Held in “Lay-a-way”

Do we go to heaven to get our reward?

“What is meant by 1 Peter chapter 1, vs 4: ‘To an inheritance incorruptible… reserved in Heaven for you’? Fundamental Christians say this is proof that they will live in Heaven. Is it the promise of eternal life that it is talking about? I would like to know what you think.” – D.R.

You bring up a very good text, and we need to let Peter explain himself. The subject is an “inheritance” that is “incorruptible” (1 Pet. 1:4), which is, as you suggest, eternal life. Nothing less than eternal life fits his description. Being “incorruptible,” it is “impervious to corruption and death, imperishable, incorruptible, immortal” (BDAG). “Undefiled” carries the same thought, that it is “unsoiled; free from that by which the nature of a thing is deformed and debased, or its force and vigor impaired” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Peter says also that it “does not fade away” (1 Pet. 1:5), again emphasizing that it is eternal.

But he does not suggest that we go to heaven to receive it, or that we have it now. Until Christ comes, this “incorruptible inheritance” is only our “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3) It is being “reserved [“watched, guarded, retained”] in heaven.”  

The arrangement reminds me of stores that have a lay-a-way plan. You can make a purchase, and the store puts it in “lay-away” until you are ready to pick it up. God is holding the promised inheritance in heaven, “reserved,” in lay-away as it were, until the time comes for it to be dispensed.

When will it be dispensed? The apostle Peter says it is being held, “ready to be revealed in the last time.” He also says it will be given “at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Read his statements carefully Notice his statements in the context of his First Epistle, verses 3-7, and 13 NKJV (emphasis ours):

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,… 13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

When did Peter expect the reward to be given? First he says it is “ready to be revealed in the last time,” then he is even more specific. It will be “brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Peter repeated this thought in chapter 5 where he says, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

The crown of glory, another term for the incorruptible inheritance, will be given “when the Chief Shepherd appears.”

The prophet Daniel associated the dispensing of rewards with the resurrection and judgment. Speaking of that time, at the second advent of Christ, he says, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

There is no plan to reward each individual at the close of his or her life, and there is no mention of a plan to take each one to heaven at death. God’s plan is that His servants sleep in the grave (see Job. 14:7, 14) until the return of Christ, at which time they will be brought back to life, just as Jesus was, to “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).