What Is the Judgment Seat of Christ?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

The judgment seat is a climactic event for the believer soon after the rapture. Three main issues need to be discussed for the answer to this question.

1. The Importance of the Judgment Seat of Christ

The judgment seat of Christ is a glorious event following the rapture at which the believer is rewarded for faithful service. The Greek word translated judgment seat is bema, from “high” or “lifted up.” At the time of the rapture Christ comes in the clouds to take His bride to the heavenly home He is presently preparing (John 14:1-3). After a reunion with the Lord and our loved ones, Christ returns with the resurrected and translated saints to heaven.

Contrary to the view held by some, who make the bema a virtual Protestant purgatory, it is a time of glory, rather than gloom and rejoicing, rather than remorse. It is a time when the servants of the Lord will give an account of their faithfulness, will find vindication and receive rewards. The bema is the culmination of a life of service.

2.  The Issues at the Judgment Seat

A great deal of confusion exists concerning the nature of the bema. It is not a general judgment for all people. The context of 2 Corinthians 5:10 makes it clear that the bema pertains only to believers. Nor is the bema a test of entrance into heaven. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 the believer is already in his glorified state in the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, the bema is not a judgment of believers’ sins, whether confessed or unconfessed, committed after salvation. Bible passages abound which speak of total removal of sin from the believer at the moment of salvation. For example, God says, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions” (Is. 44:22). He assures the saints in both Testaments, “Their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12).

The Scriptures distinguish between three judgments for the believer. He is judged as a sinner at the cross (Rom. 8:1). At the moment of salvation his sins are totally removed, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psa. 103:12). Furthermore, the believer is judged as a son during this life. Every genuine son is disciplined for persistent and unconfessed sin (Heb. 12:5-7). Finally, the believer is judged as a servant at the bema. He will give an account for the use of his time, talents and treasures entrusted to him by his heavenly Master.

3.  The Illustration of the Judgment Seat

Many believers anticipate the rapture with some trepidation, not because they do not wish to meet their Lord, but because of their dread of the bema which follows the rapture. They fear that their sins will be exposed and that they are made a public spectacle in heaven.

A correct understanding of the term bema, however, puts the event in a totally different light. Paul illustrates the believer’s future accountability with the figure of an athlete involved in an athletic event. The judgment seat or bema was an elevated platform at an athletic arena, such as the one near Corinth, where the Isthmian games were held. From their bema or elevated seat the judges watched the athletes and awarded them prizes. Seen from this perspective, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 take on the proper meaning. Whereas, ancient athletes received a corruptible crown, the believer, as athlete, strives for an incorruptible crown. Thus, by employing the term bema, Paul is not describing a courtroom scene, as the English translation “judgment seat” might imply, but that of an Olympic arena, with judges, athletes and awards. At issue is not the exoneration or condemnation of a criminal but the commendation of an athlete. In fact, the longest passage on the bema, beginning with 1 Corinthians 3:11, concludes with the wonderfully encouraging words, that when we have given an account of our stewardship and the Lord has examined us, “then shall every man have praise of God”(1 Cor. 4:5).

© Manfred E Kober

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