A Study of Matthew 19:17-20
What does God say about Rewards?
Well, God has said a great deal about rewards. There are more than 100 verses in the Bible containing the noun “reward”, or the verb “to reward”, and there are many more verses that speak about rewards without actually using the word “reward” in them. Just in the Old Testament alone there are 27 different words that have been translated by the noun “reward” or by the verb “to reward”.
So, will I be able to address all of these in this article?
I believe I will be able. Let us start off here in the Gospel According to Matthew 19:27-30,
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Peter brought up the subject of rewards to Jesus. Paraphrased Peter said to the Lord Jesus, Look, we have left our families and our houses and our jobs all behind and have followed you for the past three years. What shall be our reward?
What Shall We Have Therefore?
How did the Lord Jesus answer him?
He said, “Verily I say unto you”, which means, “Now listen carefully and mark My words; this will most certainly come to pass”. And then Jesus specified to whom He was talking, “ye which have followed me”, which means, “You the twelve Apostles shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. In other words, these twelve thrones are only for the twelve Apostles. The only problem with this interpretation is: There were actually not 12 Apostles but there were 13 Apostles. Judas Iscariot was disqualified, and Matthias filled his place. Then God chose the 13th Apostle: Saul of Tarsus became the 13th Apostle, called Paul. And actually there were not 12 tribes of Israel, but there were 13 tribes of Israel. Joseph, the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel received a double inheritance: Joseph became 2 tribes. His tribes were Ephraim and Manasseh. Each time that we find in the Bible a listing of the 12 tribes of Israel, one tribe has been left out. And so, since there were 13 Apostles and 13 tribes of Israel, we really cannot interpret verse 28 literally. All we can say is that the Lord Jesus Christ promised His Apostles a special place in the New Heaven & New Earth. But what that place is we do not know. Then in verse 29 the Lord Jesus addresses the matter of rewards. In verse 29 Jesus speaks of every one who has forsaken all that he has for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of the furtherance of the Kingdom of Christ. We must understand this verse with spiritual eyes.
Who are these who have forsaken all that they have?
These are the saints who have put Christ first in their lives, and who have placed all other things and other people who enter their lives in second priority to Christ. It does not mean that they must abandon any support for their families. This cannot be, since God says in 1st Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:8
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
God gave us spouses, because the Bible says that it was God who joined us together. God gave us children in loan, to raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Also, if Christ is first in our life we do not stop to take some food, because by eating we are lubricating the machinery in service to Christ. If Christ is first in our life we do not quit our secular jobs at the office, or in school, or in other workplaces, because by working our secular jobs we obtain money to buy food, and clothing, and housing, and other things necessary to lubricate the machinery. We do not abandon our family physically, since God has put in our custody the support and upbringing of our family members in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But our work for Christ must have first priority, because our love for Christ must be greater than the love for our family. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10:
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Therefore it is absolutely necessary to love Christ more, and love the work for Christ’s Kingdom more, than to love those who are so near and dear to us. Thus the forsaking of all that we have must be understood spiritually, in agreement with the rest of the Bible to make us understand what Christ actually said.
Who then are all these who have forsaken all that they have?
Are these only the pastors and missionaries who have dedicated their life to the Lord?
NO! These are all the saints. In this verse the Lord Jesus described the normal lifestyle of anyone who has been saved, who has been transformed from a sinner to a saint. Only God can do this. That is why Jesus said in verse 26, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. Only God can transform a sinful creature into a person who loves God, whom he has not seen, more than his own family, or loved ones, whom he has seen. And then the Lord Jesus continued in Matthew 19:29 with these words…
Shall Receive an Hundredfold
“And shall inherit everlasting life”.
We have already answered the question “Who”?
The answer is, “All the saints”.
The next questions are, “What”, “When” and “Where”?
To answer these questions we have to turn to the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark for additional information.
What shall we receive an hundredfold?
When shall we receive it?
Shall we receive an hundredfold in this lifetime, or in the time after we have died?
Where shall we receive it?
Shall we receive it on this earth, or in Heaven, or in the New Heaven & New Earth?
Please notice that this passage about rewards follows Jesus’ saying, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible”. Both in Matthew and in Mark we see the same sequence.
What does or did God do that is so impossible in the sight of men?
God is transforming sinners into saints.
We read in Mark chapter 10:
Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,
But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
Now, verse 30 makes it a lot clearer.
