Good morning. My name is John. I’m here to tell you my story, a story that really isn’t remarkable at all. In fact, if you had known me during my life you would probably say I was just an ‘average Joe,’ nothing special, certainly not a model Christian. Maybe that’s why I’m here. Everywhere I go I meet people who say they feel like a failure, like their lives have no real purpose for God, whatever that purpose may be. I’m here to tell you today that your life, right now, today, has purpose for God, and how you live today will make a difference in eternity.
Back from the Future
If you’re confused, let me explain. I’ve returned from the future to tell you my story, about what happened to me in what you call heaven, after I left this life in the rapture.
Please, don’t ask me when the rapture happens. Something about passing from time into timelessness—I don’t remember things in a continuum any more. Don’t get me wrong: I remember events from my life on earth, but not dates and historical context. It’s almost as though the moment I saw Jesus everything else faded into insignificance.
I’ll tell you this: It all happened exactly as the Bible said it would.
Remembering the Rapture
I remember it vividly. We all met the Lord in the air, just as Scripture said we would. At the time I remember being amazed that Bible prophecy was fulfilled so literally, so exactly. I guess I had fallen into the trap of thinking that since it hadn’t happened in almost 2000 years since Jesus lived, it would never happen! The Apostle Peter wrote that people in the last days would scoff at the Second Coming (2 Pet 3:4). I’m ashamed to think how little I thought about it before it happened. This much I know: When it happened, everything became clear as crystal in an instant.
Time to Stand before Him
Now we were to stand before Him. Somehow this moment had always seemed so distant. But there I was. All of us, gathered. White robes like light. Faces beautiful and young—ageless. Everyone else, it seemed, delighted, secure.
But I was afraid. What would He say about me?
All my life I’d known the words: “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). I guess I’d always thought…
Well, what does it matter what I thought? This was real! There was no going back, no hiding now. I knew very well what would happen—that verse that talks about “escaping so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:15)? That was me. Why try to hide it? Everything would be burned up. I’d have nothing left for a reward.
Who Was I?
After all, what did I have to show for my life? I had been a salesman…pushing someone else’s products all my life. An insignificant cog in a big materialistic machine. Let’s see: I was a husband and a father. But anyone could do that.
I wished I had done something big. Like Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham. Next to those guys, who was I?
I suddenly saw my life as I never had before: Full of potential—all potential, and no production! I felt a deep sense of regret. You see, one time early in my life I had sensed God calling me to give my life in service for Him, but…circumstances didn’t allow it.
Oh, come on! Who was I kidding? Fact is, I had just put it off. I wanted to have fun. I was young. Then middle-aged. Then old. Then one day, it was just too late.1
Things I Tried to Do
I had tried to do things. I just wasn’t that good at them. I taught Sunday School once or twice, but what good is that? None of my students became pastors or missionaries. At least none I knew of.
A few times I’d passed out tracts—you know, at a booth at the fair or something like that. I’d told a few people what I believed. But I didn’t see much fruit—certainly not the “30-fold, 60-fold, or 100-fold” that Jesus talked about!
I’d been asked to serve on the deacon board—a few times. But I never felt qualified. I was just a salesman who did things he didn’t like…and later confessed them.
In my job, I did decent work, and tried to be honest. I sold a good product—printers and copiers. I had moved up in the company a few times. I played by the rules. But who didn’t do that? A lot of guys who weren’t even in heaven had done that!
An Average Guy at the Judgment Seat
So there I was, waiting with all the other saints, and feeling acutely un-saintly! I just didn’t see what my life had amounted to. I hated admitting it, especially there: I was just an average guy. Maybe less than average.
But it was here: The Judgment. And I was beginning to feel worse and worse. Even with a new body and a sense of absolute security, I felt a little sick. What would Jesus say to me? What could He say? “Glad to have you here, John. Have a nice eternity!”
And then, I started to think of some things I was happy about in my life. Maybe Jesus would mention how I had liked things like going to church and worship, and visiting people. I had even read the Bible pretty regularly at times, and prayed for a missionary couple I knew. I was no ‘Holy Joe,’ but maybe I wasn’t a total nothing.
Maybe He’d just pass over me—you know, to save time! Well, that was silly; there is no time there! Or maybe He’d just include me with everyone else in my church. There were times I had just been part of the crowd.
But no. I knew it. The words of scripture came back to me: “…that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body.”
Why couldn’t I have written a book or been a worship leader or a great preacher or an evangelist leading thousands to Jesus? Once I helped manage my son’s Little League team. Would that count for something?
Finally I just gave up. “Stop beating yourself up!” I said. “You’ll just have to take what comes! Worrying about it won’t help!”
At Least We Were There!
“Chin up!” my mother used to say. Did I mention that she was there? My mother! I never thought she would. I was overjoyed about that part. All those years I lambasted her with the gospel, and come to find out she believed all along! Not like me, but she believed, and that was all He required.
My dad was there, too. And my sister and brother, and at least some of their families. Frankly, I was surprised. None of them had the “bolt of lightning” conversion like me, so I assumed they didn’t really believe. But they did! We were all overcome with a worshipful gratitude. No high fives: Just a humble awareness of the unfathomable value of Christ’s saving love for us.
My three kids were there, too. And my wife. I hadn’t led them to the Lord myself, but I got them to church, to summer camp, to youth group. Quietly I had hoped they each believed. What a joy it was to know they had.
So even if Jesus couldn’t say “Well done!” to me, at least we were there! Part of His kingdom forever and ever! There was a lot of rejoicing in that.
