The Judgment Seat of Christ
The Christian's Reward for Faithful Service
Writer and politician, Joseph Addison, once wrote in a Newspaper known as the Spectator, that he co-founded, these words:
"When I see kings lying by those who deposed them. When I consider holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes placed side by side, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates on the tombs, of some that died yesterday and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries and make our appearance together."
Addison was talking about the judgment of God that we must all face. The Bible clearly states that one day "every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." The Scriptures also plainly teach that one-day judgment will take place for sin. There will be those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior who will not receive eternal life. Rather they will spend eternity separated from a holy God in hell.
But there is another judgment day that is solely for the believer. It is not a day to determine salvation and to decide between heaven or hell. Rather it is a judgment to mete out rewards for faithful service for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul calls this particular event the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The interesting thing is that it is God who saved us and God who sanctifies us or makes us holy. He is the one who gives us the power to live a godly life in the first place. And at the end of that God-empowered life, He promises to reward each of us for service done for Him. We truly serve a gracious and wonderful God!
I. Scriptural Passages About the Judgement Seat of Christ
The passages where we find the term "Judgment Seat of Christ" or "Judgment Seat of God" include:
Romans 14:10-12 "You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God."
II Corinthians 5:8-10 "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad."
In I Corinthians 3:10-15 we have that same day discussed, though the term isn't mentioned. Paul says this:
" By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flame."
In each of these Scriptures, Paul is talking, not to unbelievers but to those who are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. In each case, he says that all believers will one day face this time of judgment.
II.The Judgment Not to Determine the Believer's Salvation
Once again, this is not a decision to go to heaven or hell. If that were the case, then Jesus' sacrifice on the cross would have been in vain. Scripture plainly teaches that salvation is by grace, through faith, plus nothing. Just look at passages like Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; John 3:16; John 3:36 and Hebrews 10:14 and you will realize that works have nothing to do with receiving, or maintaining salvation. Grace is God's unmerited favor. It is a gift that must be received and not a reward to be achieved.
III. The Bema Seat of Christ
In order to fully understand this day, we need to know what Greek word Paul chose for judgment here. He chose the word bema. It is at the Bema Seat of Christ that the believer will be judged. While bema is used in the gospels and in Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and to pass sentence, this doesn't appear to be how Paul uses it. He is, instead, going back to its original meaning. If you read the Pauline epistles he frequently looks at the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. For instance in I Corinthians 9:24,25 he states:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable."
The term bema was taken from the Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the scrutiny of the judges watching. Part of the job of the judges was to make sure that the contestants played by the rules of the game.
At the end of the competition, the victor who played by the rules was lead by the judge to the platform called the bema. There a laurel wreath was placed on his head to demonstrate his victory. And just like the Greek athlete won a perishable prize, the Christian will receive an imperishable reward for service done for the Lord. Notice that there is no punishment meted out here. In I Corinthians 3:15 Paul says that we will suffer loss for things not done for the Lord. However, the loss here is a loss of reward. The punishment for sin was taken by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
IV. The Participants and the Time of the Bema Seat
The questions that we must answer are: "Who are the people who will stand before the Bema Seat of Christ, and when will it take place?" The participants are the members of the Church, the Body of Christ. By that, we mean all those who are living and have died in this age of Grace that we have been experiencing for over 2000 years now. God has temporarily cast aside His people Israel (Romans 9-11), and has given salvation to all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. And He has placed them in the universal Church called the Body of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-6). All who trust Jesus Christ by faith are in that Church. And it is to the Church that Paul was writing when he spoke of the Bema Seat of Christ.
The resurrection and rewarding of the Old Testament saints is to be after the Tribulation The Tribulation is a seven-year period of time in which God's wrath and judgment are poured out on sin (Matthew 24:15-30). It is also called "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7), because it will be a time when God will, once again, begin to deal with Israel and bring them back to Himself.
Paul teaches that the believer in this Church age will be delivered from the wrath to come (I Thessalonians 5:9-11), And he earlier, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, teaches that we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Rapture, or catching-up of the Church, is God's way of delivering us from the wrath, so this event will take place before the Great Tribulation. And the Bema Seat of Christ will follow the Rapture.
