Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). Although in context, Paul goes on to talk about how God has revealed those things to the believer via the Holy Spirit, I believe that even though God has given us “tasters” of what heaven would feel like; the feeling of genuinely falling in love, the joy that accompanies salvation (whether our own or that of someone we lead to Christ), the peace in our hearts when we make a decision God endorses (sometimes despite the stupidity of such decisions from a logical point of view) or the love of God that floods our hearts on occasion (The same is true of hell. The chaos in the world, the heartless modus operandii of serial killers, oppressive dictatorial regimes, the slave trade), no human mind on this side of eternity can fathom the beauty, bliss and perfection of heaven (or the sufferings of hell).
“Utopia” does not even begin to describe heaven …but I digress..
As “Utopian” as heaven is going to be, it would by no means be “Egalitarian”. This means that we would not all be of equal standing in heaven. Permit me to paint a picture of two ninety year old men. The first man knew Jesus since he was twelve, lived a life of self-denial, turning the other cheek, dedication to God and His kingdom and as much as he could, yielded to God and His purposes till death. The other is a deathbed convert. They both get to the same heaven because only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross got (and can get) them there. Judge by human standards, would it be fair for them to be equal in heaven?
Now before you accuse me of arriving at this bold conclusion on the basis of logic, what did Jesus say when His disciples asked Him who the greatest in the kingdom would be? Did He tell them how egalitarian heaven is and equal everyone would be? No! He answered them by calling a little child to their midst and saying,
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4)
Again, Jesus mentioned how of all the prophets, John the Baptist was the greatest but the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than Him. (Matthew 11:11). And on the sermon on the mount, Jesus said,
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19)
Again, James and John requested that they seat just beside Jesus Christ in His kingdom. This was obviously a very unique and exclusive privilege. Everyone can obviously not sit beside Jesus in the kingdom. Even Jesus had to tell them it was not His prerogative to grant them that wish but that it had been “reserved” by the Father (Matthew 20:20–23). What does that tell you? What have we learnt?
Jesus, over and over, emphasized a “ranking” system in heaven. Some are called great, some are called least. Paul also metaphorically emphasizes heavenly ranking,
“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” (2Timothy 2:20).
From all that has been discussed, it is clear that heavenly ranks are determined by a person’s works. Jesus stated that keeping his admonitions on the mount as well as humbling one’s self were relevant, Paul after his metaphor said “If a man purge himself…he will be a vessel unto honour” (2Tim 2:21), note that the vessels of the honour were not thrown out of the house, they were still in it, much like the people who broke Jesus’ admonitions on the mount were still in the kingdom. But both are ranked low in the kingdom. Paul again wrote,
“ According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11–15)
Now this is where there is a bit of tension . No amount of works, however good, great or altruistic can get a man into heave. Only Christ’s FINISHED WORK can. But, once saved, a man’s work will be key in determining His eternal reward. This ought to be the key motivation not to live life like the rest of the world once saved, the fact that eternal rewards are up for grabs, not the fear of missing out on heaven.
This begs the question, if heaven is such a fair place, isn’t it unfair some should be ranked above others? Well, the fairness in this so called “unfairness” is that every one is given equal opportunity to determine their heavenly rank. So heaven is egalitarian in the sense that everyone has equal right of access to heavenly greatness. Nobody will be deprived of a chance to attain heavenly greatness on the basis of race, circumstances of birth, position and station in life or anything else, because God is just enough to take all these things into account in awarding ranks.
In conclusion, while there is nothing disqualifying “bread and butter Christians” (Christians not putting much effort into following Jesus with all of their hearts, i.e. those not prioritizing His priorities, plans and purposes over theirs.) from getting into the kingdom, they should take note that people who are really walking the Christian walk are going to rank ahead of them and I strongly believe that after hell, the next worst thing that could happen to a man is to get into heaven and have very little or nothing to be eternally rewarded for.