The Judgment Seat of Christ


Dr. John Hoole – September 7, 2014





God is moving in human history – He is, whether we believe it or not.  Bible Prophecy – Eschatology – is nothing more than the history of the world in reverse.  Instead of looking backward at past events, prophecy outlines future events on the horizon.  In some cases, God has given us many details that go with those major future events.  However, in other cases, God has not deemed it necessary to fill in all the blanks.


For example, we know one main event, called the Rapture will occur, but God has been silent on our understanding the exact day this event will happen.  We know the antichrist will rise to power after the rapture, but we do not know how long after the rapture he will begin his rise to prominence.


Another situation is also becoming very apparent.  God is getting ready to judge the world.  With what we, in our generation, are seeing in the world today – and even in America – it must be only God’s grace that is staying His hand of judgment upon us.


The idea that somehow we are accountable to God for what we do in this life is met with a number of reactions.


                   1.      This idea is fervently believed by some,


                   2.      It is intuitively felt by others,


          but    3.      Most people simply disregard it.


It has been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes.  But there is one more thing we can be sure of – the judgment.


We often make appointments which we later either cannot keep or do not want to keep.  In some cases, we are able to postpone, or even cancel, these appointment.  There is one appointment which none of us will be able to avoid, cancel or postpone.  It is mentioned in Hebrews 9:27.


Hebrews 9:27  (KJV)


            It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.


In an earlier lesson, we learned there are 7 judgments mentioned in the New Testament.  Each of these judgments have a different purpose.  And some of these judgments have already taken place.  Let me list them for you.


A.     The Judgment of a Believer’s Sin


The Bible assures us that the wages of sin is death  (Romans 6:23).  Every person who becomes a believer and enters Heaven must have their personal sin judged and punished according to the holy law of God.  If you have appropriated the blood of Jesus Christ to your life by accepting Him as your Lord, then your sins have been judged and forgiven.




         This took place at Calvary.


All of our sins were placed on Jesus as He hung upon the Cross, and the wrath we deserved was poured out upon Him  (2 Corinthians 5:21).  The judgment of your and my sins took place at Calvary.


B.      The Judgment of the Believer’s Walk


The second judgment mentioned in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 11:31-32.


         For if we would JUDGE ourselves, we would not be judged.

         But when we are JUDGED, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.


If we haven’t taken the time to judge ourselves and the walk we have before the Lord, He will do it.




This occurs here on earth, prior to our death.  And it is a continuing judgment throughout our daily life where the Holy Spirit awakens our conscience to an active obedience to the will of God.


C.     The Judgment of Israel


This judgment takes place here on earth in the middle east.  Part of the judgments of God during the 7-year Tribulation is purposely focused on the Jewish people as their focus.  One description of this 7-year period is that it is called “Jacob’s Trouble,”  (Jer. 30:7), thus tying it to the Jews.


D.     The Judgment of the Gentile Nations




         The Sheep and Goat Judgment.


The details of this judgment is mentioned in    Matthew 25:31-46.  It is also mentioned in a number of Old Testament prophecies as well.  Joel 3:2 says God will bring the nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  Today it is called the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem.  It is there that God will judge them for conspiring to destroy Israel and divide the land.  This judgment takes place following the Second Coming and brings an end to the Battle of Armageddon.


E.      The Judgment of Fallen Angels


All the angels that joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God, will stand before God in judgment.  In Revelation, it is mentioned with the White Throne Judgment  We know, according to Revelation 20:10, that Satan will be cast into the lake of fire and this happens shortly after the Millennium.  In all likelihood, this is when the fallen angels will meet their judgment as well.


F.      The Great White Throne Judgment


This judgment takes place after the close of the 1,000-year reign of Christ.  We spent 3 weeks looking at the details of this judgment. Jesus taught that there are two ways of living, each resulting in a different destiny.  Where does this judgment take place?  We don’t know for sure, but the description seems to place it somewhere in space.


G.     The Judgment Seat of Christ


This is the judgment we are discussing in this lesson.




Both of these judgments are mentioned in John 5.


John 5:28-29 NKJV


28     Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice

29     and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.


