THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST

by D. M. Panton



Chapter Five

THE JUDGMENT SEAT

We now arrive at the burning heart of this entire revelation as it concerns the Church - THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. "Wherefore we make it our aim" - the word means to love and seek for honour (Lange) in what Bengel calls the sole legitimate ambition in the world - "to be well-pleasing unto Him; for" - as the fountain of motive in all holy ambition - "we must" - as a necessity inherent in Divine justice; for the vindication of God’s holiness, and for the satisfaction of our own highest and holiest instincts - "all" - all apostles, all prophets, all martyrs - "be made manifest" - to our own consciences, to all the world, and above all to the Judge; a complete manifestation of all that has transpired within us, or in the external life (Lange) - "before the Judgment Seat of Christ; that each one may receive" - the technical word for receiving wages (Dean Alford) - "the things done in the body" - therefore thoughts and words as well as deeds, since the brain and the tongue are thus also involved - "according to the things that [plural] he hath done" - works exactly regulating reward: not according to the things that Christ did in His body; nor according to things done out of the body after death - "whether it [the award] be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). In the words of Lange : - Paul's tireless aim to please Christ "can only be fulfilled by his being found approved at that tribunal where he and his fellow believers are shortly to appear; for every action of God’s children during their bodily life must there be judged according to the law of strict righteousness, and each believer must be rewarded according to his good or evil conduct."

For the sweep of the decree as quoted from Isaiah is absolutely universal - "every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then" - since it is universal and the Church is, therefore, not exempt - "each one of us must give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:11) Nor could it be otherwise. In view of the chaos of conflicting creed and conduct - the bitter controversies, the personal quarrels, the excommunications and anathemas - all denial of a judgment seat is inherently incredible and impossible: there must be a judgment seat; and there is. Molinos, the Quietist, when condemned as a heretic and led away to his prison cell - "We shall meet again," said the old man to his judges, “in the judgment day; and then it will appear on which side, on yours or mine, is truth." Furthermore, it rests upon the oath of God. "By myself have I sworn, the word is gone forth from my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return" - the decree establishing it is as irrevocable as the life of God - "that unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (Isa. 45:23). So then, says the Apostle, (Rom. 14:10), let us forbear to judge, for we shall be judged, and, therefore, the bedrock of all our action is to be the approval of our Divine Judge. "We labour" (A.V.) - "we strive" (Alford) - "we are eager" (Stanley) - "we make it our aim" (R.V.) - "we are ambitious (R. V., margin) to be well-pleasing unto Him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10).

The tribunal, before which disciples appear, is peculiar. (1) It is a Bema[2], not a Thronos; a judgment seat for the investigation of disciples[3], not a throne for the arraignment of rebels: - for the Judge (2 Tim. 4:8) is "a certain king, which would make a reckoning with his servants" (Matt. 18:23). It is the first of our Lord’s three judgments (Rom. 14:12; Matt. 25:31; Rev. 20:12) on His return; and judgment begins "at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). (2) Thus those examined are Christians only. "We all" - i.e., "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord in every place" (1 Cor. 1:2): it is a final investigation of the whole Church of God. No Book of Life is produced, for it is no judgment of the lost: "the wicked shall not stand [or, rise] in the judgment...of the righteous" (Ps. 1:5). Nor (3) is it a judgment for life. "He that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life" (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1). The believer was crucified with Christ, and on Calvary exhausted the penalties of Hell: on that ground he can be judged no more. (4) The process is individual: "so then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12). "We" - it is Christian; "must" - it is inevitable; "all" - it is universal; "made manifest" - it is public; "judgment seat" - it is judicial; "stand" - it is in resurrection; "each" - it is individual; " give account" - it is responsibility; "to God" - it is Divine.

The procedure is revealed as exclusively judicial: "that each one may receive the things done." Not, that each may receive something from God, but "that each may receive the things" he himself has "done": it is not a general granting of glory, irrespective of service; but an exercise of the Divine Law, - "as he hath done, so shall it be done to him" (Lev. 24:19). "Be not deceived” - is a word to disciples - "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Paul puts it with exquisite clearness, and twofold emphasis. “Whatsoever good thing" - for a judge approves - "each one doeth, the same shall he receive again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph. 6:8): on the other hand - "Ye serve the Lord Christ. For he that doeth wrong" - for a judge censures - "shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3:25).

