost two hundred fifty years ago. And though Matthew Henry has been dead for two hundred fifty years, yet the influence of that godly and the glorious commentary that he wrote blesses through generations and to this day. The incomparable preacher, George Whitefield said he had read it three or four times, and the last time he read it through he had done it on his knees; and it’s a long, long commentary!
You see, God gathers up all the influences of our lives, and through the ages as they roll, and through the ages as they touch every life, and through the ages as they influence in places where you never dreamed of and do not know, there does God ferret it out and there does God gather it together. And there, some day – whether it is good or ill – there some day, at the end of the age it becomes our crown and our inheritance. That is why our rewards are given to us at the end of the age, when the Lord comes, and the story is finished, and history is done, and His people are gathered in that great judgment at the throne of Christ; that is the day of our reward.
Now for just a moment, let us see what kind of a reward our Lord has in store for us. There are seven facets of that reward that are given to us, presented to us, delineated and described here in these seven letters. Like you would hold up a beautiful jewel, and it has seven glorious facets that catch the light of heaven and the glory of the Son of God, and it reflects them. So we can hold up this jewel and see it from seven sides; what God is going to give His people in that great and final day. And each time that it is mentioned here in the Bible, it is something that we had lost, and something by which God had made glorious promise, and we had forfeited it. But here in the Bible it is given back to us again when Jesus comes at the end of the age.
All right, the first one; and we must rapidly say these things. The first one: our parents in their sin and in their disobedience lost the Tree of Life in the paradise of Eden. And it was taken away, and we died. But God did not destroy the Tree of Life; He transplanted it from the Eden, from the paradise of this world to the paradise and the Eden of the world that is yet to come. And there it blooms, and there it flourishes, and there it grows by the side of the River of Life. And the first facet presented in the letter to the church at Ephesus is, "To him that overcometh," to those that believe and trust in Jesus, "to them will I give the right to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" [Revelation 2:7]. So God’s going to give us back again the Tree of Life that was taken away from us in the sin and disobedience of our first parents.
Now the second facet, to the church at Smyrna; not only were we denied access to the Tree of Life, but God cursed us with eternal death. "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," he did not die that day! [Genesis 2:17] He did not die that day, but their souls died; the physical bodies died later, but their souls died. And that death is called the second death, and they died the second death. And every man in unrepentance, and in rejection, and in unbelief, and in disobedience is under the curse of the second death. Perdition, sent out away from God – denied access to the throne of grace – the flame, and the torment, and the darkness of the separation of perdition, and damnation, and hell; the second death. But to those who trust in Jesus, he that hath an ear, who will hear, he shall not be hurt of the second death. God quickens our souls, He regenerates our spirits. And we have no fear of the damnation, and of the perdition, and of the punishment, and of the flame, and the fire, for we are saved; we are saved and delivered from the second death.
Now, a third facet of that wonderful, wonderful promise, "To the angel of the church at Pergamos." And He says to him that believes, that trusts, that accepts, "He that hath an ear and who will hear," and whose heart will be opened to the truth, "to them will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will write his name on a white stone" [Revelation 2:17]. My new name and his new name borne on the breast, borne over the heart of God’s Great High Priest, "and I will sustain him, and I will feed him with the new manna." What was the earth in our sin and disobedience? God says it is cursed. It is cursed for the man’s sake. And it gave a harvest of briars, and thorns, and thistles, and brambles, and weeds and is cursed for the man’s sake. But there the curse is taken away, and we are fed with heavenly manna. Everything blooms, and everything flourishes, and everything comes to the full harvest for the children of God; and the brambles are gone, and the thorns are gone, and the curse is gone. And the whole creation of God is emerald with the fruit, and the flower, and the glory of the handiwork of the Almighty; and God shall give us of the fruits of glory – hidden manna. And we don’t need to worry lest we fall by the way, for our names, our names are written on the breastplate that covers the heart of the Son of God. We are born in his breast forever, forever, forever.
