The short answer is No.
For the long answer we will begin with a word Jesus said on the subject.
Mat 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
“…according to his works”? Some might think this is referring simply getting to heaven or, ummm, the other place. Can’t be, at least for heaven. Why? Because heaven is not a reward for good works! Heaven is a gift offered to everyone regardless of their works, if they only believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as their Saviour. Like the thief on the cross did. No, eternal life is not a reward. It is a gift.
Rewards come from one’s efforts. The man who sought the “goodly pearl” found it. The woman looking for the lost coin found it. The shepherd seeking his lost sheep found it. Jacob who would not let go until he was blessed, got it. And Paul tells us the winner of a race gets the prize. All receive reward for their efforts. However, Jesus said some rewards do not come from God. Some do things to be seen of men (Matthew 6:1-5), and they get their reward.
In this study we will focus only on the reward of the righteous.
So if everyone (saved) is rewarded “according to their works”, what would that mean? Well, it simply means that everyone will receive a different reward, because the rewards will be “according to their works”. However, their works will not be rated just according to their abilities or potential , as it was in the story of the talents apportioned to three stewards (Matthew 25:19-18). You remember the story, I’m sure. The lord of the house needed to make a long trip and gave his three servants different amounts of talents to work with while he was gone. When he returned he inquired to see how they did. Two of the stewards faithfully doubled the talents entrusted to them. The third hid his so he wouldn’t lose anything. Notice, now, the results of this interchange.
(20) And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. (21) His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
(22) He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. (23) His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
(24-25) Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. (26) His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant …. (28) Take therefore the talent from him…
So far in this parable we notice the first two servants, who each had different amounts entrusted to them, doubled those amounts, and both received the same commendation. The steward who buried his master’s talent was treated as severely as if he had spent it lavishly on himself in riotous living. Were the story to end here we might be justified in thinking that the reward is not dependent on the energies put into the work, but only on the faithfulness in making the Lord’s goods profitable.
The problem comes, however, when we read how the story ended.
(28) …, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
Whoa! Wait a minute. The servant already had ten talents. Why not give to the second so he would have at least seven? It didn’t seem to be the lord’s intent to level the playing field here, but rather to reward everyone according to their works. Obviously the one who doubled 5 talents had more to do and showed himself capable of handling extra responsibility.
Through the grace of Christ our efforts to bless others are not only the means of our growth in grace, but they will enhance our future eternal happiness. To those who have been co-workers with Christ it will be said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things.”– Review and Herald, June 27, 1893.
What about Matthew 20:1-15? This is the story about laborers who were hired at different times of day and under different circumstances, yet the last received the same amount as the first. Is this not debunking the teaching of “rewarding every man according to his work,” or is it talking about something else?
Mat 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. (13) But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? (14) Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. (15) Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
In Ellen White’s account of this story in Christ’s Object Lessons she points out that the reward is not dependent on the amount of labor expended but rather on the spirit in which it is done. This is a critical characteristic in rewarding “every man according to his work”. The excerpts below are taken from her book, pages 397-399
In worldly business, compensation is given according to the work accomplished. The laborer expects to be paid only that which he earns. But in the parable, Christ was illustrating the principles of His kingdom–a kingdom not of this world….
In the parable the first laborers agreed to work for a stipulated sum, and they received the amount specified, nothing more. Those later hired believed the master’s promise, “Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” They showed their confidence in him by asking no question in regard to wages. They trusted to his justice and equity. They were rewarded, not according to the amount of their labor, but according to the generosity of his purpose….
Not the amount of labor performed or its visible results but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of value with God…. He would not have us eager for rewards nor feel that for every duty we must receive compensation. We should not be so anxious to gain the reward as to do what is right, irrespective of all gain. Love to God and to our fellow men should be our motive.
So when Christ brings His rewards with Him and gives to everyone “according to their works”, we understand it is those works done out of love for Him and for those He loves. However, when compensated they will consider themselves totally unworthy.
One thing we can be sure of concerning the “rewards”– they will far exceed our wildest imaginations, yet will be proportionate to our faithful, willing, service in the present life.
The reward, the glories of heaven, bestowed upon the overcomers, will be proportionate to the degree in which they have represented the character of Christ to the world. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly.” Thank God that it is our privilege to sow on earth the seed that will be harvested in eternity. The crown of life will be bright or dim, will glitter with many stars, or be lighted by few gems, in accordance with our own course of action.
Day by day we may be laying up a good foundation against the time to come. By self-denial, by the exercise of the missionary spirit, by crowding all the good works possible into our life, by seeking so to represent Christ in character that we shall win many souls to the truth, we shall have respect unto the recompense of reward. It rests with us to walk in the light, to make the most of every opportunity and privilege, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so we shall work the works of Christ, and ensure for ourselves treasure in the heavens (Review & Herald Jan. 29, 1895).
Let’s think a little bit about the source of the “rewards.”
Let’s say you are a high school senior. You’ve done well in school, been a good example in classes and on the sports field, always looked out for the little guy, and all this after having your dad murdered four years earlier and trying to nurse your sick and bereaved mom for the last two years. Got that? OK.
As graduation day approaches you get wind that someone has been impressed with your choices and is present to give you a reward. Who could it be? You sit in the bleachers with 200 other graduates, and from that vantage point you are able to look out over those present. Your eye searches for familiar faces or people you think might be there for the occasion.
There’s your older sister, ten years your senior, with her own family now. Maybe she is going to give you $100 toward your college education.
Ah, there’s your uncle, your dad’s brother. He has done well in his business. Maybe he might give you $1000.
But what’s this? Isn’t that the president of the university you were hoping to get into to study computers? Maybe he is going to give you a scholarship for this next year.
Then you see someone you never in your life expected to see at your highschool graduation—the president of Apple Computers. What is HE doing here? Could it be that he might take you on as his personal project and train you in his company, saving you years and expense of college? This would exceed your wildest dreams!
You notice in each of these scenarios, the possibility of reward increased as the potential in the person increased. Well, none of these people or positions get even close to the One coming to give you your “reward” at the second coming. This is not only the One who initially gave you life, not only One who adopted you as a brother, not only the One who took your punishment so your could live. This is the God of the universe—the One who speaks stars into existence, the One who forms beings out of mud and gives them life, the One who has no limits in resources and whose love is beyond understanding. It is this Person that says He is very pleased with your decisions, and that He is coming to your graduation and bringing His reward with Him!
Now, please understand, just having the gift of eternal life in a sinless universe and being able to fellowship with our heavenly Father and Elder Brother and all our friends and loved ones, as well as sinless angels and those we have grown to appreciate in the Bible stories, will be reward enough for any of us. But on top of all this Jesus is saying, there’s more, much more. The rewards will reach far into eternity and prepare us for living and serving in an ever expanding universe. Yet it will be proportionate to our experience on this earth, so we will feel perfectly comfortable with it (though I’m sure challenged and very humbled by it all).
The use or abuse of their talent will determine their position and trust in the world to come. Christian Service 112
As one star differeth from another star in glory [1Cor. 15:41], so will believers have their different spheres assigned them in the future life. TM 428-9
Let’s say there are two billion people saved, each with a different “reward”. There are positions to be filled that fallen angels left behind. There are other positions that have opened up for those now who share the throne with the Son of God. And there are worlds who need representatives on them who have gone through the redemption process to open up new vistas of God’s love and character. The possibilities are as endless as the personalities that have joined the heavenly family.
Now let me ask you, “Do you think heaven will be the same for everyone?”