V. The Judge of the Bema Seat
The righteous judge that we will stand before, is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Romans 14:10 Paul calls this time of examination the Judgment Seat of God and in II Corinthians 5:10 he calls it the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Jesus, who is God, is our examiner and the one who rewards us. It is He who took our sins upon Himself and gave us His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21). And it is He alone who is going to judge us for the life we lived or failed to live, empowered by His Spirit, for His service.
VI. The Basis for Judgment and Rewards of the Bema Seat
As we have stated, works which we have done for the glory of God will determine the believer's rewards. We learn in Ephesians 2: 8,9 that a man is saved by grace through faith. However, verse 10 says that a person is saved to do good works. Good works follow a true salvation experience. They are a result of being saved and are the basis upon which the believer will be judged at the Bema Seat of Christ.
In I Corinthians 3:10-15 our lives are compared to a building. Jesus Christ is the only foundation. What we build on that foundation is up to us. We can choose to build our lives for God's glory. These are the lasting materials called gold, silver and precious stones. When these things undergo the fires of judgment, they are refined and not destroyed. They get rewarded.
On the other hand, we can choose to build on the foundation things done for our own glory. These are likened to wood, hay, and stubble. These works, when tried by the fire, are burned up. Nothing is left of them. Paul tells us that if we build nothing but wood, hay, and stubble, we will lose it all. However, because the foundation of Jesus Christ remains, we will be saved, "yet so as by fire."
Though getting into Heaven in this way is much better than Hell, what a sad day it would be to see your whole life completely go up in smoke. To me, that would be embarrassing to have nothing but wood, hay, and stubble to offer the Lord on that day. Though we don't really know what the rewards ultimately will be, they will be glorious things to receive from the hand of the one who deserves all of our praise! And it would indeed be a loss to receive nothing.
VII. The Incentive for the Bema Seat
There could be no greater incentive for living a godly life than sheer gratitude for all that Christ has done for us on the Cross of Calvary. He has given so much to us. Being a gift of grace, it is not something owed that we need to repay. For we could never repay such a cost for His love. But like any gift that we receive, we certainly want the person to know how much we appreciate what He has done.
And the negative aspect of this is a desire not to have the Lord displeased with the life that we have to offer Him on that Day. A true follower of Christ will want to Hear Him say: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" What a wonderful thing to hear from our Savior!
However, as seen in these passages on the Judgment Seat of Christ, on top of all this, we are also given the expectation of rewards as a further incentive for service. God has told us about these rewards for a reason to motivate us to a life of service and sacrifice for Him and it isn't wrong to want them. If it were, He wouldn't have told us about them. And the glory for these rewards goes back to God who gave them anyway since it is He who empowers us to do them.
Former Secretary of State under President Millard Fillmore, Daniel Webster, was once asked the question while at dinner:
"Mr. Webster, will you tell me what was the most important thought that ever occupied your mind?"
Here is how he answered the man:
"The most important thought that ever occupied my mind was that of my individual responsibility to God."
Secretary Webster then went on for twenty minutes about his thoughts on this subject, then arose and went to bed.
Might I suggest that Daniel Webster is right? All of us are responsible to God for how we have spent the time that we have been given as a stewardship on this earth.
In order to sum up the study that we have just seen, I'd like to quote a small rhyme. Someone has said: "Only one life, will soon be passed. Only what's done for Christ will last." If you are a Christian, this day called the Judgment Seat of Christ is ahead of you.
To those who have never accepted Christ, now is the time to make Him the foundation of your life. There is no other foundation that will not ultimately collapse. To borrow from an old commercial: "Jesus: don't leave earth without him!"
It is my hope that everyone who names the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will want to please Him with your life. And I pray that you are continually building on the foundation, things that will last for all eternity. And not just for the reward that He promises, but because of all that He has done for you. In the end, God is the only one who truly matters. To Him be the glory!!
© 2011 Jeff Shirley