Judgment Seat of Christ

The Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema Seat)

Also known as the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Bema Seat Judgment does not determine salvation. Rather, it is when believers must give an account of their lives to Christ. It's a time of reward, not punishment.

It is very important to not confuse the Bema Seat Judgment with the Great White Throne Judgment.

Revelation 20:11-15 describes this judgment, "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." The Great White Throne is where those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are judged and condemned.

In contrast, the Bema Seat is for believers whose salvation has already been secured by faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10). We should not focus on the Bema Seat as Christ judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us according to our lives. Yes, we will surely have to give an account of our lives. Romans 14:10-12 explains, "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. 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." Part of this judgment is answering for the sins we committed. At the same time, I do not think judgment is going to be the focus of the Bema Seat.

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul gives the Corinthian church an illustration of the Bema Seat, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." Paul is teaching us that all Christians will stand before the Bema Seat of Christ. At the Bema Seat, Jesus Christ will bring to light every deed-good or bad-that each believer has done on earth since he or she became a Christian. Every Christian will be rewarded based on his words, deeds, and faithfulness.

What does it mean to have a “two-world” view?

Having a “two-world” view is one of those essential factors in our growth in grace.  A “two-world” view is simply having a focus on the world to come while living well in this present world.  This is the way the Apostles lived and what they taught. However, it is this loss or diminishing of a two-world view in the lives of many of God’s people today which has significantly contributed to present spiritual weakness and worldliness. It is not that so many believers today are necessarily involved in gross wickedness, but that, in the words of the Savior, they are chained by the worries, riches and pleasures of this present world.  Their focus is wrong.

When the writer of the book of Hebrews compiled his short list of super saints, it is apparent that all of them had this two world view. He said that these folks were people who saw themselves as “strangers,” “exiles,” and “aliens” in this world because they understood that the best was yet to come. God Himself was so pleased with their two-world approach to life that He was, according to the author, “not ashamed to be called their God” and that “He has prepared a city for them.”

All of them had an eye on the world to come which enabled them to live with a high level of excellence in this present world. Few of us would want to suggest that these people lived poorly or irrelevantly.

Possessing this two-world view begins with an unobstructed view of the world to come; a view which the Scriptures provide for us. But having this view is more than holding to a theological position. Its presence in our lives is evidenced when there is a heightened desire of seeing the Lord Jesus Himself (“loving His appearing”); when there is a confident but sober anticipation of that time when we shall appear before the Lord Jesus and give an account of our lives; and when there is an increasing desire to participate and enjoy the future, forever kingdom of God.

Believers with a maturing two-world view have a different perspective on living in this present world. They prioritize life differently, make better choices as they face trials, problems and other issues; and they seem to have a greater capacity to say “no” to questionable and sinful things.

Many of God’s people today are living with a one-world view and focusing on this life. Some of this comes about because of the one world emphasis in too many pulpits and Bible studies. When there is a one world focus, the reality is that believers lose out on both worlds.

In his wonderful book “Mere Christianity”, C. S. Lewis once observed the importance of having a two-world view. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for this present world were those who thought most of the next world. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in”; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

The Lord Jesus often spoke about having an eye on the world to come; that time when He restores and reconciles all that was lost in the Garden of Eden.

One of those important subjects in the coming world is the matter of the rewarding of believers at the “Judgment Seat of Christ.” This is an event which appears to have a ripple effect into eternity.  In His “Sermon on the Mount”, He exhorted people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”, and His very last words recorded in Scripture were: “Behold I come quickly and my reward is with Me to render to every man according to what he has done.”

The Lord Jesus, and later on His apostles, saw that this future rewarding of His people was an important motivation for living well here and now and our present growth in grace.

This great event along with those truths about the coming rapture of the church, the Tribulation period and the marvelous kingdom of Jesus Messiah (the millennial reign) are designed to change the way we think and live right now.

Since we, as followers of Jesus Christ, will all be participants in this event, the Judgment Seat of Christ, we probably would do well to be informed about this event. This time could be our greatest moment or (to use the words of the Apostle John) a time of unprecedented shame.

What is the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ?

The Bible talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ, also referred to as the bema, in three places: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Only church-age saints will appear at that judgment, as shown in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ."

The purpose of the bema is an exhaustive evaluation of our lives. As stated in 1 Corinthians 4:5, the Lord will come and "bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God."

That passage reveals Paul's emphasis on the Judgment Seat of Christ. Notice that Paul says each man's praise will come to him from God. God gives rewards to the victors; He does not whip the losers. We know that He won't condemn us for our sins at that point, because Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."

Thus, the purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to examine a Christian's total life. We will be recompensed for the deeds we have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). The term used there refers to a summing up and estimation of the total pattern of a believer's life. This overall focus should keep us from worrying over every stupid thing we've ever done, or thoughtless sin we have committed. It's a time of reward, not punishment.

At the same time, while we won't be condemned for our sins, our present lives do affect what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Here's how:

Sin and indifference in this life rob us of our present desire for serving the Lord. That in turn means a loss of rewards, because we will not have used our time to His glory. That is why Paul exhorts us to "be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of [our] time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16, NASB).

