The concept of rewards or crowns for Christian service is associated and taken from the idea of the "bema seat" or reward seat which was used in the first century and probably what the Apostle Paul meant and that God directed him to say to be a reference to the original Olympic Games in Athens that the judge gave for all the participants and especially the winners in each of the events, games or contests. This is then applied to Christians for our running our race of our Christian lives faithfully to God with our time, talents, treasures, gifts of the Holy Spirit and opportunities. In the bema seat, judgment seat or reward seat of Christ concept and scriptures the salvation of the person is not in doubt but is already accomplished through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as that person's Lord and Saviour. It is upon the foundation of the already established relationship with Jesus Christ as the believer's Lord and Saviour that the believer or Christian can built faithful or God honouring Christian service for possible eternal rewards and crowns. It is worth noting, although I don't know how significant it is, that this August(2004) the modern Olympic Games take place in Athens, Greece the same location as the original Olympic Games that are also referred to by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament for the first time since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and only the second time since the original Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece almost 2000 years ago. These Olympic Games in August 2004 will also be the first ones in Athens, Greece since Israel became a nation in 1948 and within a generation of Israel becoming a nations within which the Lord Jesus Christ said all things must be fulfilled. Also perhaps it is more than coincidence that this year very unexpectedly at 100-1 odds before the tournament began the Greek soccer team won their first major tournament ever by winning the Eurocup 2004 soccer tournament in July 2004. They also seemed to beat a number of very good teams such as France and Portugal and had more than their share of so called "luck" although myself and other Bible believing Christians believe nothing in this world happens by pure chance but everything is caused or allowed by God. This Eurocup 2004 soccer tournament victory by the Greek team will add to the excitement or enthusiasm for Greece and the Greek people holding the world Olympic Games in August 2004 for the first time since Israel became a nation in 1948 and only the second time since the original Greek Olympics in the first century and earlier that is also mentioned in the New Testament.
In Revelation 4:1-2 there is an example for the Apostle John and a type or representation of the Church as a whole of being caught up or raptured to Heaven from Earth. This takes place just after the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 that represent the present Church Age and before the scene of the great crowd praising God and the Lamb(Jesus) in Heaven which represent the Church praising God and Jesus in Heaven after we have received any rewards or crowns for faithful Christian service. This is also before chapter 6 and following chapters that describe the Great Tribulation or 70th week of Daniel on Earth where God pours out His judgments on those left behind. In common with other New Testament passages about the rapture the sound of a trumpet is mentioned. This could mean that the rapture will occur on the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah some year although I can't say for sure.
It is worth noting that immediately after John gets to Heaven he is brought before God on His throne. This will probably also be the experience of all true Christians that form the Church right after the rapture. The seven lamps of fire before God's throne could represent the fact God is all-knowing and will examine all things even the secret things of our lives in deciding on possible rewards and crowns. The seven Spirits of God could mean the divine perfection(in the number 7) of the Holy Spirit and a reference to His addressing the Church through the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. It could also be an indication the Spirit of God will be brought up to Heaven with the Church that are true Christians indwelt of the Spirit of God at the rapture. This would be consistant with Him that withholdeth being taken out of the way before the revelation of the Antichrist on Earth at the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel or Great Tribulation. The examiniation of believer's Christian service could also be the meaning of the four beasts full of eyes.
The twenty four elders around God's throne could represent the twelve apostles probably the eleven and the apostle Paul and representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel with crowns on their heads that they could have received for faithful service to God and Jesus Christ(Messiah). The fact that the twenty four elders later in this scene cast their crowns at the feet of God or Jesus Christ indicates that all Christians who receive rewards or crowns will do so for the purpose of giving glory and honour to God and Jesus Christ although these crowns and rewards will also give us extra glory, authority and joy under God and Jesus but not in a way that will make us proud or self-centred. This is because the old nature with its pride and self-centredness will be completely removed and discarded at death or the rapture for all true Christians or other believers such as Old Testament saints.
