My wife Nancy and I started watching the Olympics last night. It's always good to have something interesting to do in February to help beat the winter blues. It is pretty amazing that the ancient Greek Olympic games of New Testament times are still with us today. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul draws upon the imagery of the various competitive sports to teach spiritual truth. Throughout the New Testament, Paul makes references to the Greek games. One of those Christian teachings is the "Judgment Seat", or BEMA judgment.
There are three key passages of Scripture which help us understand the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is a judgment for Christians:
First, there is Romans 14:10-12. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? For we (believers) shall all stand before the “Judgment Seat” of Christ. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God”.
Second, there is II Cor. 5:10. “For we (believers) 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." That “things done” means works, not sins, is seen in:
Third, there is I Cor. 3:12-15. “Now if any man build on this foundation: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work will 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.”
Now, the Greek word which is translated “Judgment Seat” is the word BEMA. In Bible times, a “Bema” seat was an elevated platform, mounted by steps; used as the official seat where the judge sat. For examples of this, see Acts 18:12,16. The most popular application of the term “Bema” was in respect to the Greek games—the place where the referee, or officiating judge, sat. Herod had one of these built in the amphi-theatre in Caesarea, from which he not only viewed the games, but made speeches, and REWARDED the victorious contestants. So the key concept associated with the BEMA seat was honor and reward, not justice and judgment. It is not a judgment for SINS, because these were paid for by the death of Christ on the cross. "There is therefore, now, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Our sins will never be thrown up in our face--they have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus.
It appears from all these passages that the judgment of believers is not done en masse, but one by one. It is individual, and personal. The word used in II Cor. 5:10, translated “bad” is not kakos (evil), but “phaulos” which means “WORTHLESS”, or good for nothing. For example, Jesus talked about salt, losing its savor, as being good for nothing.
It also appears that the gold, silver, precious stones implies that God’s reward for believers has more to do with the QUALITY of our service for Christ than the quantity of our “works”. For instance:
1. Did we serve the Lord with the right MOTIVES?
2. Did we serve the Lord with a cheerful ATTITUDE?
3. Did we serve the Lord according to the “RULES” of His Word?
4. Did we serve the Lord without QUITTING?
There are but two results of this JUDGMENT SEAT: (1) Reward, or (2) LOSS of reward. Yet even in this category, believers are said to be “saved, yet so as by fire”. The reward for the victors was a "crown", not one you wear on your head, but a "stephanos", a wreath or garland that was placed around the neck of the winning athlete. The wreath-reward is what the contestants strove for--to be recognized for their hard work and victorious achievement.
What was Paul's application of this truth; the reality of the coming judgment for believers? ""Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we PERSUADE men." All of us have been left here on earth to do just one thing—persuade men to be saved—to be a witness for Christ. Anything short of that is failure and shame. Some Christians will watch in horror as all their works, all the things they did as they lived for themselves instead of living for the Lord, go up in smoke. You may never win the downhill Slalom, but you can receive something far better: the commendation of Christ who says: Well done, thou good and faithful servant.