I really enjoy watching the Olympics. I am amazed at the intense skill and competition between the athletes. Sadly, some athletes are disqualified because of cheating or a negative drug test, crushing their hopes of a medal.
The Corinthian believers were familiar with the Greek Olympic Games, as well as their own Isthmian Games and so Paul uses a great metaphor in 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 27, “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 (win) it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (or exercises self-control) in all things. Now they train to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body & bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” We too are in a race, not for a perishable reward, but for an eternal and imperishable one. There is much confusion as to when the Judgment Seat of Christ takes place, who will be judged, and what they will be judged for.
It is important to remember that the Bible is different from university textbooks or systematic theology, where things are taught in a logical and consecutive manner. When we study the Bible we see, what is called the “textual reason;” that is the text reveals the reason why a subject is introduced. Therefore, it is important to see the sequence of events, and why they are introduced in a certain portion of Scripture.
When Will the Judgment Seat of Christ Take Place?
Paul gives the textual reason for introducing this subject. The believers in Corinth were feeling discouraged and afflicted (2 Cor. 4:16-18; 5:1–11). Paul assures them that although their “earthly house, this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God…eternal in the heavens.” What a glorious hope and home awaited them! Please take a moment to review these precious verses. In verse 7, “For we walk by faith and not by sight,” and then in verse 8, Paul assures them “We are confident, yes well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Paul seeks to motivate them in verse 10, “For we must all appear (be manifested, J. N. Darby Translation) before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done whether good or bad.” This is the great motivator for godly living in difficult days.
The Judgment Seat of Christ will take place immediately after the Lord Jesus comes to rapture His believing church from this world. The word “rapture” is from the Latin meaning “to seize” and refers to believers being “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thess. 4: 14 – 17). Consider also 1 Timothy 4:8, 1 Corinthians 4: 5, and Luke 14: 7 – 14. It will occur before the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, since reference is made to our apparel, “for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19: 7 – 9). What is the Meaning of the Judgment Seat?
The Greek word is ‘bema’, literally meaning a stone, a raised platform. Thayer describes it as, “A raised place mounted by steps, a platform used of the official seat of the judge, from which he used to view the games & make speeches.” It was the place where the rewards were handed out.
Three times in Revelation 22, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus is coming quickly. In verse 7 we are told there is a blessing attached to His coming; then in verse 12, there is the promise of reward; finally verse 20 reminds us of the Person who is coming! It is the second promise that assures us when the Judgment Seat will take place, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every one according to his work.” The Judgment Seat of Christ has everything to do with reward, rather than any idea of judgment. Paul vividly reminds us of this concept in the opening verses quoted in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In 2 Corinthians 5:9–11 he is dealing with the assessment of our conduct. This should instill in us a holy reverence and fervency for service. Dr. Fredrick Tatford wrote, “What we are now determines what we shall be in eternity.” However, we will not be judged for our sins. Our sins were all dealt with at the cross: past, present, and future. Hebrews 10:17 tell us, “Their sins and their lawless deed I will remember no more.” John also assures us of this truth in 1 John 2:1-2.
The picture that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 is a graphic illustration of the believer’s life and reminds us, “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). The foundation was laid by the Lord Jesus Christ, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). This is our only foundation, but the question is, what materials are we building with for this great foundation? In these verses, we are reminded of “The Work of the Workman,” and then Paul challenges us as to the kind of building materials we could be using (v. 12). Three are imperishable, while three are perishable. As well, there is a difference in cost, quality, and construction. The gold, silver, and precious stones (i.e. marble) are very valuable, permanent, and beautiful. They are materials that are hard to come by, and require great sacrifice to obtain, as they are only found in the deep veins of hard rock.
In contrast, wood, hay, and stumble are easily acquired, and are combustible, perishable, and inconsequential. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, every man’s work will be under the scorching fire of divine holiness. This is the testing of our character, and the motive of our service for the Lord. The challenge is what about my life? Is it pleasing to the Lord?
Am I investing my time and my gifts for His glory? Am I living fully for the Lord or for self-glory? In verse 13, we are challenged as to our commitment and service to the Lord, “Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work of what sort (quality, NASV) it is.” Finally, Peter challenges us in light of eternal things, “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct & godliness?” (2 Pet. 3: 11). Remember, many who start well, don’t finish well!
Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
C. T. Studd