In this article, our focus will be on the Judgment Seat of Christ. According to the New Testament, it is there that our service will be reviewed, rewarded and compensated.
A Separate Occasion
There are a number of sessional judgments revealed to us in the NT. They are sessional in character because of the fact that they take place before a throne, on which the Lord Jesus will sit. They are quite distinct in a number of ways and, as believers, we need to distinguish between each of them. They are distinct in time, in the manner of judgment, in the location where each takes place, and in respect of those who will be judged.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
The Judgment Seat will take place after the Rapture of the Church, and only those who are believers will be present. Its purpose is the review of our service; those things that we have done for Christ will be reviewed and rewarded. While the location of the Judgment Seat is not revealed in Scripture, we know that it will occur following the Rapture and the effects will be visible at the manifestation of the Lord Jesus. We note that the Church is seen “in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev 19:8).1 This shows us that the review will take place prior to Christ’s manifestation in His glory. With respect to the character of judgment, it is not to deal with our sins – they were dealt with at Calvary. Christ bore the penalty of them in His own body and satisfied God’s demands. We came into the good of this at the moment of conversion; our sins were forgiven and we were brought into a relationship with God. There will be no penal judgment for us in that day.
The Judgment of the Living Nations
This judgment is distinct from that previously mentioned. It takes place on earth, and the Lord Jesus, having been manifested in His power, will sit “upon the throne of his glory” (Mat 25:31). This will take place prior to the setting up of His kingdom. Before Him, all nations will gather, those who are saved and those not saved. These will be separated into two groups: the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left. The sheep will be welcomed into His kingdom on earth, but the goats will be banished to everlasting fire; their attitude to Christ has determined their judgment. Those who personally accepted Him (and proved it by serving Him) have a place reserved for them in His kingdom. The goats are those who rejected Christ and those linked to Him.
The Judgment of the Great White Throne
This is the final judgment of Scripture and is very different from the two judgments formerly mentioned. Only those who are saved will be present at the Judgment Seat of Christ; both saved and unsaved will stand before Christ at the judgment of the living nations. In this final judgment, it will only be the unsaved who will be judged at the Great White Throne. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, those who have died and those who are living (having been raptured and changed) will stand to give account. Those who have lived through the tribulation will be at the judgment of the living nations. The contrast with the Great White Throne is that it involves those who have died who are not saved. Like the former two judgments, this judgment is based on and takes account of the works of those who stand before the Lord (Rev 20:12,15). It will take place in space, as both heaven and earth have fled from the face and the august majesty of the Lord Jesus, the one who sits on the throne.
A Solemn Occasion
As much as we rejoice that our sins will not be taken into account at the Judgment Seat of Christ, it will still be a serious occasion. Our lives, our service, our actions and that which we have done in our bodies will be taken into account and will be personally reviewed in that day.
Our Attitudes and the Judgment Seat
In the Epistle to the Romans (14:1-13), we learn about interpersonal problems between believers. There were some who had a conscience about eating certain foods and others for whom this wasn’t an issue. Interpersonal problems developed from this, and it caused believers to despise one another. Paul corrected this by reminding them that they will stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will have to give account for the attitude they had toward other believers. “Why dost thou judge thy brother?” (v10).
Our Activities and the Judgment Seat
As believers, we are all builders, building into the local assemblies in which we are in fellowship (1Co 3:10-15). In that immediate context, it is clear that those who have a teaching ministry among the saints are primarily in view. Paul had laid a foundation in Corinth; he did this by preaching the gospel. On this doctrinal foundation, others who were part of the assembly were building. We learn of a variety of things that can be built in: gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble. There is a difference in these materials in their cost, their character, their construction and also in their combustibility. What is valuable and costly will withstand the majesty of Christ’s gaze and will be rewarded by Him. We need to challenge our hearts: What are we building into the local assembly? Will it stand the test of that coming day or be consumed?
Our Aims and the Judgment Seat
The aim of all our service is that we should please the Lord Jesus. Every believer will in that day have “praise of God” (1Co 4:5). All of us count it a privilege to be linked to Christ, and we feel our weaknesses and shortcomings; we seem to do so little. Our works (seen or unseen), our small private gestures or our activity in public service will be taken into account. Christ will give praise and will evaluate every aspect in that coming day of glory.
Our Accountability and the Judgment Seat
One of the reasons that the Judgment Seat will be a solemn and searching occasion is that we will verbally give account to the Lord Jesus. Overseers will do this; the writer of Hebrews reminds us of a day when those who care for and labour among the flock will give account (Heb 13:17). The word used in that passage is an account that one gives by word of mouth. Along with overseers, we will give an account of our stewardship and what we did for Him (Rom 14:12).
Our Acceptability and the Judgment Seat
We will be acceptable to the Lord Jesus (2Co 5:9,10). In respect to the deeds that have been done in our bodies, we will be acceptable or well-pleasing to Him. He will find pleasure in us and in our service. His assessment will be known by us, and its outcome, in terms of reward, will be known by all.
The Scope of the Occasion
We will stand before the Lord Jesus as individuals. This is clear from the chapters mentioned above. While the emphasis regarding the Judgment Seat of Christ is very different in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 3, 1 Corinthians 4, and 2 Corinthians 5, one consistent theme is seen: “each” or “everyone” is referenced in all of these chapters. Contrary to the thinking of some, it will not be as groups or companies that we stand before Christ, but as individuals. The scope of this occasion, while dealing with individuals, will impact my place in the coming kingdom glory of the Lord Jesus. My faithfulness presently will determine my place in that coming era when He will be on the throne (2Pe 1:11).
We will see Him and stand before Him, and we will personally give account to Him. This is most challenging and should act as an impetus in our lives so that we may live for His glory, serve Him and put our best into His things.
When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ
And He shows me His plan for me,
The plan of my life as it might have been
Had He had His way, and I see
How I blocked Him here, and I checked Him there,
And I would not yield my will –
Will there be grief in my Saviour’s eyes,
Grief, though He loves me still?
He would have me rich, and I stand there poor,
Stripped of all but His grace,
While memory runs like a hunted thing
Down the paths I cannot retrace.
Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break
With the tears that I cannot shed;
I shall cover my face with my empty hands,
I shall bow my uncrowned head.
Lord, of the years that are left to me,
I give them to Thy hand;
Take me and break me, mould me to
The pattern Thou hast planned!2
1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.
2 Martha Snell Nicholson (1886–1951)