                   The Resurrection of life leads to THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST.


                   The Resurrection of damnation leads to THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT.


The Great White Throne judgment is mentioned by that name in Revelation 20:11.  The Judgment Seat of Christ is mentioned by name in a number of places.  A person does not have to end up at the Great White Throne judgment and the Lake of Fire.  We can choose to accept Christ as our personal Savior and end up at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Today, we are going to look only at the Judgment Seat of Christ.


I’ve already implied the answer, but WHO IS BEING JUDGED AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST?  This judgment is not a judgment of unbelievers but of only believers.  All believers from the Church age – the time from the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture – will appear before God.




The judgment of believers takes place shortly after arriving in heaven, following the Rapture.  The Judgment Seat of Christ is mentioned directly in two Passages.  Romans 14 and 2 Corinthians 5.


Rom 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 account of himself to God.


2 Corinthians 5:10  (NIV)


10     For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.


There are several words in this verse I want to emphasize.  In the beginning of this verse, the principal verb is “appear” is used.  We will not just put in an appearance at the judgment seat.  This word more strictly means “made visible” or “to be clearly seen and explicitly discerned.”


When as a servant we stand before our Master, our lives of service will to totally laid bare (Heb. 4:13).  Because the Greek word translated “appear, is in the Passive Tense, it means we are not revealing ourselves, but He is revealing us.  We are revealed not only to the judge, but we are revealed to ourselves as well.  Suddenly, perhaps for the first time, we will truly see what our life of service was like.


Notice the second word in this verse – “WE”. The context clearly indicates that Paul is referring to himself and other believers in Christ.  This corroborates what we said earlier, that believers from the church age are those being judged here.


The mere mention of this event strikes fear in many Christians, an event thought of as something unpleasant that must happen before the joys of heaven.  Someone might asked, doesn’t the Bible say that those who trust in Christ are saved from judgment?


John 3:18  (NAS)


         He who believes in Him (Christ) is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


John 5:24  (NAS)


         Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.


Romans 8:1  (NIV)


         Therefore, there is now no condemnation [judgment, punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus.


So how do we harmonize those Scriptures with the fact that all Christians must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ?  We need to recognize that in English, the word “judgment” can have different meanings.  Our word “judgment” can refer to:


                   •  A criminal trial, where a defendants guilt or innocence is in question.

                   •  An opinion – i.e., a personal judgment

                   •  A conclusion is a judgment.

                   •  An evaluation of athletes competing for a gold metal or blue ribbon.


In light of Paul’s many references to athletic competition in the New Testament, he was likely using the term as it applied to Greek sports.  An Olympic diver, for example, has 8 to 10 judges who evaluate each dive.  The one who has the highest cumulative score is rewarded with a gold medal.  This is different from a criminal trial.




                            The BEMA judgment.


“BEMA” is the Greek word in each of the two Passages we just read that is translated “Judgment Seat.”  It is a very picturesque word, and very easily understood by the listener living in the first century.  According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word  “bema” means:  


                   •  a step

                   •  a raised platform mounted by steps

                   •  a platform for seating a tribunal

                   •  the official seat of a judge


The word BEMA is used in contemporary Greek culture to refer to the stage or platform area in a synagogue or church.  This is the place occupied by a pastor and possibly a choir in a Christian church.  But in Bible times, the term referred to a “judgment seat”; in simplest terms, it was a raised platform occupied by a judge.


The origin of the word “BEMA” is found among the Corinthian people, as far back as 400 B.C... An ancient athletic competition was held near Corinth,  called the Isthmian Games.  This athletic event was the forerunner to the Olympics Games we have today.


In this picture, which shows the footprint of ancient Corinth, you will see one such BEMA near the agora.  If you visit Corinth today you can still see its BEMA,   a large, once elaborately decorated platform on the edge of the agora, which is what the ancient marketplace was called in the Greek language. 


Let’s move a little closer.  The Bema is a raised platform, some 5 to 6 feet above the surrounding ground, with 8 to 10 steps leading to the BEMA.