When and Where shall we receive it?
Jesus said, “Now in this time”. In other words, the rewards of our work for the Lord we will receive in this time, while we live on this earth. And in the world to come we receive eternal life with Christ in God, not as a reward for our work done here on earth, but as a Free Gift given to all those whom God saves, whether they have worked long or whether they have worked a short time for the Lord. That is why in the Gospel of Matthew the Lord Jesus followed up this saying with the “Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard”, where some have worked long and others have worked short, but all receive the same wage: One Denarius.
And What shall we receive an hundredfold now in this time?
The things we have left for the sake of Christ, these are the things we shall receive an hundredfold. Jesus mentioned, “brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children”. There are many practical applications contained here in Mark 10:30.
Did you notice “mothers” plural?
How can we have more than one mother?
The answer is, when we become a member our new church-family, we have in fact received many more family members that we had before we became saved.
I did not say so; Jesus said it.
Do we believe this?
Have we really accepted that the other members of our church are as dear to us as family members?
Can we truly make these words of Jesus practical in our life?
Well, it all depends whether we have received the faith that comes from God, or whether we have been fooling ourselves.
Is there a love we have for our fellow members of Christ’s church?
The Lord Jesus said that this love for one another must be present.
Is there also a love we have for other believers worldwide, who also believe as we do?
They too are a part of our church family.
The Lord Jesus said that this love for one another must be present.
In Mark 10:30 the Lord Jesus also mentioned “houses”.
What does this mean?
This certainly includes the houses where our family members live in. This means that we must be hospitable to other believers, and that we welcome them to visit, and to share our meals with them, and so on. Many mothers would be delighted to cook some extra for these guests, and to serve them, and smother them with motherly love. In Mark 10:30 the Lord Jesus also mentioned “lands”.
What are lands for?
Not many of us today are landowners, because we live in an industrialized society. But throughout most of the past centuries the majority of people owned lands to grow their crops on, because most of them were either farmers, or they raised cattle. And so, these lands were a means of income. It means that we must take care of our church family members, so that whoever is in financial need must receive support from the rest of us, so that they do not go hungry, or are cold, or are not clothed well.
But there is more. In Mark 10:30 the Lord Jesus also mentioned “with persecutions”. In other words, our rewards for bringing the true Gospel is to receive in this present time religious persecutions. This is as certain as the reward of receiving a new church family. Every saint should expect persecutions. The Lord Jesus said in John 15:
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
Can we thank the Lord for these persecutions?
We must certainly thank Him for all these things, both good and bad, because we know that “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
God knows what is good for us, and so we must thank Him for everything He sends our way. All these things are our rewards for following Jesus. One principle we have learned from Mark 10:30 is that there are:
Rewards for All Kinds of Works
The Bible speaks everywhere of rewards, and, in the minds of some, it gives the impression that God will give special rewards for good works done by His saints.
We have seen from Matthew 19:27-30 and Mark 10:28-31 that this is not so.
God gives spiritual rewards for works done for Him, and those spiritual rewards are given in this life. But all those good works are not worthy to stand in the shadow of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Therefore in the life hereafter we all receive the same inheritance, which is life everlasting in the presence of God and of the Lamb.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
For there is no respect of persons with God.
But we know that “we all are by nature the children of wrath”, and we all have been “conceived in sin” and we all are “called transgressors from the womb”. We all were by nature enemies of God. It is only by the grace of God that God turned some of us around and made us love Him, and seek for Him, and seek to be saved from our sins. Therefore those “who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life”, are those whom Christ has saved by grace from their slippery slide into Hell. But those whom Christ passed by and are left in their sins are those who “are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath”. Then in verse 11 God says that He will pass judgment both on Jews and Gentiles, for God is not a respecter of persons. God will reward evil works and God will reward good works.
And so, we see that God rewards the saved with eternal life, because the Lord Jesus Christ has removed all our sins during His atonement, and God rewards the unsaved with condemnation in Hell, because they have sinned voluntarily. God uses this same language throughout the Bible. Yes, the penalties for evil works are also called rewards. God says there are:
Rewards for Evil Works?
We see this most clearly in the case of Judas Iscariot. Judas was appointed to the circle of 12 apostles surrounding the Lord Jesus day and night for 3½ years. But Judas remained unsaved. But then Judas offered to the scribes and Pharisees to take them to Jesus by night so that they might overtake Him. Judas did that voluntarily because Judas coveted the ransom money for the betrayal.
