The Judgment Seat of Christ

 

By: Dr. Richard L. Strauss
February 16, 1992

 

Purpose: To encourage us to live our Christian lives in such a way as to win the rewards which God offers us.

 

The Christian life is like a race. The gun sounded the day we trusted Christ as Savior, and we were off and running, and we will continue to run until the day God calls us home and we see Jesus face to face. This is not a 100 yard dash; this is a marathon. And just as in any race, there are winners and there are losers. The Apostle Paul writes about that in 1 Corinthians 9:24, when he says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”

 

You see, he has transported us mentally into the stadium where the famous Greek games were in progress. There could only be one winner in each event, and that winner would likely be the athlete who was most faithful in self-discipline and in rigorous training.

 

The Christian race is different in that respect. There can be more than one winner. In fact, we can all win. None of us needs to be a loser. Every Christian can finish the race and win the prize if he wants to. Unfortunately, not every Christian will. Some are going to lose.

 

We like to think that everybody in heaven will be equal and enjoy exactly the same benefits, but they won’t. According to the Scripture, they won’t. Some are going to have prizes, and some are not. Some will receive rewards, and some will not. In a group this size, there are without a doubt some winners and there are some losers. I wish it weren’t so, but it will be.

 

God is saying to us here in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Run the race, live the Christian life, in such a way as to win the prize. Aim for the top! Go for the gold!” Some people think it’s selfish and immature to serve the Lord for rewards. My answer to that is that it can hardly be immature when God tells us to do it. This was His idea, not ours.

 

He uses the promise of rewards to motivate us. He says, “Run the race in such a way as to win the prize.” And if almighty God uses the promise of prizes to motivate us, you can be sure He will make it worth the effort it takes to win them. We’re not talking about a balloon or a box of Cracker Jacks for the winning the pie eating contest at the Sunday School picnic. We’re talking about wonderful, glorious, eternal rewards in heaven.
 
 

Now, just as those prizes in the Olympic games were given but at a place called the Bema–or judgment seat–by the president of the games, so prizes for Christians are going to be given out at the Bema of Christ.

 

Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:10. We’re going to be here about six times this morning, so take one of the green slips from the pew in front of you and mark your place here. This verse should be becoming familiar to you now: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

 

We’re going to receive according to what we’ve done in this body, in this life. It sounds like that’s going to be a rather important event, and maybe we need to know a little more about it. So let’s see what we can discover about the Bema of Christ.
 
 
  1. The Setting for the Bema
When and where does this great event take place? As you know, the next major event in God’s prophetic timetable is the return of Jesus Christ for His own, which we call “the rapture.” The word “rapture” is not found in the Bible, but the doctrine is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
 
 

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

 

We call it the rapture, from the Latin word that means “caught up.” It’s the next event on God’s prophetic timetable. We don’t know when it’s going to occur. It could be today.

 

After the rapture, a time of great tribulation will break out on earth, the likes of which the world has never seen. Horrible, horrible pain and suffering will be poured out on this earth. Jesus called it that: “the Great Tribulation.” And as Jesus Himself taught us, immediately after the tribulation of those days, He will return to the earth with His church. He taught us that in Matthew 24 and 25 (Matthew 24:29-31; Matthew 25:31-34). With His church, His Bride, to establish His kingdom. He likens that kingdom to a great wedding reception. He does it in several parables (Matthew 22:1-13; 25:1-13).

 

The Apostle John tells us about that same event in Revelation 19. This is one I’d like you to look at because it answers the question, “When and where will the judgment seat of Christ be?”

 

Read Revelation 19:11–“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” Revelation 19:14–“And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.”

 

I don’t know whether we’re going to ride literal horses or whether this is symbolic, but the point is, we who are with Him are now returning to the earth with Him to establish His kingdom of righteousness and peace. That’s us: the armies in heaven. But what is this fine linen, white and clean that we’re going to be wearing? Look back up at verse 7.

 

Read Revelation 19:7-8. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready”–that’s us. How did we get ready? “And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

 

Now that’s a shock to some people when they read it. Our entrance into heaven required that we be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But it has nothing to do with our righteous acts. Our own righteousness could never be enough to fit us for heaven. And we were clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ the day we received His gift of eternal life by faith. That alone fits us for heaven.

 

But this is different. Here we are returning from heaven to the earth with Him, and we will be clothed with our own righteous acts. They can be nothing other than the commendable works we have performed during our Christian lifetime, which have survived the purging fires of the Bema and which have become the basis for our rewards (1 Corinthians 3:13-14). That leads us to believe that the judgment seat of Christ takes place in heaven, after the rapture, and before our return with Christ to the earth to establish His Kingdom.

 

That’s the setting for the bema. Heaven. After the rapture, and before our return to earth with Him to establish His kingdom. That’s the setting. Let’s talk secondly about people.
 