In the large Olympic arenas, there was an elevated platform on which the judge of the contest sat.  Here are a few photos of two other BEMA seat I have personally seen.  One is located near the agora in Athens.  The other is in Caesarea Maritima, located centrally at the side of a large hippodrome, where ancient races were held.


Why do I mention the Isthmian Games in connection with the Bema judgment?  Paul often uses the analogy of an athlete to teach us correct principals of being a Christian.  He often described the Christian life in terms of athletic metaphors.  His goal was to WIN the “race” of the Christian life, not to lose it.


Let us examine four passages written by the apostle Paul where he may have had the Isthmian Games in mind when he penned the words.  It may be possible he was in Corinth in the spring of 51 A.D. to witness the Isthmian Games.


Paul uses two metaphors in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 NKJV


6       …the time of my departure is at hand.

7       I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

8       Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.


He is writing this passage in Rome, near the end of his life.  He mentions boxing and running in this passage.  And Paul died winning the prize.


Another verse using the same two metaphors was written to the church in Corinth.


1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV


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 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.


Unlike the modern Olympic Games where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the first three places respectively, in the ancient games, only the winner received the crown.  There was no second place award – winning was everything!


In this passage, Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest.  He draws on his firsthand knowledge of the BEMA at Caesarea, Corinth, Athens, etc., when he describes the judgment seat of Christ.  There was a natural correlation between them.


As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the BEMA to receive his perishable award, so the Christian, Paul says, will appear before Christ’s BEMA to receive his or her imperishable award.


In this passage in 1 Corinthians 9, the two metaphors in verse 26 are, again, that of a runner who runs focused on the finish line and a boxer who does not shy away from his opponent like a shadow boxer.  Rather, he engages his opponent to the finish.


The third passage is 1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV.


7       Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

8       For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.


The apostle Paul had in mind the gymnasium – something you would find in every Greek City.  An athlete would spend time exercising their body in preparation for the upcoming games.  The priority for the Christian should be on exercising the “spiritual life” before the “physical life.”  Paul was not against exercising one’s body, but reminds the reader that such exercise had temporary benefits.  However, exercising the spiritual life should be a priority because it has both temporary and eternal consequences and benefits


The fourth passage is 2 Timothy 2:5, which I will read in a moment.  After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the “bema.”  There they would receive their rewards.  The bema was not only the place of recognition for the victors, but it was also the place where a judgment was rendered if there was a question about the rules.


The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by a judge to the platform called the bema.  The laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory.  The contestant is considered the winner only if he competes within the rules.  That is actually stated in the Scriptures.


2 Timothy 2:5 NIV


5       Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules.


Before the events, the athletes swore that they would follow the rules in their training as well as not cheat in order to win the crown.  In the Christian “race,” we must follow the rules as well.  In order to know what the rules are, one must know the “Rule Book,” the Word of God.  It behooves the believer in the Lord Jesus to read, study and apply the Word to their life.


The “bema” judgment at an athletic event was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned.  All who stood before this seat received a reward.  The Judgment Seat of Christ is this type of seat.  It is a place for distributing the crowns and rewards to the saints.


Earlier, we looked at “who” is judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Again, the Judgment Seat of Christ is reserved for the judgment of Christians only.  That is, they are born-again believers in Christ Jesus.  If a person is unsaved and dies in sin, they will be judged at the Great White Throne, which occurs following Christ’s millennial reign on earth.  Now, let’s look at the “when.




1 Corinthians 4:5  (NIV) will help us understand the timing.


5       Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.


Notice the phrase, “wait till the Lord comes.”  This speaks of a time immediately after the Lord comes and we rise to meet him in the air.


1 Peter 1:7 KJV


7       That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:


                   The believer will be praised and honored when Jesus comes.


Luke 14:14 NKJV


14     ……you shall be rewarded at the resurrection of the just."




                   At the resurrection of the godly.


We believe that when Christ comes and we rise to meet him in the air, that from there, we are taken to heaven by Christ.  It is a real event yet to occur.  Many New Testament Scriptures talk about this event called the “Rapture of the Church.” The Judgment Seat of Christ will occur in heaven immediately following the Rapture of the Church.  The giving of rewards seems to be the first thing on the agenda after our resurrection.