Sin and indifference result in a loss of power in our lives because sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

Sin and indifference cause us to pass up opportunities for service, which we would otherwise perform and be rewarded for.

The greatest consequence of unfaithfulness here on earth is that it disappoints Christ. First John 2:28 says, "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." That is a sobering thought, we could be ashamed as we stand before the Lord. At the same time, it should encourage us with the prospect of receiving His lavish rewards if we serve Him faithfully during our time here on earth.

When will the Judgment Seat of Christ take place?

The Scriptures indicate that it is at the return of Jesus that rewarding takes place. When a person dies, it is sometimes said that “he has gone to his reward.” While a believer will certainly be entering an indescribable place and seeing an awesome Person, technically this is not the time of rewarding.

Jesus put it succinctly in Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” During His earthly ministry, He stated: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27). In several of His parables (Luke 19; Matthew 25), He connected the rewarding of His servants with His return to earth.

Scripture tells us that rewarding is connected with His return. So when He returns at the Rapture for His Bride (the Church), that will be the time when church age saints are rewarded. This can also be seen in Revelation 19:8 where, just prior to the Second Coming to earth, the Bride is seen in heaven as rewarded. And on the basis of Matthew 16, we can also conclude that all other saints (from the Old Testament and the Tribulation) will be rewarded at the Second Coming event.

Do the rewards last for all eternity?

It is sometimes taught that after the Judgment Seat, all believers will then be the same. This is largely based on Revelation Chapter 4.

In Revelation 4:4-10, the 24 elders cast their crowns before the throne of God, and this has led some to conclude that after this act of worship that rewards play no part in future activities, rankings or conditions. But that is probably not how we should understand Revelation 4. That particular interpretation simply does not align well with numerous other scriptures. It is true that the rewarded elders are worshipping the Lord by acknowledging that their rewards are ultimately due to His grace. And the fact that they have crowns enables them to have a greater capacity in their worship of the Lord.

However, when we look at Jesus’ teaching in Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 25:14-22, as well as Paul’s powerful message in 2 Timothy 2:5-11, it becomes quite evident that rewards last for a very long time. At a minimum they will have consequences throughout the 1,000 year reign of King Jesus.

In the Millennial (Messianic) Kingdom. In this kingdom, the Lord Jesus will rule for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-10) over Israel and all the nations of the earth (Psalm 2:1-9; Isaiah 9:6-7, 11; Jer. 23:5-8; 33:20-26). Absent from this kingdom will be Satan and his forces as well as the curse placed on the earth by God in Genesis 3.

This kingdom will be characterized by righteousness, joy, peace, prosperity and health. There has never been a time like this on earth since Eden, and for those who have been faithful in this present life there will be the privileged opportunity to co-rule with King Jesus. Our investment (“laying up treasures”) right now will pay amazing dividends for one thousand years.

In the Eternal Kingdom. There is a second part to the future kingdom of God and that is the eternal phase when ruling authority is handed to the Father by Christ after His messianic reign (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). After all judgments have taken place, including that of Satan, unbelievers and the old heavens and earth, then this new final eternal phase will begin. It is likely that this will be on the new earth. But the question for us in this study is “do rewards have consequences in the eternal phase of the kingdom of God?”

There is evidence that rewards impact life in the eternal kingdom phase. For example, man will have a place a rulership in this eternal kingdom. Revelation 21:24 says that, “and the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.” In the eternal phase of the kingdom of God, there are nations and there are kings. This means that there are some people who are going to hold honored places on the earth during the eternal kingdom. This strongly suggests that the rewards given to believers do have eternal consequences. Again, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The writer of Hebrews seems to support the "eternalness" of rewards when he states that the present heavens and earth will be “shaken” while the kingdom we will receive will not be “shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29).  The “shaking” refers to the destruction of the old earth which is in contrast to the kingdom we will be part of which will not be destroyed.  This statement comes after numerous exhortations to remain faithful and endure because of the rewards that are coming when Jesus Messiah comes; strongly implying that the rewards and the kingdom are eternal.

While it is impossible to be dogmatic on the matter of the eternalness of rewards, the evidence points in that direction. But even it could be shown that rewards last for “just” one thousand years, how wise is the believer to live presently with that time in mind. How incredibly wonderful to have a unique relationship and a wonderful responsibility alongside the King, even if it is “only” for a thousand years. If it is eternity that is in view, then wisdom calls us with an even louder voice: “TODAY COUNTS FOREVER.” And Jesus’ exhortation to “lay up treasure” may be far more significant than is usually thought.

What are the believers' rewards?

Scripture reveals in Matthew 19:27:

Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

Here, Peter realizing that the apostles had given up everything to follow Jesus, asked Jesus if they could expect any rewards. Notice, Jesus did not rebuke Peter for the question.

Years later, Peter spoke of an “abundant entrance” into the kingdom of Christ that would come to those who lived well for Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11). In these verses, Peter declares that we are to add seven virtues to our free salvation.

