Understanding the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:9-10)



Understanding the Judgment Seat of Christ


So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NET)



Eschatology is the study of the end times. One of the reasons eschatology is important is because our view of the end affects how we live today. We see this practically in things like a college education. A person who knows they want to be doctor is going to study biology or pre-med to prepare. Their sense of the future affects the decisions they make today. Well, that is true spiritually as well, as we consider the end times.


A very important event within eschatology is the judgment seat of Christ. The judgment seat of is the place where Christ rewards believers for their faithfulness on earth. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” Also, Romans 14:10-11 says,


But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.


Judgment seat comes from the Greek word “bema.” It referred to an elevated seat where the judge of a contest sat. After the contest, the winners would assemble before the judge and receive their rewards or crowns. It was not a seat where people were condemned; it was only a place where people were rewarded. Likewise, for believers, we will not be condemned for our sins at the judgment seat of Christ. All our sins were paid for on the cross by Christ. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” At the judgment seat of Christ, there will only be reward or loss of reward. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul said this about how we build upon Christ’s church:


And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.


At the judgment seat of Christ, our works will be surveyed. Some works will be proven to be of low quality, like wood, hay, or straw, while others will be proven to be high quality, like gold, silver, and precious stones. Christ’s testing is compared to fire—the fire will destroy anything that is not of high quality. The high-quality works—no doubt meant to glorify Christ and edify others—will be rewarded. But for the low-quality works—primarily done out of selfishness and pride—there will be a loss of reward. Consequently, some believers will go before the judgment seat of Christ and it will be like escaping the flames. They will receive no rewards because their life was not lived to glorify Christ and serve others; it was lived primarily for themselves and the world. However, others will be richly rewarded. Many other verses describe this reality. In Matthew 5:19-20, Christ said this:


So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.


For those who follow Christ but live disobedient lives and teach others to do so, they will be called “least in the kingdom.” But for those who obey God’s Word and teach others to do so, they will be called “great in God’s kingdom.” This clearly demonstrates that in heaven, there will be degrees of reward. The parable of the minas in Luke 19 demonstrates this. In Luke 19:17-19, Christ describes his rewarding of those who are faithful.


And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’


Because of the sobering reality of being judged, we should be encouraged, even more so, to be faithful to God. In fact, reward is commonly given as a motivation to be faithful in Scripture. In Matthew 6:19-21, Christ told his disciples to store up riches in heaven:


Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul said:


Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.


Paul said he exercised self-control in everything—no doubt referring to his eating, sleeping, entertainment, serving, use of money and time, and every other aspect of life—in order to win the prize and not be disqualified from it. We should do the same.


Rewards from the Judgment


What types of rewards will be received at the judgment seat of Christ?


1. Some will receive crowns as a reward for their faithfulness. Before Paul died, he said this in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:


I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.


There are at least four types of crowns mentioned in Scripture:


• The imperishable crown is given to those who practice great discipline over their lives to serve God and others. As mentioned previously, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul said this:


Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.


• The crown of life is given to those who successfully endure temptation and various trials. James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10 describe this one:


Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.


Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.


This is especially encouraging to help us remember that our trials are not wasted. They lead to blessings on this earth as God strengthens our character through them, but they also lead to reward in heaven if we are faithful in them. In Matthew 5:11-12, Christ said this about those who suffer for his name:


Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.


• The crown of righteousness is given to those who especially long for and love Christ’s coming. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul said:


I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.


For believers who are entrenched in the things of this world, they will have little, if any affection, for the return of Christ (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). The return of Christ will mean the end of what they presently enjoy. However, the more we despise sin and the temporary things of this world, the more we will long for Christ and his return and therefore be rewarded by him when he comes.


• The crown of glory is given to faithful pastors of churches. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter said this to those shepherding scattered churches in Rome:


So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.


Unfortunately, many primarily view pastoring (or serving as an elder) as a burden. Certainly, it has many difficulties, but it also has many joys in this life and to come. For those who faithfully shepherd churches, Christ will reward them with the crown of glory.


With all that said about these specific crowns, many believe that they are not actually heavenly rewards at all. They would say these crowns refer to the full experience of eternal life that believers will receive. For example, when considering the “crown of righteousness” in 2 Timothy 4:8, it can also be translated the “crown that is righteousness.” Likewise, in James 1:12 the “crown of life” can also be translated the “crown that is life.” Both are linguistically correct.

