The Judgment Seat of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:6-15

The military takes inspection seriously. I remember visiting West Point as a teenager. Our family took a tour and which had a display of the Cadet Quarters. The tour guide explained how everything in the Cadet’s room was inspected – from how you made your bed to how you folded your sox. This inspection was no small matter for these Cadets.

The military tradition of inspections is reflected in the long standing tradition of a ceremony known as PASS in REVIEW. During a Pass in Review, the troops march by the base commander or visiting dignitaries.

These military inspections make for better soldiers, always under the watchful eye of a commander, drill instructor or leader.

The same principle is true in the business world. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr wrote, “People don’t do what you expect but what you inspect.”

There is a coming inspection of our Christian Lives that will involve either REWARD or LOSS for every Christian. We should make our life for Christ count so that we receive His reward.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 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. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–15, ESV)

This passage, and corresponding passages in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 3 speak about the coming Judgment Seat of Christ. JOHN PIPER described the Judgment Seat as the “public declaration of the measure of our reward in the kingdom of God according to our deeds” (John Piper, “What Happens When You Die?”

This INSPECTION Motivates us to Please Christ. 5:9-10

The CONTEXT of this passage is 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:21. In these two chapters, the struggle in our mortal life is explained. Paul’s focus is on the troubles of this mortal life. He describes this life as a “jar of clay” (4:7), an “earthly tent (5:1), and “affliction” (4:8). He reminds us that our outward bodies are “wasting away” (4:16). In these two chapters, heaven is in focus.

With this expected destination in mind, Christians are reminded that it should be out goal to “Please him” 5:9. Paul uses the Greek word, Eurestos. “Almost every usage in the NT of this word deals with God’s evaluation of the Christian. “it is always used of God’s attitude towards human conduct.” (Kittle, TDNT) Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 457.

The INSPECTION is for Believers

The Judgment Seat is for EVERY believer. “We must all appear,” (5:10).

It is ONLY for believers.

The Judgment Seat occurs in heaven, after the Rapture. This judgment is mentioned in other NT Scriptures.

Rom 14:10–12, ESV “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 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 will give an account of himself to God.

Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

1 Corinthians 3:13 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.

The concept of the Judgment Seat originates with a commonly understood idea in the First Century World. It was the BEMA, a seat of judgment.

The NT speaks of several types of BEMAs

Pilate judged from a Bema “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,” (John 19:23, ESV)

Herod judged from a Bema “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.” (Acts 12:21, ESV)

Paul was brought before the BEMA while in Corinth! “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.” (Acts 18:11–17, ESV)

Paul served for 1.5 years in Corinth. During that time, he was brought before the BEMA (ESV = “tribunal,” NIV= “court”)

The books of 1 and 2 Corinthians written AFTER Paul’s Court Appearance. It was quite natural for him to use this well known concept as a description of the coming judgment for believers in heaven.

But there were THREE CONCEPTS of the BEMA known in the NT. Which one is the best concept as we consider the Judgment Seat of Christ in Heaven?

First, there was A Court of Justice (Paul before Gallio Acts 18).

Next, The Courtyard in a military camp where the commander administered justice, gave promotions and addressed the troops.

Finally, a Bema was also pictured in The STAND at the Olympic Games where the rules of the games were enforced and rewards were distributed. THIS seems to be the idea of the Believer’s Bema.

Things NOT judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ:

1) Your Life before salvation. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

2) Sins We have committed. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NIV84)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NIV84)

3) Degree of talent

4) Education, intelligence, wealth, family heritage, church membership

The Basis for the Judgment

Our work for God. 2 Cor 5:10. This verse describes our work as Good or bad. This is not to be considered in the moral sense where bad = evil, because we know that our sins will not be judged at the Bema. Christ took our penalty for sin on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). Here, Bad = worthless.

The 1 Corinthias 3 passages describes these acts as “Wood, hay stubble” 1 Corinthians 3:11–15 “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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.

Our motives for serving God will also be evaluated in Christ’s judgment.

(Matthew 6:1, ESV)“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

GOD is WATCHING A group of children lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. A non posted a note on the apple tray: “Take only one. Remember, God is watching.” Further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “take all you want. God is watching the apples.” God is watching it ALL! (Mark Hitchcock, “The End,” 210.)

The Judgment will likely consist of the crowns to be awarded the believer. Consider this like the Olympic Wreaths laid on the head of the victors. There is no real value in the wreath. In Corinth, such wreaths were made of common olive branches. The importance of receiving a wreath was that it was a recognition of the accomplishment. The one giving the wreath made all of the difference.

The Reward: Believer’s Crowns.

The Incorruptible Crown. For self-discipline in the Christian life. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV)

The Crown of righteousness, for those who look forward to the Lord’s coming. “Henceforth 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 Timothy 4:8,

The Crown of Life, for endurance and perseverance under trials. “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, ESV)

The Crown of rejoicing. For soul winners who make and equip disciples. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, ESV)

The Crown of Glory for faithful spiritual leaders who oversee God’s flock. “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4, ESV)

Finally, we should consider the Extent of the Judgment – Nothing will be hidden during Christ’s Inspection.

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.” (1 Corinthians 3:13, ESV)

on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:16, ESV)

There is an inspection coming. Christ desires to REWARD you for your labor for Him!

When I Stand at the Judgment Seat

by Martha Snell Nicholson

When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ

And He shows me His plan for me;

The plan of my life as it might have been

Had He had His way, and I see

How I blocked Him here and I checked Him there

And I would not yield my will,

Shall I see grief in my Savior’s eyes;

Grief though He loves me still’

Oh, He’d have me rich, and I stand there poor,

Stripped of all but His grace,

While my memory runs like a hunted thing

Down the paths I can’t retrace.

Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break

With tears that I cannot shed.

I’ll cover my face with my empty hands

And bow my uncrowned head.

No. Lord of the years that are left to me

I yield them to Thy hand.

Take me, make me, mold me

To the pattern Thou hast planned.