WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM

by Thomas W. Finley


Chapter Seven

THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST - PART I

The desire to obtain eternal life in the next age is what brought the rich young ruler to Jesus. You will recall that Christ identified that desire as being one to "enter into life" (Matt. 19:17), or "to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23). These terms were used concerning entry into the realm of the blessed Kingdom in the coming age. When and where will it be decided who will enter the Kingdom? This matter, and others, will be decided at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Our appearance at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be the most awesome event of our lives. Let us try to picture the scene from Scripture.

I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him; and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened (Dan. 7:9-10).

This scene in Daniel Chapter Seven is connected with the end time judgments of God since the destruction of the Antichrist is mentioned in verse eleven, and since Christ, the Son of Man, is presented before the Ancient of Days to receive His Kingdom in verses 13 and 14. The same scene is presented in Chapters Four and Five of the book of Revelation. The duration of this court session may last several years as judgments are meted out upon an unrepentant earth. It is in this scene that the seventh trumpet is sounded, heralding the announcement that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15; compare Dan. 7:14). Immediately after this announcement the twenty-four elders who were seated on their thrones before God fall on their faces and worship God. They declare that God’s reign has begun, and then they recount the events of that general time period: "And the nations were enraged, and Thy wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged and the time to give their reward to Thy bond-servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear Thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:18).

Chapter Seven of Daniel reveals at least two specific judgments that emanate from the court session. One is the judgment upon the "little horn" (the Antichrist). This judgment is seen in verses 11 and 26. The other judgment is that which is in favor of the saints so that they may possess the Kingdom (vs. 18, 22, 27).

It is not my desire here to try to determine precisely when and where the Judgment Seat of Christ takes place. However, I believe it does take place when He returns (Matt. 16:27; Rev. 22:12), and in the presence of the Father and His angels (Rev. 3:5). Revelation 11:18 cited above seems to confirm that the scene presented in the Seventh Chapter of Daniel and the Fourth and Fifth chapters of Revelation would include the judgment and reward of the saints. What an awesome and fearful scene we see here! One day we will appear there. We will see God’s throne as flames of fire, and a stream of fire will be flowing out from before Him. Around His throne will be other thrones (probably angelic rulers) and a myriad of angels.

It is in this setting that the Scripture records, "The court sat, and the books were opened" (Dan. 7:10). The books are a record of the doings of those to be judged (compare Rev. 20:12, which is a later judgment that includes dead unbelievers). Into this courtroom comes One called the Son of Man. Unto Him all judgmental authority is given. "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son" (Jn. 5:22,; see also Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Tim 4:1). This scene, it seems, pictures the court in which we believers are to be judged one day.

The Greek word bema is used of Christ’s Judgment Seat in Second Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10. Some teachers have argued that this word, bema, was used in Greek literature as a reward seat for the judge viewing contestants in the Grecian athletic games. Therefore, they say this word carries the notion of honor and reward rather than justice or judgment.[1] Thus, they conclude that at Christ’s Bema, He will simply reward and honor the victorious runners in the Christian race. Those who do not run so well will just not receive a (positive) reward according to this view.

However, the Scripture never once uses bema in the setting of an athletic contest with rewards. In Matthew 27:19 Pilate sat at the judgment seat. From there he decided the life or death fates of two men, Jesus and Barabbas. In Acts 18, Gallio heard charges of wrong against Paul while seated upon the bema (v. 12), and Sosthenes received a beating in front of it. In Acts 12:21, Herod delivered an address to the people from the judgment seat, but since he did not give God the glory, an angel of the Lord struck him at the bema so that he died. In Acts 25, Paul was brought before the bema (vs. 6, 10, 17) for judgment, with accusers bringing charges against him, trying to get him punished. Overall, Scripture references portray the bema as a place of examination and true judgment. This is in agreement with the two uses of the word bema in connection with Christ’s Judgment Seat:

But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment 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 one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12, NKJV).

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

There are a large number of New Testament verses related to the coming judgment of believers. Because it is our desire to avoid making this book lengthy, not all the verses will be covered nor will a detailed exposition be given. It is hoped that the reader may be stimulated into studying this subject more as he or she reads the Scriptures. Let us begin, however, to look at some of the aspects of the Judgment Seat in the light of God’s Word.

