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How to Make the Most of Your Life: Matthew 16:24-27

Part 1 of 7: Beyond What We See
John Witte

Matthew 16:24–28 (ESV)
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Today we begin a seven-week series on the study of salvation. John Witte told a story from his missionary days with the Karamojong of Northeastern Uganda. He spoke of their flat-earth worldview and how difficult it was for them to imagine a reality different from what they could see: so much like us.

We, too, are bound by preferred narratives based on how our culture interprets what we see. What we think is normal, what we think matters, what we believe is right or wrong is often determined by our culturally interpreted experiences. It is in this context that we try to make the most of our lives.

Like the Karamojong, our ideas are a limiting lens through which we view the world. Unless someone who knows more and has seen more helps us out, our list may not reflect reality.

One of the things Jesus came to do was to help us live beyond the limitations of our preferred narratives about almost everything, including our religion, our relationships, how we use our time, energy, and money, and of course, how to make the most of our lives. He taught us what He knew to be true about life beyond what we can see.

We heard the story of Peter’s great proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah but likewise found him actually rebuking the Lord, apparently only moments later when Jesus said things that didn’t fit into his plan.

Jesus had just told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Could this be the way to make the most of their lives? Surely not! A premature death seems like a waste of one’s life, not the definition of a successful life. Don’t ordinary people usually try to stay alive? If a meaningful life means anything, surely it means to live - at the very least! Isn’t that why we get an education, get a career, get a spouse, get a house, get a health plan, get whatever you got, to at least stay alive and enhance your living? Isn’t waiting for an actual prerequisite to making the most of your life?

Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

This verse is the basis for our series, and it centers on the word “save.” By calling the twelve to die with him, he was calling them to voluntarily give their lives away for his cause and the benefit of others. This would have sounded like utter nonsense to them. They’d never seen this on anyone’s list about how to make the most of life. So Jesus continued explaining why giving their lives away was the key to making the most of their lives. Of life, He said, “if you lose it, you’ll find it.”

The word “find” meant to discover something of significant value. This is how Jesus used this word when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

This man in Jesus’ parable found a treasure that was so valuable that he sold everything else he owned to buy this field. Jesus told the twelve if they would follow him to their deaths, they would find a treasure trove so valuable it would make the most of their lives.

He said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Now he was talking their language! Profit. That’s what they wanted to hear about. What were they going to get as his followers? But Jesus didn’t use the word profit like they would have expected. He said it’s possible to gain the whole world, to become fabulously successful in this life, and still forfeit your soul. The word “forfeit” meant to suffer loss or sustain damage. And the word “soul” is the same word translated as “life” in verse 24. There’s no reason to change the translation here. Jesus wasn’t talking about the mind, will, and emotions; he was talking about their time on the earth.

Jesus meant it’s possible to live in a way that looks like you’re wracking up a huge profit only to find at a future time beyond what you can see that you have sustained a significant loss! In other words, Jesus was saying don’t fall for the preferred cultural narrative that is limited to what you can see. There is a time beyond what you can know when the loss will be gained, and gain will be a loss!

When was this going to happen?

In verse 27, Jesus answered it – “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)

The phrase will come as a grammatical gem if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s not apparent in English, but in the Greek language, the meaning of the phrase is going to come together with the word order, and the use of the present tense in a futuristic way emphasized the absolute certainty of Jesus’ coming at a future time to repay each person according to what they have done.

This is a reference to the Judgement Seat of Christ, where those who have believed in Jesus for eternal life will be evaluated as to how they lived this life. Jesus said then it would be decided whether or not you made the most of your life!

The Judgement Seat of Christ is a reality beyond what we can see that is so certain that it should shape our preferred narrative about how to make the most of our lives.

If the life you’re living now doesn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter now.

  1. How can I save my life if I lose it?
  2. How can I make the most of my life if I die?
  3. What will I have if I give it all away?
  4. We all want to make the most of our lives, but our preferred narrative is based only on what we can see. But Jesus told us something he knew to be true beyond what we can see, namely that there is a future reality that is so certain that it must determine what goes on our list.
  5. Do we really believe him?
  6. What’s on your list about how to make the most of your life?
  7. Are you sure it’s correct?
  8. How might it be limiting you more than you think?
  9. If Jesus were to look at your list, what would he say about it?

