Final Rewards-In Hell or Heaven
November 21st, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
FINAL REWARDS IN HELL OR IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-21-76 7:30 p.m.
In your Bible, turn to the Book of Matthew chapter 16, Matthew chapter 16. And we are going to read, beginning at verse 24 to the end of the chapter, and the text is verse 27. The title of the message is Final Rewards in Hell or in Heaven. Matthew chapter 16, beginning at verse 24; now, out loud and with you on the radio, out loud, wherever we are, let us read it out loud together. Beginning at verse 24 to the end of the chapter, together:
Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works.
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
And the text, "For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works" [Matthew 16:27]: Final Rewards in Hell or in Heaven.
There was a man standing before a judge. He had escaped the punishment for his crime because of some insignificant, inconsequential technicality in the law, and the judge had to let him go free. But as the man stood before the judge, the judge said this to him: "I know that you are guilty. You know that you are guilty. And everyone in this court knows that you are guilty. There is no other choice but that you go free. But I want to say something to you, and you remember it: someday you shall stand before the great Judge of all the earth, and He will administer the infallible, eternal law of God. And you will be judged not according to man’s law, but according to God’s law; and you will not escape."
There could not have been anything truer that the judge on the bench said to that man that day. All through the Word of God there is that resounding overtone heard again and again and again, "We shall stand before the Judge of all the earth." In Proverbs 29:26, "Every man’s judgment cometh from the Lord." The concluding verses of Ecclesiastes, the word of Solomon, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, keep His commandments: this is the whole duty of man; because God shall bring every work into judgment, whether it be good or bad, and every secret thing" [Ecclesiastes 12:13-14]. I turn the page again to the Gospel of Matthew: "I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" [Matthew 12:36-37]. I read from the Book of Romans: "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" [Romans 2:16]. I read from the Book of Hebrews: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment" [Hebrews 9:27]. I read from the Book of Simon Peter: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of trial; but He knows also how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" [2 Peter 2:9].
What kind of a judgment is that? There is no such thing as a judgment to come regarding whether a man shall spend eternity in hell or in heaven; for that judgment is here. We stand before the great Arbiter of all human life. This minute He looks upon us, He judges us now as to whether we are destined for hell or for heaven. As John 3:18 avows, "He that believeth on Him is not condemned, krinō, judged: but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." The judgment as to whether when I die I spend my eternity in damnation or in heavenly bliss, that judgment is here. What is the purpose then, when over and over again God says each one of us shall stand in His presence to be judged? That judgment, the only judgment beyond death, is the judgment regarding our works [Matthew 25:31-46]. Whether a man is in hell, in deepest damnation, or whether a man is in heaven, in infinite and ecstatic bliss, is according to the judgment when we stand in the presence of God beyond this life [Revelation 20:12].
Now, that means, according to the Word of God, that there are degrees of punishment in hell, and there are degrees of bliss in heaven. Not everyone who goes to hell suffers alike; and not everyone who enters heaven is blessed alike. There are infinite degrees in hell and in heaven. For example, the Lord said, in Luke chapter 12, "That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, will be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes" [Luke 12:47-48]. There are degrees of punishment in hell. There are those who suffer beyond what mind could imagine, and forever, and there are those who are in hell who are beaten with few stripes [Mark 9:42-44].
Now, that same degree of bliss is also in heaven. For example, when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus asking that one sit on His right hand and the other on His left hand, the Lord said, "I cannot give that to you. To sit on My right hand, and on My left hand, is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared" [Mark 10:35-40]. There are some great servants of God, saints of the Lord, who shall be next to the King in His glory; one on His right hand and one on His left hand. And there are others who are afar off and afar off. There are degrees of punishment in hell; there are degrees of bliss in heaven. And one of the most amazing things that the Bible reveals, you’ll find in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew: those that are in hell are surprised at the depths and the blackness of their iniquity and their rewards; and no less so, those that are in heaven are no less surprised at the ecstasy of their bliss and the marvelous munificence and magnificence of their reward [Matthew 25:14-30]. It is an astonishing thing, how people are surprised when they stand at the great judgment day before God. And they are overwhelmed. One, by the awesomeness of their damnation; and the other by the beauty, and sanctity, and holiness, and glory of their reward.
