Everyone must stand before Christ someday to give an account for their life. What is the Judgment Seat of Christ and what does it mean?
Two Different Judgment Seats
Christians may not know this yet but they go through two different judgments. When they repent and believe in Christ, they have been judged already for their sins and been made or declared righteous before God because of Christ (2 Cor 5:21) and they now have peace with God (Rom 5:1). Those who have refused to repent and believe will have only one judgment and that judgment will be terrifying for them. This judgment comes after they die or if they are alive at Christ’s second coming. There is the Bema Judgment Seat and then there is the Great White Throne Judgment. One is radically different from the other because at one they will receive their rewards (for Christians) but at the other condemnation because of their refusal to believe the gospel (the lost).
The Great White Throne Judgment
In the Book of Revelation chapter 20 you will find the best Bible verses that there are that describes what is called the Great White Throne Judgment. This will be the final judgment of all who have over their lives refused to humble themselves and bend the knee to Christ as Lord. It is for those who have not repented and put their trust in Him to save them. Revelation 20:11-5 says “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
This judgment is for those who have lived and died and for those who will be alive at Christ’s return. The dead were all judged according to their works and since works can never save them (Eph 2:8-9) then they will not have any way to pay for their sins and so will have to pay for them for all time in hell. Even if those who are reading this do not ever trust in Christ and come to saving faith, “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 will give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:11-12). The word “confess” means “to agree with” so even those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ will “bow the knee to me (Christ)” and “every tongue shall confess to God” that Jesus is Lord. Every knee means every single person who has lived and will ever live on this earth. Even those not yet born will bow the knee and confess to God, both the saved and the unsaved. For those who are lost, they will be forever separated from God and since God is light, that will mean utter darkness where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for all time (Luke 13:28; Matt 13:42).
Harsher Judgment for Teachers
James makes it clear that those who teach the Word of God will be held to a stricter and higher standard, therefore James writes that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). If you are a teacher which includes a pastor and a Sunday school teacher, then you are more accountable because you are giving out the Word of God for the purpose of growing the Body of Christ and feeding those sheep who are under your care because you really work for the Great Shepherd. I am a pastor but I consider myself an under-shepherd because I am under the Great Shepherd Jesus Christ Who is the Head of the Church.
The Bema Seat
The so-called “Bema” seat of Christ is called “Bema” after the manner of the Greek athletic games. On the bema or bima, which was a raised or elevated platform, the winner of the athletic event that they had won received a temporary crown that could perish with time. Interestingly, the synagogue had something called a “bimah” which was used for the reading of the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament. For those who have had a time in their life where they repented or turned away from their sins and confessed them to God and then placed their trust in Christ, they will not have to stand before Christ at the Great White Throne Judgment. Instead, they will be rewarded for what they have done in their life after they were saved. Paul tells the Corinthian church “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10) but these rewards don’t come in this life since “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Tim 2:5) and “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4).
Paul writes that only that which is done for the Lord will remain in 1 Corinthians 3:” Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” Paul was saying that if a person’s works were for their own selfish motives then their works will be burned up but those works done for Christ will survive the first test. Wood, hay, and stubble are works done with selfish motives and “he will suffer loss” of rewards. Works truly done for the Lord will not be burned up.
In the final days of the Apostle Paul’s life he was certain that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8) because of his work for the Lord during his life after being saved. That’s why James said “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). This crown of life or eternal life is promised ahead of time for those who are faithful to Christ in this lifetime (Rev 2:10).
The Christian has already been judged for one thing…there sins. Here’s why I can say that because of what the Word of God says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christians only judgment will be for what rewards they will receive or not receive in the kingdom of heaven. We are not saved by works (Eph 2:8-9) but we are rewarded according to our works while done in the body, after we were saved. Which judgment will you be in; the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) or the Bema Judgment Seat of Christ? It all depends on your choice today; either be saved (John 3:16-17) or be condemned (John 3:18).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon