The Judgment Seat of Christ
When will “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10) take place?
At the judgment seat of Christ everyone will “receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Paul spoke of this day of reckoning in the context of the resurrection of the saints (5:4), thus, we know it occurs when Jesus comes after the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29–31), on the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16–18; 5:2). He also said the Lord “will render to every man” ( Rom. 2:6) on “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” ( Rom. 2:5) which, according to Second Peter 3:7 and 10, is “the day of the Lord.”
Is “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10) exclusively for believers?
This teaching is common among some groups; however, nothing in Second Corinthians 5:10 indicates that this judgment is exclusively for believers—“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” “All” includes Jew and Gentile, the living and the dead, the great and the small, believers and unbelievers. Verse eleven also implies that unbelievers will be present: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Because of this awful judgment, Paul felt compelled to persuade men to repent.
Also, by comparing this verse with Romans 14:10–14, there can be no doubt that the judgment seat of Christ is for all. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” The words “all,” “every knee,” “every tongue” and “every one of us” surely speak of believers and unbelievers.
This truth is confirmed in Isaiah 45:23 and 24. Part of the above passage (Romans 14:11) is a quotation from verse 23: “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Notice that verse 24 specifically shows that “every knee” and “every tongue” includes both the righteous and the unrighteous: “Surely, shall one [the righteous] say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him [the unrighteous] shall be ashamed.” Therefore, the teaching that the judgment seat of Christ is for believers only is not supported by Scripture.
Is there a difference between the judgment seat of Christ ( Rom. 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:9–11), the judgment at Christ’s throne of glory (Matt. 25:31–46), and the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11–15)?
No, there is no difference. Since the resurrection of the just and the unjust occurs on the last day, there can only be one judgment, not three distinct ones. Moreover, the following four similarities between the three accounts give clear evidence that they refer to the same event:
1. They each depict a throne.
Romans 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10—“The judgment seat of Christ.”
Matthew 25:31—“The throne of his glory.”
Revelation 20:11—“And I saw a great white throne.”
2. They each show that all mankind will stand before God, both believers and unbelievers.
Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10—“For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Matthew 25:32—“And before him shall be gathered all nations: . . . his sheep . . . the goats.”
Revelation 20:12; 21:7,8 (the context is 20:11–15)—“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God. . . . He that overcometh. . . . and the abominable. . . .”
3. They each show that every man will be judged according to his works.
Romans 14:12—“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Matthew 25:40,45—To the righteous, Jesus will say, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” To the ungodly, He will say, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”
Revelation 20:13—“And they were judged every man according to their works.”
4. They each show the righteous rewarded and the ungodly condemned.
2 Corinthians 5:10—“For we must all appear . . . that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
Matthew 25:34,41—“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: . . . Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Revelation 21:7,8 (the context is 20:11–15)—“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Therefore, the judgment seat of Christ, the judgment at Christ’s throne of glory, and the great white throne judgment refer to the same event because each shows a throne; all nations present, both believers and unbelievers; every man judged according to his works; and the righteous justified and the ungodly condemned.
How does the great white throne judgment show that Jesus is coming to receive His Church after the Tribulation?
Revelation 20:11–15 depicts two great events of the Second Coming; heaven and earth passing away and the final judgment. The gospels and epistles show that these events occur when Jesus comes to receive His Church after the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29–35; 25:31; 1 Thess. 4:16–5:2; 2 Pet. 3:7,10).
Does the Bible, then, teach one judgment for both the just and the unjust?
Yes. The Bible always speaks of the Day of Judgment as a single event—the Day of Judgment, not the days (see Matt. 12:36; Rom. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17). In the same way that there will be only one resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15), so there will be only one judgment. “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” (John 5:28,29).
The Bible further says that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). “A day” speaks of one judgment day; “the world” encompasses the just and the unjust.
On that day Jesus shall “sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep [the just] from the goats [the unjust]” (Matt. 25:31,32). Both they who will be justified and they who will be condemned will give account in that day. Jesus warned, “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36,37).
The parable of the net also shows one judgment for the just and the unjust. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:47–50). See also Matt. 25:14–30; Luke 19:12–27; Rev. 21:7,8.
The only possible conclusion one can draw from these passages is that both believers and unbelievers will appear at one judgment to receive their just due.
Who will escape the second death?
The second death is “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). Jesus specifically told us who will escape it: “he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:6) and “he that overcometh” (Rev. 2:11). Together, they speak of possessing true salvation.
The first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection—rising from death to life through faith in Christ (John 5:24,25; 8:51). To overcome is to live victoriously over sin, the flesh, and the devil. The following passages show that they who have part in the first resurrection and live an overcoming life will escape the second death:
“If ye then be risen with Christ [the first resurrection], seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth [overcoming the world]. . . . When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory [escape the second death]” (Col. 3:1,2,4). See also Eph. 2:1–6.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth [is hearing] my word, and believeth [is believing] on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). This verse shows that by an initial experience of salvation (the first
resurrection) and continuous obedience and faith in God (living an overcoming life), we have eternal life and will escape condemnation and the second death. See also 1 John 5:3,4.
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live [the first resurrection]: and whosoever liveth and believeth [overcoming] in me shall never die [escape the second death]” (John 11:25,26).
