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Bema

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THE JUDGMENT-SEAT OF CHRIST

The doctrine of the Judgment-Seat of Christ may well be the most neglected doctrine in the church today. Yet it is presented in Scripture as a great motivation for a believer to live a holy life.[1] It also provides a beautiful balance between the believer’s justification, which is by grace through faith,[2] and the believer’s sanctification, which involves faithfulness and obedience and good works.[3] Failure to observe this Biblical balance has brought tremendous confusion throughout the centuries. There are basically two judgments mentioned in Scripture with respect to the individual.[4] One is for the believer and the other for the unbeliever.

The Great White Throne Judgment

This judgment is mentioned specifically in the book of Revelation[5] but is alluded to throughout the Scriptures.[6] It includes only unbelievers.[7] Notice that these individuals are evaluated on the basis of their works.[8] But all of their works are found wanting[9] and all are cast into the Lake of Fire. The only means presented in the Bible for obtaining eternal life is faith in Jesus Christ.[10] Thus faith in Christ is the only condition for being in the Book of Life.[11]

The Judgment-Seat of Christ

This judgment is for believers only[12] and is referred to a number of times in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament. For example:

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.[13]

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.[14]

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.[15]

The word judgment-seat is a translation of the Greek word bh`ma bema (pronounced bay-ma) which simply means a step. However, in the first-century world, it was used to denote the place where various kinds of judgment would take place. “Bema was used to denote a raised place or platform, reached by steps, originally that at Athens in the Pnyx Hill, where was the place of assembly; from the platform orations were made. The word became used for a tribune, two of which were provided in the law courts of Greece, one for the accuser and one for the defendant; it was applied to the tribunal of a Roman magistrate or ruler”[16]

“The bema in Corinth was a large richly-decorated rostrum, centrally located in the market place. It was the place where rewards were given out for victory at the Isthmian games. These rewards consisted of garlands, trophies, crowns, and special social benefits, such as exemption from income tax. But punishments were also administered here as well. Apparently the judgment of II Cor. 5:10 deals with negative as well as positive. Paul says we will be judged according to both the good and the bad things we have done while in the body. We tend to gloss over this, yet the Lord warned, ‘For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known’.”[17]  Paul spoke of God bringing to light the hidden things of darkness,[18] and Peter spoke of the fact that judgment must begin with the household of God.[19] Paul’s reaction to the judgment seat of Christ was ‘knowing therefore the terror of the Lord’[20]”.[21]

What is the Judgment-Seat of Christ?

The Judgment-Seat of Christ is an event after the rapture of the church[22] in which the believer’s works will be evaluated.[23] It is not a place of punishment, for Christ took all my punishment for sin – past, present, and future.[24] It is, however, a point of evaluation at which I will be assigned a position of service for all eternity.[25] At that time there will be both reward[26] and rebuke,[27] which for some will result in a loss of inheritance[28] and a lost opportunity to reign with Christ.[29] Thus the stakes are eternal at this ultimate evaluation.

On What Will I Be Evaluated?

  • My works.[30] This will include both my motivation[31] and my actions; that is, whether they have been performed in conformity to Scripture.[32]
  • My faithfulness.[33] In other words, God is not going to judge me on success, but on faithfulness to what He has entrusted to me - time, talent, and treasure.[34] Many who have been last on earth will be first in heaven.[35]
  • My words.[36] “Words are often reflections of the motives and attitudes in our hearts.”

Thus faithful work is our duty,[37] but God’s rewards are dispensed on the basis of His grace.[38]  “I am becoming today what I will be for all eternity”.[39]

How Should I Prepare?

The Apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthians states his goal of self-discipline in striving to win the imperishable crown.[40] He was beating his body into subjection[41] lest he be disqualified at the Bema of Christ. The Apostle John exhorts his spiritual children to live a righteous life, lest they be ashamed before Christ at His coming.[42] He also reminds them that they can lose reward.[43] The Apostle Peter, writing just prior to his own martyrdom, exhorts his recipients to mature in Christ that they might receive abundant reward.[44] And Jesus Christ testifies at the end of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last”.[45] May we live each moment every day of our lives in the light of this awesome event.[46]


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[1] II Cor. 5:10-11, I Pet. 1: 13-21.

[2] Eph. 2:8-9.

[3] Eph. 2:10.

[4] John 5:29.

[5] Rev. 20:11-15.

[6] For example, Eccles. 12:13-14.

[7] Rev. 20:14-15.

[8] Rev. 20:12,14.

[9] Rev. 20:15; Rom. 3:23.

[10] John 3:17-18; 20:30-31.

[11] Rev. 20:15.

[12] II Cor. 5:10, I Pet. 4:17.

[13] II Cor. 5:10.

[14] Rom. 14.10.

[15] 1 Cor. 3:12-15.

[16] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. See also pages 1926 and 1951 of the Nelson Study Bible for some excellent articles on this subject.

[17] Luke 12:2.

[18] I Cor. 4:5.

[19] I Pet. 4:17.

[20] II Cor. 5:11.

[21] Dr. Joseph Dillow in The Reign of the Servant Kings (Schoettle Publishing Company, 1992)

[22] Rev. 19:1-8, Heb. 9:27.

[23] I Cor. 3:13-15.

[24] Col. 2:13-15, Heb. 10:11-18, II Cor. 5:21.

[25] Matt. 25:23, Luke 19:17, Rev. 22:3.

[26] I Cor. 3:14, Matt. 25:23, II Tim., 4:8.

[27] Matt. 25:26-28, 22:11-13, Luke 19:20-26.

[28] I Cor. 3:15, 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21.

[29] Rom. 8:17, II Tim. 2:12.

[30] I Cor. 3:13, II Cor. 5:10, Rev. 2:23; 19:8.

[31] I Cor. 4:5, Matt. 6:1-4

[32] I Cor. 9:24, II Tim. 2:5.

[33] Matt. 24:45, 25:23, Lk. 16:10, I Cor. 4:2, Rev. 2:10.

[34] I Tim. 6:20.

[35] Matt. 19:30, Luke 13:30.

[36] Matt. 12:36-37, Luke 12:2-3.

[37] Luke 17:7-10.

[38] Matt. 20:13-15.

[39] Dr Earl Radmacher, Notes in Eschatology, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary

[40] I Cor. 9:24-27.

[41] Vs. 27.

[42] I John 2:28.

[43] II John 8.

[44] II Pet. 1:5-11.

[45] Rev. 22:12-13.

[46] II Cor. 4:16-18, Phil. 3:12-14.

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