The word we translate "judgment seat" (bema [bh'ma]) basicallymeans "step" from which it comes to be used as a unit of measure ( Acts 7:5 ). It is usedof a raised platform on which the judge sat during judicial proceedings (and from which hepronounced his verdict) or of the seat itself. Most of the examples of the use of the termin the New Testament refer to human tribunals, but we have one explicit reference to thejudgment seat of Christ ( 2 Col 5:10 ; thereare also references to Christ's activity in final judgment as 1 Col 4:5 ; 1 Thess 2:19 ). Wealso read of God's judgment seat in a passage where several manuscripts have"Christ's judgment seat" ( Rom 14:10 ). Thesepassages clearly refer to the judgment at the end of the world.
"We must all" appear before Christ's judgment seat, where "must"points to a compelling divine necessity: There is no escaping it. And "all" fromanother point of view makes it clear that everyone must face this prospect. Paul iswriting to Christians, so that "we all" signifies all believers; theyhave all built on the one foundation though what they have built differs ( 1 Cor 3:12-15 ).Other passages make it clear that there is a judgment for nonbelievers also, but that isnot the apostle's concern at this point.
"Appear" renders a verb that the lexicon defines as meaning "reveal,make known, show." Calvin held that the word means more than "appear";people will then come into the light whereas now many are hidden as in darkness. Peoplewill not be able to hide anything or disguise themselves at Christ's judgment seat; theywill be made known for what they really are and have done.
The judgment seat is, of course, more than a place where people are known for what theyhave done. There is a purpose involved; they will be there "in order that"judgment be passed on them for what they have done or failed to do. "Each" (theword is important as showing the uersality of the judgment) "will receive what isdue, " which makes it clear that justice will be done; there will be nothingcapricious or half-hearted at that tribunal. That "each" will receive what isdue makes it clear that Christ's judgment is to be an individual matter. It is not aquestion of what will happen to classes.
The judgment given will concern the things done while in the body or perhaps by meansof the body (the Greek could mean either). There is probably no great difference and inthe end we must say that Paul is making it clear that we all, believers and nonbelieversalike, will one day be held responsible for what we have done in this bodily life."Whether good or bad" makes it clear that deeds of all kinds will be taken intoconsideration. For some reason Paul uses the singular here, so that the good or the bad istaken as a whole. This may also be the point of his use of the aorist tense, "what hedid, " rather than the imperfect, which would draw attention to the succession ofActs. Paul is looking at the life of the believer as a whole.
We should be clear that the apostle is not speaking here of the way we are saved.Throughout his letters it is clear that salvation is brought about by the atoning work ofChrist. He is here referring to the heavenly reward (or otherwise) of the redeemed.Elsewhere he has made it clear that the works believers do can be likened to gold orsilver or precious stones, or on the other hand to wood or hay or stubble. The day ofjudgment is like a fire that will purify the first group and consume the second ( 1 Cor 3:10-15 ).Poor works will be destroyed, but that does not mean that the builder is also destroyed.
The passage where some manuscripts refer to "the judgment seat of Christ" butmost to that of God ( Rom14:10 ) forbids us to judge one another and tells us that God or Christ will judge usall. Probably we should understand this to mean that the Father will judge us all throughthe Son (cf. John5:22 ).
That we are all to stand before Christ's judgment seat is a reminder that we areaccountable and that in the end we must render account of our stewardship to none lessthan Christ.
Bibliography. J. Baillie, And the Life Everlasting; R. Bultmann, Theologyof the New Testament; J. P. Martin, The Last Judgment; B. Van Elderen III, ISBE,2:1163-64.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Judgment Seat of Christ'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".