Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FIRST OF CHRIST’S JUDGMENTS, THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST”

John 5.22 

Perhaps a year after the beginning of His public ministry, after His baptism, after His miracle of turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, after visiting with Nicodemus in Jerusalem, and after meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, the Lord Jesus Christ returned to Jerusalem. It was while He was in Jerusalem, and on the Sabbath at that, that the Lord Jesus Christ healed an impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, just a few steps north of Herod’s Temple. Being in the back yard of the Jewish religious leaders, on their turf so to speak, and especially it being the Sabbath, we can understand their negative reaction to Christ’s miracle healing. Their perception was that our Lord was invading their territory. It was one thing to work a miracle in Galilee, but quite another thing to show them up by working a miracle in their city, on the Sabbath. That said, the negative reaction of the religious leaders to the Lord Jesus Christ, as is anyone’s negative reaction to the Savior, was based upon blindness to Who He is and what His relationship with Almighty God happens to be.

To give you some idea of that relationship with God, turn to John 5, and we will read from John 5.16. When you find that verse I invite you to stand and read along with me silently as I read aloud: 

16  And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

17  But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

18  Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

19  Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

20  For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

21  For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

22  For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:

23  That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. 

We could spend a very long time reflecting on the implications of our Lord’s comments in this passage, as well as what follows in the chapter. However, I would like at this time to begin exploring only one aspect of our Lord’s relationship with God the Father, the one He makes mention of in John 5.22 that serves to help explain His claim “that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” The verse reads, 

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” 

This statement may come as a surprise to some of you because of the distortions about the Lord Jesus Christ introduced to evangelical Christianity in the last half of the twentieth century that portray Him as a one-dimensional figure Who is only capable of love, sentiment, tenderness, compassion, and other obviously related characteristics. That the Lord Jesus Christ will also render judgment makes a great many people uncomfortable. So be it. The Bible is inspired and, therefore, true. The Lord Jesus Christ does render judgment, and His future judgments should produce a significant motivation in every Christian’s life. The Lord’s future judgment of believers was a prominent feature in the Apostle Paul’s correction of the Corinthian Christians in First Corinthians 4.1-5, where he wrote, 

1  Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

2  Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

4  For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. 

And again, in Second Corinthians 5.10, where he wrote, 

“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.” 

Having established that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to judge, my plan is to treat each of the Lord Jesus Christ’s various judgments in consecutive Sunday evening messages. I begin with the first of Christ’s judgments, the Judgment Seat of Christ. My plan is to follow with messages from God’s Word explaining Christ’s judgment of Old Testament saints, of Tribulation martyrs, of living Israel, of the Gentile Nations, of the fallen Angels, of the unsaved (better known as the Great White Throne judgment), and the judgment of the Millennial saints.

We begin with a question. What is the purpose of divine judgment?[1] There are fundamentally two kinds of divine judgment in Scripture: temporal and final. Temporal judgments serve a present purpose such as the death of the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:12) or the catastrophes of the Tribulation (Isaiah 26:9 - “for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”). Final judgments serve an eternal purpose; they are “those acts of God that are complete within themselves and the consequences endure.” Hebrews 6:2 speaks of “eternal judgment,” and the Lord Jesus proclaims, “the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:48). The purpose of final judgment is not to determine the character nor ultimately to determine the destiny of those judged. It is to reveal their works and mete out appropriate reward or punishment.

Why is divine judgment necessary? The intrinsic nature of God demands that there be a final setting to rights of all moral imperfections and violations. The absolute and perfect moral order established in the nature of God (i.e., His moral attributes) necessitates that right be rewarded and wrong be punished. In his own day and context, the prophet Habakkuk uttered a timeless truth in prayer to God: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). Justice delayed may seem like divine complacence or even justice denied, but the nature of perfect moral deity will eventually prevail: “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” (Psalm 50:21). The infinite and eternal moral attributes of righteousness, truth, justice and fidelity form the underpinnings, structure and function of God’s throne of absolute sovereignty (Psalm 89:14 -- “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.”). That being the case the answer then emerges to the question as to how God could use the wicked Babylonians to punish the nation Israel who (ostensibly) was less wicked (Habakkuk 1:2-4, 12-17). Also, the apparent prosperity-with-impunity of the wicked is therefore ethically resolved (Psalm 73:1-20, esp. vv. 15-20), and the beggar Lazarus will be morally compensated for the “bad things” he received in this life (Luke 16:25). Paul sums up the whole issue in Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

This brings us back to our Lord’s statement in John 5.22. Who will judge in the divine judgments? The ultimate judge is God the Father; He is the “Judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23): Believers and unbelievers alike will each give an account of himself to God. The mediating judge is Jesus Christ the Son. This is seen in His own testimony and teaching: John 5:22 - “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” Paul’s theology on this point is perfectly in tandem with that of Christ. At the theological standoff with the would-be thinkers of, and answer-givers to, the quest for a worldview, the apostle states with gracious bluntness: “[God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31). This is seen also when, in view of impending execution, Paul virtually puts Timothy under oath to carry out his ministry of the word: “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.” (Second Timothy 4:1).

