Will YOU be Judged at the Judgement Seat of Christ?
The general idea prevalent among men is that all, saint and sinner alike, will one day be called upon to give an account of themselves to God. With this view the Scriptures agree. Writing, with believers particularly in mind, Paul says in Rom. 14: 12 “So then each of us shall give an account concerning himself to God”; likewise Peter speaking of unbelievers, says in 1 Pet. 4: 5: “who shall render account to him who is ready to judge [the] living and [the] dead”. Thus unbeliever and believer shall render an account to God.
But will all be judged consequent on rendering that account? Is judgment the portion of all? Does the outcome of that occasion determine a person’s eternal destination?
The Lord Jesus Christ, on more than one occasion, spoke of the “judgment–day”, (Matt. 10: 15; 11: 22, 24; 12: 36). Peter uses the same term in his epistle, (2 Pet. 2: 7, 9). The judgment–seat of God and the judgment–seat of Christ are terms that Paul uses in Rom. 14: 10 and in 2 Cor. 5: 10 respectively. When the Lord Jesus returns judgments take place: Matt. 13: 36–43; 13: 47–50; Matt. 25: 31–46; and 2 Thess. 2 7–9. The final judgment in the Bible is that of the great white throne, detailed in Rev. 20: 11–15.
Comparing the above Scriptures, it is quite clear that the term “judgment–day” was not meant to imply that there is a single general session of judgment for all, but that it simply conveys the thought that there is a time when judgment is to take place. For example, when the Lord judges the living, as spoken of in Matt. 13 and Matt. 25, it is after He has returned to earth and just prior to setting up the kingdom in power which lasts for 1000 years. Equally clear, is the fact that the judgment of the dead at the great white throne is at the very end of time, at the end of that 1000 year reign. So the Scriptures speak of judging the living and the dead as distinct, (Acts 10: 42; 2 Tim. 4: 1; 1 Pet. 4: 5). Thus there are different sessions: there are no dead judged in Matt. 25, and there are no living judged in Rev. 20. They occur at different times. Is it the same judge? Or does the Lord Jesus judge the living and God judge the dead? Is that why we read of the “judgment–seat of God” in Rom. 14: 10, but the “judgment–seat of Christ” in 2 Cor. 5: 10?
When Paul wrote to the saints in Rome and in Corinth, he spoke about the “judgment–seat”. This was a term very familiar to these people. Rome was the hub of the Roman empire and Corinth was one of its major cities in Greece. Paul was borrowing a term from every–day life and applying it to spiritual matters. The word in Greek is bema and it means a raised step or a place to set the foot on. By implication, it refers to any elevated place to which the ascent is by steps. (See Acts 12: 21 where the word is translated “elevated seat”). In itself the word does not imply judgment. From this basic meaning it was employed for an elevated place where officials sat in judgment. Gallio the proconsul sat on one, (Acts 18: 12–16), Festus the governor also, (Acts 25: 17), and Pontius Pilate passed judgment on the Lord Jesus from such a place, (Matt. 27: 19; John 19: 13).
Now when Paul stood before Festus he said “I am standing before the judgment–seat of Caesar”, (Acts 25: 10). He was actually standing before the judgment–seat of Festus, not the judgment–seat of Caesar. However Festus was appointed governor by Caesar and was invested with all the authority of Caesar to pass judgment and so Paul rightly refers to it as the judgment–seat of Caesar.
In Acts 10: 42 we read of Christ as “he it is who was determinately appointed of God [to be] judge of living and dead”. Again 2 Tim 4: 1 reads “I testify before God and Christ Jesus, who is about to judge living and dead”. The reason that the Lord Jesus is the judge is given in John 5: 22: “for neither does the Father judge any one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” and again in v27: “and has given him authority to execute judgment [also] because he is Son of man.” Thus just as the judgment–seat occupied by Festus was the judgment–seat of Caesar so the terms “judgment–seat of Christ” and “judgment–seat of God” refer to one and the same judgment–seat. Christ is the Judge, but He judges as Man yet with all the authority of God. So that the actual judge is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps one should stress here that what we are talking about is eternal judgment, and not governmental judgment. In this latter the Father does exercise judgment: “If ye invoke as Father him who, without regard of persons, judges according to the work of each, pass your time of sojourn in fear”, (1 Pet. 1: 17). However, eternal judgment is in the hands of the Lord alone.
Well then, will all be judged? Does the judgment–seat determine a person’s eternal destiny?