He states that believers are to apply “all diligence” (1:5, 10) to make sure that these virtues are both present and are abundantly growing in our lives.

He reveals that if we do this then two things will be true. First, our present lives will be useful and fruitful (1:8) as well as avoiding some very negative things in our lives (1:8-10). And second, this diligence will produce future great reward.

Entrance into the kingdom of Messiah is by faith, but an “abundant entrance” comes from a life of faithfulness. The abundant entrance pictures the victorious Olympic athlete triumphantly returning to his home city where he might be honored uniquely.

He would not come through the usual gate of the city but an entrance would be created in the wall just for him. He would enter through this special gate because of his great success. Using this imagery, Peter makes it clear that those diligent believers will someday be honored in a special way by Christ at His judgment seat.

So, what are those rewards that will be given to faithful believers? Let's consider the Apostle Paul’s words found in 1 Corinthians 2:9 about future glory.

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Below, are four areas of rewards that the New Testament speaks of regarding the believers' rewards.

#1 – The Commendation of the King

Most every believer wants to hear King Jesus say to them, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17). Of all the rewards, this is the most significant of all. We can hardly imagine what it would be like to have the Lord of Glory say this to a believer.  To have the commendation of the King of kings will make any sacrifice made or any suffering endured to fade away to nothingness.

The pleasure of the King will make it all worth it. We should remember, however, that this will not be what is heard by every believer. The three servants in Luke 19:11-27 reveals an important reality. It is only the first one who receives this praise from the King.  The second servant receives no word at all and the third servant receives the depressing word “you worthless slave.”

#2 – A Special Relationship with the King

When Jesus came the first time, it is quite apparent in the gospels that some people were closer to Him than others. He did not reveal Himself to some disciples in any significant way (John 2:23-25), while others, such as the Twelve were particularly close to Him. Even among the Twelve, it appears that three were closer than the rest and were given special opportunities.

So, it should not be too surprising that at His second coming when He sets up His kingdom that there will be some who are closer than others.

Faithful servants are invited to enter “His joy” (Matt. 25:21, 23). While we cannot detail this, it is clearly an invitation into a relationship because they were faithful in this life to the Master.

Further, Hebrews lets us know that a believer who faithfully endures will be a “companion” of the King (Heb. 3:14).  When we look carefully at the verse in Hebrews, we see that there is a condition for one being a companion or “partaker”.  The correct translation is to be a partaker “of Christ” (NASB) not a partaker “in Christ” (NIV).  The NIV suggests that the verse is focusing on our position in Christ and this has spawned some interesting interpretations. But “hanging in there” is the condition for being a partaker.  A partaker (Gr. metachos) refers to someone who is a sharer or companion of another and is habitually in the company of that individual.

Clearly, this is speaking of a close relationship that some but not all will have. We can only imagine what this will look like in the wonderful kingdom of Jesus the Messiah.

#3 – Significant Responsibilities in the Kingdom of Messiah

In the creation account found in Genesis 1 and 2, it was God’s original plan to have Adam and Eve rule (along with Him) the planet. This was mankind’s uniquely wonderful position. This privilege was lost that fateful day when the two chose to disobey God. Rulership of the planet was taken by Satan. And so, one of the key future matters yet to be settled is the taking back of the planet.

This is why there is such an emphasis on Jesus, the Son of Man, coming to defeat Satan and to rule.  Psalm 2:6-8 summarizes it wonderfully.

But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, Thou art My son, today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.

And to that, Daniel 7:13-14 adds the following.

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him (the son of man) was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion was an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.

It will be this Man, from the line of David, that will come and rule. This coming King offers to faithful believers the opportunity to rule with Him.

Those believers will experience that unique role originally given to Adam and Eve. Paul states that “if we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).

Once again it is impossible for us to know exactly how this will work in the coming kingdom. However, it is clear that faithful believers will rule under King Jesus. Remember that Jesus specifically promised the Twelve that because they had left all to follow Him that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel when He returned (Matt. 19:28).

#4 – The Crowns that will be Given

Familiar to most believers is the idea of “crowns” being given. The crown (Gr. stephanos) of the wreath was used to honor individuals in ancient times. It is different from the crown of a king. The crowns most likely represent the kinds of things that will merit honor at the judgment seat.

The following four crowns are specifically mentioned in the New Testament. This is most likely not a complete list.

The Crown of Life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)

This crown is given to all those who faithfully endure the tests, trials and persecutions experienced in this life.

The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8)

This crown is also referred to as the "Watcher's Crown." The Apostle Paul said that because he had faithfully served Christ that this crown would be his. He also noted that anyone who “loves His appearing” will receive it as well. The Lord will definitely honor those who honor Him and have a desire to be with Him.

The Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:4)

This crown is given to those elders who have faithfully led Christ’s church. It is evident that leading a local church is not an easy task and the Lord acknowledges that with a special crown.

The Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19)

This if often referred to as the "Soul Winners crown." It seems to be for those who have faithfully shared the gospel.

Our generous Lord Jesus loves to give good things to His children. We can only imagine how absolutely incredible will be His rewards to His faithful servants.