Friday, April 25, 2008

The "Judgment Seat" of Jesus Christ

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Romans 14:8-12

This scripture is sadly used to promote three incorrect teachings. First- that “judging our brother” means we cannot tell anyone that their actions are wrong. Second- that ALL people will stand before Christ for judgment. Third- that our appearance before Christ is like that described in the previous chapter of the judge pronouncing the judgment “from the bench.”

To briefly dispel the first two: One- judging a person (which we are prohibited from doing) is a completely different thing from judging a person’s actions. The Bible clearly directs us to declare sin to be sin, and to help our brothers to understand and overcome it. Two- clearly from the context of the chapter, including verse 8 above, “we are the Lord’s,” the “all” means born again Christians shall stand before Christ in this event.

As for the third false teaching, which perhaps is the most critical- it involves the very concept of a judgment seat. We know that the New Testament was written in the Greek language. The phrase “judgment seat” here is the translation of the single word- bema. This word means a “step.”

However by the time that Paul wrote this letter the word had developed a long history in Greek culture, for the word “Bema” came to represent a structure.

Below is a picture of the Bema in the Pnykx in Athens, Greece, built about 300 years before Christ.

Picture Source:

Bemas like it had two very common usages, one of which you may recognize from looking at the picture. The first use was the speaker’s platform for the assemblies of the citizens. The Bema above was the place where the Assembly of Athens met. The second use is the judge’s stand where the winners of the athletic games were presented with their awards. The awards stands where the athletes receive their medals today are virtually identical to this.

So then, what actually takes place at the “judgment seat” of Christ?
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

Remember from Chapter 6 that those of us who are born again and regenerated are made one with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We thereafter share HIS righteousness, and have ALREADY been found “not guilty” of sin and condemnation. It is here that Jesus comes for His own and gives us the rewards we have earned in our life in Him.

Where does the Bema of Jesus Christ take place?

 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1Thessalonians 4 :13-18 (NASB)

The Lord Jesus will return for His Church and take us up to be with Him in Heaven. This is what is known as the “Rapture.” The world will be left wondering and making excuses for how all believers disappeared in an instant.
While that is taking place, we will be receiving our rewards from Jesus “in the air.”