The Judgment Seat of Christ
On more than one occasion reference is made to the Judgment Seat of Christ by Paul the Apostle in his epistles. In Romans we read, “We shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ” (10:14), and in Second Corinthians it is said, “For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ” (5:10). This same Judgment Seat is also in view in First Corinthians where it is stated, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (3:13). The First letter to the Corinthians is addressed to the saints there “with all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2). It is therefore quite obvious that all believers will participate in this judgment.
Thank God, this is not the Great White Throne (Rev. 20)! There the wicked dead receive the final retribution for their rejection of the Saviour. Moreover, it is not the Judgment of the Living Nations spoken of in Matthew’s Gospel, where our Lord separates the sheep from the goats (25:31-46). Neither is it a judgment of the believer’s sins. “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more,” said the Lord (Heb. 10:17). Our blessed Lord became accountable for the believer’s sins on the cross. The child of God “shall not come into condemnation” (Judgment)—John 5:24, because the final consequence of sin was borne by Christ. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). The Judgment Seat of Christ is distinctly a judgment of the believer’s works and not his person. In glorified bodies we shall be called to “receive the things done in the body, according to what we have done whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10 R.V.). “Each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12 R.V.).
In the passages quoted at the start of this article we have; in the first, a review of our whole service; in the second, a manifestation of our conduct one toward another; and in the third, an examination in connection with our assembly life and testimony.
The word “Judgment Seat” is “Bema” in the Greek, and it is taken from the ancient games of the Greeks. It was the place where the judge sat at the end of the course to judge those finishing the race, and accordingly to give the rewards.
The Lord will judge the motives that prompted our service by “making manifest the counsels of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). The literal reading of the first clause of the verse is, “Do not pass a judgment before the right time.” The searching eye of the Lord is upon the believer’s work, in order that, at the right time, He may pass a righteous judgment upon it. The carping criticisms of others with regard to the servant’s path are wholly unjustified in view of this.
The believer’s whole lifetime of service since his conversion will also be judged. As a steward of the Master’s goods he is required to be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
In the third place the conduct of believers toward fellow believers will be brought under review. It is written, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother?” (Rom. 14:10) “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? (Rom. 14:4). This is the Lord’s prerogative. What right has the weak to judge or the strong to despise his brother ? (Rom. 14:3). It has been said that before speaking about any brother we ought to put the remark through four tests: The first, is it true? The second, is it kind? The third, is it necessary? The fourth, will it honour the Lord, Whose Name and character you ought to bear?
Finally, our work will be judged of what sort it is. The local assembly comes into the picture in First Corinthians chapter three. At the Judgment Seat of Christ our work will be tried as to quality and not as to quantity. This portion seems to apply especially to those who labour among the saints. The workman is seen building into the assembly either good or bad materials. Six kinds of such are specified: “gold,” a symbol of Divine righteousness; “silver,” a type of redemption by price; “precious stones,” a picture of the moral perfections of Christ. In contrast to these there is “wood,” which is combustible; “hay,” which withers; and “stubble,” which is worthless. A solemn warning precedes mention of these materials, “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (1 Cor. 3:10).
The believer involved will suffer loss if his works are burned up in that day, “But he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Those whose works abide will receive a reward (V. 14). The principles of judgment seen here are applicable to all believers, yet what consolation to know that, “Then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
The parable of the nobleman who gave ten pounds to his ten servants (Luke 19:12-27) is a fitting picture of the responsibility the Lord has laid upon His servants during His absence to “Occupy till He come again.” A place in the Kingdom will be apportioned those who have traded and have sought to serve Him faithfully during the days of His rejection.
The Judgment Seat must of necessity take place between the rapture of the saints to glory and the Lord’s return to the earth where He will establish His Kingdom, and where “the saints shall judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2).
A variety of crowns will be given in that Day of Christ. There will be the “incorruptible crown” for a race well run (1 Cor. 9:24-25); the “crown of righteousness” for personal love and devotion to Christ (2 Tim. 4:7-8) ; the “crown of life” for enduring temptation (James 1:12); and the “crown of glory” for the under shepherd, given by the Chief Shepherd Himself (1 Peter 5:4). Our Lord further declares, “Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My Name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41).
Those put to death for faithfulness to the Lord will receive the martyr’s “crown of life” from the hand of Christ Himself.
“Dare to be faithful,
Dare to be true,
Keep the Judgment Seat
Always in view,
Look on it now.
As you’ll look on it then,
Scanned by Jehovah and angels and men.”