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What Are "Rewards in Heaven" in the Bible?

What Are “Rewards in Heaven” in the Bible?

Experiencing Eternal Life Now

When humans choose to live in the way of Jesus, they experience “rewards” in Heaven. These rewards are different from physical wealth or material goods. And they aren’t theoretical ideas, like future gold in the skies or mansions in the clouds. Instead, they are real benefits experienced in real time, gifts like peacefulness, fearless love, deeper wisdom, and all kinds of healing.

The idea of rewards in Heaven is most commonly found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus says, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (NASB). But what is Jesus getting at?

Jesus’ exhortation to store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven is an invitation to taste, right now, what life will be like in the renewed world later on.

In every New Testament story about Jesus, we see him loving all people and living the way God originally designed human beings to live. He operates with justice, kindness, and honesty toward all. He gives generously, forgives all, and treats every human with compassion. Ultimately he’s showing us human life filled with Heaven’s reward—the way all people will eventually live when Heaven and Earth are one.

Therefore, each time we decide to be patient, loving, and generous with others, we also immediately begin receiving the secure, eternal life we see in Jesus. Real peace. Real, incorruptible rewards in Heaven that start right now and never end.

Rewards and treasures like that are worth stockpiling!

The Life Jesus Invites Us Into

Imagine an Olympian, standing on the highest podium to receive the coveted prize. The crowds roar! She bows to receive the heavy gold medal around her neck, and feelings of validation and honor flood her system as she remembers the countless hours of training that led to this point.

But is the gold medal the only reward? Or is the medal merely the culmination of an already rewarding journey?

Many have come to imagine the concept of “rewards in Heaven” as something like a gold medal. We sometimes adhere faithfully to strict, righteous-looking morality codes in order to gain better, more luxurious goods in Heaven after we die. In this perspective, we stay self-focused and usually assume that heavenly rewards are only for the future.

What if, instead, our focus was on a way of life as our reward, where we experience a taste of life in God’s heavenly realm here on Earth?

When we obey Jesus’ teachings to share our food with others who hunger, to help care for those who are sick or imprisoned, and to practice hospitality in our homes, we are living with an attitude of abundance and generosity. And we experience the kind of life that God first gave humanity in the garden of Eden.

Back in Genesis, when God creates the world, he plants a garden east of Eden with numerous, vibrant trees to provide food. At the center, he plants the tree of life and tells people to eat all they want from that tree. The symbol says that God’s own, incorruptible life is freely given. There’s no need to compete for resources because the garden blooms with enough for all to eat. There’s no need to fight for superiority because in the beginning, human life is safe, well-supplied, and filled with love for all.

The garden-style way of life in the beginning is essentially the Kingdom-style way of life that Jesus invites us into now. It’s the way all humanity will operate in the end.

God’s life is never-ending and imperishable. And it’s what the New Testament authors call “eternal life,” which is also the ultimate reward in Heaven. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In God’s realm, this eternal life is already happening, and Jesus taught us to pray, “Your [God’s] Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” God’s endgame is not to take us away from Earth, up into an ethereal sky paradise. He is bringing Heaven to Earth and resurrecting real human bodies. And he invites us to live like the reunion and resurrection have already happened.

The tree of life in Eden reminds us that God freely gives us imperishable life. In Christ, God himself shows us how to live it—promising that in his way, we experience goodness that never fades. That doesn’t mean we will be free from suffering yet (because Heaven and Earth aren’t completely united yet), but it does mean that every moment of life in Jesus’ way brings eternal benefit.

On one hand, we might pursue rewards by slaving away at work, earning big money, and gaining power, influence, or even gold-medal fame. But everything we gain outside of Jesus’ way is temporary. It fades away. “It is not a matter of if human treasures will eventually be lost somehow,” writes biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington, “but only a matter of when.” (1)

On the other hand, we might still be working, saving, or even earning gold medals while living with generous, pure-hearted love for others—pursuing rewards in Heaven. The gold and glory will still fade away, but all that we give and gain in Jesus’ way of life remains.

Work Hard, Play Hard?

The idea of working harder (no matter how much it hurts) to gain a bigger and better return on our investment is the foundation of our reward system. Work hard, play hard. Right?

Similarly, the idea of working harder to receive bigger benefits finds its way into our concept of rewards in Heaven. We may think that giving more to charity will secure a bigger mansion in Heaven. Or that praying longer or bolder will get us bigger rewards from God.

In a way, there’s truth to the notion that we will gain more divine reward by doing more good to others. “Let us never grow weary of doing good,” the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:9. But the goods that result are not like a heavenly Ferrari or a yacht. Instead, we gain rewards like mutual joy and gratitude when we share a meal or help a neighbor, or the security in God we feel when we walk alongside him (like we did in the first garden) by trusting and following his lead. By partnering with God to serve others, we still experience trial and suffering, but we also begin to taste life on Earth as it will be for human beings when Heaven and Earth are inseparably joined together.

Living in the way of Jesus will cost his followers opportunities to get ahead or to get more stuff. Yet when we leverage our opportunities and possessions for the good of others, we break free from attachment to things that are already fading away. The stuff weighs us down anyway. We want love and friendship and peace; without those, the stuff doesn’t matter anyway. Learning to appreciate the finer things—divine “things” like true compassion and generous forgiveness for loved ones and enemies alike—that’s learning to treasure heavenly rewards. And rather than being attached to something dying, we end up attached to the incorruptible and life-giving love of God.

The Way of Life That Lasts Forever

It’s good to celebrate the rewards that we may receive in our lifetimes—trophies, completed course certificates, and spotlights in a newsletter. It’s even better to remember that one day the trophies will tarnish. Certificates will find their way into storage bins and eventually turn to dust. The newsletter will celebrate someone else. These rewards are temporary, and that’s okay.

Jesus invites us to receive rewards in Heaven right now by partaking in God’s divine life and spreading this life (2) to those around us. He asks us to live as his co-rulers in the world today, as we will in the age to come.

Every act of love, generosity, and care has eternal impact and will be remembered forever because the way of Jesus has no end. When we live in this way, we receive and store up rewards in Heaven, taking part in God’s Kingdom and eternal, good life right now.

  1. Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 239.
  2. 2 Peter 1:4.
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