Dig Deeper – “SAVE”

The word save (σωζω) is used 110x in the NT in 5 different ways. Its basic meaning was to deliver, preserve, rescue, or protect. In the NT, it meant…

“to save spiritually from eternal death by giving eternal life.”
Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) “For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”, and

“to deliver from physical death.”
Matthew 8:25 (ESV) “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing,” and

“to heal physically.”
Matthew 9:22 (ESV) “Jesus turned and seeing her, he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly, the woman was made well,” and

“to deliver those who have believed in Jesus from living a life of servitude to sin.”
Romans 5:9–10 (ESV) “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled”

But Jesus was using save in a different way here, the 5th way it’s used in the New Testament. “To save your life” was Jesus’ language for making the most of your life. All of that will be determined at the Judgement Seat of Christ.


Judgment Seat of Christ (βῆμα τοῦ χριστοῦ, bēma tou christou). The seat for eschatological judgment, building on the concept of the judgment seat of Roman judges or tribunals. A specific phrase that appears only once in the New Testament:

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Historical Origins

Citizens and subjects of the Roman Empire would have been familiar with the concept of a “judgment seat” in the first century. The judgment seat was the location from which municipal authorities welcomed visitors into cities, extended favor to righteous citizens making pleas for justice, and assessed punishments on social deviants (Myers, “Honor,” 22).

Biblical Relevance

The New Testament writers directly reference the concept of a judgment seat nine times. In Acts, the term refers to the historical judgment seat of Roman judges (Acts 12:21; 18:12, 16–17) or tribunals (Acts 25:6, 10, 17). In the Gospels, the term describes the seat of Pilate during the trial of Jesus (Matt 27:11; John 18:28–33). Perhaps the more critical passages for understanding the judgment seat of Christ include the two references to an eschatological court scene, one governed by God (Rom 14:10), the other by Christ (2 Cor 5:10).


The “judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Cor 5 is traditionally interpreted as the judgment of those righteous in Christ (Guille, Judgment Seat, 8–9; Myers, “Honor,” 37–38; Sale-Harrison, Judgment Seat, 4–10; Harris, “2 Corinthians,” 349). It is neither the judgment of the nations (Matt 25:31–46) nor the great white throne (Rev 20:11–15). Rather than being viewed as a judicial bench, the judgment seat of Christ should be viewed as the “reward seat.” Such was customary in the Grecian games in Athens, in which those presiding over the games sat atop this “judgment seat”—not in a judicial fashion, but rather to evaluate an athlete’s performance and assess a proper reward (Sale-Harrison, Judgment Seat, 7–9).

The concept of a “reward seat” is not limited to the “judgment seat of Christ,” as it also applies to the “judgment seat of God” in Romans (Rom 14:10 ESV). In both of these contexts, Paul addresses fellow believers and encourages them regarding the honor they will receive from the messianic and/or divine judge sitting upon the judgment seat (Myers, “Honor,” 34).

In both contexts, Paul also encourages believers not to judge one another, for only God or Christ is to judge. The reward given is implicitly reliant on one’s actions in life, whether good or bad. In Romans, Paul writes that believers should give a full account of their lives to God, who will, in turn, evaluate each believer’s life to determine what reward shall be given (Rom 14:12). In 2 Corinthians, each believer will be rewarded based on “deeds in the body” (i.e., actions taken while alive, whether good or bad). Good deeds will receive a greater reward, and bad deeds will lessen the reward. Yet the judgment seat remains only for believers in Christ who have already been justified and found worthy to stand before a judge, having their lives inspected to determine their rewards (Sale-Harrison, Judgment Seat, 9–10).

Selected Resources for Further Study

Guille, George E. The Judgment Seat of Christ. Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1916.
Harris, Murray J. “2 Corinthians.” Pages 299–406 in vol. 10 of The Expositors Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
Myers, Jeremy D. “Honor and Shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ.” Ph.D. diss., Asbury Theological Seminary, 2008.
Sale-Harrison, L. The Judgment Seat of Christ. Harrisburg: Evangelical Press, 1938.
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