There are reasons why Christ is infinitely qualified to fulfill His role as the mediating judge in the final judgments. One, as fully God, His attributes of omniscience and wisdom are operative; He has the knowledge and wisdom to be the final judge because “In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He has “eyes like unto a flame of fire” and as such is “He which searcheth the reins and hearts” and will give to each one according to his deeds (Revelation 2:18, 23).

Two, as a genuine and perfect man, our Lord understands human life “from the inside” by personal experience. Jesus Christ, the God-man, as the judge of us all answers the age-old problem posed by the patriarch Job: “For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.” (Job 9:32-33). The Savior solved the dilemma by appealing to His own manhood or human nature as that which qualified Him to render divine judgment on human beings: God gave Christ authority “to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” (John 5:27). “Son of Man” is anarthrous, stressing the intrinsic nature of the noun; in this case it emphasizes His genuine and complete humanity, His being neither more nor less human than those He will judge.

Three, as the God-man Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Paul’s note on this point is First Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” All human beings, therefore, must deal with God, the ultimate judge, through Jesus Christ, either as their savior or judge in their final judgments.

Recognizing that the Lord Jesus Christ will execute all judgment, thereby illustrating a unity within the Godhead that is quite incomprehensible to us, we now turn to the most recognized of Christ’s judgments, and chronologically the first of Christ’s judgments, the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Five major headings: 

First, THE TIME OF THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST 

Be mindful that my treatment of the Judgment Seat of Christ is based upon my recognition that God’s dealings with mankind in the present and the future are based upon two Scriptural realities: the promises God made to Abraham that established a covenant relationship with the Jewish people that will not be abrogated (God keeps His Word), and the Lord Jesus Christ’s establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ as a distinct and unique institution. Israel is not the Church and the Church is not Israel.

Consistency with respect to these two realities results in a pretribulational and premillennial understanding of end time prophecy that will be reflected in my preaching, particularly these sermons concerning Christ’s judgments.

Two comments about the time of the Judgment Seat of Christ:

The time of the Judgment Seat of Christ is immediately following the Rapture of Church Age believers in Jesus Christ. As previously mentioned, Paul instructed the congregation at Corinth, 

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God,” 

First Corinthians 4.5. Years later, and facing the end of his life, Paul clung to the certainty that 

“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,” 

Second Timothy 4.8. Among Christ’s last words to the seven Churches in Asia were, 

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be,” 

Revelation 22.12. If the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4.4 represent raptured Church era saints, which seems likely, their crowns suggest that they have already stood before Christ at His Judgment Seat and have been duly rewarded. In that capacity they have taken their places as associate justices in the great tribunal from which all the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments emanate.

Though consistent dispensationalism places the Rapture at least seven years before the visible return of Jesus Christ to earth in power and great glory, some are of the opinion that the Rapture and the visible return of Christ take place almost simultaneously following the seven years of Great Tribulation commonly referred to as Daniel’s 70th week. Though I do not challenge the spirituality of anyone who embraces that position, I do take issue with their consistency in maintaining the Biblical distinction between Israel and the Church, the one being physically descended from Abraham through Jacob and governed by the Law of Moses, and the other being comprised of those from every kindred, tongue, and tribe who have come to saving faith in Christ after the Day of Pentecost.[2] Nearly all who subscribe to a posttribulational Rapture improperly combine the timing of the Judgment Seat of Christ, the sheep and goat judgment (Matthew 25), and the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20) into one judgment after the millennium. I respectfully disagree. I am persuaded posttribulationism is impractical. Such a view allows no functional time for the Judgment Seat of Christ because of an up-and-straight-back-down understanding of the Rapture, occurring in the twinkling of an eye. Such a chronology precludes any meaningful amount of time for the Judgment Seat proceedings to occur. Therefore, there is the need in that scheme to combine the Judgment Seat of Christ with another judgment or two. In my view, such an understanding frustrates the unique purposes of each of the Lord Jesus Christ’s judgments. 

Next, THE PLACE OF THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST 

The Judgment Seat of Christ judgment takes place in heaven immediately after the Rapture. Paul describes this event in First Thessalonians 5.15-17: 

15  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

16  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 

The destination of those believers caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture is the “Father’s house,” John 14.1-3, a term for heaven. It is there that Christ returned to the Father, it is there that He is preparing the eternal dwellings for those who are His, and it is to that place that He will take us when we meet Him in the air before the Tribulation. The crowned elders, representing raptured and rewarded Church Age believers, are in heaven according to John’s vision in Revelation 4.1 and 4. 

Third, THE PARTICIPANTS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST 

Only Church Age believers participate in the Rapture and only Church Age believers. Paul’s comment to the Thessalonian believers about those “in Christ” makes that clear. Therefore, only Christians will participate in the judgment immediately following their resurrection and translation at Christ’s secret, which is to say in the air, coming.

