Jesus, says stewardship theologian T. A. Kantonen (1900–1993), is pointing out in this passage and in the parallel passage in Matthew 19:28–30 that the disciples will have a reward in heaven. He tells the disciples that they will “also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28).
The Lord first directs the attention of the disciples away from the expectation of an immediate earthly recompense and places the thought of reward in the context of the final consummation of the kingdom. A steward of the kingdom, a partner of the Messiah, is not “[like a hired laborer waiting to be paid]” (Job 7:2). His eye is upon the glorious fulfillment of the divine purpose in which he is privileged to share. The point of this phrase of the reply may be illustrated by the replies of three men engaged in a building project to the question of what they were doing. One said, “I am laying bricks.” Another said, “I am making twenty dollars a day.” But the third replied, “I am building a church.”
While the ultimate goal is the heavenly kingdom, Mark’s version indicates that there is also to be recompense “in this present age” (Mk 10:30)—but “with persecutions.” Kantonen remarks:
The joys of the kingdom are experienced here and now, not merely in some distant future. But they do not provide a carefree utopia, but strength with which to face the hardships of a hostile world. To emphasize the unique character of the reward as a sovereign gift of God, which does not depend on men’s own efforts, both Matthew and Mark conclude with the Lord’s words, “But many [who] are first will be last, and the last first.” Matthew then proceeds to record the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, in which every trace of merit disappears altogether, and everything, the reward as well as the opportunity to work, is a matter of divine grace. In the light of this teaching it is obvious that the gospel gives the concept of reward a new meaning quite different from its ordinary connotation of compensation or remuneration for services rendered.
Author and personal wealth adviser Alan Gotthardt maintains that this is a vital issue for the Christian steward of material resources: “Without question, the rewards for Christians who are faithful in this life will be great. This includes faithfulness with their material possessions.” But Gotthardt also asks another question worthy of reflection: “Is it selfish for a Christian to seek eternal rewards? … It is certainly possible to have wrong motives related to giving—or anything else we do as Christians, for that matter … [However Paul] was clear in his writings that salvation is by faith alone. Crowns and other rewards result from our actions here on earth.”
Thanks for mercies past receive,
Pardon of our sins renew;
Teach us, henceforth, how to live
With eternity in view.