Now, the Bible teaches, most plainly, that there are two great judgment days in the presence of God Almighty. One, and the first, is a judgment of the Christians, these who are saved. And that judgment is before the bema of the Lord. Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all appear before the bema, translated here, "the judgment seat of Christ"; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
If you are saved, if you are a Christian, and when you die you go into that other world, you will stand before the bema of Christ; the great judgment of the Lord. Not to determine whether you are saved or lost, for that judgment is here, it is now, it is this moment; you’re either saved or you’re lost right now [John 3:18]. But that judgment, when we stand before the bema of our Lord, is to give us the rewards of what we have done in the days of our flesh [2 Corinthians 5:10]. And of that reward there are many, many degrees. There are some who shall have an abounding remembrance in heaven, stars in their crowns, glory in their lives, heavenly remembrances. There are some who are right next to the right hand of Jesus Himself, and there are some who are in heaven as though they were naked, without anything at all. Now you listen to this Word of the Lord: this is in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, beginning at verse 11:
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
But if any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: though he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
[1 Corinthians 3:11-15]
What does that mean? "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire." You would say, "He shall be saved by the skin of his teeth." The expression here, "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire" [1 Corinthians 3:15], the picture and the imagery is of a man whose house has burned down, he built out of wood, hay, and stubble [1 Corinthians 3:12], and the lightning hit it, and the flames burned it; and the man escaped without anything, naked. He escaped with his life, and that was all. And there are people like that in heaven. They are going to be there as though they were naked; they have nothing in the world. They have no reward, they have no house of a mansion, they have nothing. They spend an eternity having received nothing from the hands of our Lord. They’re just saved, and that’s all. Then there are those, the apostle says, who build upon the foundation of their faith in Christ a structure of gold, and silver, and precious stones [1 Corinthians 3:12]. They have a rich and a wonderful reward in heaven. Gold, silver, precious stones, they have sent it to that glory city. And out of the works that they did, God builds for them a beautiful and a spacious and a glorious mansion. And they live in the presence of the Lord, in the richness of that beautiful and wonderful life.
I wish I had hours to talk about that in ways that could be made more meaningful to you. There are some people that are going to be in heaven that I think, and they give me the impression to think it, that it will mean practically nothing for them to be with Jesus. They don’t show any particular love for Him, they show no open heartedness toward Him, they evidence, they evince no love and devotion to Him; and when they get to heaven, their hearts are sterile and their souls are empty.
Could I say it like this? Suppose Einstein were still alive, and I had the opportunity to visit with him at the university in Princeton, but I don’t know anything about the science? I know nothing about the language, nomenclature, and here I am in the presence of the greatest scientist who ever lived, who ushered in this marvelous age of the atom and the space, and all of the other things that came with the marvelous discovery of that scientist regarding the nature of matter and the universe. But I’m stupid, I’m dull, I’m unlearned, I’m untaught, I’m ignorant; and I stand in the presence of that great man. I can’t even talk to him, I don’t know anything to ask him; and when he talks to me, I don’t know what he’s talking about. He lives in another world from me.
I’m trying to illustrate how it is that a man can be in the presence of our Lord, if he doesn’t love Him, if his heart doesn’t overflow with devotion to Him, what does it matter particularly to him whether he sees Him or not? Maybe just a matter of curiosity or passing fancy; but, oh! Think of what it means to some saint who has loved Jesus with an enduring love, maybe laid his life down for Him, died for Him. Think what it means to that man to look upon the face of the Son of God, "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me" [Galatians 2:20]. I’m trying to illustrate in a stammering way, there are degrees of bliss in heaven.
There are degrees of damnation in hell. All of the children of God shall stand before the bema of Christ, there to receive our rewards [2 Corinthians 5:10]. At another time, and at a later date, appointed by God, all of the lost shall stand before the great white throne [Revelation 20:11]:
I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat upon it, from whose face the very earth and heaven fled away. . .I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which was the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books – plural – according to their works – plural –
The sea gave up the dead in it; and Death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
A man doesn’t just go to hell; but a man shall be judged, a lost man shall be judged at the great white throne judgment, and he shall have a reward in damnation, according to his works [Revelation 20:11, 13]. There’s a hand that writes up there in God’s sky, and everything we do is written down in that book. It’s written down in the Book of Life if we’re saved; it’s written down in the book of damnation if we’re lost. And that becomes our reward, at the great judgment: the Christian at the bema [2 Corinthians 5:10] and the lost man at the white throne [Revelation 20:11].
Oh! What a weeping and wailing, when the lost were told of their fate, "Now what do you mean when you say there are degrees of damnation in hell?" I see it all in my life. Look: when I was a kid, I mean a little fellow, I myself was not more than five, or six, or seven years of age, I remember going to a house in the little town in which I was fetched up. There was, in that house, a man who had a little nephew; and the nephew was a little boy who was younger than I. That little fellow was not more than maybe four or five years of age. In that house, I saw that man take his little nephew and sat him on a table. And he asked the little boy to start, and he had taught that little fellow to curse in the vilest language that I had ever heard. That little boy didn’t even know the meaning of the words, it seemed to me – he was so young – but he stood there on the table in the living room, and that uncle just laughed. And all of those fellows that were in the house that day just laughed and laughed as that little boy, in his childish speech, cursed with words unspeakable. God wrote it down in the book. And the influence on the life of that little boy, God only knows; and it’ll be charged to that filthy, and dirty, and unspeakable man. And that is a slight illustration of what I could use, and I don’t dare in public, of what men and women do sometimes with children.
