By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I’ve been reading about the judgment seat of Christ where we will receive awards according to how profitable or unprofitable our lives have been on earth. It seems to me as I read these passages that some will be ashamed at how poorly they have done. Could that be true?
Yes, I think that some will be ashamed. But knowing that while we’re still on earth gives us the opportunity to live lives worthy of reward.
Revelation 22:12 introduces the fact of rewards for the believers:
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I
will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
There is coming a time when we will be judged on the basis of what we have done as Christians. This event is known as the “Judgment Seat of Christ” and it occurs during the seven-year Tribulation on earth.
In 2 Corinthians 5:8-10, the apostle Paul explains,
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body."
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Should a Christian Work for Rewards?
The answer to this question seems self-evident. However, not everyone seems to feel that way!
“You know, I don’t think we ought to talk about rewards – we ought to serve the Lord because we love Him.”
“I don’t care about the crowns, I just care if I get there!”
“I’m not working for rewards; I’m just working for Christ!”
All of these statements are good rhetoric. However, they are very poor theology. We ought to serve Christ because we love Him. Nevertheless, we have every incentive to seek the very best rewards that we can for ourselves.
Moses worked for his rewards (Hebrews 11:23-26).
Paul was looking to his rewards (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
We should be working and looking for ours as well.
What the Judgment Seat of Christ Is Not
First, the Judgment Seat of Christ does not determine whether we go to Heaven.
If we have trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will go to heaven. Signed, sealed, and delivered. But if we have not responded to Jesus, we will go to Hell. There is no St. Peter at the pearly gates, pointing left and right.
Most people—Christians too—think that there is only one big judgment at the end of time where people are judged on whether they have done more “good” than “bad.” If you have more good than bad, you go to heaven. On the other hand, if you have more bad than good, you go to hell.
There will never be a time of judgment like that.
5 Different Judgments
The Judgment Seat of Christ is one of at least five different judgments that take place at different times and in different places.
1. Judgment of Sin (Isaiah 53:6, the four gospels) took place in 30 AD when Jesus died on the cross. All who believe in Him are covered by His blood, because He paid the price for our sin and took our punishment.
2. Judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-10) will happen before Jesus’s throne, and He will evaluate the profitability of a Christian’s life on earth.
3. Judgment of Israel (Ezekiel 20:33-44) occurs at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation when God purges all rebels out of Israel.
4. Judgment of the nations (Matt 25:31-46) occurs at the end of the Tribulation. The criteria for this judgment is based on how each nation responded to Israel’s needs during the Great Tribulation.
5. “Great White Throne Judgment” (Jude 6; Revelation 20:11-15) will happen at the Second Coming of Christ, when He returns to build a new heaven and earth. It will include the judgment of Satan, his demons, and all those who never trusted Christ as Savior while they were alive. The Books of Works will be opened to demonstrate to all of the lost that they are not good enough for heaven. All will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
The Judgment Seat of Christ does not punish believers for all the sins that they have committed since their salvation.
Can you imagine the horror of God publicly judging all of your sins as they were flashed on the big screen at the movie theater! “Here’s Roger! Look at him in sin when he was 14-years-old. What a horrifying thought!
Fortunately, the Bible teaches that when we are forgiven, our sins will never be seen again.
Isaiah 38:17 says that God has put our sins “behind our backs.” The word literally means, “between our shoulder blades.” Have you ever tried to look back there? It’s impossible!
What Happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ?
Bema is the Greek word for “throne.” It represents the place where winners in the Corinthian and Olympian games climbed a raised platform to receive their crowns and rewards. Athletes came from all over Greece in the hopes of mounting that raised platform of honor and dignity.
At the Bema, only winners receive rewards. Losers do not walk up the Olympic platform to receive rewards.
But by grace, every believer will stand before the Bema of Jesus Christ. Christianity is the only thing I know of where everybody wins and nobody loses!
1 Corinthians 3:10-16 Gives a Detailed Picture of This Judgment
Let’s imagine that we are going to build a building and it's going to be a Temple of God:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own way: you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The FOUNDATION is Jesus Christ.
It is impossible to build a meaningful life on anyone or on any other than Jesus Christ. He is foundational.
