It is stated that all Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Daniel Webster, the noted American statesman, once said: “The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.” It is sobering indeed that all Christians must “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
The judgment seat (Gr. bema) was an elevated chair or platform, which resembled a throne that an official judge would sit upon in the Roman courts of law. In the Grecian world, the bema was the official seat of a judge who would observe the competitions in the theaters and award honor to those who competed well.
When Christians appear before the judgment seat of Christ it will be “that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This event does not pertain to non-Christians. Furthermore, it is not the recalling of sins for the Christian (Isa. 43:25; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 8:12). This is a judgment to determine rewards. Christians will be judged here not in terms of salvation; rather they will receive a reward for those things done in the body on earth.
It is clear that the sins of the Christian will not be recalled to determine salvation since God poured out His wrath for their sins upon Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ, the sinner’s substitute, took the judgment that man deserved (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:13). God has forgotten the sins of the Christian in the sense that He will not lay them to their charge (Ps. 103:12; Isa. 43:25; Heb. 8:12; 10:17). Once justified, the Christian will be always justified, because he has been judged for sin by grace through faith at the cross of Christ (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1, 2; 10:4).
The Basis of the Judgment
It is often said that the receiving of rewards should not motivate Christians. While this is true, it does not take into account the fact that Jesus Christ is pleased to reward His disciples. It is not wrong to be motivated by rewards if one is longing to be pleasing to Christ. Furthermore, one may think that they will be happy as long as they are in heaven, even if this means sitting in the back row. However, what if the same individual is in the back row because they did not please God? What if God, in fact, wanted them up front and near to Himself? The rewards one receives are not to sing glory be to me; rather the rewards are given in order to serve and honor God all the more in the coming kingdom. Forever, Christians will be trophies of God’s grace.
God gives gifts to His church in order to fulfill His will (see Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4:1-16; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11). Those that use their gifts as good stewards will receive more. There will also be ruling authority with the Lord granted, because of one being faithful to Christ (Lk. 19:11-27). The quantity of our works, as illustrated in the parable of the pounds, illustrates this point (Lk. 19:11-27; Rom. 2: 6, 7). Indeed, Christians are “[Christ’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” (Eph. 2:10) and “special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14).
At the judgment seat, the quality of our works will be judged (1 Cor. 3:10-14). Scripture makes clear that some will be saved “yet so as through fire,” that is, there soul is saved but their life on earth was one of unfaithfulness so that all is burned up. These individuals will experience shame before God for not being good stewards of the gifts that God has given them (1 Jn. 2:28). Just as the stars differ in glory, so will some of the saints (1 Cor. 15:41, 42). It is only those who have built on the correct foundation, Jesus Christ, which will not experience loss.
We should pray as David to “search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139:23). It should be that every motivation to do something “as unto the Lord” might be judged pure. The motivation of each individual’s actions will certain be examined (1 Cor. 4:5). Christians are to use the gifts that God has given to accomplish the work He has set before them and to glorify Him forever. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever is the aim.
The Degrees of Reward
Many will receive crowns from the Lord at the judgment seat. The verses below should inspire Christians to labor for the Lord. The motivation is gratitude for all that God has done in procuring salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
“Any everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). This incorruptible crown is the victor’s crown.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19, 20). This crown of rejoicing is given to the soul winner.
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). This crown of righteousness is given to all who eagerly anticipate the return of Christ.
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This crown of glory is given to elders.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). This crown of life is given to martyrs.
The receiving of these rewards will allow one to join in with the casting of crowns before the throne of the Lord God Almighty in an act of worship (Rev. 4:9-11). How sorrowful it will be that some will have no crowns to cast before the Lord, the only One worthy to be glorified. At that time, it will be made clear that every good and perfect work was for God and through His power so that He alone should be praised. This will not be a time to draw attention to self; rather it will be a time to worship the Savior who alone is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power.”
Christians are also given robes to wear (Rev. 3:14; 19:8). Clearly, this event occurs somewhere between the rapture and the second coming which would only make sense to be the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). When the church as the “the armies in heaven” follow Christ, they are adorned as Christ’s bride “clothed in fine linen” [e.g. imputed righteousness]. Jude 23 exhorts Christians to “even the garment defiled by the flesh.” The emphasis is upon motivation and the excellence of things done in the body.
Following the judgment seat of Christ will be the marriage of the Lamb. This event will take place in heaven before the second coming of Christ to earth and after the rapture of the church. This is apparent in Revelation 19:7, 8: “His [Christ] wife has made herself ready.” John the Baptist declared, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom” (Jn. 3:29). The bride is the church and will be married to Jesus Christ in heaven.
In the last chapter of Revelation, Jesus says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” The response of the bride of Christ is “Amen. Even so, some Lord Jesus!” It is because Christ may return at any moment that those in Christ are to encourage each other to live godly lives so that each may obtain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 12:1, 2). Furthermore, the imminent return of Christ is an impetus to tell the lost of the glorious gospel of grace.
The church is to join that bridal chorus which cries, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” It is certain that the heavenly Bridegroom will be delighted to respond to that cry. It is due to the riches of God’s love that He would have Christ Jesus die in the stead of sinful man. By grace through faith, sinful man can be justified through the blood of God’s own Son and be saved from the wrath that he rightfully deserves for his rebellion against God (Rom. 5:8-11). The joy of the Christian will be great at Christ’s return, yet it will scarcely match the joy of the Redeemer to take His church home to the Father (Jn. 14:1-3).