Everything Jesus talked about either focused on salvation or reward. For example, Matthew 18 begins this way:
In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the midst of them, and said,
"Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
The first part of Jesus' response concerns salvation (enter into the Kingdom of Heaven). The second part deals with reward (greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven).
Some people want to believe we will all have the same amount of reward when we get to Heaven. Their reason? If we have different amounts there will be envy and strife…and we know there is no envy and strife in Heaven. This is a real good example of comparative thinking!
The Bible clearly states there will be greater and lesser in Heaven. Jesus is obviously the greatest. The disciples will sit on thrones. Rather than start there and look contrastively, it is easier to apply our current comfortable state (on earth) and project it forward.
Justice says some deserve more than others. Why wouldn’t we get to Heaven and realize justice is going to require that some have more than others? Is anyone really going to envy and have strife over justice being upheld?
A good place to contrast salvation and reward is with the parables. The following parables are examples of salvation parables: Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46), and Laborers in Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
Salvation parables result in a group of people all getting the same value. Whether it is a group of people all going to Heaven or a group of people all being tortured. This also applies to all the parables where Jesus talked about something being “lost” and “dead” (hell) or “found” and “alive” (Heaven).
Salvation parables also focus on getting ONE value. Whether it is the one coin in the Vineyard parable or the one Pearl, the value is one of something. Let’s look briefly at the three parables.
The Sheep and Goats parable talks about the “righteous”. Again, salvation is based on righteousness…the righteousness we get through God (grace). All of one group inherits the kingdom and receives eternal life. Notice, inherit implies a gift. All of the people in the other group received eternal fire.
The Pearl of Great Price parable shows how a person gave everything he had to obtain one great value. Notice, there isn’t a set number it took to buy the Pearl. The parable doesn’t depend on us achieving great reward in order to be able to afford the Pearl. It takes EVERYTHING and therefore the parable can apply to EVERYONE EQUALLY.
The laborers in the vineyard received the same value regardless of how long they worked. It doesn’t matter how long you have been operating in grace. In the end, we all receive the same value when it comes to salvation…eternal life. Notice also, the master says he will pay whatever is “right”. Again, we have a reference to righteous.
The following parables are examples of reward parables: Sower (Matthew 13:3-23), Humbled Guest (Luke 14:7-11), and Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Reward parables result in people getting different value. The Sower parable mentions 30, 60, and 100 fold returns. Notice, the result is NOT a gift. It is a reward. It is in response to something that was done AND how well it was done.
The reward parables also are concerned with equaling out justice. The Humbled Guest parable says it will all be equaled out. Whoever exalts will be humbled and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.
The Good Samaritan parable actually comes out of a discussion about Jesus two messages. Loving God and loving your neighbor are mentioned. Then Jesus is asked who our neighbor is? THAT is a reward question.
The point of the reward parables seems to contradict the salvation parables…and that’s when the confusion starts. If people think Jesus had ONE message, they try to make these parables say the same thing…but they clearly don’t.
The Vineyard parable says everyone gets the same value and this upsets some people. In fact, it is the point of the parable. The Sower parable clearly says people will get different rewards.
Jesus must have had two messages.