In Second Corinthians 5.10, which I previously read, the “we” (in “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”) must refer to believers in Jesus Christ; the Corinthian letter was written to members of the Corinthian Church. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome similarly says, 

“we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” 

Romans 14.10.

Also, the process of elimination leaves only those who are Church Age believers to be judged at the judgment seat. This will become evident as the subsequent final judgments of Christ are considered in the weeks to come. 

Fourth, THE BASIS FOR JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST 

The basis of this judgment will be the believer’s post-salvation works, those things done in Christ’s service after trusting Christ. After all, believers are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Ephesians 2.10, so it is reasonable that the Savior would evaluate each believer’s compliance with God’s will for his life in matters of faithful service.

Five things to note in Paul’s comments to the Corinthian Christians concerning Christ’s judgment of the Christian’s conduct and service following conversion:

First, there is Paul’s allusion. Paul refers to this judgment as “the day” in First Corinthians 3.13: 

“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.” 

Paul alludes to the divine scrutiny at the judgment of those who minister in Christ’s Church. If people only understood how important their Church is as Christ’s designated sphere of service and ministry.

Second, there is Paul’s counsel. His counsel on the subject is found in First 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.” 

In other words, Paul counsels his readers to be careful how they go about building on the foundation Paul has laid.

Third, this naturally leads to Paul’s foundation. Paul had laid the doctrinal foundation of the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ and others would build on that foundation, also referred to in First Corinthians 3.10.

Fourth, there is Paul’s warning. The apostle warned, again in verse 13, that 

“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.” 

The “work” in the context of this passage is undoubtedly quality local Church service for Christ. After all, Paul shows in First Corinthians 3 that judgment is rendered on the basis of constructing a temple, the temple of God, which is the individual believer’s Church congregation.

Finally, there is Paul’s explanation. Again, the basis of the judgment here is described as being the 

“the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” 

Second Corinthians 5.10. These are the works that will inevitably follow and will display the regeneration experience and the believer’s resultant natures; some deeds will be good and others bad. The “good” and the “bad” are probably to be understood in the sense of being rewardable or unrewardable. 

Fifth, THE RESULTS OF JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST 

The results of the Judgment Seat of Christ for Church Age believers are the rewards that are appropriated to them. None of the final judgments, including the Judgment Seat of Christ, determine where a person will spend eternity. That matter was determined before the believer ever appears in judgment. The results here are rewards for service as that service is evidence of the perseverance of the believer in the Christian experience in obedience to God’s Word.

The believer’s work of building on the foundation of the Church which Paul laid is characterized as wood, hay, stubble or gold, silver, precious stones. These works will be tested by judgment fires (First Corinthians 3.12-13).

At the Judgment Seat of Christ the Christian “receives” appropriate reward for “the things done in his body,” Second Corinthians 5.10. The word “receive" being shorthand for the rewards that are given, such as Paul’s promise in Ephesians 6.8: 

“Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” 

There are other Bible passages that refer to “receiving” or “reaping” in terms of the rewards of the final judgment. Paul both instructs and promises the Colossians in 3.23-24: 

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 

And to the Corinthians, he taught, in conjunction with Christian stewardship, in Second Corinthians 9.6, 

“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” 

In the Lord’s parable in Luke 19.12-27, while not speaking directly of the Judgment Seat of Christ, He, nevertheless, implies that heavenly rewards are framed regarding responsibilities or of capacities to rule cities in the kingdom of God.

The rewards are pictured in the New Testament as being crowns that are awarded for meeting certain criteria. There is the Crown of Life for those who love the Lord (James 1.12), the Crown of Rejoicing for those who bring people to Christ (First Thessalonians 2.19), the Incorruptible Crown for successfully running the race (First Corinthians 9.25), the Crown of Glory for faithful pastors (First Peter 5.4), and the Crown of Righteousness for those who love His appearing (First Timothy 4.8). 

As every wise parent knows to reward the commendable conduct of a child while recognizing the wisdom of not reinforcing unsatisfactory conduct, so the Lord Jesus Christ will judge those of us who are His during this era in which we live. However, though we are His in this era it is not in this era that we will be judged and subsequently rewarded. The Judgment Seat of Christ will take place after this era concludes, following the Rapture of Church Age believers, and after both deceased and living Christians have been taken to heaven in glorified bodies.

It will be sweet, beloved. And you will not then regret your willingness to put Christ first, to seek His kingdom, and to serve Him valiantly. Your willingness to delay your gratification by denying yourself, by taking up your cross daily, and by following Him will be worth it all. To hear the Savior say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as He places the crown on your head will be the most satisfying, the most thrilling, and the most glorious of experiences.[3]

__________

[1] I am indebted to Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology Of Biblical Christianity, Volume Three: The Doctrines of Salvation, the Church, and Last Things, (Detroit: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), pages 409-417 for most of what follows.

[2] My position is consistent with Christ’s founding of His Church during His earthly ministry prior to His crucifixion.

[3] Matthew 25.23

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