I am often asked if this judgment will be private or public.  You and I live in a day when security is a high priority.  As a result, many public places have become saturated with personal surveillance devices.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent millions of dollars on “smart” cameras that attempt to identify people based on their facial images.


The privacy issue carries over to our questions about the Judgment Seat of Christ.  How so? People ask: “is everybody in heaven going to know all the things I’ve done?  Will my life be flashed onto a huge screen for everyone to see?  We will attempt to answer these questions.


 I Think it may be possible that it will occur in the presence of others.  See what it says in Luke 12:8 NKJV


8     Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.


This passage does not indicate when He will confess us before angels, so it is only a possibility that it could occur here.


Although all believers will be present at this judgment seat, this will not be a group evaluation.  When I stand before Christ at this judgment seat, my life will be the only one up for review.  I won’t be able to say, “But what about Joe?  Did you see the way Fred acted?  I was a lot better Christian than either of those two guys.”


That conversation will never occur, because each of us will give an individual account to God.  Each of us must run his or her own Christian race.  But always keep in mind God is proud of us.  He loves us more than we can ever imagine.  He is the best father and the proudest parent.  He has no desire to shame us in front of others.  Jesus has already bore all that shame on the cross.


I used to be a distance runner in my younger years, and I can tell you that you were never to look around to see where other runners were.  Any runner who keeps looking around is going to lose.


Likewise, in our Christian “race,” Christians often spend so much time gossiping, analyzing, critiquing, and judging each other, that we wind up slowing ourselves down in the race for the prize.  The judgment seat is an individual appointment.  You and I will give account to Christ for ourselves, not for our neighbors.  It will be strictly a judgment of individuals.


More importantly, I’m convince that when we look into the eyes of Christ, what other people think will not matter.  In the presence of Christ, we will be oblivious of those who may be around us.  The expression on His face will tell it all.  The judgment will be very “up close and personal,” regardless of those nearby.


God is very interested in the individual.  He has already set a precedent.  Many books of the Bible center around one person (e.t., Ruth, Job, Philemon, etc.).  The Lord addresses a question to Satan directly, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth?” (Job 1:8)


The Psalmist tells us, in Psalm 139:


O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thought from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

And are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

Behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.


The Lord is so interested in the individual that “the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30)All of Jesus’ disciples, even Peter and Andrew who were found together, were called individually and personally (Matthew 4:18-22; see also 9:9).   Jesus spoke frequently to people often calling them by name, such as:


                   •  Peter (John 21:15-17)

                   •  Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5)

                   •  Lazarus (John 11:43-44)


A private evaluation of our life and work is only natural.  It is nobody else’s business what we have done for the Lord or why we have done it.  This is a matter that concerns just you and your Judge (See John 21:20-23).


Rom 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 account of himself to God.


This verse certainly indicates this judgment will be personal.  “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.  We will not speak on behalf of someone else at this judgment.  Neither will others be a part of Christ’s assessment of you.




         It is Jesus Christ.  It is called the Judgment Seat Of Christ.


John 5:22 NKJV


22     For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 


Verse 27 goes on to tell us that the Father….


         27     …has given Him (Christ) authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.


Acts 10:42 NKJV

42     And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.


                   As the judge of the living and the dead, Christ has the final say at the final review.


There will be no jury deliberation.  The ultimate verdict concerning our faithfulness will be His and His alone.  Because Jesus is “the Righteous Judge,” (2 Timothy 4:8) who, with the authority of the Father, will judge “without respect of persons” (1 Peter 1:17), we will not have to worry about receiving a fair trial.


Let me put it this way: He who was in all points tempted like as we are and yet without sin is to be our judge.


1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV


5       Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.


“Bring to light hidden things – counsels of the heart”  If that is all we read, it might frighten us.  We don’t like the secrets (hidden things) to have light shined upon them.  Fortunately, that is not the end of the verse we just read. 


It goes on to say,At that time each will receive his praise from God.”  That changes everything.  After our life has been laid bare – only praise.  Even if others are nearby, they will hear only praise.