While my upholstered chair is associated with Gramma and fond memories of her, the “judgment seat of Christ” mentioned in 2 Cor. 5:9-10 is associated with accountability. Paul begins this chapter by taking note that our earthly bodies are merely a temporary dwelling just like a tent (2 Cor. 5:1-5). He concludes that this knowledge should affect how we live now (v.9). The judgment seat of Christ (v. 10) is the place where we reconcile our days on earth to the way Jesus expected us to live. The imagery here comes from Greco-Roman culture and a well-known “chair” called the “bema”. The bema was a raised platform used for public proclamations such as the winners of athletic competitions, public speeches (Acts 12:21-23), and legal decisions (Acts 18:12-17). The bema excavated in ancient Corinth rose 7 ½ feet above the market square and was just about as wide. One author noted, “When someone appeared before the bema, it was sometimes for condemnation and sometimes for commendation”. Obviously the latter was the preferred reason! In this light the passage also has strong connections with two other New Testament passages which speak of Christ’s role as our Judge concerning our behavior, Eph. 6:7-8 and Rev. 22:12.
It should be stressed that the judgment which takes place at the bema seat does not concern our salvation. That has been accounted for by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and our profession that He paid the penalty for our sins. As previously stated this judgment concerns rewards for how we have lived out those days in our earthly tent. In the Biblical view a reward is the return that one receives for his/her actions; especially payment for doing good (Prov. 11:31; Eph. 6:8; Rev. 22:12). But how does Jesus determine this? According to the 2 Corinthians passage it is the result of what each has “done”. This verb (prasso) means to do or perform in general but it is not a finite action. It refers to actions that are ongoing, that is behavior which is repetitious, continual and habitual (Acts 26:20; Rom. 2:25; 7:15; 9:11; 2 Cor. 5:10; Phil. 4:9). Two types of behavior are cited: good (agathos) meaning that which is virtuous (Mt. 12:34-35; Lk. 6:45; Jn. 5:29; Rom. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:11, 13; 3 Jn. 1:11) and bad (phaloss) meaning deeds and words which are vile, evil, wicked, corrupt, good-for-nothing, unimportant, mediocre and worthless (Jn. 3:20; Tit. 2:8; Js.3:16).
Two other passages give us a fuller understanding of the role of the “judgment seat” in the believer’s life, Mt. 8:1-13 and Js. 2:12-13. In the Matthew passage a centurion has entreated Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus commends his faith and then makes a very odd statement about the coming kingdom (vv. 11-12). The parable seems odd to us but to Jesus’ listeners the picture was quite clear. The term “outer darkness” referred to an area outside a well-lit banquet hall where the light no longer made things visible. In this parable the outer darkness is not referring to those who are unsaved because the people who have come were at first seated at the banquet table. But now they have been removed from the hub of activity. We might liken this scenario to the privilege of sitting at the captain’s table on a cruise. The reward for remaining at the banquet/captain’s table is based on what is done for Christ, the Captain (Mt. 5:3-12; 7:21-23; Lk. 6:20-26; Rom. 14:10-23; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Jn. 4:17; Rev. 20:11-15). While Christ’s Jewish listeners thought that their lineage was their ticket to the banquet, Jesus had a different criteria- belief that is demonstrated by action and the centurion demonstrated more faith than them. What kind of behavior is Christ looking for? The passage in James answers this by emphasizing mercy. If we understand God’s mercy toward us, James writes, we will extend it to others. James echoes the intent of the fifth Beatitude (Mt. 5:7). Those who seek mercy will receive it. The entrance to heaven is a result of the work of Christ but our position at the banquet is determined on the life we’ve lived in response to our salvation. In the matter of mercy, the measure of the mercy we give is the measure of our reward. And you can’t go back and do your life over once it’s done (Lk. 16:19-31).
How will I fare when I stand before the bema seat and Christ is my judge? My reminder to live as Christ wants me to comes from one another one of His parables. When it came down to what made the difference between the sheep and the goats, it was all a matter of what they did and didn’t do (Mt. 25: 31-46). So as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, I desire to make my life pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:9) and follow the two greatest commandments of all (Mk. 12:28-31). What about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre