The Judgement Seat of Christ
What happens at the judgement seat of Christ? Who or what is judged there and what will be the result of this judgement? Today’s discussion focuses on the bema-seat judgement of believers and the consequences of this judgement by Christ.
What is the Judgement Seat of Christ?
When eschatology is discussed (the doctrine of end things or end times), the focus often falls on the coming wrath of God, be it during the Tribulation period, the subsequent judgement of the Antichrist and false prophet (Revelation 19:20), the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:2-3) or the Great White Throne judgement after the millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). There is one judgement, however, that belongs not only to eschatology but also to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church). This will take place at the judgement seat of Christ (Greek: the bema-seat).
Jesus saved each believer from the penalty and ruin of their sins. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross and shed his blood so that you and I need not pay for our sins. Only Jesus (not the Dalai Lama, not Buddha, not Mohammed, etc.) could pay for our sins, because only Jesus was himself without sin and therefore only Jesus could, as the Lamb of God, die a substitutionary death for everyone. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. Romans 8:1 teaches that there “is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. If this is so — and it is! —why should believers appear before the judgement seat of Christ?
What will believers give an account of?
When Paul wrote his epistles, the “bema-seat” referred to a podium on which judges sat when officiating at Greek sporting events to determine which participants should be rewarded with crowns. The first of two New Testament texts that refer to the bema or judgement seat of Christ is Romans 14:10b-12 (NKJV): “For we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” The second text is 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” What will believers give an account of?
At the bema-seat of Christ, believers’ works will be judged. This judgement is not to determine whether the believer is saved or not (the believer is already saved and there is now no condemnation – see Romans 8:1 again), but whether the works of the believer will be rewarded. The point is: how did the believer life his or her spiritual life?
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Paul writes that “according to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul writes that the believer must build his or her spiritual life only on Christ — not on your own arm of flesh, but upon the only true foundation, Jesus Christ.
Each One’s Work Will Come to Light
1 Corinthians 3:12-14 continues: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” Every believer’s work will be evaluated and tested by fire. Wood, hay and straw will not survive the testing of fire but will be burned up. Gold, silver and precious stones, however, will survive the testing and impurities will be burned away. Those who wisely built on the foundation will be rewarded; those whose works were not built upon Christ will suffer the loss of rewards, but they themselves will not lose their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:15b).
The purpose of Christ’s bema-seat judgement is therefore not to determine whether someone is saved or to punish believers for their sins after being born again. The purpose is to test believers’ works to determine whether they will be given rewards in the Messianic kingdom.
Which rewards or crowns are mentioned in the Bible?
The Bible specifically mentions five crowns which believers may receive:
- The imperishable crown. This is for believers who not only brought their fallen nature under control, but who also lived a life of great submission to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:25; cf. 2 Timothy 2:3-5; Hebrews 12:1-2).
- The crown of rejoicing. This is for believers who witnessed to people about Jesus Christ and who prayed for unbelievers so that they will repent and come to saving faith in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:19; cf. Proverbs 11:30; Daniel 12:3).
- The crown of righteousness will be given to believers who eagerly and lovingly waited for the return (appearing) of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). These believers live as pilgrims and sojourners on earth since their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). They live holy and godly lives in accordance with texts such as Colossians 3:1-4. Perhaps this crown will be given to believers who are not ashamed of the doctrine of the rapture.
- The crown of glory. This will be given to pastor-teachers who faithfully served as under-shepherds of the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-4; cf. Acts 20:25-28).
- The crown of life. This is for believers who successfully resisted temptations and who may also have died as martyrs for Jesus Christ (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10; cf. Matthew 5:10-12).
Much more can be said about this somewhat neglected topic, but to sum up: Without Jesus no one can be saved. Believers can only boast in the Lord Jesus Christ. But now that we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God wants us to build on the foundation, who is Jesus Christ. According to God’s Word, such works will be rewarded. Actually this would be grace upon grace, for every crown will really just be another way to praise and honour the Lord Jesus Christ.
Would you like to read more about this topic? We recommend the following:
Bigalke, R. J. (jr), ‘Ready for the Judgment Seat of Christ!’. Available at: www.bibleprophecyblog.com/2008/07/ready-for-judgment-seat-of-christ.html
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2005, ‘The Rapture of the Church’, Ariel Ministries.
Hoyt, S. L., 1980, ‘The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective Part 1’, Bibliotheca Sacra 137(545):32-40.
Hoyt, S. L., 1980, ‘The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective Part 1’, Bibliotheca Sacra 137(546):125-132.
Hoyt, S.L., 2011, The Judgment Seat of Christ: A Biblical and Theological Study, Grace Gospel Press, Milwaukee. (This is a good book about the topic.)
Malan, J.S., ‘The Judgement Seat of Christ’.
Tanner, J.P., 2005, ‘The Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Rev 19:6-10: Implications for the Judgment Seat of Christ’, Tyndale Journal 26(1):47-68.
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