Last week, there was brought before the courts here in Dallas an unspeakable couple, who had led a little girl to commit sodomy as they took pictures of the child. God wrote it down: think of the hurt of that child, forever and forever! Why, I remember looking – I was standing right there – and I watched the mother use her daughter to make money as the child gave herself for prostitution. Unthinkable to me! But what is most sorrowful is, think of the hurt in that girl’s life; as long as she lives, the scars. Whatever happens to her in the future, of that unspeakable prostitution as a teenage girl in order for money, God writes it in His book. And it is forever and forever, a reward in damnation; there are degrees in hell and there are degrees in heaven.
My time is gone; I must close. I can’t choose the date of my appearing in court. My trial is set, and when the time comes I shall stand before Almighty God. "It is appointed unto men once to die; and after that the judgment" [Hebrews 9:27]. The date is set. I cannot choose that date; I shall just be there when my summons comes. But I can choose which judgment I will appear before; whether it is the bema of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:10], or whether it is the great white throne of damnation [Revelation 20:11-15]. I have that choice; I can choose one or the other.
O Lord! Make it the bema for me. Make it Jesus for me, make it heaven for me, make it glory for me. Lord, may the blood cover my sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; may the nakedness of my soul be atoned for in the blood of the Lamb [Romans 5:11]. Lord, remove my sins as far as the east is from the west [Psalm 103:12]. O God! Save my soul. Then Master, if God can see fit to bless me, grant me some reward that I may have in heaven.
In the seminary that I attended, a great school founded by one of the greatest Baptist scholars in the world, Dr. John A. Broadus. In the days of his youth, in a revival meeting, everyone was invited to win somebody to Jesus. In the town was what they used to call a "halfwit," an idiot kind of a boy, a retarded child. And John A. Broadus, as a boy, won that little halfwit to the Lord; and they came down the aisle together. In the years that followed after, John A. Broadus, in his generation, was looked upon as one of the great scholars of the world; head of our seminary, our mother seminary, and a man who was literally adored by the saints in our Baptist communion, John A. Broadus. And in his age, and in his age, he said:
Many times through the years have I gone back home. And every time that I have gone back home, I would always be met by that halfwit. And he always said the same thing to me, "Hello, John. Thank you, John." And that was all.
And the great scholar said,
You know what I think? When I enter the gates of heaven, I’ll be met by that halfwit. And I listen for his word to me, "Hello, John. Thank you, John."
These things are precious in the sight of God. They are dear to the Father in heaven. And it’s our reward forever, having a part in the work of Jesus, speaking a good word for our Savior; and God writes it down, and it’s ours forever in the world that is yet to come.
We sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, if the Spirit of God has touched your heart, if the Holy Spirit of Jesus speaks to your soul, would you answer with your life tonight? Maybe a family you, to bring all of the family into the communion and circumference and fellowship of this precious church, come. A couple you or one somebody you; maybe giving your heart to Jesus for the first time, maybe coming to be baptized into the fellowship of the Lord’s church, maybe answering a call from the Lord’s own Spirit, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing our song, down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I decide for God tonight. I’m on the way," come now. Make it now. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
FINAL REWARDS IN HELL OR IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. We all will stand trial
A. Man before the judge escaped punishment because of technicality
1. He cannot escape judgment of God(Proverbs 29:26, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Matthew 12:36-37, Romans 2:16, Hebrews 9:27, 2 Peter 2:9)
B. Purpose of this judgment(John 3:18)
II. Differences in rewards – degrees of punishment, degrees of blessedness
A. Evil(Luke 12:47-48)
B. Good(Mark 10:35-40)
C. Both surprised(Matthew 25:37, 44)
III. The Christian before the bema(2 Corinthians 5:1-0)
A. All written down(1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
B. Blessedness of the reward
IV. Lost before the Great White Throne(Revelation 20:11-13)
A. Reward in damnation according to his works
2. Couple using child for pornography, prostitution
B. Believers covered by the blood, our sins buried(Psalm 103)
C. Date is set for our trial(Hebrews 9:27)
1. Cannot choose date, but can choose where
2. John A. Broadus and the "halfwit"