The thought of a public examination before the Judgment bar of our Lord should be incentive enough to awaken even the most slumbering saint of God. Yet few, if any, ever give it a second thought. Paul declared, "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12). Perhaps if the doctrine of judgment and reward were expounded more from our pulpits there would be more attention given to living a life of holiness and obedience. Think of it. How will you stand in that day? Will you approach Him with confidence or will you stand before Him red-faced and embarrassed over a life of waste and neglect? It is something that we as Christians will all have to do. Are you ready to appear before the judgment seat? And if you say that you are, perhaps you are speaking without the necessary contemplation of the task that lies before you. Yes, the judgment seat will be a most solemn occasion for many in that great day.
Many are of the opinion that there will be one general resurrection and judgment, but the Scriptures speak of as many as seven judgments that span from the cross of Christ to the beginning of the eternal state. These include: (1) the judgment of Christ at the cross (John 12:31); (2) of the believer himself (1 Cor. 11:31-32); (3) of the believer's works (2 Cor. 5:10); (4) of the nations (Matt. 25:31-46); (5) of Israel (Ezek. 20:33-44); (6) of the fallen angels (1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6); and (7) of the unsaved at the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." The basis of this judgment will be the believer's works. Concerning the believer's sins, Chafer states: "Although his sins have been judged at the cross and will not be brought up again, at the judgment seat of Christ his works or service will be judged." Therefore, we see that in the life of the believer there is a threefold judgment: (1) as a sinner, his judgment at the cross is past (Rom. 8:1); (2) as a son, the believer must judge himself and confess his sins, or else expect chastisement (1 Cor. 11:31-32; Heb. 12:7); and (3) as a servant, a future judgment awaits the believer at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:9-15; Rom. 14:10).
According to Thayer, the judgment seat or bema was "a raised place mounted by steps; a platform, tribune: used of the official seat of a judge, Mt. xxvii. 19; Jn. Xix. 13; Acts xvii. 12, 16..." The bema was also used to denote a raised stand or platform in Grecian games to award the winning contestants. For many, it will be a day of reward and honor; yet there will be those present who will also suffer loss (2 John 8). John declares, "And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:28).
When will this future judgment of the believer take place? Paul told the Corinthian believers: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5; cf. 1 Jn. 2:28; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12). Therefore, the judgment seat of Christ will take place at the rapture of the church, when we "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17), prior to returning to the "heavenlies."
Paul exhorted the Phillipians believers to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). We are to "work out" what God "works in" (NIV), because we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). Paul R. Van Gorder remarks: "God has a design, a field of service planned for each believer. The 'good works', which the Christian is to perform, are those which make up 'that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.'" Our "works" will come under the inspection from Him whose eyes are "as a flame of fire" (Rev. 1:14; 2:18). The Divine Judge who will examine our works is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. John 5:22 states: "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son."
The judgment seat of Christ will be a time when the true character of our works will be manifested. Vine notes: "To be manifested, in the Scriptural sense of the word, is more than to appear. A person may appear in a false guise or without a disclosure of what he truly is; to be manifested is to be revealed in one's true character...." The examination of our works will bring to light whether they were good or "bad" (kakos), meaning "worthless." The true character of our service (1 Cor. 3:13), as well as our motives (1 Cor. 4:5) will be revealed.
What will be the results of this examination? The believer will either receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:8a), or forfeit reward (1 Cor. 3:15). the believer must build on the proper foundation, and others were to build on that foundation, which is Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The believer must also build on that foundation with the proper materials. Two types of builders and two kinds of materials are mentioned. The spiritual believer will build with gold, silver, and precious stones; the worldly believer will build with wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12-15). The gold, silver, and precious stones are a product of creation, while the wood, hay, and stubble are a result of natural growth. The former are the results of the Spirit of God working through the believer's life, while the latter represent the fleshly works of the old nature. No one builds completely with gold, silver, precious stones, or with wood, hay, and stubble. In this life one's achievements may seem massive and imposing, yet at the judgment seat they will be revealed for what they are: wood, hay, and stubble. "The day shall declare it" (1 Cor. 3:13). J. Vernon McGee notes:
All works produced through self-confidence, self-conceit, and some other words that begin with the prefix self- (and there are many), will be examined at the judgment seat only to be found wood or stubble. The worldly builder will find his works destroyed by fire, yet he himself will be saved, "yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15), which Alford explains, "--i.e. as a builder whose building was consumed would escape with personal safety, but with the loss of his work."
The Scriptures speak of five crowns that will be awarded the believer whose life has been faithful to the Lord. These crowns are the victor's crowns (stephanos), not to be confused with the kingly crown (diadema), which is Christ's alone. These five crowns include:
(1) The Crown of Life or "Martyr's Crown" (Js. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). The believer must love the Lord even more than his own life and be faithful unto death if he is to receive the crown of life. Jesus said, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it" (Mk. 8:35). Norman H. Camp notes, "during the coming Great Tribulation many will receive the crown of life because they will be slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they hold (Rev. 6:9-11)."
(2) The Crown of Glory or "Pastor's Crown" (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This is for the pastor who feeds the flock and does not lord it over "God's heritage." He is an example to others and not in the ministry for profit or financial gain. It will be awarded by the "chief shepherd" when He appears.
(3) The Crown of Rejoicing or "Soul Winner's Crown" (1 Thess. 2:19, 20; Phil. 4:1). This crown is given to those who win souls for the Lord. The winning of souls should be every Christian's responsibility. The Apostle James explains: "He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (Jas. 5:20).
(4) The Crown of Righteousness for those who "love His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8). This is the crown for those who are looking for the "blessed hope," the return of the Lord for His own at the Rapture. They are living "soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Tit. 2:12).
(5) The Incorruptible Crown or "Victor's Crown" (1 Cor. 9:25-27). This is the crown for those who practice self-control over their impulses and desires. Paul was careful to keep his body in subjection, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul was not afraid that he might lose his salvation, but that he might be (adokimos) "disqualified for the prize" (NIV). Here Paul is thinking of rewards that would be given at the judgment seat of Christ.
In Revelation 4:10 the saints are seen casting "their crowns before the throne." These are not for the believer to boast in, nor take permanent possession of, but to submit unto the Lord in loving adoration. Paul told the Corinthian believers, "For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:20). The casting of crowns at the Savior's feet will be one act of glorification that will be the eternal destiny of every believer throughout eternity. D.M. Panton, in his study The Judgment Seat of Christ, observes that "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. xi. 6).'"