What Does The Bible Say About The Judgment Seat Of Christ?
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Sunday, November 4, 2012 - AM  Sermon #: 1603
Don Horban

If we don’t know anything much about the judgment of God as it’s poured out in the last days we should be concerned because the writer of the book of Hebrews calls this doctrine one of the “first,” or “elementary” doctrines of the Christian faith. And we should all know the basics:

Hebrews 6:1-2 - “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

When the writer says we are to go on from these basic truths he doesn’t mean they aren’t important or necessary. Rather, he means they are so basic and should be so well known that you continue to use them, almost without thinking about them, the way a writer uses the letters of the alphabet in writing a great novel. These basic truths should have such a well-known, almost automatic understanding and application to the rest of our lives.

That’s my desire for you as we study this subject today. I hope, as we work through this sometimes controversial topic, that you will find blessed use of this, one of the first principles of the faith, to aid you in loving more passionately God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, fearing and reverencing God more devoutly in His justice and blazing holiness, and reaching out to the lost more eagerly and earnestly as you see the end drawing near.


Theologians debate the timing of these end-time events. Those called dispensationalists usually divide the future judgment into at least two phases. Usually, in this scheme, Christians are judged and rewarded some time before the millennium, while unbelievers are judged after the millennium. If you were raised in Pentecostal churches, or educated in many evangelical Bible colleges, you were probably made most familiar with this agenda, and that’s fine. I have no real problem with it, and nothing of eternal significance is at stake.

I have come, over these last few years, to believe that there is actually only one, all-encompassing time of judgment for all mankind, believers and unbelievers.

Revelation 20:11-15 - “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Notice that all the books are opened at this specific point. All are judged from all of these books. Because of John’s warning tone at this point in his letter, and because he is going to cover the subject of heaven very specifically in just a few moments, he highlights the fate of the wicked more directly in Revelation 20. There is another kind of judging mentioned earlier on in the same chapter, which takes place before the millennium:

Revelation 20:1-4 - “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. [4] Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Many people see this as their strongest text to show that there are two final judgments, the first for believers before the millennium, and the second for the wicked, after the millennium. But I think it is far more likely that John is seeing a different kind of judgment described here. I think John is here witnessing the establishing of some kind of rule, or governmental order during that time described as the millennium on earth. I think John describes the final judgment of everyone after the time of the earthly millennium.

The same agenda can be seen in more compact form in Revelation 11:18 - “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth."

Though the timing is not absolutely crucial, Jesus Himself frequently referred to the judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous as taking place at the same time:

Matthew 25:31-33 &46 - “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] 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. [33] And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.....25:35....For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me....”

If the simple words of Jesus mean anything at all, surely they picture, in this description, with all its symbolic imagery, that this very act of separation and division implies a common time of judgment. The one group is separated from the other group. This means both groups are present and together initially.

And I purposely included verse 46 because there are those who say this passage isn’t describing the final judgment at all. Verse 46 takes all reasonable doubt of that fact out of the picture. It is eternal punishment that is being described by our Lord, and eternal life.


There are several important texts to consider:

a) John 5:24 - “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.”

Could there be a better verse to begin our examination of the judgment of believers? What wonderful news! The first thing we all need to remember is our final judgment will not be a time of condemnation. Just as surely as Jesus died and rose again, we have already (note the certainty of the present tense) passed out of death and into life.

b) 2 Corinthians 5:10 - “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 - “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— [13] each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. [14] If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. [15] If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Both of these passages from Paul teach the reality of future judgment for Christians (notice how Paul even includes himself in the “we” of 2 Corinthians 5 - “....we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ....”). But this is a judgment to measure our deeds, not condemn our souls. It is our works that are judged, not our persons. In other words, this is a judgment of faithfulness in service, not condemnation for past sins.

Paul says all of our works will be tested and evaluated. You only see the outward actions of my life. You don’t know why I do what I do. But Paul pictures a time when all my deeds are boiled down and reduced to their essence. My motives will enter into the picture. Some of the people we thought would be first will be last, and some of the people we thought would be last will be first. We are all equally saved by grace, but, in ways I cannot fully explain, we will not all receive equal reward in the final kingdom.

We don’t all get dealt the same kind of hand in the circumstances of life. There are people listening to me preach today who have never had the joy of living under the same roof with a spouse who prays for you and shares your spiritual aspirations and goals. There are women listening to me preach who have to live their days with non-promise keepers. Yet they stay with them. They are faithful and devoted spouses. They love Jesus and serve Him in the church. They carry burdens I don’t have to carry in this life. And my heart goes out to them. But more than just my empathy, I want to say to each of them today, “Great is your reward in heaven!” It will be so much greater than mine. Remember, God doesn’t miss anything.

Let this encourage your heart today. Only looking to Jesus for your glory and reward will hold you up through life. There simply isn’t enough to anchor our hope to in this world. God never intended to sustain you with earthly hope. There is a great day of reversal coming. Always look to Jesus. He will bring to completion the full weight of His love for you when He comes again.