Did Judas expect that Jesus would save Himself miraculously out of the hands of the scribes and Pharisees?
That is possible. The Bible does not disclose that. But when Jesus let Himself be bound, and when Jesus was condemned to die, Judas felt remorse for his evil work and Judas hanged himself in the field that was a potter’s field. Now we read in Acts chapter 1,
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
Here “the reward of iniquity” was the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received from the scribes and Pharisees. They purchased that Potter’s field in the name of Judas Iscariot. The money that Judas coveted bought him the cursed field where he died. That was an overt display of God’s wrath on Judas Iscariot. But the much greater reward for Judas will be to be cast into Hell on the Last Day. God has sprinkled throughout the Bible many verses that indicate rewards for evil works. God says in 2 Timothy 4:14,
2 Timothy 4:14
Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
God shall reward Alexander the coppersmith, but the reward will most likely be given in the life hereafter. God speaks of false teachers in 2 Peter 2.
2 Peter 2:13
And (they) shall receive the reward of unrighteousness,
What is their reward of unrighteousness?
They will receive a hotter place in Hell.
We find that in:
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
Let there not be many masters, referring to teachers of the Word of God. Let there not be many teachers, because those whose teachings are leading people to Hell shall receive the greater condemnation. When God promises rewards for evil works, God promises greater condemnation in Hell.
But when God promises rewards for good works done, these good works have been made possible only by the grace of God. And thus our good works are not rewarded in the life hereafter, but in this life.
When God in the Bible writes of a truly good work, the only work that qualifies to be good is a work that is not tainted by sin.
The Only Merited Reward
The only good work is the work done by the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ was the only one who was as righteous as God Himself, because He was God. He should be the only one who really deserved His reward, because all His works were righteous. His was the only merited reward.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ was our example. Therefore let His mind of humility be our example in our daily life. He was in Heaven in the form of God, and He was God. Our God is a triune God, which means there are three Persons but only one God. Each person of the triune God is fully God Himself. Therefore, when the Second Person of the triune God assumed in His incarnation the entire human nature of a man, except for sin, this man, the carpenter of Nazareth, was actually God who came in the flesh. He laid down the glory that He had in Heaven and took upon Him the form of a Servant. He was the suffering Servant of Jehovah, as we can read about Him in Isaiah 53.
And being found in fashion as a man he humbled himself and became obedient unto death even the death of the cross.
His suffering was equivalent to the wrath of God on all the sins of all the elect whom God chose to save. His suffering and death on the cross was a righteous work that merited a reward.
What was His reward?
His reward was that God has highly exalted Him and has made Him King of kings and Lord of lords both in heaven and on earth. God gave Him all the elect to be the Bride of Christ. God gave Him the whole world, and this universe as well, to cleanse it from all sin and to dispose whatever has been defiled by sin. God gave Him the keys of death and Hell. And God also made Him the Judge over all creation, so that on the Last Day, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. (Philippians 2:10-11)
I could make this list much longer, but from this you understand that Christ’s work was rewarded greatly, since His was the only merited reward. Unsaved man simply cannot do anything good. Any saint can only do works that are tainted with sin, even their best works. Therefore all other rewards for good behavior are actually:
Rewards of Grace
Normally the saints associate rewards with good works. Perhaps you remember that in the first 10 verses of Ephesians 2 God summarized the Gospel in a nutshell. The first three verses deal with our depravity before our salvation. Then beginning in verse 4 God indicates Why and How He saved His elect, and that God saved us entirely by His grace, not for any work that we have done, or that we are going to do. Then in verse 10 God has something to say about our good works.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained (prepared) that we should walk in them.
We are Christ’s workmanship. God created us body and soul, represented in Christ Jesus from before the foundations of the world, and created unto good works. Here is where the good works come in. God did not save us because of the good works we were going to do, like the good work of accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. No! God created us unto good works, which means that God has prepared these works long before we would come into existence. Therefore God prepared the good works ahead of time, so that we would walk in them automatically.
Do we get credit for doing those good works?
Absolutely not! God prepared those good works. We just stepped in the place and situation that God has made. Those good works were a gift of God’s grace. We did not perform those good works perfectly. They were still tainted by sin. But the Lord Jesus Christ took the sin away so that those works became pleasing to God.