Either way, it seems clear that believers will receive crowns in heaven, whether it is the specific crowns referred to earlier or not. In Revelation 4:10, twenty-four crowned elders, who apparently represent the church, cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet, as a way of honoring him. Revelation 4:10-11 says,


…the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!”


2. In addition to crowns, Scripture describes how faithful believers will be rewarded with various levels of authority in the coming kingdom. Again, in Luke 19:17-19, in the parable of the minas, Christ rewarded his faithful servants with ruling over various cities.


And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’


3. Another reward that Christ will give faithful believers is new talents and abilities—ways to serve God in the coming kingdom. In both the parable of the mina (Lk 19:11-27) and the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the unfaithful servant had his gift from Christ taken away and given to another who was faithful. In Luke 19:24-26, Christ said this:


And he said to his attendants, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten.’ But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas already!’ ‘I tell you that everyone who has will be given more, but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.


Therefore, a person who faithfully uses his gifts of hospitality and giving—providing for those struggling, opening his home to missionaries, giving generously to various outreaches, etc.—may, in addition to his other gifts, receive gifts of leadership and teaching at the judgment seat to serve Christ in the coming kingdom.


Criteria of the Judgment


On what criteria will believers experience reward or loss of reward? Some of the criteria were considered previously when looking at the various types of crowns, but we will more thoroughly consider the criteria below.


1. Christ will judge the motives behind our service.


Did we serve for wealth, power, or prestige? Or did we serve to honor God and bless people? In Matthew 6:16-18, Christ said this to his disciples:


When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.


Also, in 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul said this:


So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.


Therefore, we must continually ask ourselves, “Why do we do the things we do?” and “Will God be pleased with our motives?”


2. Christ will judge how we use our time, gifts, and abilities.


This is clearly displayed in the parables of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) and the minas (Lk 19:11-27). If we faithfully use what God has given us—developing our skills and abilities and deploying them in the most fruitful ways possible—God will reward us.


3. Christ will judge how we treat other believers, including contributing to their ministry.


Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.” Also, Matthew 10:41-42 says,


Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.


Matthew 10:41-42 is significant. For those who may not be called to missions outside their country or to a prophetic preaching ministry, by supporting those who are called to that, we share in their fruit and heavenly reward.


4. Christ will judge how we use our money.


In Luke 16:9-12, Christ said this:


And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes. “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?


If we are faithful with our wealth on this earth, we will prove that God can trust us with more—both in this life and in the next. Likewise, 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” Certainly, we will reap a harvest for our generosity in the present, but no doubt, this also applies to the coming kingdom (cf. Matt 19:21). Are we being faithful stewards of God’s money—using it to build up the church, spread the gospel, and help the needy? Or are we using it selfishly—without thought of God and others?


5. Christ will judge our faithfulness in suffering, especially our suffering for his name.


Again, Christ said this in Matthew 5:11-12:


Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.


6. Christ will judge how we used our positions of authority to serve others.


In Hebrews 13:17, the author says:


Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you.


Likewise, in 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter said this to the church elders in Rome:


So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.


7. Christ will judge how we responded to trials and temptation.


James 1:12 says, “Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.”


8. Christ will judge our faithfulness in evangelism and discipleship.


Daniel 12:2-3 says this about believers being resurrected and rewarded:


Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake—some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence. But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.


9. Christ will judge our faithfulness in studying, interpreting, and teaching God’s Word to others.


In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul said to Timothy, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” And in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, he said:


I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.


Because of this reality, James said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly” (Jam 3:1). Though these verses may apply specifically to pastors, teachers, and missionaries, they also apply to believers in general, since we are all called to make disciples by teaching them to obey all Christ commanded (Matt 28:19-20).


10. Christ will judge how much we long for and love his coming.


As mentioned previously, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul said:


I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.


Outcome of the Judgment


What is the outcome of the judgment seat of Christ? In general, it will be a celebration of God’s faithfulness and how he worked through us (cf. Rev 4:10-11). However, there may also be some shame at the loss of reward. In 2 John 8, John warns us about losing our reward. He says, “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward.” And, in 1 John 2:28, he may be describing the shame of some believers at Christ’s coming: “And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.”

With that said, Hoyt summarizes the reality of joy and shame at the judgment seat of Christ in a balanced way:


The Judgment Seat of Christ might be compared to a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder. However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the Judgment Seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.


