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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is the Judgment Seat of Christ? (The Bema)

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Don Stewart
Greek, like English, uses the word "judge" in two senses. One sense in condemnation, while the other sense is the giving out of rewards. The Bible says unbelievers will be judged in the first sense - condemnation, while believers will be judged in the other sense - rewards.

Judgment Seat

The Bible speaks of a special judgment that God will hold for believers only. It is known as the judgment seat of Christ, or the judgment seat of God. Paul wrote.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what we have done whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

All believers will stand before God and be individually judged.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10).

What will happen at this judgment seat? Who will be judged? The Scriptures have the following to say.

Church Only

The participants in the judgment seat of Christ are members of the New Testament church. These are people who have trusted Christ as Savior from the Day of Pentecost, until the coming of Christ for His church. It does not include the Old Testament believers. They will have a separate time of judgment and reward.

Our Actions Will Be Judged

The Bible says that God will reward the actions of believers.

and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely You will reward each person according to what He has done (Psalm 62:12).

Jesus said.

For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father's glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done (Matthew 16:27).

Paul wrote.

Knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free (Ephesians 6:8).

At The Rapture Of The Church

At some time in the future, the Lord will come back for those who have believed upon Him. He will change their bodies from corruptible to incorruptible.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord Himself, with a shout, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

After this event, those believers will go to the judgment seat of Christ. Judgment always comes after resurrection.

Not Judged For Sin

This is not a judgment to determine who will enter heaven. The sins of believers will not be an issue at the judgment seat of Christ - they have already been forgiven. The Bible says.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:10-12).

Our sins have been removed. Micah wrote.

He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

Destiny Of Christian Has Been Settled

With the death of Christ on the cross, the destiny of the Christian has been once-and-for-all settled. There is no condemnation for those who have believed in Christ. Paul wrote.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Have Eternal Life

Those who have trusted Christ now possess eternal life.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; He has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

Curse Removed

The curse against believers has been removed.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree" (Galatians 3:13).

Price Paid

Jesus has paid the price for our sins.

He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Sin Offering

He presented Himself as a sin offering on our behalf.

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The believers judgment, with respect to sin, is long past.


Therefore, the judgment seat of Christ is not designed to punish believers, but rather to reward them for their faithful service. All of us will give an account of what we have done after trusting Christ as Savior. Therefore, the judgment seat of Christ is a judgment of believers works after salvation. Paul gave this analogy.

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it . . . Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and fire will try each one's work, of what sort it is (1 Corinthians 3:10,12,13).

The Bema Seat

The judgment seat is known as the "bema." The word is also translated court or tribunal. The platform could be either public (John 19:13) or private (Acts 25:22).

Tribunal For Rewards

The bema is a tribunal for rewards. In the large Olympic arenas, there was an elevated seat on which the judge of the contest sat. After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the bema to receive their rewards or crowns. The bema was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat. Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench. The Christian life is a race, and the divine umpire is Jesus Christ. After the race is over for each believer, He will gather every member before the bema for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each.

Some Suffer Loss

Not everyone will receive the same reward. At the judgment seat of Christ, there will be those who suffer loss.

If anyone's work is burned, they will suffer loss; but they themselves will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15).


The judgment will be by fire. Fire is used in Scripture as a symbol of judgment. Sodom and Gomorrah were judged with fire.

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the LORD out of the heavens (Genesis 19:24).

The Bible describes the glorified Christ in this manner.

His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow; His eyes were like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14).

Fire often symbolizes the holiness of God.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24).

Without Shame

Believers want to appear without shame before this seat.

And now little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28).

Full Reward

Believers will receive a full reward for their deeds of faith.

Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we have worked for, but that we may receive a full reward (2 John 8).

Be Careful Not To Lose Reward

Scripture warns believers about losing their reward.

Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown (Revelation 3:11).

This is loss of reward, not of salvation.


We can illustrate the loss of reward in the following manner: Let us say you have recently built a new two story house. While on the second floor, you smell smoke. Looking downstairs you see that the first floor is on fire. You jump out the second story window to save your life. You then watch your new house burn to the ground. Obviously you will have mixed emotions. You're thankful that you were able to jump and save your life, but you sad because your new house is destroyed. This is similar to those believers who are saved but have nothing to show for it. They squandered their opportunities to live for Christ yet they are enjoying the benefits of heaven with Jesus.

Position Of Honor

All who experience the judgment seat of Christ will possess the privileges and honors as children of God. Jesus said He will acknowledge those who have believed in Him before His Father, and before the angels.

Therefore whoever confesses Me before humanity, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

Gifts To Be Received

The Apostle Paul, speaking of God's gifts, said.

But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God' (1 Corinthians 2:9,10).

Rewards Proportionate

The rewards that the believer receives will be proportionate to the faithfulness they show in this life. The key is faithfulness to the gifts God has given.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Different Degrees Of Rewards

Jesus spoke of different degrees of rewards in a parable that He gave.

Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities (Luke 19:17).

To another one he said.

His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities' (Luke 19:19).


The rewards believers will receive are called crowns. Paul wrote.

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 4:7).

Book Of Life

Those who overcome will have their names written in the Book of Life:

You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Revelation 3:4,5).

Believers will be clothed in white garments, having their names written in the Book of Life. In addition, they will be acknowledged before the Father and the holy angels.

After Rapture

The judging of believers will occur after the rapture of the church, but before the Second Coming of Christ to the earth. In the Book of Revelation we are told.

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:7,8).

We are told that the bride is clothed with righteous deeds. The church, therefore, has already been at the judgment seat of Christ because they are ready for the groom when He comes. Hence the judgment takes place sometime before the Second Coming of Christ.


The judgment seat of Christ is a time of examination and reward. From Scripture we can conclude the following concerning the judgment seat of Christ, the bema.

1. The Lord will resurrect the bodies of the saints who have died during the church age, as well as change the bodies of those still alive.

2. They will meet the Lord in the air and proceed to the judgment seat of Christ.

3. This judgment will consist of rewards for faithful service. There will be no condemning anyone.

4. Rewards will consist of crowns given to believers based upon our faithful service to Him. The rewards will be proportionate to our faithfulness.
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