Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Ask 10 Christians about the day of judgment and you’ll likely get more than a dozen answers. From Ancient times, God’s people have known there will be an accounting before Him, but there seems to be an ongoing lack of understanding about it – the nature, purpose, and participants of and in this great and terrible Day of the Lord.
What is the nature of this judgment? Throughout national Israel’s history, she and the pagan nations around her were subjected to God’s judgment for their actions. One example from Psalm 9:16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Sometimes we see Israel being punished and at others it was pagan nations. When God’s name is profaned, those responsible will be disciplined.
We see in Psalm 75 that God’s judgment is not always punishment: verse 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. This was commonly associated with rulers being raised up or put down. As in the days when Israel wanted to be like the pagan nations, with a mortal man as her king, so many Christians in our day put too much hope in political leaders, forgetting the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Corinthians 10:11) and our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
With man’s predilection of being focused on things temporal, Scripture speaks most about the doom of judgment at the end of the age, as there is no recovery from it. Speaking of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Psalm 76:7-9 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. We see similar accounts in Isaiah 66, Jeremiah 25, and Ezekiel 39. Matt 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. The ancient preacher adds some detail to this: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. [this first part we are familiar with; this next part is our topic] For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. This should sound familiar, as Paul said virtually the same thing in 2 Corinthians.
The Lord Jesus spoke of the day of judgment without providing detail of its operation, as if the Jews knew all about. Matthew 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. The doom of Sodom and Gomorrah was legendary; this doom Christ spoke of was worse! This type of reference recurs several more times in Matthew 11 and 12. In Luke 3, John tells the Pharisees that the wrath of God is upon them and those “trees” that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In Revelation 6:19ff, the other man named John reveals the terror of being found naked on judgment day: Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” God’s judgment is real. We must be ready. If the day of judgment was not certain doom, Christ would not have had to bear that dreadful curse and we would not benefit from His wondrous love!
One of the more frequent discussions touching on both the purpose and participants is focused on the “Bema Seat Judgment” of Christians. This phrase generally refers to the idea that believers must stand before God to be rewarded – separately from those who are doomed to hell. The proponents of this doctrine call this the Bema seat judgment to distinguish it from The White Throne Judgment. The latter they believe to be the Judgment that God reserves for judicial verdict against transgressions by the wicked. They may get some support from John 5:24, which uses the same word (in several translations) as verse 22. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. But the word, judgment, is kree’sis in the Greek; which can also mean damnation or condemnation; context reveals what is correct. The KJV gets this verse right: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. We see the same two statements in verse 27 & 29. John 5:28-29 (KJV) Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Again, KJV gets it right, ESV and others use the word “judgment.” We’ve seen that God will bring every deed into judgment – no man escapes this. But we also see that those who have passed from death unto life shall not come into condemnation! This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:1, as he tells those who were tempted to trust in works that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, He is the only refuge!
The truth about the judgment seat is a lot less complicated and much less ambiguous. The Greek word bema, which is translated seat, is from a root that means ‘base’ or the foot (and by extension, step). It is used to designate a stepped seating area for Judgment. Thus bema simply refers to the raised seating of a judge or a king. For example, the throne of a King is usually stepped seating. In other words, seating that is raised above the level of the surrounding area. Much the same as our courts today have established for judgments. In our country one must approach the raised judgment area called the bench. Likewise, the bema seat is simply the raised seating of someone sitting to judge. For example, Pilate sat on the judgment seat [bema] when Jesus was being accused of wrong doing (Matt 27:19 & John 19:13). John 19:13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. This is the same Greek word as found in 2 Corinthians, where the alleged “Bema seat” judgment takes place.
In both Biblical accounts of this episode (Matt 27 & John 19), the Greek word translated seat, bema, means the exalted seat of judgment. We should note very clearly that far from being a seat to hand out rewards, it is a seat of Judgment in tribunal for crimes (perceived or otherwise). Pilate sits upon this Judgment seat and he makes a Judgment to have the Lord Jesus Christ scourged, and handed over to be crucified. Quite clearly, this was a Judgment seat for judicial law. This is not only illustrated by the context, but also by the content. In both passages, Pilate sits on this bema and delivers a judicial verdict against Christ (beating and handing Him over to be crucified) which has absolutely nothing to do with rewards. Likewise, in the book of Acts we find the same scenario present with this Judgment seat (Acts 18:12 & 17). Acts 18:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. The ESV calls this a tribunal, the KJV calls it a judgment seat. The Greek word is bema.
What is the purpose and who are the participants? The parable of the talents shows believers have rewards, based on our deeds – just as we read in Psalm 75:7. The purpose of judgment day is two-fold; with punishment for evil-doers, rewards for good deeds (which the Holy Spirit equips and wills us to do), and our inheritance as joint-heirs with Christ. This inheritance is our union with Christ: being regenerated or born of God to live and reign with Him. This is taught in Ephesians 1:11, 13-14 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. … In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. This is confirmed in Galatians 3, Colossians 1 & 3, Hebrews 9 & 11, and 1 Peter 1. The inheritance Abraham looked for was that city whose designer and builder was God, the heavenly Jerusalem which is described in Revelation 21:9-10 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This is what Peter made mention of in 1 Peter 2, when he referred to the saints in Christ as living stones being built up as a spiritual house. What greater reward could one hope for than being at peace with God, abiding with Him in perfect harmony?
Matthew 25:31-33 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Two groups of people present at this judgment, when Christ returns and sits in judgment on the nations, He is on a bema; sheep at His right hand, goats at His left. No separate judgment for the saints in this passage.