The building MATERIALS can be placed into two categories.
Indestructible objects like gold, silver, and precious stones are “valuable.”
Destructible, worthless objects like wood, hay, and stubble are “worthless.”
Think about your life as a building. Jesus Christ is the foundation. You’re going to build on that foundation.
Granite or marble would be good, solid materials for you to use. A solid marble building overlaid with gold and silver would be even better!
But do you know what many Christians do? They build out of wood! They use wood for the door frames and door jams, then use hay mixed with mud for bricks and then top it off with a stubble roof.
So here are two Christians with the same resources, the same spirit, and the same power. The one who built with wood, hay, and stubble says, “Here it is God. How do you like it?”
Then the other says, “Here it is God. What do you think?”
The Judgment Seat of Christ will have a simple test.
God will take the buildings to the judgment seat, where He will light a fire. Wood, hay, and stubble burn. Marble, granite, gold, and silver do not.
At the Judgment Seat, we will be able to see what we’ve done that’s of eternal value for Christ. Were we profitable or unprofitable for God’s Kingdom? Jesus is concerned with what we’ve done of lasting value.
Obviously, some will be ashamed.
Some Christians will watch their houses go up in a great conflagration! They suffer the loss of crowns and rewards; but notice that no one suffers the loss of their salvation.
There will be gold Christians, and there will be stubble ones. But all are Christians because they have one foundation, Jesus Christ.
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What Will the Rewards Be?
Our rewards will be based upon our love for God and others, our purity, holiness, behaviors, motives, values, and service.
Jesus will consider how well we have followed Him as our Lord and Savior. Of course, He will notice the maturity of our Fruit of the Spirit. Certainly, He’ll want to evaluate how well we lived out the Beatitudes.
How well have we followed God’s will for our lives is very important to Him. And He will evaluate our generosity and how well we responded to the needs of the poor and needy.
Notice that we are describing a lifestyle, not a checklist, which God will use to evaluate our profitability for His Kingdom.
The key to the evaluation must be John 15:5. When we live out the normal Christian life, all will be well: “I am the vine may: you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.
Our Christian lifestyle is critical.
A chaplain visited a new inmate in prison.
“Say, Chaplain, I've been looking forward to meeting you.”
“You have, why?”
“Well, you see, I'm a preacher, too!”
“You are! Then what are you doing in here?”
“Well,” he started into a long explanation. When the inmate finished, the chaplain asked, “Please, just do me one favor.”
“Don't tell anyone here that you're a preacher. You're bad advertisement.”
Our lifestyle reflects on our Savior. People are watching, and we can turn them to or away from Jesus with our actions.
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6 Crowns Will also Be Distributed at the Judgment Seat
3. Crown of Righteousness (see 2 Timothy 4:1-8): This is the crown for those who love and look forward to Christ's Second Coming.
5. Crown of Glory (see 1 Peter 5:1-4): The Pastor's Crown will be given to all who shepherded Jesus’s spiritual sheep.
6. Incorruptible Crown (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27): This is the crown for all those who deny themselves to follow Christ.
But what exactly is the nature of the rewards that we receive from Jesus at the Bema?
No one knows for certain. However, there is no doubt that those who have been profitable on earth will receive more than those who did not do so well.
The pursuit of rewards was one of the greatest motivating factors in the life of Paul. He declared,
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time is come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Paul prepared for his appearance before Christ, and so should we. It’s not that Paul was crass or that he only wanted glory and honor. He gave everything he had to follow Jesus and bring Him honor.
We don’t want to get to heaven by the skin of our teeth! We ought to be sacrificing to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. The King’s Business requires the very best that we have.
What Will We Do with Our Rewards?
Will we build a trophy case?
Will we count the number of stars in our crowns?
Will we compare crowns? No!
In Revelation 4:10-11, John writes, “They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being’.”
The church—all followers of Christ—lay down their crowns at the feet of Jesus. The crowns are indicative of how much we love Him, and it’s our greatest joy to return them as an act of worship:
“If Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
I hope this will encourage you as you pursue the rewards of heaven during your time here on earth. Let’s honor Christ together!