The Purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2001
Scripture teaches that everyone will have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Why? What will happen there? Can this be an encouragement to us as believers?

The Purpose of The Judgment Seat of Christ

Let’s look more specifically at what the Bible says will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. First, the Apostle Paul says, “We must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” The “we” he is talking about here is all Christians, all who have believed on Christ. We must be very clear about this. The Judgment Seat of Christ is only for Christians.

There are two major judgments mentioned in the Bible: first, the Judgment Seat of Christ, which we’ve already talked about. The purpose of this judgment will be to evaluate each Christian so that he or she can be properly rewarded for the way they have faithfully or unfaithfully served Christ on earth. All those who appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be in Heaven.

The second major judgment mentioned in the Bible is called the Great White Throne Judg­ment where all unbelievers will be judged. According to Revelation 20, those who appear at this Judgment will afterwards be cast into the lake of fire, what the Bible calls hell. The purpose of the Great White Throne Judgment will be to assess the degree of punishment in hell that each unbeliever will experience as a result of how he or she has lived.

You know, there’s a popular notion going around today, depicted in television commer­cials, that when everyone dies, they will all appear before God at His Judgment, and God will determine whether each person’s good works outweighed their bad works. If they do, the person will be rewarded with Heaven. If they have done too many bad things, God will send them to hell. But listen, in the Bible, there is no such judgment mentioned. Whether a person goes to Heaven or hell is determined in this life, not the next. It is during this life we are to choose whether or not we will place our faith in Christ. At death, those who know Christ as Savior go directly to Heaven where someday the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place. Those who have not believed in Christ will go directly to a place called hades, where they will be held in constant punishment until the Great White Throne Judgment takes place. Either way, all men will stand before God. Nobody will get by or escape. The Bible says every one of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).

Now, these are frightening statements. We should take them seriously. We should also cling to God’s promises in the Bible that everyone who believes in Christ will certainly be in Heaven, free from the eternal punishment of our sins. You say, “Where does the Bible teach that?”

In First John 5:13 we read: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know [not guess, or hope you’ll get there] that you have eternal life.” Jesus Himself said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has passed over from death to life” (John 5:24). This means that once we put our trust solely in Jesus to save us and to be our Lord and Savior, He forgives all of our sins. From that very moment we stand eternally justified, free from any punishment due our sins. Jesus said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). This is great news. And it is on the basis of these verses that I say, salva­tion is guaranteed to all those who accept Christ by faith. If you have trusted solely in Christ, you can be certain that you will be in Heaven.

But entering Heaven is one thing; having a possession there is another. According to the Bible, all believers have been given the gift of eternal life, but not all believers will inherit the same things, or receive the same rewards. The Bible is a realistic book. It does not assume that all believers will live faithfully all through their lives. In fact, the Bible gives many examples of believers who have lived unfaithfully. Does it make any difference whether or not we live faithfully for Christ? Yes, it does! The Bible says, “We must all ap­pear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Now, the word appear here tells us why it is important for us to live for Christ. It comes from the Greek word phaneroo and literally means “turned inside out,” “to be laid bare.” It’s like taking a pocket in your pants and pulling it out, so that you expose whatever is in your pocket. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, our lives will be literally turned inside out, exposing all that we are.

Let me give you another illustration of what phaneroo means. Down in the South, in the springtime we have some very violent tornadoes. I’m sure you have seen what happens to a house when a tornado hits it. The roof is blown off; the walls are pushed down; furniture, clothes, personal belongings are all scattered around. Anyone who comes to that house afterwards can see all of the personal, secret articles in that home. They are exposed. When the Bible says we must all appear, it means our lives will literally be laid bare before Christ. All of our hypocrisies and concealments, all of our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed will be open to the scrutiny of Christ. Christ will be able to look through the rubble of our lives and pick out anything which is of value. When Christ looks at the innermost areas of your life, what will He find? Most of us shrink back at the thought of Christ closely examining our lives.

Is there any encouragement? Well, not one of us has ever lived perfectly or come close to that. When Christ evaluates our life, most of us will not be at one extreme or the other but somewhere toward the middle. Dr. Erwin Lutzer encourages us in his book, Your Eter­nal Reward, when he says, “Christians can take comfort in the fact that we will appear before Christ, the One who died for us and loves us in spite of ourselves. He is our Savior. But the One who died to save us, now stands to judge us. He wishes us well and He loves us. He is not anxious to condemn us. He is our Brother—we share the same Father. The Judgment Seat of Christ is ‘family business.”’ Don’t you love that?

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