Wednesday, March 7, 2018

P1 - The Judgment Seat of Christ - When It Will Take Place

Image result for Olympic medal ceremony
Romans 14:10-12 "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."


Anytime one watches an event like the Olympics, one of the most dramatic moments comes in the medal  ceremony. Not only are gold, silver or bronze medallions placed around the necks of the athletes, but what follows adds to the ceremony: namely, the raising of the flags represented by each participant receiving such rewards. Even though the athlete competed, trained and won the given event, yet it is the particular country that is made prominent. To compete for one's country justifies the years of hard training to perform for those few moments. 

How often do we read of the Christian life as mimicking an athletic competition? 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 states for example:

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable."

In Romans 14:10-12, Paul makes mention of standing before the "judgment seat of God". This phrase derives from the world of the courtroom, of the orator speaking from a raised platform or of ancient games such as the Olympics in Athens or Isthmian Games in Corinth. The word behind this phrase is that of "Bema Seat". The "bema-seat" or "judgment-seat of God" (or Christ) is to be the set-aside time when all Christians will stand before Christ. This time of examination, of reward, is distinguished from the Great White Throne judgment that we read about in passages such as Revelation 20. 

What occupies the interest of today's post is why the judgment seat of Christ (as it is so named in 2 Corinthians 5:10) is so important to believers. Why should I care about an event that is in the future, in heaven? Why should the judgment seat of Christ make a difference if one's salvation in Christ is not going to be in question in that time? Below we will explore, in brief, the answers to such questions as we explore the Christian's future reward ceremony.

When will the judgment seat of Christ take place?

Romans 14:10-12 is an island of eternity situated in a sea of time. Romans 14 is chiefly concerned with godly decision-making and how one lives their life for the Lord. The pressing matter of Romans 14:10-12 concern the Lord's overall evaluation of how each believer has lived their life. 

It is popularly held by many Christians that such a rewards ceremony - or time of evaluation - occurs postmortem. The Bible doesn't support such an opinion. For those dying in Jesus at this current time, the immaterial self or soul (with spirit) is separated from the body. Whenever we read texts such as 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, which speak on the judgment seat of Christ, we find Christians receiving their rewards as embodied persons. 

There is only one event in the New Testament that has the immaterial self, severed at death from the body, being reunited with that same-said body in glory and immortality. That said event is none-other than the "catching away of the church" or what is also called "the rapture of the church" (the term "rapture" derives from the Latin "rapio" meaning "to snatch"). Passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 explain this event of the rapture:

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."

In an undisclosed time, the Lord Jesus Christ will return in the clouds of heaven to perform the mass miracle of resurrecting dead Christians and translating the physical bodies of living believers. Consequently, both the "dead in Christ" and "those remaining and alive" will have glorified resurrected bodies in union with their perfected immaterial selves. Other texts such as 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 give us the setting for the Judgement Seat of Christ. This collection of texts point to the timing of the "Bema Seat" or "judgment seat of Christ" as none other than following the rapture of the church. 

We know for sure this is the case due to seeing a completely prepared church (i.e a prepared bride) returning with Jesus Christ at the end of the future seven year Tribulation period in Revelation 19:7-8. John records in his vision of Revelation 19:7-8 the following words - 

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints."

The particular passage just quoted provides the end point that marks the completion of the "bema-seat" of Christ spoken of by the Apostle Paul. Hence, while Christians are standing before Christ's throne in Heaven for reception of rewards and evaluation of their lives lived out in this present age, the justice of God will roll out upon the inhabitants of this planet that remain under the tyranny of Anti-Christ (see Revelation chapters 6-18).   

The subject of the Christian's future rewards is unfortunately rarely heard in today's pulpits. The immediate profit gained from the subject of future Christian rewards is the way such a topic gets people to thinking about eternity. How one lives in the here and now does matter. W.A. Criswell, the great Baptist preacher of yesteryear, preached once on the subject of the judgment seat of Christ and the Christian's future rewards. He made the following comments in a sermon:

"And as I walk to the throne of grace, and the Lord looks in the Book and He reads the Book of Life and my name, and He reads the book of the works, and He sees what I’ve done, may the Lord have cause to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant [Matthew 25:14-30]; pastored that church down there; preached My gospel to those people down there; tried to comfort their hearts down there; tried to be an exponent of the message of Jesus down there.  Welcome, welcome, thou blessed of My Father.  Well done thou good and faithful servant.  Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Criswell later remarks:

"That’s the way to do.  That’s the way to build.  That’s the way to live.  Now, I’m not preaching to you.  I’m preaching to me. O God, help me to be a better Christian.  Lord, help my tongue to say blessed things, good things, helpful things, encouraging things.  Help my tongue to name the name of Jesus.  Help me toward my family and toward the circle of my home, and help me among the people with whom I work."

That is what makes a study on the judgment seat of Christ so invaluable to the Christian life. Each Christ-follower is caused to examine how they ought to live for their Lord today, since how they lived for their Lord will be examined in that day each stands before their Lord to give an account. In our next post, we will explore this topic further by answering the question: "what kind of rewards will believers receive at the judgment seat of Christ?"

More in the next post....

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