Our works and conduct are put in as the evidence: "things done by means of the body." We must all "appear in our true light" (Afford): as the fossil imprint of a bird’s claw, made ages earlier by a momentary alighting when the stone was soft, now records that act in solid rock, so our actions are the unerring imprint of our characters; the things done reveal what the body was. Like a palimpsest, when the heat of fire (1 Cor. 3:13) passes over it, so our life silently steals forth in lines every one of which we ourselves wrote: so that what our eyes looked on, what our ears listened to; what our hearts loved, what our minds believed, what our lips said, what our hands wrought, where our feet walked : - these are the unimpeachable evidences of the Judgment Seat. Secrets (1 Cor. 4:5), motives (Matt. 6:1), soul-attitudes (Luke 6:36-38), and just Church decisions (Matt. 18:18), also sway the adjudication[4].

The evidence wholly decides the award: "whether it [the award] be good or bad." The Greek points to the award: "that each may receive according to the things done, whether it" - i.e., what he receives - "be good or bad." Reward (as distinct from salvation, which is through faith, against deserts) is strictly defined by works. So somewhere there exists a draft by the hand of God of what our life might have been, and still can be: some have lived wonderfully near God’s thought for them: let us find and follow that Divine original.

So Paul says: "With me" - as an example and model to all Christians - "it is a very small thing" - it is a matter of the least importance - "that I should be judged of you" (1 Cor. 4:3) - the Church of Christ. When "all that are in Asia turned away" from Paul (2 Tim. 1:15), there must have been personal attacks, solemn denunciations, ecclesiastical censures, even excommunication of the Apostle: in wide areas of the Church his name had become a bye-word: even Paul. When his priestly executioners brought Savonarola to the stake, they cried : - “We excommunicate you from the Church militant here upon earth!" "But not from the Church triumphant in heaven!" answered the lonely hero. Men may not judge me, the Apostle says; but then neither do I judge myself: it is not because I am infallible that I rate human judgment so lightly, but because neither they nor I are competent to judge. "Yea, I judge not mine own self” - I cannot pass, even on myself, the final judgment - "for I know NOTHING against myself"; I am conscious of no sin; "yet am I not hereby [for all that] justified" - found blameless, irreproachable, a perfect steward. So Paul now administers the great heart-tonic: he takes our wrist, like a master surgeon, and with his hypodermic syringe inserts beneath the skin perhaps as powerful a heart-strychnine as I, for one, have ever known. "HE THAT JUDGETH ME IS THE LORD." A believer’s friends may over praise him, and his critics over blame; the world will totally misunderstand him in any case; his own conscience may flatter: the LORD only can appraise us exactly, and judge to a nicety. "Wherefore judge nothing" - pass no final sentence - "before the time" - our judgment must come; but its time, its season, is not yet: "until the Lord come" - to judge. If even my own conscience, knowing my motives and inner life, must be set aside as a judge, of how much less value is the praise or blame of men, whose judgment is purely external; and if an enlightened conscience ruled by Scripture does not condemn, the sharp criticisms of men need not unduly depress. Early in the Great War a young man sat at a table in a London restaurant. Two young ladies, seated at another table, watched him for a few minutes, whispering together; and then, approaching him, offered him a little box. He opened it, and in it lay - a white feather. "How strange," he remarked, "that I should receive two such gifts in one day: this morning I received the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace." If we are clear in the forum of conscience, we may have good hope that we shall be clear at the bar of God. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God" (1 John 3:21). "Let them say what they will," said a good man now gone to his rest; "they cannot hurt me; I live too near the Great White Throne for that."



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ



[2] The portable tribunal carried about with him by a Roman magistrate.

[3] Churches are judged now (Rev. 2:5). The Church is never judged corporately – as the Body or Bride – either here or hereafter; but disciples, apart from their collective standing, in their individual responsibility as servants, must render account. So the Church, as an entity, is never named in the Apocalypse, except once (Rev. 22:17), where the reference is to the present Age; nor do the children of God appear as aught but “servants” throughout that book of judgment, except once (Rev. 21:7), when the Millennial Age has passed into the Eternal. The fact that the judgment of the wicked is by itself, separated by a thousand years (Rev. 20:7), reveals that in 2 Cor. 5:10, “it is genuine Christians of whom Paul is speaking; all whose shortcomings and failures will one day be exposed, and who therefore make it their aim to avoid such defects” (International Critical Commentary). Individual judgment is not possible for believers as such, for in justification no believer differs from any other; but individual judgment as servants yields a variety of adjudication as infinite as the service and the sanctification.

[4] Even the lovely modifications of our Lord’s attitude foretold in such passages as Matt. 5:7 – “blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” – and Luke 6:37 – “condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” – are still fundamentally judicial, - that is, the recoil of a disciple’s conduct upon himself. But no lovelier revelation could be conceived of how we may deal with our forgotten sin. “In MANY things we ALL stumble” (Jas. 3:2): but “if ye forgive men their trespasses, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER WILL ALSO FORGIVE YOU” (Matt. 6:14); “for with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)