 
  1. The People at the Bema

Obviously the Lord Jesus Christ will be there. It’s His Bema. He is the president of the games. He is the one who sits in the place of dignity and honor, like the president of the games who crowned the winning athletes. Besides, He taught us that He Himself is the judge: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

 

Who else will be there? All believers will be there. To the Roman Christians Paul wrote, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). To the Corinthian Christians Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

 

All Christians will be there, without exception. You will be there if you are a believer in Jesus Christ. I will be there, and every other Christian will be there. There is no way any of us can escape it. We may wish that we could call in sick that day, or be off taking care of some other business. But that won’t be possible because this is the business that God will want to take care of, and He will see that all of us are there.

 

But I have to tell you, while we’ll all be there, we won’t be judged en masse. We will be judged personally and individually: 2 Corinthians 5:10 again, “…that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” “Each one.” Those words are important. Personal. Individual.

 

You won’t be able to say, “But Lord, I attended Emmanuel Faith Community Church. That was a great church. And I was even a member! Isn’t there some special reward for everybody who joined that church?” Sorry! “So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). We stand before Christ alone. It will be us and Jesus, eyeball to eyeball.

 

While all believers will be there, it is important to understand that no unbelievers will be there. There is another judgment for them, called the Great White Throne. It takes place 1000 years later, after the reign of Christ on earth. Those people don’t have their names written in the Book of Life, and will be condemned to eternal separation from God.

 

Read Revelation 20:11-12, 15. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

 

No one here has put his faith in Christ for salvation. Their names are all missing from the Book of Life and they are consigned to the lake of fire where they will be condemned to eternal punishment for their sins. There will be no believers at the Great White Throne. For there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Judgment in the sense of evaluation, yes! But condemnation for believers in Jesus Christ? Never!
 
So, who are the people at the Bema? Believers. Every believer, without exception! And only believers. We’ve seen the setting of the bema, and the people at the bema, I want you to see, thirdly, the disclosure at the bema.
 
 
  1. The Disclosure at the Bema

This could well be the most sobering fact about the Bema of Christ: Everything in our lives is going to be brought to light. 2 Corinthians 5:10. Are you still holding on to that passage? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” That word “appear” (phaneroo) means literally “to be made known, shown, manifested, revealed.” That means we’re going to do more than just show up at the bema. It means that our true character is going to be revealed there.

 

This is not an obscure teaching tucked away in one isolated passage. It is a major New Testament doctrine. It might be wise to look at some other passages, just so we’re sure we understand what is going to happen at the Bema.

 

Read 1 Corinthians 3:13. This one’s is a major passage on the distribution of rewards. “Each one’s work will become manifest; 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.”

 

These words all have to do with disclosure. “Manifest” is from the same root (phaneros), and it means essentially the same thing–“open to sight, visible.” Things that are now deeply hidden in our hearts, things that nobody else knows, are going to be brought to light on that day.

 

Go over to 1 Corinthians 4:5. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”

 

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a newsreel of our lives projected on a cosmic screen for the whole universe to watch. But it does clearly mean that God is going to reveal the counsels of the heart, the secret thoughts, secret motives, secret attitudes, secret ambitions, and desires that lie buried deep inside of us. It’s all going to be brought out into the light.

 

In fact, Jesus went so far as to say, in Luke 8:17, “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” Nothing hidden will remain hidden on that day, Jesus says.

 

That is a little scary. I frankly don’t want you to know all the things I’ve done in secret, you know that? I try to be fairly honest but you don’t know everything about me. And I don’t want you to. But in that day, it’s going to be revealed.

 

Read again Luke 12:2-3. “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

 

There’s another passage I won’t have you turn to. I don’t have it on the overhead but you might want to jot it down and check it out for yourself. Hebrews 4:13 says the same thing. No secrets at the Judgment Seat!

 

Does that mean that others are going to find out what has been going on deep in my soul, and what I have said and done in secret? It would seem so. I don’t know what else “Come to light” and “Proclaimed on the housetops” could possible indicate. Now, if we have dealt with those sins by confessing them and turning from them–I mean, we’ve stopped it–it won’t be necessary for Christ to expose them. They are forgiven and forgotten–separated from us as far as the east is from the west.

 

But everything that has not been dealt with in that way–confessed and turned from–will evidently be brought to light. Not so we can be punished for it. Christ bore the punishment for all our sins at Calvary. But to serve as the basis for our eternal reward or…loss of reward.

 

And now that everything has been brought to light, we’re ready to look at the issues at the Bema.

  1. The Issues at the Bema

The issue in 2 Corinthians 5:10 is whether we’ve done good or bad. Now I’ve got some good news for you. It’s kind of been a hard message this morning, hasn’t it? This word “bad” (phaulos) is different from the most common word for “bad” in the New Testament. It doesn’t necessarily mean evil, wicked or immoral. It refers to things which have no profit or value. That’s the basic issue: Did it have eternal spiritual value?

