On Sunday, we finished considering the Lord’s interaction with the rich young man and Jesus’ subsequent conversation with His disciples. In response to the Lord’s comments about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 19:27, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”
Some commentators think that Peter is asking a self-centered question, that he’s just interested in what he’s going to get. They suppose that his mind has strayed from the mission and he’s focused only on personal gain. And they say that his mind should only be on serving Jesus strictly for the pleasure of serving Jesus and not for the eternal rewards that come with it.
Is this the best way to understand Peter’s question? This is an important issue to consider. If it is self-centered for Peter to ask this question or to wonder about his eternal reward then it must be self-centered for us to do the same. If Peter shouldn’t think about such things, neither should we. The big question is, is it inappropriate for Christians to ponder and to be motivated by their eternal rewards?
There are several reasons to disagree with the view described above. First, it makes more sense to just understand Peter to be clarifying what Jesus said earlier. As I mentioned Sunday, the disciples, like most others in the 1st century, believed that the rich were especially favored by God. When Jesus said that it was extremely difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples wondered, “if the rich, who are especially favored by God, cannot be saved, who can?” The implied concern is, “can we even be saved?” The Lord responds, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” It is most likely the case that Peter asked his question to clarify that the Lord was leaving open hope that the disciples would be saved even though the rich may not.
Second, Jesus gives no sign of displeasure at Peter’s question, but even affirms that the disciples are those "who have followed me.” Jesus recognizes here that the disciples did indeed leave all in order to follow Him. He recognizes that they did what the rich young fool refused to do.
Third, the apostles writings don’t seem to align with the idea that eternal rewards are not supposed to motivate us. The Gospel of Matthew mentions the concept of eternal rewards more than any other book in the NT. The word “reward” is used 26 times in the NT and almost half of them are in Matthew. And each time it is used, it is intended to motivate obedience. It is used both positively and negatively. “If you do this, great is your reward.” “If you don’t do this, you will have no reward.” That’s Matthew. Mark and Luke do the same thing in their Gospels, just not as frequently.
Then there is Peter. In his first epistle, he spends half of the first chapter describing the inheritance waiting in heaven for believers, using that to motivate them to persevere through the testing of their faith (1Peter 1:3-12).
Then there is Paul, who describes in 1 Cor 3 the eternal rewards that await those who serve well (1Cor 3:5-15). In Colossians 3, he writes, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Then the writer of Hebrews, in 11:6, writes, And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Then in v26, describing Moses’ faithfulness, he writes, He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. What reward? His heavenly reward – that’s the only thing that makes sense.
Then there is John, who writes in 2 John 8, Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Even Jude, in his tiny little epistle, references the eternal life that is given to those who remain in the love of God. Every writer in the NT then appeals to the rewards of heaven to motivate believers to remain faithful. Why would the Holy Spirit move these men to speak so often about the inheritance waiting for us if He did not intend for it to be a motivator for us?
So should we believe that Peter is just being self-centered and focusing completely on the reward and not on serving Jesus? No, first of all, it makes more sense to believe that Peter is simply clarifying Jesus’ earlier statement. But even if he is merely inquiring about the reward the disciples will receive, he is only asking about something the Holy Spirit intends to be a valid motivation to faithfulness. Due to the prevalence of exhortations to look forward to our eternal rewards, we must not think that meditating on these things is self-centered. The Lord has revealed them to us to help to us persevere until He comes again.