What is the judgment seat of Christ? How will we be judged for our works to receive eternal rewards?
(This post is part of a series on eternal rewards.)
We’re all accustomed to receiving rewards based on our efforts. Most employers reward their employees based on job performance. Similarly, athletes in competitive games (e.g., the Olympics), receive rewards based on how well they compete.
In the same way, Scripture teaches that God will judge believers’ works after we die. The believer’s judgment, called the Judgment Seat of Christ in 2 Corinthians, is a judgment for the purpose of assigning eternal rewards based on our service to Christ. Paul gives us detailed descriptions of the Judgment Seat moment in three different passages:
2 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NKJV)
The Judgment Seat of Christ
9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Romans 14:10-12 (NKJV)
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NKJV)
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul says God judges our works. The Greek for “judgment seat” is bema, and appears seven times in Scripture. In ancient times judicial decisions were typically handed down from an official seated on a bema seat, a raised platform on which a judge or magistrate would sit as he pronounced a decision in some matter before him. Eternal Rewards
For example, in Matthew 27:19 and John 19:13, Pontius Pilate sits on a judgment seat while judging Christ. Also, in Acts 18:12;16-18, we find the Jews bringing Paul to the Roman proconsul Gallio while seated for judgment. In these passages, the judgment seat indicated an official acting in his role to judge the guilt or innocence of someone.
It’s important to understand that even though believers face a judgment, that moment will not be a judgment of sin or a question of salvation. Entry into Heaven (i.e., salvation) is only obtained by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works so that once a person has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, they are promised to receive eternal life.
Scripture makes clear that Christians will not be judged with respect to our sin, for Christ paid for all of our sins, past, present and future. As a reminder, a few Scriptures make this plain:
John 3:18 (NKJV)
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned (judged), but he who does not believe is condemned (judged) already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Here, condemnation (judgment) refers to eternal salvation but makes clear that we who believe in Christ will not be judged.
Romans 8:1 (NKJV)
Free from Indwelling Sin
8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
If the judgment seat meant possible punishment, then this verse makes no sense.
Hebrews 10:11-12 (NKJV)
Christ’s Death Perfects the Sanctified
11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,
Hebrews 10:17-18 (NKJV)
17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission (forgiveness) of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was offered once, for all time. In addition, God says once He has saved us, that He will remember our sins no more; He has forgiven us. Therefore, it logically follows that there cannot be any punishment for the Christian.
Therefore, the judgment believers will face is one intended to assign rewards. For comparison, we must look to another occasion in which a bema is present: the ancient Greek Olympic games. As one writer puts it, “This word [bema] was taken from Isthmian games in ancient Greece where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed. The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory.”
Paul occasionally made reference to the Olympic games as an analogy to explain the believer’s relationship to the bema judgment moment:
Timothy 2:3-6 (NKJV)
3 You, therefore, must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops.
Here, we see the believer as a soldier, athlete, and farmer. Notice we seek to please someone as a soldier (just as we seek to please God), we “win a prize” as we compete in the games, and we should expect our “share of the crops”. Not only does this refer to Olympic type games, but both the athlete and the farmer should expect something for their work.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV)
Striving for a Crown
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (exercises self-control) in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Again, Paul uses the language of “running a race to receive the prize”. Those who ran such races did so to receive a wreath, which was their prize. Just as an athlete disciplines himself so that he is not distracted in his training to win the race, so should a believer discipline himself as he serves the Lord, not being distracted by the things of this life, all with an expectation of receiving a reward.
Importantly, the prize or reward here is not referring to salvation. Salvation is never called a prize in Scripture, only a gift. Likewise, when Paul says he does not want to be disqualified, he is not talking about losing his salvation. How do we know? Very simply, because our salvation is not based on what we did or do. God has chosen us for salvation from before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1). Our salvation was accomplished by Christ’s life, death and resurrection: our sins were forgiven in Christ by His death on the cross, and we are counted righteous by His sinless life, all by faith (Romans 4 and 5).
Rather, disqualified here refers to not being able to receive rewards. Think about what happens to an athlete in the Olympic games. If he is disqualified, is he punished? No, but he cannot compete in the games and therefore cannot win the prize. So it is with the believer who does not live (run) in such a way as to receive rewards (the prize).
So when the Bible speaks of God judging a believer’s works, it is describing a judgment (bema) similar to that of an athlete participating in Olympic type games. It is a judgment for the purpose of assigning rewards only. Therefore, if our work is pleasing to the Lord, we will receive a reward.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
Join our mailing list
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.