 

That’s the major idea in another central passage on the judgment seat of Christ: 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Paul has just taught us that Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith (3:11) There can be no other. If we’re trying to build on any other foundation, we’re building on sand and our house will ultimately collapse like a house of cards. Every true believer is building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. But what kind of materials are we using?

 

Read 1 Corinthians 3:12-13. “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it.”

 

Now there are six things mentioned there but there are two categories. Two categories of building materials with which we can build. And what is the difference between them? For one thing, the first set is valuable and the second relatively worthless. I could carry hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of precious stones in my shirt pocket, while truck-loads of straw would have relatively little value by comparison. We are going to be rewarded on the basis of what in our lives has real, eternal, spiritual, value.

 

For another thing, the first set is permanent, the second is temporary. Put a match to gold, silver or precious stones and you do them little to no damage. Put a match to wood, hay or straw and you have a huge bonfire that reduces them to ashes. People usually measure their wealth by gold, silver and precious stones, because these things will probably be around for awhile. They withstand the elements, and resist fire.

 

These building materials represent our works–works done after our salvation and before our death, while we are still in the body. That’s what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:10. In other words, the works we have performed as Christians. Some of the things we do are valuable and permanent, other things are worthless and temporary. And subjecting it to fire will reveal which category it belongs to.

 

We are not going to be burned. Remember, there is no punishment here. This is not purgatory. This is Jesus Christ examining our works to determine what is valuable and permanent and what is worthless and temporary, much as fire would reveal the same things about building materials. “And the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (v.13). Not what size it is, but what sort, what kind, what quality.

 

Of course, the question that comes to our minds immediately is, “What makes our works valuable and permanent? How are we supposed to know what in our lives is eternally priceless and precious, and what is basically junk?”

 

Was that year of teaching Sunday School jewels or junk? Was work in the church nursery, or the church grounds, jewels or junk? Was singing in the church choir jewels or junk? That’s the critical issue. And it is so critical that I don’t want to hurry over it this morning. I want to devote an entire message to it…and that’s several weeks down the road. So hold it for now, and look at one final fact about the Bema.
 
 
  1. The Outcome of the Bema

Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 again. “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.”

 

Salvation is not at stake here. Everyone here at the Bema is saved. Salvation is secured by faith in finished work of Christ. But some will feel as though they were dragged to safety through the smoke and flames of their burning house. They will have no reward. That’s the outcome: reward or loss of reward.

 

It’s important that we understand the meaning of that word “reward” (misthos). The most common word for rewards, used some 29 times in the New Testament. It always refers to what is earned, and means primarily “wages” or “hire.” For example, Jesus used it in His parable of the workers in the vineyard, when the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their wages” (Matthew 20:8). He used it again when He said, “…the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7; cf. 1 Timothy 5:18) But here it is used for our reward.

 

Rewards are not given by chance. They are earned like wages. That’s important to understand.

 

Go back to that other central passage on the Bema, 2 Corinthians 5:10–“…that each one may receive the things done in the body.” See that word “receive” (komizo)? It means “to receive back, to recover what is owed to you.” Jesus used this one in the parable of the talents, when the master said, “Therefore you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own, with interest” (Matthew 25:27). The word referred to something that was owed to him. And it is used here in 2 Corinthians 5:10 of our rewards.

 

There’s one more word I need to show you. It’s in Matthew 16:27. “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.”

 

That word “reward” (apodidomi) is a verb, rather than a noun, and it means “to pay back, to recompense, return or restore.” Jesus used this one in another parable when an unforgiving servant “…found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying ‘Pay me what you owe'” (Matthew 18:28). Owe.

 

In all three of these words there is the idea of indebtedness, and they are all used for our rewards. I want to ask you a question: Does God really owe us rewards?

 

I have often said that He doesn’t, that even giving us rewards is an act of grace. In a sense that is true. God isn’t obligated to give His creatures anything when we have done our very best, we are but unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). And yet, these passages make it abundantly clear that He has chosen to put Himself in our debt.

 

These are the words that He uses. If we meet certain conditions, He considers Himself indebted to us and He promises to pay us what He owes us. He’s going to do it according to His own wisdom and it may be a surprise to many, but He is going to pay us what He owes us.

 

Some will say, “We shouldn’t have to be repaid for serving Christ. The sheer joy of pleasing Him should be enough.” That may be true, but let me bring it over to the human realm for a moment. Suppose your boss came to you and said, “The management has decided not to issue any more paychecks. We think the sheer joy of pleasing us should be enough.” Do you think you would go in to work tomorrow morning? I doubt it. When you put in a week’s work, you feel that your boss owes you a week’s pay. And you’re right. He does. Now God has voluntarily put Himself in that same position of indebtedness. If we perform according to His standards, He promises to repay us richly. We can trust Him. And He is going to issue those paychecks at the Bema–the Judgment Seat of Christ.

