Most people do not believe there will be degrees of rewards in the kingdom. But they should. There is clear teaching to that effect in both the OT and NT.
A much-overlooked treatment of accountability and rewards is found in 1-2 Kings.
The books of 1-2 Kings make it clear that God judges both whether our service is good or bad and also how good or how bad.
To simplify this blog, I’m focusing on the kings evaluated in 2 Kings.
First Kings ends by discussing the two-year reign of Ahaziah, son of King Ahab (1 Kings 22:51). Second Kings opens with the twelve-year reign of Jehoram, another son of King Ahab (2 Kings 3:1).i Ahaziah was given an unwaveringly bad report (1 Kings 22:52-53). Jehoram was given a bad report, but with a disclaimer.
The bad kings. The expression “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” occurs 18 times in 2 Kings, most often concerning the kings of the northern kingdom. In several cases the evil of a bad king was said to be less than that of other bad kings.
Concerning Jehoram, king of the northern kingdom who succeeded Ahaziah, we are told, “And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not like his father and mother; for he put away the sacred pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he persisted in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin; he did not depart from them” (2 Kings 3:2-3, emphasis added).
Concerning Hoshea, a later king of the northern kingdom, we read, “And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (2 Kings 17:2, emphasis added).
I am not suggesting that the other 13 kings were all equally bad. There are other indications in the text that some were worse than others. But when the introductory statement is found, there is no disclaimer given except in the cases of Hoshea and Jehoram.
The good kings. The expression, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” occurs six times in 2 Kings, all concerning kings who ruled from Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. In two of the cases the praise is undiluted. However, in three cases, the author makes it clear that the king was not as good as the other good kings. Concerning Amaziah we read, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like his father David; he did everything as his father Joash had done. However, the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places” (2 Kings 14:3-4, emphasis added).
Concerning Azariah, a king of the southern kingdom who succeeded Amaziah, we read, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done, except that the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places” (2 Kings 15:3-4, emphasis added).
The son of king Uzziah, Jotham, reigned sixteen years in the southern kingdom. His reign is evaluated in this way, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. However, the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places” (2 Kings 15:34-35, emphasis added).
King Hezekiah receives a totally positive report about his overall service, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses” (2 Kings 18:3-6, emphasis added).ii
The other good king to receive an A grade was king Josiah: “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, emphasis added).
What does this mean for us? It means that at the Bema we will not merely receive a passing or failing grade in terms of our stewardship (not our salvation, which was secure the moment we believed in Christ, John 6:35). Whether we are found to have been faithful or unfaithful servants, we will receive more than “he did right in the sight of the Lord” or “he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Our entire life of service, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10), will be considered.
When I was a kid, I really wanted my dad to be pleased with me. I tried hard to please him in sports, academics, and how I behaved. When I became a man, I still wanted Dad to say, “he did right in my sight.” But I not only wanted his good pleasure. I wanted to maximize his praise and approval.
At the Bema, we will all want maximum praise and approval by our Lord, Savior, and Judge (compare Luke 19:17 and Luke 19:19). His evaluation of our lives will mean everything to us. It won’t matter to us what our contemporaries thought about us. What will matter will be what the Lord Jesus Christ thinks about us.
In light of Rev 20:12, it seems likely that there is a book of deeds that will be consulted at the Bema. In any case, all our deeds will be considered.
Wouldn’t it be great if in the book of deeds, it was written concerning you, “he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that the faithful believers before him had done; he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded”?
The next time you read 1-2 Kings, make sure to highlight how each king was evaluated by the Lord. And remember, the Lord will evaluate your service for Him as well.
i Evidently, during one of those years Ahaziah was co-regent with his father.
ii King Hezekiah had been ill and was told by Isaiah that he was about to die (2 Kings 20:1). Unfortunately, he begged for 15 more years, and the Lord graciously gave him those years. During those 15 years, he had a son, Manasseh, who eventually became a very bad king; in addition, King Hezekiah wrongly showed all the treasures of Jerusalem to representatives from Babylon (2 Kings 20:12-20). So even this good king has some bad marks on his report card.