The Judgment Seat of Christ

The Bema was a judgment seat for umpiring races, olympic and other games, wrestling, and the like …  and for hearing and pronouncing on legal cases.

There are several mentions of the Bema in the New Testament.

Pilate’s Judgment Seat

Christ before Pilate, by Mihály von Munkácsy

Matthew 27:19  When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.

John 19:13  When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.
Gallio’s Judgment Seat
Ruins of Gallion's Bema where Paul was given a hearing
Acts 18:12  And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, …
16  And he drave them from the judgment seat.
17  Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.
Festus’ Judgment Seat
Acts 25:6  And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.
10  Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
17  Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.
Judgment Seat of Christ
Romans 14:10  But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
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.
On this page, we are going to study the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The word “Bema” (judgment seat) was familiar to people in Paul’s day.
In “God’s Plan for the Ages”, Grand Rapids: Zondervan (page 111),  the author Dr. Lehman Strauss says: “In the large Olympic areas, there was a large 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 at the Games was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat.
Strong’s Concordance defines Bema thus:
Gk, Bema: a step, a foot-breadth, a rostrum (an elevated platform), a tribunal (a court of justice), or the platform for the judges in a sport.
Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench, for the believer’s sins have already been judged, on the Cross of Calvary.
It is akin to an umpire’s platform, for the Christian life is  a race, and the divine umpire is watching every contestant. After the church has run her course, He will gather every member before the Bema for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each.
Modern examples would include the Umpire’s Seat at a Tennis Match or a Cricket Match, the Judge’s Seat at a Talent Contest such as American Idol or Britain Has Talent, the Judge’s Seat at the Olympic Games.
The purpose of the Bema of Christ is not to determine whether a person enters heaven – that is decided by whether we receive Jesus as our Savior (John 1:12-13). Nor is it to punish believers for sins committed before or after they were saved (such sins have been fully paid for by Jesus).
It would be a good Bible study to review the following verses: Psalm 103:10-12; Isaiah 38:17, 44:22; Micah 7:19; Hebrews 8:12; 1 John 1:7-10.
The purpose of the Bema is for us to give an account of our stewardship.
1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
1 Peter 4:10  As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
In the past, God dealt with us as sinners.
In the present, God deals with us as sons.
In the future, at the Bema, Christ will judge us as stewards.
Our works will be tested. How we built our lives will be in view.
1 Corinthians 3:10  According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. …
12  Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13  Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
It is not we who are being tested, but our work.
The fire of God’s judgment is a figurative way of showing that some of our work will be rewardable (gold, silver, precious stones), and others will count for nothing (wood, hay and stubble). Works that count as “gold, silver, precious stones” thrive in the fire of judgment at the Bema. The second category are the works that will be completely consumed. 
This is quite different than the Roman Catholic view of the fire as one that punishes the “holy souls in Purgatory” for their “venial” sins not repented of, or for their “mortal” sins forgiven in confession but not fully expiated by the Roman Catholic sinner.
The point at issue is simply that our works will be tested and the scrutiny will reveal whether they are to be rewarded or just skipped over.
In today’s terms, it’s Gold, Silver, Bronze … or nothing.
What will be tested? (Click to go directly to a point, and hit BackSpace to return to this list of points)
We will also receive a special reward if we “love His appearing”
Hebrews 6:10  For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
Hebrews 13:7  Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
1 Peter 4:10  As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 1:17  And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:
1 Timothy 6:17  Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
18  That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (share);
19  Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
2 Corinthians 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
18  While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
1 Corinthians 9:24  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25  And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1 Corinthians 9:26  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27  But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
1 Thessalonians 2:19  For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
20  For ye are our glory and joy.
Revelation 2:10  Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
James 1:2  My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
1 Peter 5:2  Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
4  And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Acts 20:26  Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
27  For I have not shunned to declare unto you 
all the counsel of God.
28  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
29  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
We will receive a special reward if we “love His appearing”.
2 Timothy 4:8  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Some will receive rewards
1 Corinthians 3:14: If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
Some will suffer loss
1 Corinthians 3:15: If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
The Greek word for “suffer loss” is zemioo. Paul used the same word in Philippians 3:5-8.
Philippians 3:5  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6  Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
Paul suffered the loss of things about which in his carnal days he gloried, but he lost them to win Christ, so he was richly compensated.
For us, our carnality after we have come to the Lord will entail a loss, for which we shall not be compensated.
Also, there’s a hint in the Scriptures that it might be possible to earn a reward, and then lose it through sin.
Colossians 2:18
Colossians 2:18  Let no man beguile you of your reward …
2 John 1:8
2 John 1:8  Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Revelation 3:11
Revelation 3:11  Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
5 Crown-Rewards are mentioned in the New Testament (Click to go directly to the Bible text for a crown, then hit Backspace to return)
2 John 1:8
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Colossians 2:18
Colossians 2:18  Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19  And not holding the Head,…
There’s one last point that bears making before I conclude:
The decisions that Christ makes about the way we lived our lives will be eternal decisions. Once made, they cannot change, and the consequences, reward or loss, will be ours for all eternity. In comparison to the unending expanse of eternity, our lives are incredibly short. The book of James calls it “vapor” (James 4:14). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. He doesn’t just say exceeding but more exceeding, and even far more exceeding. Words are weak compared to the eternal length of eternity. We should bear in mind that our decisions in this short life will have eternal consequences. Selah. Pause and seriously think of that.
In Brief:
All believers will have to appear before the Bema of Messiah. Not to determine entry to heaven, not to have sins punished, but to give an account of ourselves as stewards.
Our works will be assessed as (1) gold, silver, precious stones, or (2) wood, hay and stubble.
Some will receive rewards. Some will suffer loss.
Let’s examine ourselves now, judge ourselves for our sins, ask the Lord to reveal to us sins we are ignoring, and repent and forsake all these sins.
Let’s look forward with joy to the Bema of Messiah, when our Bridegroom will reward us as part of His Bride, as Boaz rewarded Ruth


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