Daniel Webster when asked once about the judgment seat of Christ he responded: “My greatest thought is my accountability to God.” Accountability is something all struggle with. Being accountable to someone or something means responsibilities. Webster’s dictionary defines accountability as the quality or state of being accountable; especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. It is a sobering thought to think of the responsibility that one have toward God as a Christians and child of God. To think of being accountable of every action, word, attitude, and thought toward God may cause us to have a serious thought of the actions words, thoughts, and attitudes one does.
The Bible speaks of an evaluation, a judgment if you well for the Christians. Christ at his coming will judge his people (Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; etc). The Judgment seat of God/Christ could be of a blessing thought to a faithful believer but a serious embarrassing thought to the unfaithful believer. Yet the Scriptures teach it several times in the Bible (e.g. Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; 1 Peter 1:17; 2 John 8).
The name “judgment seat” comes from the Greek word bema referring to a raised step or platform located in a public area within a city. The civil magistrates would sit on such a seat when performing their judicial duties. Most of the New Testament references to this seat occur where an individual is brought before a ruling authority for the adjudication of some charge. When Herod Agrippa I met his sudden death in Caesarea, he was seated on a bema making a speech to a deputation from Tyre and Sidon after negotiating a treaty with them (Acts 12:21, 23). When the Corinthians Jews accused Paul before Gallio, they brought him before the bema (Acts 18:12, 16f). On two occasions, the expression “the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10) and “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10) is found describing Christians standing before Christ at His return and being held accountable for their lives.
What kind of judgment is this and what exactly takes place at this judgment is the subject of much confusion and debate. Some view the judgment seat of Christ as a place of intense sorrow and shame, a place of terror. Others take the opposite position, viewing this as a place of no remorse or shame but only of rejoicing. In light of such divergence positions, it is important to study the biblical support.
This post will cover subjects such as, when does this judgment occur? Who is involved in this judgment? What precisely is judged? What is the purpose of this judgment?
Evidence from Key Passages
Although the expression “the judgment seat of Christ/God” is found only twice, there are actually three passages in the New Testament that directly discuss this event. All three are found in the writing of the apostle Paul: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; and 2 Corinthians 5:6-10. In the first and third passage, Paul talks in general about the future evaluation of believers in the churches. In the second passage, he talks in particular about the future evaluation of ministers in the churches.
Romans 14:10-12 “10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘as I live says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
1 Corinthians 3:10-15. “10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful ho he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved yet so as through fire.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-10. “6 Therefore always of a good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
From these and related verses, the following questions need to be answered.
When Does This Judgment will occur?
From the above verses this judgment will occur in connection with the Lord’s return. The passage in 1 Corinthians 3:13 Paul mention this judgment that it is going to happened in that “day”. This day is the known long expression of the day of the Lord. This expression is found in Paul’s writing elsewhere to describe events surrounding the second advent of Christ (1 Cor 1:8 it is clear from this passage Paul is talking about future event; Phil 1:6 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”). More particularly, the judgment seat of Christ, as a part of this “day,” will come after the rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2; cf. Revelation 3:10). Ryrie comments on the time of this judgment said, “Though not specifically stated, this judgment will…take place immediately after the Rapture of the church, since the twenty-four elders who likely represent believers have their crowns in the scene in heaven at the beginning of the Tribulation (Revelation 4:4, 10).” It occurs while the believers are in heaven with Christ (John 14:1-3) and before Christ returns to the earth at the end of the Tribulation to vanquish His enemies and establish His kingdom (Revelation 19:11-20:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:8).
Who Is Involved in this Judgment?
According to the above, this judgment is specifically for Christians, that is, for believers in the body of Christ. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Romans 14:10). The expression “all” in this context refers to Paul and his readers, that is, to believers as members of Christ’s body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18, 24). Other judgments are mentioned in God’s Word, but Christians are not involved in these. Two examples of these judgments are in Matthew 25:31-46, which talks about Christ’s judging the nations at the end of the Tribulation period, and Revelation 20:11-15, which speaks of the judgment of all unbelievers at the Great White Throne of God.
What Precisely is Judged?
This judgment involves an evaluation of the believer’s works. In Romans 14:12 Paul states, “so then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” “As Lord, Jesus will one day review and evaluate the ministry of His servants at His judgment seat (bēma; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul affirmed the certainty of this event by quoting Isaiah 49:18 and 45:23, pertaining to everyone standing before Christ and confessing Him as Lord (cf. Philippians 2:10-11). At that event each believer will give an account (lit., “a word”) of himself to God.”  In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, Paul states precisely that it is our “works” that are to be examined, and, in particular, our works performed as co-laborers with Christ as Christian servants. Moreover, these works are judged by Christ to determine whether they are good or evil, that is whether they are those that Christ can approve (“gold, silver, precious stones”) or not approve (“wood, hay, straw”). As noted earlier, 1 Corinthians 3 is specifically talks about the evaluation of ministers. However, the language Paul uses appear to be talking in general to all believers. Furthermore, Paul picks up the same theme in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and expands this evaluation to include all of his readers as believers in the body of Christ. On the other hand 2 Corinthians 5:10 seems to include all the deeds done in the body each one will be receiving rewards “according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” What is specifically good or bad mean or how the works will be categorized as good or bad is not clearly defined. However, the Greek lexicon help us in defining the Greek words for good and bad behind the English. The Greek word for good is agathos it is an adjective. AV translates as “good” 77 times. The word mean (1). “that of good constitution or nature”; (2). “Useful, salutary;” (3). “Good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy;” (4). “Excellent, distinguished; (5). Upright, honorable.” Therefore, a good work is a work that has value and useful or good, motivated by faith and love toward God (James 2:21). The Greek word for bad is phaulos it is an adjective as well. It describe the deeds that has been done in the body. It occur four times in the New Testament; AV translates as “evil” four times. Strong lexicon translates it as, “easy, slight, ordinary, mean, and worthless, of no account. Ethically: bad, base, wicked. Thus the word could possibly mean that which is worthless with no value or account. Motivated by bad motivation, and wicked.