The close connection in time and context of this picture of the judgment seat of Christ to the rapture is an indication, reminder and encouragement that the judgment of Christians for our Christian service will likely happen right after the rapture and that we should be striving to finish well our Christian service as we near the end of the Church Age and the beginning of the Great Tribulation on Earth. Although it looks like it will be before the rapture not after it, with everything else that is going on in the world, the event of the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece this August should be an additional reminder to Christians to strive to finish our Christian service in this age faithfully and wholeheartedly. I think it is also a reminder that we will likely be finished our Christian service on Earth soon with the rapture to Heaven of the Church.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee(you) things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit(symbolically meaning wind);and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine(sardius) stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying. Thou(you) art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:1-11
The first thing to note is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only adequate foundation for the Christian life and the life of Christian service in which we can earn rewards or crowns in addition to God's eternal life that is not earned but is a free gift. There are two types of works for possible rewards perishable and imperishable. The perishable are things like wood, hay and stubble that will be burned up or consumed by the fire of God's judgment or examination. These works are based on the old nature or the flesh and are for self-glory or are not dedicated to God in prayer or in waiting on Him or acting by faith. The other works for rewards are imperishable and will be purified or refined by the fire of God's judgment or examination. These are works of Christian service that are in living by faith in God, Jesus Christ and His Word - the Holy Bible. They are when we are living in the new nature by the leading or filling of the Holy Spirit and for God's glory and through prayer first or waiting on God for answers to prayer. These works will result in eternal rewards which includes the crowns for faithful Christian service mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. The perishable works based on self effort or self glory of the old nature will be burnt up but the person that suffers this loss that is a true Christian will not have the destiny of their soul in jeorpary as this is not a matter of works at all but by God's grace through the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins and His ressurrection from the dead to give us new life. Only true believers in God through Jesus Christ or born again Christians will be at this judgment. As in other scriptures such as that in Revelation 4, this judgment will take place immediately after the rapture or catching up to Heaven from Earth with our new bodies of all true Christians. The scripture reference for this passage is in 1 Corinthians 3 as follows:
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, because 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(has) built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
The apostle Paul starts this passage by stating that many run in a race but one receives the prize. While this is fully true in Olympic or other sports games, the idea for Christians or those who would become Christians from this passage is not that only one or a select few Christians can earn a reward or crown but that all Christians should live as if they are striving to come first in being faithful and available to God and Jesus Christ for Christian service. For all those who are truly wholeheartedly faithful in Christian service after we are saved there is then a reward or crown available from Jesus Christ who will be like the judge on the bema or reward seat of the original Olympic Games to give the rewards to winners of the sports events. The word temperate in verse 25 means self controlled for the long distance athlete or in this verse probably more for a wrestling match. This self control refers not just to his or her behaviour in the actual match or race but also in the preceding training for it as also in the modern Olympic Games that will be also in Athens Greece this year. The corruptible crown the Apostle Paul was talking about was a crown of laurel leaves or garlands of flowers both of which are biodegradable and quickly decay. This is in contrast to the incorruptible crowns the God offers through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ for faithful and wholehearted Christian service through one's life after we trust in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour and begin the Christian life. Things that could be included in the incorruptible crown could be additional glory, authority, priviledge, access to Jesus, wisdom or love, joy, peace or other fruit of the Holy Spirit. These would all be for eternity. In verse 26 the expression about not running uncertainly could mean in the sense of a marathon running hard but still doing do in a way that paces oneself and not get "burnt out" too early in the marathon but keeping some energy for later in the race. The expression not fighting as one that beats the air means someone that is concentrating and focused how he or she uses holds or manouevers to try to get the upper hand in wrestling their opponent and hopefully succeed in pinning them to the ground that they couldn't get up from. The statement I keep my body and bring it under subjection speaks in the analogy or the training the athlete, marathon runner, wrestler or other, must first do to get and keep in shape leading up to the Olympic or other competitive Games. For the Christian analogy this particularly means not allowing lusts or excesses like overeating, drunkenness, excessive sex outside marriage, illegal or unprescribed drug use, not enough or too much sleep or smoking to detract from our Christian testimony. In the last part of this passage Paul is saying he doesn't want to be guilty of any of these misuses of his body so he won't have to worry about missing winning the race or wrestling match of this Christian life and receiving rewards from the Lord Jesus Christ at the Judgment Seat of Christ right after the Rapture of Catching Up of true Christians in our spiritual, eternal, incorruptible or heavenly bodies after he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others (and encouraging them to start or progress in the Christian life race or match). Again the fact that the current Olympic Games are in Athens, Greece this year 2004 in August, the site of the original Olympic Games or the 1st century and the New Testament and earlier is a possible indication that the Rapture of the Church and immediately following Judgment Seat of Christ for possible rewards or crowns for believers' faithful Christian service should be an incentive for rededicated Christian service or decision for Christ of unsaved people to start in the race or match. The reference to becoming a castaway or rejected or disapproved doesn't mean losing one's salvation as some teach but losing possible crowns and rewards for faithful or wholehearted Christian service. This is also what fits the context or Christian service not salvation in this passage better. A good current example in the present Olympics that causes some to become castaways or disapproved is the use of illegal steroids or other banned substances by some athletes. This when found usually causes them to lose whatever prize (medal) they won and perhaps be barred from participating in future Olympics but doesn't end their life. The scripture passage about the analogies of marathon running and wrestling to the Christian life and the corresponding rewards for a winning (wholehearted) performance are in 1 Corinthians 9 as follows:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The apostle Paul in writing 2 Timothy which was the last book in the Bible he wrote just before his death portrays his own faithful and wholehearted Christian service as having finished his course (the marathon running race) or fought the good fight (the wrestling match) and won. He also relates these things as having kept the Christian faith. Paul is talking about keeping the Christian faith not just in trusting Jesus Christ for salvation but also afterwards been faithful or keeping the Christians faith in faithful Christian service. The apostle Paul makes it quite clear that it will be the Lord Jesus Christ who will be giving the rewards or crown for faithful or wholehearted Christian service at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This again will be right after the Rapture and will follow the analogy of the presiding judge of the Olympic sports athletes awarding the winners rewards or prizes. There are a number I think 5 specific type of rewards called crowns for faithful Christian service mentioned in the Bible (New Testament). I have already covered the incorruptible crown for wholehearted Christian service but this crown of life in 2 Timothy 4 is more for those who love (long for and work towards with the Great Commission and other ways trying to complete Jesus' mission for the Church and in some way hasten his coming in glory by trying to hasten his preceding Coming for the Church at the Rapture). The apostle Paul mentions that this crown is not just for himself but for every believer who loves or longs for and works towards the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again the Olympic Games this year 2004 are in Athens, Greece in August and although I can't say for sure but together with many other things happening in the world now, this may mean the Rapture is very near and the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers immediately following it. We should also then have even more incentive as Christians or people who might make a decision for Christ soon to love or look forward to Jesus' appearing at the end of the Great Tribulation and also his appearing just in the air for believers just before the Great Tribulation or 70th week of Daniel starts. The scripture passage in 2 Timothy 4 using the example of Paul's faithful Christian life as an athlete finishing the Olympic sports in a winning way is in 2 Timothy 4 as follows:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto them also that love his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8
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