One By One
Then it began. Jesus, resplendent and bright, called each one by name, and we came forward. It was amazing. I had no sense of time. It must have taken years in earth-time, but I didn’t get tired or need a break. There were no recesses in this court. As each one went forward, we saw right into them—his heart was revealed, all that he had done. They came forward in order of birth. The early Christians, many who had been martyrs, were first. Then the great early church leaders, and faithful saints down through the centuries. On it went…
Before Jesus spoke, any who wished to share a testimony could bear witness to the work of the person being judged. I testified of people in history who had affected my life. I thanked Peter, Paul, and James for their writings. I shared how the lives and writings of the great Reformers had impacted me. It was incredible, thanking all those people in person. And when we were done, Jesus spoke. He knew much more than we did. Everything was remembered.
Many times Jesus spoke those wonderful words, “Well done!” Oh, how I came to love them! I wished I was one of them. Of course, there were some others, too. Not as many as I thought there would be. They were saved, as the Bible said, “so as by fire.” It wasn’t easy to watch—Scripture said they would “suffer loss,” and we all felt, without any self-pride, their pain. And I knew I might be one of them.
The rewards—man, it was so exciting! This made the Heisman Trophy or the Oscars look like junk! The gold, silver, and precious stones that remained when a person’s life had passed through the fire became part of that person’s reward. Then there were crowns, the hidden manna, the white stone, authority over nations, reigning with Christ. These were no items to gather dust, like all those plaques and trophies on earth. Those who shined brightest for Christ on earth, shone brightest for Him in heaven!
As the centuries passed, the excitement never waned. This was the greatest event I’d ever witnessed, and I wanted it to never end! Everyone was cheering and happy. We wanted each one to do well and receive a reward. There was no competition. The die had been cast already, and Jesus’ judgment was always right and exact.
And then it came to my year—1967. Soon it would be my turn. What would He say? My mixture of fear and excitement made me giddy. I was jumping up and down like a kid waiting to get his report card in school—not knowing if he’d get an A or an F! He spoke my name.
I made my way forward. The crowd parted, and I stood before the Judgment Seat. I can’t really describe Him: Words aren’t enough. He was holy—everything that word meant to me. And He was love, too. There was a warmth in Him that filled me and made me feel secure. I could feel His love holding me, and my fear vanished.
He asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to speak. My son was the first. “There are so many things, Lord.”
“Tell them all,” He said.
I was amazed. We’d had some bitter times on earth.
My son began, “I remember him playing with me, Lord. Wheel-barrow and piggy-back rides. Singing songs in the car. Fun. He made life fun.” He went on, recounting all sorts of deeds. I was humbled and grateful.
Then my wife stepped forward. She had always loved the way I held her, even when I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. She told how I had provided for them over years, working without complaint even when the job was tedious. She seemed to go on and on. A lump formed in my throat, and I found myself fighting back the tears.
Others came forward.
A woman I didn’t know told of me teaching a Bible story that stuck in her mind. It was the story of Zacchaeus I once taught in a Sunday School class. “Later in my life,” she said, “it motivated me to help some homeless people.” I couldn’t believe it. She remembered that? I didn’t even remember that!
There was Johnny Martin—I taught him to throw a baseball. And Bill Briggs, a fellow salesman. I’d been patient in training him, and he’d come to Christ years later. Doris Parr shared how my strong singing in church one Sunday had encouraged her. On and on it went. Most of the time I was in tears.
A woman shared how I helped her along the road when her car had broken down. A boy—now a man—on the Little League team, told how I encouraged him when some guys ribbed him because he was small, and quoted a Bible verse to him. Even though he wasn’t saved at the time, he remembered it years later when he did believe.
There were times I prayed for friends. Odd jobs I’d done for folks who needed help. One time I talked in church. A friendly smile I gave one of our office workers. Nothing was too small. Nothing was forgotten—although I had. My heart was broken with joy.
Then the Lord judged my life with His fire. Suddenly there were gold, silver, and jewels. So many pieces I couldn’t count them! Each reflected a word, deed, thought, or prayer.
And then He spoke…of how the Spirit had worked in me. I had practiced Biblical principles in my work. He recounted every day I had refused to lie or steal, and chosen to be honest and work hard. I hadn’t ever thought it even mattered.
He spoke of my love for my wife, working to be a good husband, listening to her, responding to her needs. He remembered I had modeled Biblical principles for my family, and read the Bible to them. Even though He hadn’t given me gifts in teaching or speaking, He said I had tried, and done well.
He pointed to my giving—to the church and missionaries and Christian organizations. It hadn’t seemed like much, but it had gone so much further than I ever knew. There were people who had become Christians because I gave, and others because I had given them a tract.
When Jesus was done, He asked how many people had been influenced or affected in some way because of something I had done. I could not count the number of people who cheered and thanked me.
Finally, Jesus Himself stood to speak. “John, look at me,” He said. I looked into His eyes, and in that moment understood all that He had done for me—all that He had given up to come to earth and die for me, all that His gifts and guidance had done in making this moment of unspeakable joy possible. I realized that this wasn’t really about me so much as it was about Him—all that He had planned and prepared for me to do, so that He could reward me there. And in that instant I loved Him as I had never loved Him.
Then He spoke. “John, you have done much that I prepared for you to do, many good works, in My name. You have touched the lives of thousands. Well done. Receive your reward!” His words were like an everlasting embrace.
Then He presented me to all those gathered. “Welcome John into the eternal bliss and reward of His Lord!”
The cheering never seemed to stop. But it was only the beginning.2
1. Editor’s note: The author is portraying a man who was too hard on himself. As such, the man illustrates many believers who fail to realize that God really has used them in many ways.
2. Editor’s note: Phil Congdon is giving in this story the positive side of the Judgment Seat of Christ. He knows there is a negative side, and that some believers will experience shame at His coming (1 John 2:28).