What is the Purpose of This Judgment?
The purpose of this judgment is to issue rewards for service. Again, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:14, “If anyone’s work…endures, he will receive a reward.” According to this verse, the judgment seat of Christ does not directly address the believer’s sin, though it is understood that sin is the reason why a specific work would be counted worthless. This judgment will not in any way affect the salvation of the individual. In verse 15 this is shown clearly, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” It is the labor that was put in building that is going to be burned, and the loss that he suffers could be referring to the loss of the works plus the reward that would otherwise have been his.
However, having said that, this question is the most controversial question and hard to be answered. Some scholars say what about sins in the life of the believer, particularly unconfessed sins? When or where are these addressed? It cannot be stressed too strongly that the believer’s sins—past, present, and future—have once for all been forgiven at the moment of salvation and the believer will never face eternal condemnation (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:10; 1 John 1:7-9). Chafer in his comments on the Judgment seat of Christ says:
With reference to sin, Scripture teaches that child of God under grace shall not come into judgment (John 3:18; 5:24; 6:37; Romans 5:1; 8:1; 1 Corinthians 11:32); in his standing before God, and on the ground that the penalty for all sin—past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13—has been borne by Christ as the perfect Substitute, the believer is not only placed beyond condemnation, but being in Christ is accepted in the perfection of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10; Hebrews 10:14) and loved of God as Christ is loved (John 17:23).
However, unconfessed sin does affect the believer, but it is the believer’s fellowship with God in this life that is affected. When sin are committed they are committed against God and it grief the Holy Spirit of God who cry inside of us “Abba, father” (Galatians 4:6). In order to restore any hindered fellowship with God the believer are to confess genuinely and repent of his sin that was committed against God (1 John 1:9).
From all of this we can conclude that the judgment seat of Christ is a serious matter. It reminds us of the importance and necessity of faithful living as we will certainly give an account of our lives on that day before an omniscient and holy Christ. The Scripture teach us that to each one of us was give a gift, a talent, a capacity, an ability, endowment (Romans 12:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12-14). God expect from us to use it wisely and according to His revealed will for His glory. The motivation for using our gifts are the obedience of God’s word and love for Him and the other believers.
However, we should never forget that the coming of the Lord is a blessed hope (Titus 2:13). We will receive our resurrected bodies in which sin no longer dwells (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2). We will stand glorified before Christ without fear of condemnation. Our Lord Jesus Christ has once for all borne the guilt of our sins and has paid forever the full penalty of God’s wrath. The over all picture, it will be a time of joy and rejoicing in the grace and goodness of God in saving us and giving us eternal life.
The emotional condition of the redeemed is that of complete and unending happiness. Emotion proceeds from the realization of facts in personal experience. Hope will at last become reality for all those who are delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:18–25). Elimination of the curse, pain and death will also remove sorrow, tears and crying (Revelation 21:4).
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 undergo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.
Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 1995.
_________. “The Biblical Doctrine of the Judgments.” In The Fundamentals For the Twenty-First Century: Examining the Crucial Issues of the Christian Faith. Ed. Mal Couch. Kregel: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Major Bible Themes. Revised by John F. Walvoord. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974.
Couch, Mal. The Blessed Hope of the Church: The Rapture and the Bema Judgment.” In The Fundamentals For the Twenty-First Century: Examining the Crucial Issues of the Christian Faith. Ed. Mal Couch. Kregel: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000
Keathley, Hampton, J. III. The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ. Bible.org. Internet. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=407. Accessed September 14, 2007.
Hoyt, Herman A. The End Times. Chicago: Moody, 1969.
Hoyt, Samuel L. “The Judgment Seat of Christ and Unconfessed Sins.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (January-March 1980): 32-40.
___________. “The Negative Aspects of the Christian’s Judgment.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (April-June 1980): 125-132.
Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986.
Witmer, John A. “Romans.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, 432-503. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.
Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understaning Biblical Truth, (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986), 597.
John A Witmer, “Romans,” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, 432-503. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 492.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes, Revised by John F. Walvoord. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 282.
Herman A. Hoyt, The End Times, (Chicago: Moody, 1969) 232-33.
Samuel L. Hoyt, “The Negative Aspects of the Christian’s Judgment.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (April-June 1980): 131.