I want to ask about different rewards in heaven. In some classes I've been told that everyone is equal in heaven and there are no levels. Other classes seem to indicate that it is the way you live on earth and the deposits you make in heaven on the rewards you receive. I know that believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior guarantees your salvation, but I am a little confused on the levels in heaven and what this means. I've even been told that it is just different people's interpretation. Please help me understand!
The confusion usually comes from people confusing the differences between SALVATION and REWARDS. Salvation is a free gift, but rewards are earned by our works after we are saved. No one's works will ever earn them salvation--the only ones that count are the ones we perform after becoming a Christian. Salvation is a present reality, but our rewards will be given in the future, in heaven.
They will be given at the Judgment Seat of Christ (you may hear some people call it by the Greek word, bema [bay-ma] ), when our works (NOT our sins, which were paid for at the Cross) will be tested and judged.
2 Cor. 5:10 says, "We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Similarly, Rom. 14:10 says, "We will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God. . . and each one of us will give an account of himself to God."
1 Cor. 3:9-15 describes what will happen: God will test our works by the fire of motive. If we did things in His strength and for His glory, they will pass through the refining fire and emerge as gold, silver and costly stones. If we did things in our own flesh and for our glory or for the earthly payoff, we will have gotten all our strokes on earth, and the works will be burned up, not making it through the testing "fire." (Those works are referred to as wood, hay and straw, which are easily consumed by flame.)
There are various kinds of rewards, but the Bible doesn't give a lot of information.
Matt. 10:41 talks about a prophet's reward, a righteous man's reward, and a disciple's reward.
Rev. 2:10 refers to the "crown of life." (Some have called this the martyr's crown.)
2 Tim. 4:7-8 refers to the "crown of righteousness."
Crowns symbolize dominion and authority over people, and sure enough, God's rewards include dominion and authority:
Rev. 2:26--"He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." This goes along with one of the parables in Luke 19:17 where the master rewards the servant who was a faithful steward of his money; he says, "because you were faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities."
Rev. 2:17--In this book written to people undergoing persecution, Jesus promises, "To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name, written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it."
We can also lose our rewards (2 John 8), and it's possible for someone to take our crown (Rev. 3:11). So, no wonder God calls us to be faithful and persevering all the way to the end!
I'm so glad you asked this, because I've heard people say, "If those who become Christians as small children end up in the same place (heaven) as those who trust Christ moments before they die, then why spend your whole life serving God?" That's because they don't understand that what happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be very, very different for these two people. Our lives in heaven will be determined by the choices, sacrifies, and actions of earth. Some will be very wealthy, and others will be "barely there." I Cor. 3:15 says that the deeds of some people will be burned up, and they will suffer loss; they will be saved, but only as those escaping through the flames. It will be like watching your house burn to the ground with every single thing you own in it. . . lost. On the other hand, lots of people will see their works shown for the high quality that they are, and they will be rewarded exceedingly well because God is so generous.
I hope this helps!