THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE JUDGMENT SEAT
By Dr. John B. MacDonald
If you knew that you will be accountable for how you lived your life today, would you do things differently?
Our current focus is how biblical prophecies of the future can motivate us to live and serve faithfully in the present. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, one of those future events will be the judgment seat of Christ.
What is this judgment? Who will be judged? What is at stake?
WHAT IS A JUDGMENT SEAT?
In the Bible, “judgment seat” translates the Greek word bēma (pronounced bay-mah) which occurs twelve times in the New Testament (NT). It refers to a raised platform or dais where a judge or umpire addressed an assembly.
In the Roman judicial sphere bēma is used for the judgment seats of Pilate (Matthew 27:19; John 19:13), Herod (Acts 12:21), Gallio (Acts 18:12, 16f.), and Festus (Acts 25:6, 10, 17). These officials heard and judged important matters from a bēma.
Leonard Sale-Harrison (1875-1956) points out that bēma also referred to the raised platform where the president or umpire in Grecian games bestowed rewards.
So, a judgment seat or a bēma is a place from which a person of authority dispenses judgment or rewards.
Twice in the NT, bēma is used in a theological context for a future judgment by Christ.
WHAT IS THIS JUDGMENT SEAT?
These two theological references to bēma are Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.
I recommend that you read these two texts within their larger contexts, at least Romans 14:1-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Here are the two texts:
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat [bēma]. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
2 Corinthians 5:9-10
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat [bēma] of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
You probably noticed that one is “God’s judgment seat” and the other “judgment seat of Christ.” This does not refer to two different judgment seats. Theologian, Douglas Moo states that Paul “views God and Christ as so closely related that he can shift almost unconsciously from one to the other.”
WHO IS JUDGED?
Although this will not be the only divine judgment in the future, it is of particular interest to followers of Jesus.
Reading the contexts of Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 we can make numerous observations about those who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
For instance, Paul uses the first personal pronoun – “we” or “us” – referring to Christians. In addition, only of followers of Jesus can it be said that:
I agree with Dwight Pentecost who writes that “there can be little doubt that the bēma of Christ is concerned only with believers.”
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
Romans 14:12 tells us, as followers of Jesus, that “each of us will give an account of himself [or herself] to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 adds “that each one may receive what is due him [or her] for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
The "good or bad" refers to Christ's assessment of what we have done with our lives as Christians. The Greek word for "bad" is phaulos meaning worthless, rather than evil. So, Christ examines each of our actions to determine whether, to him, it is well-pleasing or worthless.
He also examines our motives behind those actions.
The result of Christ’s judgment of his people is not about their salvation or condemnation for, in Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1; John 5:24; 1 John 4:17).
One metaphor of the judgment seat of Christ is fire – some “materials” survive fire, others are burned up. As Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 3:13b-16):
“… the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
Your life’s work as a follower of Jesus will be revealed for what it is under the scrutiny of our Lord. The results are reward, or loss of reward. Although we belong to him, some of us may smell of smoke.
What are these rewards, and why should we want them? That’s for the next post.
In the meantime, here are two searching questions to ask yourself.
Here are two questions for you.
1. “Am I a genuine Christian?”
I use the phrase “genuine Christian” because the word “Christian” has lost much of its meaning in our culture.
Among other things, being a genuine Christian means:
I have met people who think they are a Christian, but their life does not manifest the necessary evidence.
In the final analysis, humanity separates itself into two categories:
“whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
2. “Am I living my life for Christ in a way that is well-pleasing to him?”
The judgment seat of Christ will reveal the answer to this in the future.
Does this motivate you to make it your goal to please him in the present?