Will God reward such works?
Yes He does. That is how much God loves us. Our eternal life in the life hereafter is also spoken of as our inheritance. We are coheirs with Christ of the inheritance in the New Heaven & New Earth. Even though this is all a gift of God’s grace, God also calls this our reward.
Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
Since we have been saved by grace, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ. And since we are serving Him our future inheritance is called our reward. But it really is a reward that is given by grace. It cannot be a reward for good works, for all our good works were prepared before by God.
2 John 8
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought (worked out), but that we receive a full reward.
Again, those things which we have worked out were given to us on a silver platter. God prepared those works before, and made us walk in them. And so, the reward that we receive is a reward entirely of grace. Let us read how great this reward really is.
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
God Himself is our reward. Therefore, if we receive God Himself,
What More Do We Want?
In this beautiful passage of Romans chapter 8 God assures us that once we have been saved there is absolutely nothing that can cause us to lose our salvation. Knowing then from Genesis 15:1 that God Himself is our exceeding great reward, and knowing that God Himself performed the great miracle of changing our wicked heart into hearts that desire to serve God, we can be assured of God’s continuing providence.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
“If God be for us, who can be against us”?
In verse 31 God assures us that nobody can be against us. God will turn all enemies away from us. They cannot harm us unless God permits them to do so, and then only because it is for our own good that God allows our enemies to do us harm. We grow through trials and tribulations. And through those trials God watches over us that we will not be stretched to the breaking point. In verse 32 God reminds us that He gave us His only begotten Son. He did not spare His own Son, but He delivered up the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and die for us on the cross.
If God gave up His Son for us, and Christ gave all that He had, how can anyone think that God shall hold anything back?
Shall He not give us with Christ also freely all things?
Does this mean “All Things”?
It really means “All Things”, because all other things combined are of lesser value than Christ. And so, if God shall give us all things, there is not anything left to give.
What more do we want?
There is nothing more!
Besides, someone who claims that he deserves something extra, over on top of what everyone else receives, is insulting the generosity of God. Even if the most noble Christian in the world, who spent his whole life working for the Lord Jesus Christ, would have suffered on a cruel cross, and after the crucifixion, before his death, would have been burnt alive at the stake, then his inheritance in the New Heaven & New Earth would be a million trillion times greater than he deserved for all his good works. There is just no comparison.
Besides, someone who claims that he deserves something extra in the life hereafter actually believes in a gospel of selfishness.
To strive very hard doing good works on this sin cursed earth for the purpose of attaining an extra jewel in his crown in heaven is nothing but selfishness.
Our state of bliss in heaven, or in the NH&NE, is totally a gift of grace and cannot be mixed with any work done on this earth. Such a person is probably not saved.
It Is All of Grace, Not of Works
From all that we have seen so far it is clear that all our good works are fruits, which Christ bears in us and through us. Without Him we are nothing and can do nothing. In John 15 the Lord Jesus Christ told 11 of His disciples the Parable of the Vine and the Branches.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Without Him we are nothing and can do nothing. Our good works are gifts from God to us, which in the deepest sense flow from God’s eternal predestination and good pleasure. Therefore, our reward is all of grace, from beginning to end. It is of grace that Christ died for us and purchased eternal righteousness for us. By His death He also merited for us the privilege of performing good works. It is of grace that we are ingrafted into Him by a true faith, and that we are sanctified unto good works. Good works, therefore, are the fruits of Christ dwelling in us, fruits which God ordained for us before the foundation of the world, and in which we are privileged to walk. And as we are in the way of good works so we enter into glory. But it is all through grace, and never of works.
The Bible is very firm on the distinction between grace and works. For example, God says in Romans chapter 4:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Our faith, if it is genuine faith, is a gift from God.
How do we know if God has given our faith, or if it has come out of our own mind?
Do you believe the whole Bible, from cover to cover?
That is the faith that is a gift from God. Anyone who does not believe the whole Bible but picks and chooses what he wants to believe does not have faith, because he declares God a liar in those places that he does not believe. But genuine faith is a gift of God’s grace.
God tells us in Romans 11:6 to make sure that we have a clear understanding of grace and works.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Praise God that our rewards are all by grace and not partly by our works, because we would never make it on our own, not even part of the way. Therefore, “let
him that glorieth, glory in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17)
By Alfred J. Chompff