Dr. Freeman said yesterday, a book had come into his hand, written by a great modern scholar, who is an Armenian, who was proposing to prove in that book that God’s people can be torn away from God’s breast. And somebody is able to tear them out of God’s hand; isn’t that a funny book? When God said, "I give unto My sheep eternal life and they shall never perish and no one, no thing, no power in hell, heaven, earth or under the earth is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand." [John 10:27-29] And yet this guy writes him a book; then he says, somebody can tear us away from God and can take us out of God’s hand. He is a very smart man, isn’t he? He knows more than God. He knows more than God. Don’t you be afraid, the Lord says, you may be assailed and we are assailed; and we may fall in all kinds of diverse things, and we do fall. And we may stagger sometimes at the promise of the reality of God. Oh, you are still a pilgrim; don’t you forget. And it is a weary world through which we journey, "Don’t you be afraid, little flock, it is the Lord’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom," [Luke 12:32] and He will. Our names are on His heart. And He bears us on His breast – you, you. Well, I better quit this part of it. And go on to the next. All of these promises are just like that. They are just glorious. They are just glorious. Well, we are going to stop there.
Now, let us take up another thing: what about the certainty of those promises? Ah! One of the most inspiring things that you can read in the Book is this: the profound, and deep, and everlasting committal of these early and tentative Christians that the promises of God in Christ were everlastingly, "yea, and amen," said the apostle Paul [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Not a one of them shall fall to the ground; all of them shall be our inheritance, all of them, every one of them. And they were persuaded of them and they knew that they existed, and they believed God meant them for them. They were persuaded that there was a paradise of God and they set their afflictions upon it. They believed that there was a crown of life and they reached forward their arms and their hands in faith to receive it. And they lived the life of the persuasion that God had these things for His sainted children. And that is all through the Book – it is not only here, in the Book of the Revelation – it is through this whole Bible.
For example, the great eloquent Alexandrian, the preacher in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, he described Moses, and he says, "when he became of years, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter" [Hebrews 11:24] and renounced the throne of the greatest empire in the ancient civilized world in order that he might suffer affliction with the people of God. Because, the eloquent preacher said, "he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" [Hebrews 11:26]. He believed! There was more in the hands of God to [be] bestowed upon those who suffered with Christ than to be heir apparent and finally, some day, to inherit the golden throne of the Pharaohs. He believed it, that God had it in store for him. [The] same thing about all of them – Isaac and Abraham and Jacob – they "looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God" [Hebrews 11:10]. And they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth, "Therefore," the Book says, "Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God." [Hebrews 11:16]. And in keeping with their expectation, "He hath builded for them that city." They were looking for it. They expected it. God had promised it and God shall give it to them, says this eloquent preacher in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews.
And all those saints were that way. They believed and were persuaded of these things for which their hearts did flow and for which their hands did reach. Like Paul said: "forgetting those things which are behind. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 3:13, 14]. Like a runner, an athlete, putting all that he has into the race for a crown, for a reward. And he believed it would be his from the gracious gentle hands of Christ Jesus.
Could I digress to make a comment that that is what makes glorious Christians? Is pressing toward the prize, running in the race, putting all of the strength of your life into that appeal and into that reaching out to receive it; this reward from Christ.
General Sherman said when he was at the front line, on the firing line directing his troops, he said he had great hope and assurance of certain victory. But he said when he was in the rear with the stragglers and the deserters, he said he fell into despair, and into gloom, and into fear, and unto doubt. When I read that, I thought the same thing about us. When we are pressing toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, we know we will win! There is a certain and assured victory; but when you are afar off, and you are back here somewhere, and you are way away from God somewhere, then you fall into gloom, and into doubt, and into defeat. Man, get in the race! Press toward the mark, and see if there is not that same assurance of ultimate and final victory given to you as was persuaded in the hearts of these early, sainted children of God.
All right preacher, what about these promises and what about these saints? Preacher, you say they have been dead for two thousand years, and the centuries have passed over their names. And what about those promises? And what about those saints? What about that?