Now it is of utmost importance to be absolutely clear that as far as the settlement of personal guilt and condemnation is concerned, man is already judged, already condemned. The Scripture says in John 3: 18: “He that believes on him is not judged: but he that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only–begotten Son of God”. Whether a person is saved or lost is determined NOW, and is determined by faith in the Son alone, or by the absence of it. The judgment–seat of Christ is for works, for “the things [done] in the body”, (2 Cor. 5: 10). At the great white throne men are judged “according to their works”, (Rev. 20: 13). Personal acceptance with God is never on the ground of our works. The future day of judgment, (whether we speak of saint or sinner), is, therefore never in Scripture for the settlement of personal acceptance, or the reverse. The saved are saved here and now and do not come into judgment. The doom of the unsaved is determined in this present life also. The judgment–seat does NOT determine the eternal destination of any. The judgment to come is the judgment of works and there is what answers to that even for the saint. He receives the things done in the body as a question of reward obtained or lost. For the lost the judgment to come is not to decide whether they can stand before God or not but so that they can be “judged according to their works”. They get a measured recompense as the saint does, but a recompense of judgment and nothing else, “few” or “many” stripes as the case may be, an absolutely righteous appointment for the sins committed in the body. This is the judgment of works, as distinct from the settlement of whether lost or saved.
As far as the believer is concerned, the judgment–seat is not even for judgment! He will not only never have to face eternal condemnation but that judgment likewise will never be his portion. Sure his whole history will be reviewed, for there is no thought in 2 Cor. 5 or elsewhere in the Bible that what is gone into is only that which is done after conversion. No, the whole life is reviewed from beginning to end, but a review is not a judgment. Let us return to John 5 and listen to the words of the Son of God. In John 5: 24 He says of the believer that he “does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life”. In the A.V. the words are “and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life”. This is wrong. The word in Greek is krisis and means judgment and not condemnation which is another word katakrima. It is worthwhile enlarging on the difference between these two Greek words because of the importance of the matter: krisis is the process of investigation in the execution of judgment, that is the process of judgment that may lead to condemnation. katakrima is the result of judgment, a decision against someone. Condemnation may be the result of judgment, (see Rom. 5: 16: “For the judgment [was] of one to condemnation”). Yes “[There is] then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus”, (Rom. 8: 1), but it is greater than that, I do not even come into judgment. Hence in 2 Cor. 5 it is “we must all be manifested” not “we must all be judged”. Scripture never ever says “we must all be judged”.
Some speak of hope for the day of judgment, but this is an imperfect and ill–founded feeling, which cannot be justified. If I am judged, I shall certainly be condemned; if saved, there is no judgment for me. Hope, though very natural, is in this context the result of human reasoning, not the simplicity of divinely wrought faith. The whole matter of judgment, for the believer, was terminated when Christ went into death. Consider carefully Heb. 9: 26–28: “And forasmuch as it is the portion of men once to die, and after this judgment”. This is not the believer, for all believers will not die, (1 Thess. 4: 16). It is unbelieving man who after death will ultimately have to face judgment. All will not be judged for Christ has “been once offered to bear the sins of many”, not all but many, that is believers, and for them “he shall appear....the second time without sin for salvation”. The force of those words “without sin” is that He has nothing more to do with it because just as He will ultimately put sin away from the universe, He has already done it for the believer. Thus the apostle John can say in 1 John 4: 17 “Herein has love been perfected with us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment”. When He appears the second time for the believer He has no more to say to sin and has nothing more to do with it. He has taken our sins away. This is the contrast drawn in Heb. 10: 11 in regard to the sacrifices of old: “offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But he, having offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity at [the] right hand of God”. The tabernacle had no seats, for its sacrificial work was never finished, but He has sat down because his sacrificial work is finished. It is not that He will take our sins away at the judgment–seat but that He has taken them away and thus we do not come into judgment. Hence for the believer the judgment–seat of Christ is not in any way penal. Sins do not come up there as such. In 2 Cor. 5 it is the things done in the body whether good or evil. The evil things, which of course are sins, are not described as such there, because believers are viewed before the judgment–seat, and the penalty for their sins has been fully met and the judgment borne. You say it is described as a judgment–seat. Yes, but as already pointed out, even the word translated judgment–seat does not in itself carry the idea of judgment. Hence I conclude that the believer will NOT be judged at the judgment–seat of Christ.
