The Bema Seat of Christ
The word Bema is translated from Greek, meaning “the judgment seat”. The judgment seat of Christ, in the English Bible, causes some to draw the wrong conclusion. A common misconception from the English translation is that God will delve out a just retribution for sins in a believer’s life, and some measure of punishment for those sins will result.
The judgment seat of Christ is not a place and time when the Lord will delve out punishment for sins committed by the children of God. Really, it’s a place where rewards will be given or lost depending on how one has used his or her life for the Lord.
The Lord’s return and what this means not only to the world but to us individually is a very prominent subject in the New Testament.
In the final words of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we find these words of the Lord:
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. ~ Rev. 22:12
Salvation is a gift. However, there are rewards given for faithfulness in your Christian life and there is the loss of rewards for unfaithfulness. These rewards become or should become great motives of the Christian life. However, we need to understand the nature of these rewards to understand the nature of the motivation. Some people are troubled by the doctrine of these rewards because this seems to suggest “works” instead of “grace,” and because, we should only serve the Lord out of love and for His glory.
Well, of course we should serve the Lord out of love and for His glory. However, understanding the nature of rewards will help us do that. The fact is, the Bible promises us rewards. God gives us our salvation. It is a gift through faith, but He does reward us for good works. God always supplies the means by which we can serve Him. The decision to serve, and the diligence employed in doing so, are our responsibility and our contribution, and God sees this as rewardable.
Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 speak of the “judgment seat.” This is a translation of the Greek word Bema. Bema is used in the gospels and in Acts in reference to the raised platform where a Roman ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence. In the epistles by Paul, he alluded many times to Greek athletic contests, and where it was originally used by the Greeks. Bema was taken from athletic games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful watch of judges who would make sure that every rule was obeyed. The victor was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema.
Paul sees believers as competitors in a spiritual contest. Just as the athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his worldly award, Christians will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive an eternal award. Though the judge at the Bema bestows rewards to the victors, he does not condemn the losers.
In other words, the Bema seat is a reward seat and represents a time of rewards or loss of rewards following this spiritual contest, but it is definitely not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. That would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Jesus totally paid the penalty for our sins. We must strongly emphasize that this judgment is unrelated to sin, and is more for the giving of rewards than the rejection of any failure.
Our Lord Jesus is now examining our lives and will bring to light the true nature of our walk and works when we stand before Him at the Bema.
Within the church, there exists a good deal of confusion and disagreement concerning the exact nature of the Bema. The use of “judgment seat” in most translations, show some ignorance of the historical and cultural background of the Bema, and some foggy theology regarding the finished work of Christ have all contributed to several common misunderstandings that see God as giving out retribution to believers for sin, or at least for our unconfessed sin.
Some Bible teachers view the judgment seat as a place of intense sorrow, a place of terror, and where Christ displays all the sins of a believer, or at least unconfessed sins. Some teachers go even further by saying that all Christians must experience some sort of suffering for their sins at the time of this judgement. At the other end of the spectrum other groups, view this event as an awards ceremony. Awards are handed out to every Christian. The result of this judgment will be that each Christian will be grateful for the reward which he receives, and he will have little or no shame.
The view I believe to be the one most in accord with Scripture is that God’s Word clearly teaches there are specific and very serious consequences, both temporal and eternal, for sin and disobedience.
Though we will not be judged in the sense of punished for sin at the Bema since the Lord has born that for us, we must never take any sin lightly because there are many consequences.
Scripture teaches that for the believer God’s justice has already been fully and forever satisfied at the Cross in relation to the believer’s sins. If God were to punish the believer for his sins for which Christ has already rendered payment, He would be requiring two payments for sin and would therefore be unjust. Such a concept, belittles the sufficiency of Christ’s death on the Cross. Christ paid the ultimate penalty for all the sins of believers both pre- and post-conversion.
In Scripture, all sins, both confessed and unconfessed, have been forgiven and taken care of by the work of Christ on the Cross. The Christian will never face those sins again at the judgment. Unconfessed sin stands as a barrier to fellowship with the Lord and His control over one’s life. Although believers will forfeit rewards which could have been received, they will not be punished in the sense of “paying” for their sins. However, when we confess our sin it means we agree with God concerning our sin and want to get back under God’s control.
Remember, forgiveness for believers is applied to all a person’s sins the moment they accept and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. This forgiveness justifies us and gives us the opportunity to stand before the Bema seat of Christ, and receive our eternal rewards.