Not only those saints that we are talking about here in the seven churches of Asia, but the sainted children of God who have been consigned to the tombs and the dust of the grave for all of these centuries, scattered over the face of this earth, the wasting ashes of all God’s fallen and sleeping children do lie today. And what about them and what about the promises for them? Ah, listen my brother! Listen. Listen. Are you listening? Listen to the saint, and to the apostle, and to the Son of God, and to the Book: death is an incident that is not worthy hardly to be mentioned. Christ passed through it and Christ has the key to it. And it is as nothing, it is not even to be mentioned anymore. Death is such an inconsequential, insignificant event in the eternal triumph of the child and of the saint of God, they hardly mention it, they hardly refer to it. It is nothing, it is a little hiatus for a moment, for a period of time that is so brief and so short compared to the eternity of God, you don’t even look at it. You hardly consider it. You hardly name it, you hardly mention it, you hardly refer to it; it is just nothing. And when Paul does discuss it, in the fourth Chapter of the I Thessalonian Letter, he says there is no advantage either way; whether you die or whether you remain unto the coming of the Lord, it just is the same. It is just as if one doesn’t have any advantage over the other:
For when the Lord should come from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. Those who sleep in Jesus, shall rise first,
– they will see Him first –
Then we who are alive and remain, shall be gathered with them to meet the Lord in the clouds of the air and so shall all of us be together with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
And there is no advantage either way. He says whether you fall asleep in Jesus or whether you are alive until He comes, it doesn’t matter.
One of the most astonishing things that I have found in Spurgeon; if any of you ever come to see me where my study is, I have a beautiful picture of Spurgeon to the right of the chair, on the wall there, where I study and where I prepare these sermons. He looks down on me as I study and prepare. Greatest preacher since the Book – greatest preacher since the Canon was closed in the Bible, that Baptist preacher of London, England – and I read him all the time and he blesses my soul; Spurgeon. To my amazement in reading Spurgeon, Spurgeon said, "If the Lord will give me a choice, I choose, I’d rather die. I’d rather go through the waters of the Jordan; I’d choose not to remain and to be here when the Lord comes again. I, I would choose to die. For," said Spurgeon in one place where he discussed it, "For I’d like to share that much of the life of my Savior; He died. He experienced the pains and agony of death, He tasted death forever, amen! And I’d like to share the experience of my Lord so that when I go on the other side, I’d know somewhat of the sufferings of my Savior. I had rather die," Spurgeon said. So many of us would say, "O Lord, to think that we might be alive and be remaining at the coming of our Lord from heaven!"
Oh, joy! Oh, delight! Should we go without dying,
No sickness, no dread, no sadness, no crying.
Caught up with the saints through the clouds into glory,
When Jesus receives "His own."
["Christ Returneth"; H. L. Turner, 1878]
But the Book says it makes no difference, it makes no difference. Death is for a moment, death is not to be sad; it is inconsequential in the life victorious, proceeding, marching of the children of God who reach out to the price of the high calling of the Lord in Christ Jesus. For death is no goal to a Christian. Death is no ultimate thing for a child of God. Our great comfort lies – look at the Book at that great passage – in Thessalonians, when he says, "whether we live or whether we die, we will all be caught up to meet the Lord." Or in that passage I had brother Melvin Carter lead you in just now:
Behold, I show you a mystery, a great mystery. We shall not all sleep
– We shall not all die, we shall not all fall amidst of the ground –
But we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.
For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51]
And it says here, "Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." [1 Thessalonians 4:18] Look at that! We are not comforted by the prospect that we will all be gathered into the grave in peace and sleep with our fathers in hallowed silence. That is not the comfort; the comfort is that we shall all be gathered together, whether dead or whether alive, to be with the Lord evermore world without end – that’s the comfort of the child of God!
Well, let me say just one other thing. I want to take the last one because it comes to my heart in this comfort of the child of the Lord and in a way that I never had thought of it before. To the church at Laodicea, the seventh one, the Lord said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with Me." [Revelation 3:20] Now, when I got to thinking about that comfort of the blessed Lord, the comfort – not that we are consigned to the dust of the ground and the grave – but our comfort is that whether we are asleep or whether we are alive or remain, we will all be gathered to be with the Lord. And then I found something, and I thought of something that had never come to my heart before and I have never seen it before. And I never heard anybody mention it, but it just came to my heart, every time I had read that passage, this last one – the promise to Laodicea, the seventh one, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" – I have always thought of that and heretofore had always spoken of that as though Christ were on the outside and He is trying to get in. Now, when I get to that passage, and preach on it, I am sure that is the way I will preach it. He is on the outside and He is trying to get in, and He knocks at the door; I would say that is doubtless the first and primary meaning of it. But I want to add a little facet to that that I never had thought of before, that came to my heart when I was preparing this sermon about the comfort of these blessed promises of Jesus.