Now, as just mentioned in Rom 14 and 2 Cor. 5, there is no thought of judgment apart from that which is naturally suggested to the English mind in the term “judgment–seat”. Within the confines of these two Scriptures there is no thought presented that any will be judged there. Paul is writing to believers and it is clear that believers will be manifested there. Some, however, think that the judgment–seat of Christ is exclusively for saints. This is not so as a perusal of 2 Cor 5 shows. All men, saints or sinners, must alike be made manifest before the judgment–seat of Christ; every one without exception will give an account of the things done in the body. God will magnify Himself, not only in the judgment of those that have despised Christ, but in the distinct appraisal of the character and conduct of every saint, just as much as of every sinner. It is clear from verses 1 to 9 that the apostle has believers in mind: “we know”, “we have”, “we groan”, “we shall not be found naked”, “we do not wish to be unclothed”, “we are absent from the Lord”, “we walk by faith”, “we are confident”, “we are zealous”.... but the moment we come to the matter of the judgment–seat of Christ the language changes. It is not just “we must be manifested” but “we must all be manifested”. Is this any different from say the “we all” of 2 Cor. 3: 18? Yes! In 2 Cor. 3: 18 the Greek reads emei de pantes but in 5: 10 it is tous gar pantas emas. As a Greek scholar of considerable weight has pointed out, it is not just a difference of words but of meaning also. The addition of the definite article tous in 5: 10 gives all possible breadth, and the sense is “the whole of us” whereas in 3: 18 it is simply “we all” and no more is meant than all of us Christians. In 5: 10 greater stress is laid on the totality and makes it thus absolute. Accordingly the language suits the aim of comprehending Christians within an area which has no exception and which embraces all men. There is the utmost precision in the language as always in Scripture.
In seeing the “we” being expanded to include all men appearing before the judgment–seat, we can now readily understand both the language and meaning of the following verse, verse 11: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men”. There is no anxiety for our own souls, but for men this is entirely different. Evidently and only because the judgment–seat of Christ will not in the smallest degree endanger the safety of a single saint. It is this simple fact that all will be manifested, that Paul uses as the lever for persuading men in view of the terror of the Lord. Thus the judgment–seat of Christ is an all–embracing term, covering the manifestation of the saints, the judgment of the living, and the judgment of the dead.
As already pointed out the judgment of the living and the dead are separated in time by 1000 years. The unbelieving dead, irrespective of when they died, will remain in death until the end of time and then be raised as described in Rev. 20. This is the judgment of the dead.
Of those who do not believe and are alive when the Lord returns in glory, there are several categories. The judgment of the living views them as one, irrespective of distinctions.
There will be those who have had the testimony of the Gospel of the grace of God when the Church was here, some seven years previously, but will still be alive at the Lord’s appearing. I think Paul has these in mind in 2 Thess. 1: 7–10 when he speaks of “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with [the] angels of his power, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and those who do not obey the glad tidings of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Between the rapture of the heavenly saints and the Lord’s appearing, Jewish disciples will take up the work begun by the Lord and the twelve in going through the cities of Israel preaching the Gospel, not of the grace of God, but of the coming kingdom, for the Lord said, (Matt. 10: 23), “Ye shall not have completed the cities of Israel until the Son of man be come”. Those who reject that testimony will be part of the living who are judged when the Lord appears as detailed in Matt. 10: 7–27, 40–42 especially, and again in Matt. 11: 20–25 and Matt. 13: 36–43.
The testimony in Matt. 28: 18–20 has in view the same period because the Lord’s promise to be with them “until the completion of the age” cannot be the end of the Christian dispensation, (as is often assumed), as a comparison with Matt. 13: 40,41 proves. It is the age terminated by the Lord’s appearing. Thus the testimony of the Jewish disciples will go beyond Israel’s borders to all nations, (Matt. 10: 18). Hence when the Lord appears in glory there will be a separation in the nations to which I take it that the parable of Matt. 13: 47–50 refers. The response of the nations to that testimony is what divides the nations when the Lord sits in judgment and this is detailed in Matt. 25: 31–46.
Thus it should be quite clear that judgment in the day of judgment is for unbelievers. Peter says “[the] Lord knows [how] to deliver the godly out of trial, and to keep [the] unjust to [the] day of judgment [to be] punished”, (2 Pet. 2: 9).
So I will end this paper by rewording the question forming the title from “Will YOU be judged at the judgment–seat of Christ?” to “Will YOU face Christ as your Saviour or your Judge?” One it will surely be. If you know Him as Saviour now, you will never face Him as Judge then.