At the Judgment Seat, the lives we lived as believers will be revealed for what they really were. "For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10, AMP). The Greek word for "appear" in this verse carries the idea of being made manifest, open, fully revealed. This verse then continues: "that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." This is a summary verse concerning the Judgment Seat, indicating all that we have done will be judged. It will be helpful for us, however, to see some of the categories this judgment will include. The list below may not be inclusive.

SOME CATEGORIES OF JUDGMENT:

  1. Our words. "But I say to you that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37).
  2. Our motives. "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each one’s praise will come to him from God" (1 Cor. 4:5).
  3. Our stewardship of money and possessions. "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?" (Lk. 16:10-12)
  4. Our stewardship of our spiritual gifts and responsibilities. (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-27; see comments in Chapter Five on these passages.)
  5. The nature of our service. (1 Cor. 3:11-15; this matter will be addressed below.)
  6. Our relationships with others. (Matt. 5:22-26; 6:14-15; 7;1-2; 18:23-35; Rom. 14:10; Jas. 5:9; more will be said about this topic in Chapter 8.)
  7. Our conformity to God’s holy standards. (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5)

Judgment upon the nature of our service

Item five above, the nature of our service, deserves particular comment at this juncture. The Bible records that the work Christians do to build up the body of Christ will be tested at the Bema. In the third chapter of First Corinthians Paul addressed this matter. He declared that he had laid the foundation of God’s building in Corinth, which is Christ (1 Cor. 3:9-10). Others were then building upon that foundation. Because the Corinthian believers were exhibiting envy, strife and divisions (v. 3-4), Paul warned them to be careful in light of the coming judgment:

But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:10b-15).

The judgment will be a testing time. The purging fires of God’s judgment will test each believer’s work to see of "what sort it is" (v. 13). One sort is depicted by gold, silver and precious stones, signifying that work produced by God’s working in and through the believer. These materials stand the test. The other materials (wood, hay and straw) are consumed by the fire. These materials signify the fleshly, natural works of man which do not build up, such as the fleshly works of envy, strife and division noted in verses three and four.

In principle, all work done by man in the energy of the natural life, without God as its source, is fleshly and unacceptable to God, no matter how good it may appear. That was the lesson of Saul in his attack on Amalek (1 Samuel 15). Amalek represents the flesh of man impeding his progress toward the good land. God wanted the Amalekites totally destroyed, but Saul kept the best of the spoil, that which was "good", to offer to God. God utterly rejected this. God wants the totality of the old man crucified no matter how good or capable he may be (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:3-9). The one whose work stands the test receives a positive reward. However, "if any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss" (v.15). The exact nature of this suffering of loss is not fully defined here, so it is presumptuous of Bible teachers to say it simply means that the believer will lose all positive reward. Actually, the context contains a strong indication that the suffering of loss may involve definite punishment, since Paul continues his warning to the Corinthians in the next two verses as follows:

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17).

Here Paul must still be talking about how the local church at Corinth is being built up. When Paul states that "you are a temple of God", he is speaking of the church in Corinth--all of the believers there collectively, not individually. All of the pronouns "you" in verses 16 and 17 are plural, not singular in the Greek. In verse 17, Paul goes on to warn that "if any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him". The word for destroy here is phtheiro, which means to corrupt or destroy.

Paul is warning the Corinthians that if any one of them is destroying the local church there through fleshly work, that, in turn, "God will destroy him"! W. E. Vine comments on the use of this verb in this verse as follows: "With the significance of destroying, it is used of marring a local church by leading it away from that condition of holiness of life and purity of doctrine in which it should abide, 1 Cor. 3:17 (KJV, ‘defile’), and of God’s retributive destruction of the offender who is guilty of this sin."[2]

God’s destruction of the believer here may well speak of ruin to the failed disciple during the coming 1,000 year age, since in context the warning is closely connected to the matter of the Judgment Seat. It cannot speak of eternal destruction, escape from which is secured by grace. Even the Holy Scripture here gives that assurance when it declares, "he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be [finally, eternally] saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:15).

We have seen by the foregoing categories of judgment that Christ’s future examination of believers is very thorough. It touches our words, our motives, our stewardship of material possessions, our faithfulness in the use of our spiritual gifts, the nature of our service to God (fleshly or spiritual), our relationships with others, our conformity to God’s holy standards and, in summary, all of the deeds done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10).

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

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

[1] See J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come. (Grand Rapids: Academic Books, 1964), pp. 220-226.

[2] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1939. (Reprint ed., Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1968), p.131. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.