W. Graham Scroggie, in his book What About Heaven? wrote, “The revelation of a judgment seat for believers is a further evidence that the fullness of heaven is not entered upon and enjoyed by any until after the advent and the resurrection. Christians who throughout these nineteen hundred years have passed on have not yet been judged as to their faithfulness or unfaithfulness. That does not take place when we die, but will do so on the eve of the consummation of redemption, of that state which will be perfect, serviceable, and eternal” (p.108).
What will the second coming and the judgment seat of Christ mean to us? The promised second coming of our Lord will mean for us the beginning of the promised joys of heaven. It will mean being with Christ, which is better by far. But that will not be the whole story. It will precipitate the greatest series of judgmental events in the history of the world. Paul foretold a resurrection of the righteous and of the wicked, when all will face the outcome of deeds done in the body (Acts 24:15).
The prospect of a coming day of judgment is one of the least popular articles of the Christian faith and is denied even by some who claim to be Christians. But it is not a concept that is peculiar to Christianity; it is common to other religions and philosophies as well. The Buddhist, for example, believes in 16 hells. The universal conscience of humanity bears witness to a sense of guilt, a feeling of moral responsibility to a supreme being or god. People are accountable to God, and He will reward good and punish evil. The distinctive tenet of Christianity is that God has delegated this office to His Son, Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead. “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). “He [Jesus of Nazareth] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).
No one who accepts the authority of Christ and the authenticity of His Word can doubt that there is a judgment to come. But there is a vast difference between the judgment of believers and that of nonbelievers. For the believer, there lies ahead the bema or judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). For the impenitent, there is the inescapable prospect of standing before the great white throne of judgment (Rev. 20:5,11-12).
It is neither possible nor necessary to compile an exact timetable for these awesome events; it is the absolute certainty of them that is important. Hebrews 9:27 says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” We must bear in mind that when these events do take place, the measures of time and space as we now know them will have no relevance.
But, speaking in terms with which we are familiar, would it not be reasonable to conclude that, since the “day of salvation” has extended over two millennia, we need not try to compress the day of judgment into a brief period? Conversely, does this judgment necessarily require a long time as we know it? In these days of the marvels of the computer world and television and the immeasurably greater marvel of the human brain, coupled with the omniscience of God, the slowness of our judicial processes affords no comparison. It is a well-established phenomenon that, in crisis, the whole content of a life may be flashed before the mind of a person in a moment of time.
In this booklet, we are concerned only with the judgment of believers at the bema. This is one of the most important events connected with the return of Christ, as far as the believer is concerned. “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” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Does this mean that we will have to wait until that day to know whether we are saved or lost? Does Scripture not teach that upon believing in Christ we pass from death to life and will not come into condemnation?
Indeed it does. The explanation of 2 Corinthians 5:10 lies in the fact that Scripture recognizes two kinds of judgment. There is the judgment in criminal proceedings where the judge sits on the bench, hears the evidence, and decides the guilt, condemnation, or acquittal of the person charged. Then there is the judgment of the umpire, or referee who, as at the Olympic games, ascends his judgment seat to pronounce the winner and award the prize, because the victor has run fairly and well. Of course, the corollary is that those who have not run fairly and well “suffer loss” and win no prize. It is this second judgment seat that Paul has in view in this verse.
A person’s eternal destiny is already determined in this life, according to whether or not he or she has trusted Christ for salvation. “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Few verses of Scripture are more soul-searching than this. Daniel Webster, the noted American statesman, on being asked what was the greatest thought he had ever entertained, replied, “The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.”
The judgment seat of Christ, then, is His “umpire” seat. The primary purpose of His judgment is to assess and reward believers for the manner in which they have used their opportunities and discharged their responsibilities. The basis on which we will be judged is stated in clear terms:“that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
But motives as well as deeds will be taken into account. “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” (1 Cor. 4:5).
In a very penetrating paragraph Paul told us how this process is carried out:
No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
Whatever else this paragraph teaches, it makes clear that there can be a saved soul but a lost life because of unfaithfulness in the stewardship of life.
What do gold, silver, and costly stones symbolize? It is well to examine this subject in view of the serious possibilities implicit in the passage. What will be taken into account in the assessment?
1. Our testimony for Christ (Phil. 2:16).
2. Our suffering for Christ (1 Pet. 4:13).
3. Our faithfulness to Christ (Lk. 12:42-43; Rev. 2:10).
4. Our service for Christ (1 Cor. 3:8; Heb. 6:10).
5. Our generosity for Christ (2 Cor. 9:6; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
6. Our use of time for Christ (Eph. 5:15-16; Col. 4:5).
7. Our exercise of spiritual gifts (Mt. 25:14-28; 1 Pet. 4:10).
8. Our self-discipline for Christ (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
9. Our leading of souls to Christ (1 Th. 2:19).
The awards conferred by our Lord from His umpire seat are symbolized by using the figure of crowns. (These will be dealt with in the section on rewards, beginning on page 14.)
But the bema is not all joy and the winning of prizes for all believers. Paul told the Corinthian Christians that just as the stars differ in glory, so also will the saints (1 Cor. 15:41-42).
