Those who believe that there is one equal reward for all who are saved generally go to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matt 20:1-16. Each set of laborers is hired at different times of the day, but in the end each is paid the same amount. “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’” (Matt 20:13-15). In this parable I believe that the pay offered is eternal life, something that is offered to all faithful followers. “And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (Jn 4:36). The length of one’s service to the Lord does not impact the reward received.
However, there are other passages which also must be considered. In the parable of the talents (Lk 19:12-27), servants were given a set amount of funds to invest while the master was gone. One was able to take one mina and produced 10 more from it. And the master told him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Lk 19:17). Another servant produced 5 more minas and was told, “You also be over five cities” (Lk 19:19). Thus it appears that while all faithful followers are given eternal life as a reward, in that eternal life we will have differing responsibilities or roles based on our productivity for the Lord here. It is an application of a principle stated earlier by the Lord, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Lk 16:10).
Another passage to consider is “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27). One way to read this passage is that each person will get either eternal life or eternal punishment based on what he has done. But it is also possible that Jesus is saying Christians will each be rewarded in proportion to what they have done.
A more obscure passage is Paul’s discussion of each man’s works. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:11-15). In the context, Paul describes himself as a master builder and those he has converted as material being built up into a temple for God. Seen in this way, the success of those Paul converts to Christ are a benefit and joy to Paul when they too reach heaven. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:19-20). The opposite would also be true. If someone you worked with and converted does not make it, you’ll suffer loss, though you yourself should make it.
I think this is what John had in mind when he said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 Jn 7-8). It is clear he is not talking about losing his own reward, but since he is concerned about others, whom he has worked with, he is expressing a desire to see them in heaven that his joy may be as full as it can be.
In regards to punishment, there also seems to be degrees of punishment. In the parable of the servants Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Lk 12:47-48). Related to this is the warning in Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Therefore, seek to receive the greatest reward by doing all you can in your service to the Lord. Even as the apostles will be set upon twelve thrones because of their great service to the Lord, those who do more shall receive a greater reward. “Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:2). In like manner, those who sin more shall receive a greater damnation. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation” (Matt 23:14). “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…” (Heb 2:2-3). “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:10-12).