In addition, we must ask, what does being rewarded or losing reward mean for our enjoyment of the coming kingdom? Will people with less reward be dissatisfied? It must be clearly stated that in the coming kingdom even those with less will be fully satisfied; however, those with rewards will have a greater capacity to be satisfied. For example, those who receive crowns will be able to honor God more by casting their crowns at Jesus’ feet, like the twenty-four elders did (Rev 4:10-11). Also, those who are given the ability to rule over cities will be able to serve more people than those who have not been rewarded with certain levels of rulership. It has been commonly said about those entering the coming kingdom: “In the coming kingdom, everybody’s cup will be full; however, some will have bigger cups.” The rewarded will have greater capacities to enjoy the wonders of the coming kingdom.


Timing of the Judgment


What will be the time of the judgment? Apparently, it will happen at the resurrection of the righteous. In Luke 14:12-14, Christ said this:


… When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.


At our resurrection, Christ will consider our works and reward us for our faithfulness.


Applications


How can we apply the reality of the judgment seat of Christ?


1. In considering the judgment seat of Christ, we must live with an awareness of God’s omniscience—he sees what we do in secret and public and our motives behind them both.


Because of this, we must aim to make not only our actions pleasing to him but also our motives. Psalm 19:14 says, “ May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.” Certainly, we must survey our thoughts and actions and bring them before the Lord just like the Psalmist.


2. In considering the judgment seat of Christ, we must aim to maximize our lives, including our gifts, time, and relationships, for God’s glory.


In the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas, those who were rewarded increased their initial talent and mina. We must do the same by being good stewards of our gifts, developing them into skills, putting them in places where we can maximize their profit just like a good investor. In addition, we must value our relationships with people, including our family, the church, and the lost, above all else other than God. Christ died for the world, including his church. We must sacrificially love and serve them as well. The people God has given us, in a sense, are our greatest talents and minas that we must faithfully steward.


3. In considering the judgment seat of Christ, we must be motivated by reward and loss of it.


In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul said this:


Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.


We are often motivated by promotion, money, relationships, and other temporary things on this earth. How much more should we be motivated by the Lord’s pleasure, which he will demonstrated through reward? Paul said to run to win the race and receive an imperishable crown. However, he also lived with a sober awareness of being disqualified from the prize. In addition, Christ told his disciples repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount to serve God in such a way where they would not lose their reward, like the Pharisees. We must be motivated by reward because God wants to reward us for faithfulness.


Conclusion


As we consider the judgment seat of Christ, we must remember that salvation in Scripture is always associated with faith. We are saved by believing in Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, repenting of our sins, and following Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are saved by having a genuine faith in the Lord which follows him and turns away from sin. However, true faith always produces godly works which seek to please God and bless others. And its these works which will be tested at the judgment seat. Salvation has to do with faith and the judgment seat and reward has to do with our works after that faith.


Therefore, we must first ask ourselves, “Have we truly put our faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior?” Being saved is as simple as ABC. We must ACCEPT that we are sinners under God’s judgment because he is a just God. We must BELIEVE that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead as a proof God’s acceptance of his sacrifice. Finally, we must CONFESS Christ as our Lord and Savior. If one hasn’t done that, it can be done today. Romans 10:9 says, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” One can confess his sins to God, confess his belief in the death and resurrection of Christ, and commit to following him.


After salvation, we must get busy in serving the Lord—serving our families and committing to a church by using your gifts and time to build her up and reach the world. Our works after salvation will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ and what passes the judgment shall be rewarded. We should be motivated to receive reward because that reward represents God’s pleasure, as he declares, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” May we all run our races well to glorify God and experience his pleasure.


Prayer Prompts


• Pray for God to test our attitudes, motivations, and actions and that he would reveal anything that displeases him and empower us to change.

• Pray for God to give us grace and opportunities to know, develop, and use our gifts for his kingdom in our families, church, and in the world.

• Pray for God to give us grace to please him both here on earth and throughout eternity (2 Cor 5:9-10).



Reflection


1. What stood out most in the study on the judgment seat of Christ and why?

2. What is the judgment seat of Christ? What types of rewards will people receive at the judgment? What will be the criteria of the judgment?

3. Is it wrong to seek rewards in heaven? Why or why not?

4. Does reward in heaven (or loss of reward) motivate you towards righteousness? Why or why not?

5. How is God calling you to better maximize your gifts and opportunities for the kingdom so can reward you for faithfulness?

6. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?




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