Some will be ashamed when He comes because of unfaithfulness to Him, of persistence in known sin, or of having been ashamed of Him before people. The apostle John wrote, “Dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
Some will suffer loss because they have used wood, hay, and straw in building on the foundation, and these materials cannot withstand fire (1 Cor. 3:12). As F. E. Marsh has said:
They have built the material of earth’s products upon the foundation of Christ’s being and work. The gold of Christ’s deity, the silver of His vicarious sacrifice, and the precious stones of His peerless worth and coming glory, are truths that will stand the tests of God’s fire; but the wood of self-esteem, the hay of man’s frailty, and the straw of human eloquence will all be burned up, although the worker himself will be saved.
Paul wrote, “If [any man’s work] is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15).
Will we be among those who receive the full reward and have an abundant entrance into Christ’s kingdom, or will we be among those who are ashamed and suffer loss?
What will the second coming mean to Christ? Jesus said, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world” (Jn. 17:24).
The inherent selfishness of even the regenerate human heart is disclosed by our tendency to think of the Lord’s return more in terms of what it will mean to us—how the accompanying events will affect us—than of what it will mean to Him. A very popular hymn of a generation ago epitomizes that sentiment. Charles Gabriel wrote:
O that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me;
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!
We are rightly thrilled at the thought of our magnificent inheritance in Christ, but are we equally thrilled at the thought of His inheritance in us? Here is Paul’s prayer: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19).
What thought have we given to His glorious inheritance in us? Do we pay sufficient attention to His eager expectation and anticipation of His wedding day? Is His coronation day prominent in our minds? A. J. Janvrin wrote:
He is waiting with long patience
For His crowning day,
For that Kingdom which shall never
Watching till His royal banner
Floateth far and wide,
Till He seeth of His travail,
Consider the startling contrast between His first coming and His second. Then He came in poverty and humiliation; soon He will come with incredible riches and glory. Then He came in weakness; soon He will come in great power. Then He came in loneliness; soon He will come accompanied by His hosts of angels and the company of the redeemed. Then He came as a man of sorrows; soon He will come with radiant and unalloyed joy. Then in mockery men placed a reed in His hand; soon He will wield the scepter of universal dominion. Then men pressed a crown of acanthus thorns upon His brow; soon He will come adorned with the manydiadems He has won. Then He was blasphemed, denied, betrayed; soon every knee will bow to Him, acknowledging Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In His prayer to His Father, Christ made only one personal request: “I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory” (Jn. 17:24). This prayer reveals the deep yearning of His heart. These failing men meant a great deal to Him—and so do we. When He comes again, this yearning will have its fulfillment: “And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). But in the light of His greatness and majesty and holiness, do we not cry out with the psalmist in amazed wonder, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Ps. 8:4).
When He comes again, He will be fully satisfied with the outcome of His so costly sacrifice: “After the suffering of His soul, He will . . . be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). He will then experience the consummation of “the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). The noted Rabbi Duncan of Edinburgh once preached on the text “He will see His offspring” (Isa. 53:10). He divided the text as follows:
• He shall see them born and brought in.
• He shall see them educated and brought up.
• He shall see them supported and brought through.
• He shall see them glorified and brought home.
This is part of the joy set before Him.
Christ’s return will result in His eternal union with His bride, the church, which He purchased with His own blood. For Him, as for us, that will mean the ecstatic joy of the wedding supper of the Lamb and eternal fellowship and communion.
When He returns, it will be to receive the kingdom of which He spoke so much on earth. When He first came to His own people and offered Himself as their king, their response was, “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Lk. 19:14). But at last His kingship will be universally acknowledged and confessed. Frances Ridley Havergal wrote:
O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own beloved Lord!
Every tongue Thy name confessing,
Worship, honor, glory, blessing,
Brought to Thee with one accord;
Thee my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned,
Unto earth’s remotest end
Glorified, adored, and owned.
What will the second coming mean to Satan? The apostle John wrote, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” (Rev. 12:10). For no one will the return of Christ have greater and more far-reaching significance than for Satan, the evil prince of this world. Scripture presents a consistent picture of two rival kingdoms confronting each other on the world scene—the kingdoms of Satan and darkness and the kingdom of God and light. Satan and his minions are allied with evil people in their plan to smash the kingdom of God and bring about the ruin of the human race.
At the end of the age, Satan is seen in alliance with the beast and the false prophet. These three, united in a common purpose to defeat Christ and secure domination of the whole world, form a sinister trinity of evil. While on earth, Jesus inflicted a stunning defeat on Satan—first in the temptation in the desert, but preeminently in His death on the cross. Christ “shared in [our] humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15).
It was for this very purpose that Christ the Son of God came to earth the first time: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8).
At Calvary that victory was achieved gloriously, and the sentence of doom was passed. The blessed result was that “having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).
Ever since Calvary, the vaunted power of the adversary has been shattered. His power is not inherent, it is derived. He is not invincible but vulnerable. He is not triumphant but doomed. He and his accomplices are reserved for a final and future judgment, which is described in Revelation 20:7-10:
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. . . . They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
So one of the blessed absences from heaven will be Satan the tempter, the accuser, the deceiver. There will be no more temptations. We will have no weak spots of our nature. No more raking up of old sins and unfounded accusations. No more deceptions playing on our ignorance and credulity. Nothing unclean or defiling will ever enter heaven through those pearly gates. Hallelujah!