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The Judgment Seat of Christ

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Most of my adult life I have been battling a rare genetic condition.  This condition, in turn, has directed my attention towards my citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  I draw great comfort and strength from knowing what is ahead in my future.  A very real part of the reason I continue to serve the Lord Jesus Christ is because I know that one day I will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

I turn your attention to 2 Corinthians chapter 5.  In this dramatic section of teaching the Apostle Paul had just put forth the important lesson, in verses 6-8, that right now while we are home in our bodies we are not present with the Lord.  The next two verses shed some light on the Judgment Seat of Christ.  “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 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”  (2 Cor. 5:9-10).  Paul is clear that part of our motivation to please the Lord is the very truth that we will all one day stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of our service to Him.  It is absolutely essential to remember, “This is not a judgment to determine whether we will enter heaven but one to determine to what extent He will reward us who enter heaven” (Constable 2 Cor. 5:10).

As Paul wrote to the church at Rome he again found himself addressing this issue.  The coming reality of the Judgment Seat of Christ caused Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim, “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 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 of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:9-12).  Again we have this teaching that each believer in Christ will have to give an account to the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  This should motivate each Christian to examine their walk with Jesus Christ.

This does, however, raise a significant question.  What did Paul mean that we each must give an account to the Lord?  Not understanding the Judgment Seat of Christ can lead to needless confusion for Christians.  It is precisely for this reason that we must take a closer look at the specific details of this event.

When does the Judgment Seat of Christ take place?  We do not have a direct statement in the New Testament on the timing of the event.  Yet, we are not left empty handed.   We know from 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 that the Lord must come for His church before we can stand before Him.  This is why the Lord testified, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12).  Based on this, we can safely conclude that the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place after the Rapture of the Church.  Revelation 19:8 also gives us another piece of the puzzle.  At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb the church will, “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).  “When the bride returns with Christ at His second coming, she is clothed with the righteous deeds that have survived the examination of this judgment” (Ryrie 597).  Putting these pieces together we can safely determine that the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place after the Rapture of the Church and before the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation.  The Judgment Seat of Christ is only for believers living in the Church Age.  It is not for the Old Testament believers, for Tribulation saints, or for those believers living in the Millennial Reign of Christ.

Why is it referred to as the Judgment Seat of Christ?  The words judgment seat actually come from one Greek word, which is the word βῆμα (bema).  It refers to a, “platform that required steps to ascend” (Arndt 175).  Acts 18:12 instructs us that at the judgment seat government officials would rule over matters.  One of its functions was to be a place of judgment.  As Church Age believers, we will appear before the Lord Jesus Christ at His place of judgment.

What exactly should we expect at this judgment?  This question is answered for us in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  Much like the parable of the minas that Jesus taught in Luke 19, Paul reveals to us that Christ will judge the works of His servants.  This is not about receiving forgiveness of sins or about receiving eternal life.  The fire Paul speaks of in this passage, “does not refer to the ‘eternal fire’ of damnation (Rev. 20:10) but to the evaluation of believers’ works” (Radmacher 1 Cor. 3:11-15).  “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” (1 Cor. 3:14-15).  The Judgment Seat of Christ is about receiving rewards and a loss of rewards.  It is not only about outward works but includes the councils of the heart (1 Cor. 4:4).

Samuel Hoyt summarized this great teaching of the Judgment Seat of Christ in a way that is exceptionally clear:

The Judgment Seat of Christ might be compared to a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder. However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the Judgment Seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential (qtd. in Ryrie 598).

Having a focus on our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is extremely helpful to our walk with Christ.  By living to please our Lord we can know that we will be rewarded for our faithful service to Him.  This should bring us great joy and comfort.  This should cause us to desire to serve Him even more.  As the Apostle John testified, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

Bibliography

The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Constable, Tom. Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003.

Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald Barclay Allen and H. Wayne House. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999.


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