Now, I want to speak for a minute about the comfort of Jesus being right there at the door. Isn’t that strange? Nobody that I know of ever thought of that because they always think of it like I have: on the outside, He is on the outside trying to get in and He is knocking, and knocking, and knocking. Well, let’s turn that thing around: just think how near he is. He is right there. He is right there where you are, there Jesus stands at the door. At the door, and it’s like this, it’s like this: a preacher. A preacher – God bless any true preacher – a preacher went to the far north woods to preach the gospel to the lumberjacks. And a big lumberjack up there was converted. The preacher fell ill and they took him to the hospital for the doctor to operate on him. And when they took the preacher in, for the doctor to operate on him, the big lumberjack said to him, "Preacher, we all love you and we want to help you. And preacher, I’ll be standing at the door. And if the doctors say they need a quart of blood, or a piece of bone, or a bit of skin, they can have it from me. Preacher, every drop of blood in my body and every bone in my body, I give for you. So don’t you be afraid, preacher. I’ll be standing at the door."
Now, I suppose the lumberjack said that before they had any of these things about types of blood, and bone, and all of that, but the spirit of his dedication is that thing that I’m talking about with Jesus, "I’ll be standing at the door, real close and nearby; and if you need a quart of blood…" And we need the blood, wash our sins away and, if you need a piece of bone, or a bit of skin, "this is My body which is given for you." There He stands ready to help, all we need in the hour of our supplication and importunity. Oh, it is a blessed thing! It is a precious thing; the promised rewards God hath given into the open hands of those who look up in faith to Jesus.
And that is our invitation to your heart this morning. Coming to the Lord and coming to us in this precious and beloved congregation. Somebody you, if you are in the balcony, there is a stairway at the back and at the front and on either side. The whole family of you, come. If you are on this lower floor, there is an aisle close to you on either side. Step into the aisle, down to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand; here, I give my heart to God." Come, make it now. Make it this morning. Make it in moment. On the first note of the first stanza, move toward God and come; and the Lord bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
REWARD OF THE FAITHFUL
of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia has seven parts
A citation of one of the divine attributes of the Speaker(Revelation 2:1)
assertion of His omniscience
A description of the state of each with praise and encouragement or admonition
reference to His promised coming again and the character it will assume with
reference to whom the letter is addressed
universal command to hear (Revelation 2:7)
special promise to the ultimate victor(Revelation
a. In the last four
letters, seven comes before six
II. The reward bestowed at His coming
reward is bestowed last of all(Revelation 22:12)
Why at the end, the consummation of the age?
The influence of a man is not finished until the end of the age
Friend from my Sunday school, attended Baylor with me, turned out to be an
infidel, atheist – Tom Payne’s Age of Reason
Young preacher reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary
III. The seven facets of our reward
of the Tree of Life(Revelation 2:7)
of life(Revelation 2:10)
manna, new names borne on the breast of the High Priest(Revelation 2:17)
one can take us out of God’s hand (John
10:27-29, Luke 12:32)
over nations(Revelation 2:26)
Clothed in white (Revelation 3:5)
Made a pillar (Revelation 3:12)
with Him in His throne(Revelation 3:21)
IV. The certainty of the reward
profound regard these believers have for the recompense of the reward(2 Corinthians 1:20)
Persuaded there is a paradise of God and set their affections upon it (Hebrews 11:10, 16, 24, 26, Philippians 3:13-14)
full life of the Christian
a. General Sherman on
being at the front lines
V. What has become of these promises? these
epistles take very little account of death(1
– had rather die than remain and be here when the Lord comes again
Poem, "Christ Returneth"
comfort is not that we will gathered into the grave in peace and sleep with our
fathers in hallowed silence, but that we shall be gathered together to be with
the Lord evermore(1 Corinthians 15:51, 1 Thessalonians
comfort He is so near, at the door (Revelation
Preacher and the lumberjack