What Are the Rewards at the Judgment Seat?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
At the judgment seat of Christ, following the rapture, the believer will give an account of the life stewardship of his time, treasure and talents. The result is the believer’s commendation, rather than condemnation. The Apostle Paul concludes the longest passage on the judgment seat of Christ with these reassuring words, “and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5).

The Scriptures emphasize that God offers to the saved rewards for faithful service. For example, Paul observes that “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 Cor. 5:10). The words “good and bad” are not speaking of moral good or evil, but that which is useful as opposed to that which is useless or worthless.

One category of rewards is that of crowns. Peter, Paul, James and John speak of the believer’s rewards as crowns, or stephanos (not diadeema-kingly crowns), literally victor’s garlands, from the word stephoo, to wrap around the head. These believer’s crowns refer to executive, administrative and judicial responsibilities in the coming age.

The New Testament mentions five crowns, or victor’s wreaths as were given as prizes to the victors at the Isthmian and Olympic games. The five wreaths possibly describe five different fields and spheres of Christian service and achievement.

1. The Wreath of Life.

This martyr’s crown is mentioned twice. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life” (Jas. 1:12). The reward is given to those who are willing to suffer for their Lord, even unto death. Believers in Smyrna faced martyrdom and are comforted with these words, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:20). The crown seems to refer to the quality of life or a reward consisting in life consummated in glory and exaltation, as was the life of Christ who was obedient unto death and consequently highly exalted (Phil. 2:5-11).

2. The Wreath of Glory.

This is the elder’s or shepherd’s crown, bestowed by the Chief Shepherd. “And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4). This award is given to those who faithfully and sacrificially minister to God’s flock, primarily pastors, and others such as principals, presidents or deans of Christian schools or directors of Christian camps. They will enjoy the glory and splendor of Christ’s earthly and eternal reign.

3. The Wreath of Rejoicing.

This reward is the soul-winner’s crown. Those whom the believer has led to Christ will be his “crown of rejoicing” at the rapture. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19). In Philippians 1:4, Paul refers to his converts at Philippi, “my joy and crown.” It will be consummate joy for the believer to meet those whom he has had the privilege to introduce to the Savior. The reference may include those saints who through their prayers and gifts enable others to win the lost. These would also participate in the joy of meeting these converts when Christ returns.

4. The Incorruptible Wreath.

This is the victor’s award for those who win the race lawfully and who exercise temperance and self-control. If the Greek athletes exerted themselves to the limit of their endurance for a fading victor’s garland, how much more should the Christian athlete strive for that never-fading wreath? “And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor. 9:25).

5. The Wreath of Righteousness.

This is the award for those who “love his appearing,” who, as Robertson says, “have loved and still love His second coming” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, IV, 631). The reference is to t hose who hold and cherish the blessed hope of the Lord’s any-moment return (Tit. 2:13), who live and work in an atmosphere of eager expectancy of the arrival of their absent Lord. The conviction that their Lord could come back at any moment produces practical righteousness in right and holy living, for which a future reward is promised. It follows that those who deny the any-moment return of Christ or are indifferent to the believer’s fondest hope will forfeit this reward.

The Apostle Paul certainly was motivated by a fervent expectancy of the rapture: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

What a blessed truth to contemplate: the believer is saved by grace, without works, and once saved, is motivated unto good works by God Himself (Phil. 2:13), and then is rewarded as he follows the prompting and enablement of the Holy Spirit! The godly actions and future rewards of the believer are a matter of pure grace, prompting us to echo the Psalmists words, “Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; for his loving-kindness endureth for ever” (Ps. 136:1).

A right understanding of the judgment seat (Greek, bema) puts an aura of anticipation over one’s present and future life. The Bema is a time when the believer will be rewarded for faithful service. His sins have been covered by the blood of Christ who “offered one sacrifice for sins forever,” (Heb. 10:4) and because of this, there is remission and no more remembrance (Heb. 10:17-18). The event is thus one of glory rather than gloom, rejoicing rather than remorse, rewards rather than recrimination.

At the Bema the believer will give an account for his works, which will be recognized as either worthy or worthless. In anticipation of this glorious event, the believer should be motivated for holy living and Christian service. The believer at last will receive recognition and rewards.

1. Recognition at the Bema:

While in this life believers are often hated by the world and misunderstood by other believers, the Bema involves recognition of character and conduct. Merrill F. Unger writes of this aspect in his splendid volume, Great Neglected Bible Prophecies, “Moreover, at the judgment seat vindication will extend to the difficulties and inequalities between saints as well. All injustices and misunderstandings will be settled. The humble, loving believer who endured meekly under provocation from a fellow –believer . . .but who bore all meekly and unresistingly for Jesus’ sake, shall then be manifested in His true light, and vindicated of any false charge” (p. 111).

2. Rewards at the Bema:

a. Special rewards:

In the Summer 2006 issue of the SEED we discussed one type of rewards bestowed upon the believer, and those are the crowns, or, better, wreaths or victor’s garlands. He Scriptures enumerate five garlands: the wreath of life (Jas. 1:12), the wreath of glory (1 Pet. 5:4), the wreath of rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19) the incorruptible wreath (1 Cor. 9:25) and the wreath of righteousness (1 Cor. 9:25). These rewards are bestowed for special service.

b. Individual rewards:

A second category of rewards involves the recognition of every action. The most routine of the believer’s life will either receive a reward or forfeit a reward. Even “eating and drinking,” if done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) will be rewarded, a truth marvelous to contemplate! Paul encourages both bond slaves and free servant (Eph. 6:8c) with the prospect that every good activity will be rewarded. While recognition and remuneration in this life may be minimal, the Lord will grant every good action “the reward of an inheritance.” Any action is worthwhile in God’s eyes and suitable for reward if it is done from the heart (kardia, Col. 3:22), with the whole being (ek pseuches, Col. 3:23) and with the proper attitude (eunois, Eph. 6:7).

The most routine matters of life take on a new meaning for the believer who realizes that every action may be, and if done properly, will be rewarded by God. A bitter spirit and complaining attitude will forfeit a reward. How glorious to know that if we “give it all we have,” even housework and homework, not just “holy” work will someday receive “the reward of the inheritance.”

c. Universal rewards:

Some rewards are promised to every believer by virtue of the gracious provision of Christ in the atonement. Even carnal believers are blood-bought and may anticipate certain rewards. These rewards area not bestowed because of faithfulness in life but in response to God’s gracious salvation. They belong to every Church age believer.

1) Divine appointment:

Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world ? . . .Know ye not that we shall judge the angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3). The carnal Corinthians, simply because they belonged to Christ, were promised participation in the kingdom (rather than exclusion from the kingdom!).

2) Divine affection:

Paul encourages all believers with the fact that at the rapture when the dead are raised and the living translated, we “we will meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” 1 Thess. 4:17). The experience of the eternal presence of Christ and His everlasting love would be sufficient for us. Every believer will be forever with the bridegroom. What a comfort!

3) Divine approval:

Paul concludes the most lengthy discussion of the Bema with the observation that Christ at that time will thoroughly examine each one of us, not for the purpose of condemnation—“there is therefore no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1) but for the purpose of commendation: “And then shall every man have praise of God” (1. Cor. 4:5).

How will the believer feel moments after the Bema? To hear the Savior’s words of commendation ringing in our ears will make it worth it all!

© Manfred E Kober

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