- Published: 28 September 2011
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Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said:
"We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10),
and to the Romans he said:
"We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom. 14:10).
In one reference, namely James 2:6, the words "judgment seat" translate the Greek kriterion, but with this we are not immediately concerned. The word found in the references given from 2 Corinthians and Romans is the Greek word bema, which occurs as follows:
Matt.27:19 When he (pilate) was sat down on the judgment seat.
John 19:13 Pilate . . . sat down in the judgment seat.
(John gives the added information, that the judgment seat is in a place that is called the Pavement, which in the Hebrew tongue is Gabbatha.)
Acts 7:5 Not so much as to set his foot on.
Acts 18:12 Brought him to the judgment seat
Acts 18:16 Drave them from the judgment seat
Acts 18:17 Beat him before the judgment seat
Acts 25:6 Sitting on the judgment seat
Acts 25:10 I stand at Caesar's judgment seat
Acts 25:17 I sat on the judgment seat
Rom. 14:10 The judgment seat of Christ.
2 Cor. 5:10 The judgment seat of Christ.
The reader will note the one exception to the translation "judgment seat" in Acts 7:5, which reads "to set his foot on" (literally "foot-room"). Bema is derived from baino "to ascend", which in its turn is related to the idea of a step, "a foot space", then a raised platform used both for a judge in legal matters, and for an orator, or judge at the Greek games. The "pulpit" of Nehemiah 8:4 is in the LXX a bema. We perceive therefore that some discrimination is necessary in the interpretation of the passages employing this word. Now the Apostle has made it clear that no redeemed child of God will ever come into condemnation, he is justified, acquitted and that completely and for ever, yet the same Apostle declared with Joyful expectancy that he looked forward to standing before a righteous Judge (2 Tim. 4:8), but this time not a judge in a court of law, not a judge who passed sentence, but a Judge who awarded a crown. This lifts the subject of the bema so far as the believer is concerned, out of the context of sin, death and condemnation, into the context of award and forfeiture, prize and crown, into the context of 2 Timothy 4:7 where the word "fight" is agona; translated "race" in Hebrews 12:1, and where the word "course" is dromos, a place where contestants "run".
Scripture regards each saved soul as a runner racing, an athlete wrestling, a warrior fighting, a farmer sowing, a mason building, a fugitive flying, a besieger storming, and all this strenuous intensity rests on a fundamental of revelation that God is, and that He is a Rewarder (Heb. 11:6).
"He that planteth and he that watereth are one" in standing and redemption, but each "shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" at the Bema. The tribunal before which every believer must appear is a bema, not a thronos; "that each may receive the things done". Not that each may receive a gift, but receive the things he has done, the application of the Divine principle expressed in Galatians 6:7, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" and these words were not addressed to unbelievers. It is imperative that those who rejoice in the fulness of grace that is related to Ephesians and Colossians should not be ignorant of the fact that this principle applies to the church of the Mystery as to all other callings. In Ephesians, the Apostle speaks of the Divine approval of "good", in Colossians of the Divine disapproval of "wrong".
"Whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph. 6:8).
"But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons (Col. 3:25).
These "things" are said to be "things done by means of the body" (2 Cor. 5:10). In the sentence "whether it be good or bad", the Greek points to the award "the things done, whether it", i.e. what he receives as an award, "be good or bad".
The Revised text reads "God" instead of "Christ" in Romans 14:10, but there is no essential difference between Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10, for all judgment will be in the hands of the Son. Although the actual word bema occurs but twice in Paul's epistles, that for which it stands is found in a number of his writings. We shall find that 1 Corinthians three, four and nine, Philippians one and three, Colossians four, Hebrews twelve, and 2 Timothy four, all imply, if they do not speak of, the Judgment seat of Christ. In Philippians 1:10 he prays for the believer that he may be "sincere and without offence till the day of Christ", where "the day of Christ" includes judgment of the believer's service. In Philippians three we have the Apostle confessing that he is not already perfect, but we see him pressing on for a "Prize" (Phil. 3:12-14), which should be taken with 2 Timothy 4:7-8, where we have the contest, the course and the crown. In 1 Corinthians three, the foundation is seen to be Christ Himself, and the foundation is secure and not in question. What will be put to the test is the kind of building which believers erect on that one foundation, with the consequent reward or the suffering of loss, with the emphasized safeguard "he himself shall be saved" (1 Cor.3:10-15).
In the next chapter Paul speaks of "man's judgment" (1 Cor.4:3), which is a free rendering of the Greek which reads "man's day", thereby enabling us to see in "the day of Christ", already quoted, a reference to judgment. "Then," said the Apostle, "shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5). In 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 we find the Apostle drawing largely upon the Greek games for his illustration, and in the following chapter he points out that while ALL crossed the Red Sea, ALL did not enter the land of promise. In Hebrews twelve, the Saviour is brought into the record to provide an example. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). The "race" spoken of in Hebrews 12:1 is the same in the original as the "fight" of 2 Timothy 4:7 both are translations of the Greek agona. The fact that Paul could write Colossians 3:22-25 makes it clear that whether the judgment seat of Christ is actually mentioned in the Prison Epistles or not, the principle that is involved in the bema is restricted to no one dispensation. We need of course to discriminate between Gift in Grace, and Reward in Service, and we need also to remember that unless we believe and teach both, the undue emphasis that comes through partiality in witness must necessarily mean that our testimony will not stand the test of "that day".