 

You know, that’s a great prospect. It’s been a little scary today thinking about all those secrets coming to light. But think about the possibility of receiving from the hand of our precious Savior, these wonderful, marvelous, eternal rewards. Not a pine wreath that’s going to turn brown in a few weeks, like those ancient Greek athletes received at the Olympic games, but an imperishable crown. “Imperishable” it’s called in 1 Corinthians 9:25. “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Something that will never decay. It will provide us eternal honor and joy.

 

The qualifications for competitors in the games were rigid and demanding–ten months of rigorous and grueling training, during which they had to keep every official training rule. They weren’t even permitted to run unless they followed the prescribed training regimentation. And for what? A pine wreath that turned brown in a few weeks. We look forward to something far better: a crown that will never perish, never fade away, eternal honor and joy. Paul is out to win it.

 

Read 1 Corinthians 9:26. “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.”

 

He isn’t going to run aimlessly. He isn’t going to swing at the air. He’s going to follow the rules and give it everything he’s got.

 

Read 1 Corinthians 9:27. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

 

That is, disqualified from receiving the reward. That was one of the worst things Paul could imagine: calling others to the starting blocks and telling them how to run the race, then being himself disqualified from receiving the prize because of his manner of life. He simply will not let that happen. Paul wanted to win.

 

How about you? Why not aim for the top? Why not work for the best? Why not play to win?

 

One of the stars of the National Hockey League used to get into a lot of fights during the games. One day, his 8-year-old daughter asked him a very grown-up question: “Daddy, how can you score goals and win the game when you are in the penalty box?” That was the end of the fighting for him. He cleaned up his act, because he wanted to win!

 

How about you? Do you want to be a winner at the Bema? Nobody in his right mind should plan to lose. So why not do what needs to be done? We’ll talk about that as we progress in this series, but why not get it straight right now? Let’s yield our lives to Jesus Christ; yield our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. Make available to Him all that we are and all that we have. Use it faithfully to honor Him and serve Him in obedience to His word. Let’s run in such a way as to win the prize! Go for the gold!

 

Trusting Jesus as Your Savior

Remember, working for Jesus is not going to get you to heaven. That requires being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. That’s the only way we can gain entrance into heaven. How do we do that? By putting our faith in Him and the penalty He paid at Calvary’s cross.

 

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He”–that is, God–“made Him”–that is, Christ–“who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The question is, have you put your faith in that act of Christ where He bore our sin at Calvary? He paid the penalty we deserve. When we put our faith in Him, God clothes us in His righteousness and that’s what fits us for heaven. That’s where it needs to begin.

 

There will no rewards, of course, for anybody who has not first put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior from sin. That’s what puts us on the payroll. Are you there? If there is some question in your mind, we encourage you to settle it today. It’s just a matter of acknowledging your sin We all ought to be able to do that. We’re all sinners.

 

Let’s bow together in His presence right now. With our heads bowed, prayerfully, may I ask you if you know for a fact that God has robed you in His own perfect righteousness? I’m not asking you if your life is perfect. None of us is perfect. But do you know that you’ve put your faith in Christ alone for your eternal salvation? If you’re not certain, would you settle it today by opening your heart to Him, believing on Him? Just settle it in prayer with Him right now, in the quiet of your own heart.
 
 
    “Lord, I’m a sinner. I need a Savior. And I believe that Jesus is the only One who can
      save me from the just penalty my sin deserves. Lord, Jesus, come into my heart
and save me now.”
 
 

Now, Christian, you’ve done that. How have you been running the race? Are you going for the gold or are you settling for much less? This is the time to get it settled. Only God knows how many days or months or years you have left on this earth. Anticipating the judgment seat of Christ can make a difference in the way we live, in the way we run the race. Yield your life to Him right now, will you? Determine that by His grace and through His power, you’re going to obey His word.

 

Closing Prayer

Father, I pray that you will do some good things in our lives now, that will have lasting consequences. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Bible Reference(s)

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
2 Corinthians 5:10, 13, 21
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Matthew 24:29-33

Matthew 25:1-13, 27, 31-34
Matthew 22:1-13

Revelation 19:7-8, 11, 14
1 Corinthian 3:13-14
John 5:22

Romans 14:10, 12

Revelation 20:11-12, 15
Romans 8:1
1 Corinthians 4:5
Luke 12:2-3
Hebrews 4:13
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
Matthew 20:8
Luke 10:7


1 Timothy 5:18
Matthew 16:27
Matthew 18:28
Luke 17:10