Another glimpse at this judgment: Revelation 22:12-15 “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying”. Same two groups of people, each getting judged. Those who wash their robes (KJV: keeps His commandments) are blessed; these are the people of God who have been raised up and given His Spirit Who wills and equips us to do what pleases Him. Outside are those who do not know Him.
The Bible is clear that there is one Judgment of Christ, and it takes place at the last day. It is then that man will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account of what he has done on earth, whether good or evil. All those who were washed clean in the blood of Christ stand before God spotless with ‘good’ works that are faultless. The rest of the dead stand with ‘bad’ works, and are found guilty in their works of sin. 2 Timothy 4:1  I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Romans 14:10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. One judgment of all flesh, the quick (alive in Christ) and the dead; at the end of the age.
2 Corinthians 5:10-11 is where many stand to defend a separate “bema seat” judgment for Christians. But does that passage teach this? For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) 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. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. The same two groups of people, before the judgement seat of God.
This raised seat judgment Paul speaks of in this passage also describes the throne on which Herod sat when he was killed by God (Acts 12), the judgment seat Paul was dragged before Gallio (Acts 18), the place Festus sat in Acts 25, Caesar’s judgment seat in Rome, and the raised platform where Paul met his accusers (Acts 25:16-17). The Greek word does not lend itself to the narrow, single purpose definition imposed upon it by the Bema Seat proponents. Bema used to describe various judgment seats and thrones, from which men in authority render judgment.
The Great White Throne Judgment, in Revelation 20:11-15, has many of the same characteristics of these other passages we’ve read. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. What in this passage gives the impression it’s a different scene? More detail, same two groups of people, same two eternal states. The Greek word for throne (thronos) is not bema; but one definition of bema is “throne” and one definition of thronos is “seat.” While different words, they are nearly identical in meaning.
Revelation 20 is the same basic scene as in Matthew 25, wherein Christ sits on His throne of glory, judging between sheep and goats. Here in Revelation 20, the Lord sits on a throne which is great and white – terms that ascribe glory and honor. In Matthew 25, the deeds done by each group are reviewed, have everything in common. The one thing that distinguishes between the sheep and the goats is the sheep did their works out of love for Christ and His brothers. Verse 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ verse 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The inheritance of the saint in view once more.
In Revelation 20, the sea gave up her dead and death and hell gave up their dead. Is there any doubt that “death and hell” give up the damned, to face their Judge? These are terms commonly associated with those who are not reconciled to God. What about the sea; are its dead the same category of people or does it give up those who have died in Christ? Isaiah 60:5 sheds light on this, describing the fulfillment of what national Israel foreshadowed when all nations come to God, where the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you (God), the wealth of the nations shall come to you! This supports the idea that in Revelation 20, the sea could refer to those being called by God from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This would fit right in with the other judgment passages, which show the same two groups of people – sheep and goats.
And in this scene, it is as clear as it can be: the only thing that determines destiny has nothing to do with deeds we do here. If your name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have no life in Christ. If your name IS written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have eternal life in Christ. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Whatever rewards we may gain by faithful, Spirit led service in this age, inheriting the kingdom is totally based on God’s free gift of grace poured on His sheep.
This is what YHWH meant in this snippet from Job 34:23 – For God has no need to consider a man further, that he should go before God in judgment. The judgment eternal destiny of souls is not based on deeds done in the flesh; it is wholly dependent on and based on the standing one has; is he in Christ? And when one comes to Christ Jesus in faith, which is a gift from God, he will be protected from the wrath of God on that great and terrible day when Jesus judges all nations and peoples.
In speaking about the trials we will face in this age, Peter pointed us to Christ as our example; revealing a truth about the final judgment that ought to comfort the saints. 1 Pet 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. This is why we who are in Christ have no need to fear the day of judgment: He is just. The white throne is a sign of Christ’s rule and His glory: He is mighty.
Summary & Conclusion
The nature of this judgment is comprehensive, no mortal is excluded. The purpose of judgment day is twofold: to reward those who by patience in well-doing seek for honor and glory and to punish those who are self-seeking and unrighteous. Varying rewards and punishments. The participants in the day of judgment are two: those who have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and seek to bring Him honor and those who are dressed in their own rags of self-righteousness who serve themselves and mind earthly things. In these things, God is glorified in saving sinners, punishing evil doers, and bringing the age of redemption to a close for all will know Him and declare Christ to be King, whether they rejoice in their salvation or weep in their doom.
Luke 12:42-48 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. … And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
The great day of the Lord is a frightful time for those who are not clothed in Christ. It’s a validation of all He has promised for those who wear His white robes. 2 Pet 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. If you are in Christ, you can, with a clear conscience, join the saints of old and cry out, Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! If you do not have peace in your soul as you consider the end of things and the accounting that must be made to the Creator and Judge of all things, consider His words (John 6:35 & 37): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. … All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” There is salvation in no other name or person. Come to Jesus. He is the faithful one.
On the day of judgment, that great and terrible day when everything done in secret will be exposed (Ephesians 5:13), there is no place to hide, no safe refuge, no shield from the wrath of God – except for the very Lamb that will judge all flesh. This is why the gospel is central to mission of every church. This is why Christ Jesus is heralded as the only savior of poor sinners; He alone makes atonement for sin, He alone reconciles His enemies to His Father. He is the bread and water of eternal life; no one who comes to Him will hunger or thirst; no on who flees to Him will ever be cast out. Repent of your sin and believe on Christ – there is no other way to be at peace with God. Peace with God came at a dreadful price as the Son of God drank the cup of wrath due us. This wonderous love, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for your soul and mine. Let us exhort one another while we have breath to always look unto Christ, for He is our great salvation and He is our life!