Similarly, with reference to salvation, New Testament believers are exhorted to continue in fruit–bearing and Christ’s love (John 15:7–9); in the grace of God (Acts 13:43); in well doing (Rom. 2:7); in God’s goodness (Rom. 11:22); in prayer (Col. 4:2); and in the doctrine of Christ (1 Tim. 4:16). The absolute necessity of continuing in obedience and faith is also seen in the following verses: Luke 18:8; John 3:18,36; 2 Cor. 1:24; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 6:16; Col. 1:22,23; 1 Thess. 3:5; Heb. 3:12–14; 10:38,39; 11:6; 1 John 5:10–13.
Since “the second death hath no power” on those who have “part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:6), why will believers be present at the great white throne judgment?
Contrary to what many are teaching, the following scriptures, which are all addressed to believers, make it unmistakably clear that Christians have not been given an “exempt status” from being present at the judgment. Consider these four reasons:
First, our accountability to God is inescapable. Jesus declared, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). At that time, He will require us to give an account of our stewardship. “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants” (Matt. 18:23); “The lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matt. 25:19). See also Matt. 20:1–16; 25:31–46; Luke 12:35–48; 19:12–27.
Second, the apostles warned believers that God will judge our works “for there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:11):
“Be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:15–17).
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:23–25).
God “will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality [believers], eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness [unbelievers], indignation and wrath. . . . For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:6–8,11).
Third, Scripture gives many exhortations to believers in light of the judgment. Each of these would be meaningless if we will not be required to give an account of ourselves to God. As believers, we are exhorted:
• To not judge a brother. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10).
• To not hold a grudge. “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9).
• To abide in Christ. “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).
• To have our love made perfect. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
• To labor to be accepted of Christ. “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. 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” (2 Cor. 5:9,10).
Fourth, the second death is not the judgment. In other words, the Lord Jesus promised, “He that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power” (Rev. 20:6), but nowhere does He promise, “He that hath part in the first resurrection will not stand in the judgment.” Overcomers will stand before the judgment (the Divine tribunal) to be rewarded according to their works, but they will not be condemned to the second death. At the great white throne judgment, overcomers will be justified and “inherit all things”; sinners will be condemned and have their part in the lake of fire which is the second death (Rev. 21:7,8).
It is plain, then, that he who has part in the first resurrection and overcomes the world must give an account of himself before the great white throne judgment. But he will not be condemned with the world because Jesus promised that on him “the second death hath no power” (Rev. 20:6; 2:11).
Doesn’t the Bible teach that “the Bride of Christ” will not be present at the judgment?
Some groups teach that the real “holy ones” in the church, or the “true” Bride, who keep certain rules will not have to give an account of themselves to God on the Day of Judgment. This teaching, however, is erroneous because the Church is one body—the Bride of Christ. They are the overcomers whom John foresaw at the great white throne judgment (Rev. 21:7) and the sheep whom Jesus said would appear before His throne (Matt. 25:31,32). Nowhere does the Bible make a distinction between the Bride of Christ and other members of His body. According to the words of Jesus concerning His marriage supper, only those who are ready, that is, His Bride or Wife, will enter the marriage. All others will be eternally condemned. Compare Matthew 25:1–13 with Revelation 19:7–21.
In addition, when the Bible says, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God,” it does not add, “except the Bride of Christ.” Nowhere does the Bible speak of anyone being exempt from giving an account of himself to God. Paul himself expected to be judged of the Lord when He comes. He said, “He that judgeth me is the Lord. 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” (1 Cor. 4:4,5). How can humble servants of Christ think of themselves as being greater or holier than the apostles Paul?
Doesn’t Romans 8:1 teach that there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”?
Yes, but not without qualification. Let’s read the rest of the verse: “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The Bible teaches that condemnation comes upon those who walk after the flesh. In that same chapter Paul contrasted walking after the flesh and walking after the Spirit. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:5–8). Those who walk after the flesh pursue those practices that gratify the flesh and cater to the appetites of the carnal nature. They are hostile toward God, disobedient to His law, and cannot please God—consequently, they reap condemnation.
The apostles amplified the meaning of walking after the flesh by listing the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19–21: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” He also emphatically reminds believers that “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, they shall receive condemnation. In the following four passages Paul listed works of the flesh (sins) and reminded believers of the fatal consequences of committing them. He also admonished them not to be deceived into believing that they can continue to do these things and still be justified at the judgment.
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: . . . they which commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. 1:29–32).
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9,10).
“But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them” (Eph. 5:3–7).
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience” (Col. 3:5,6).
Moreover, Paul admonished believers to examine themselves before partaking of the Lord’s table and added, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:31,32). These verses imply that if we do not examine ourselves, we could incur condemnation with the world.
He also cautioned believers, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7,8).
The Bible also warns that condemnation (damnation) comes upon any professing believer who is lifted up with pride (1 Tim. 3:6); who speaks idle words (Matt. 12:37; Titus 2:8); who condemns others (Luke 6:37; Rom. 2:1); who holds a grudge (James 5:9); and who condemns himself in the things which he allows, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:22,23).
Jesus said to the woman who was taken in the act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus implied that she will be condemned if she continues to sin.
Some of the parables also warn that faithful servants of Christ who have become unfaithful will lose their reward as well as their salvation. They will be condemned with unbelievers at the judgment. Jesus spoke of the servant who will be made ruler over all his lord’s possessions because he is found faithful when his lord returns. “But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:45–47).
Similarly, in the parable of the talents, Jesus told of “a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.” Upon his return, the servants who gained other talents were promised to be made rulers “over many things” and entered into the joy of their lord. But think of it! One of Christ’s own servants, the one who hid his talent in the earth, was condemned and cast “into outer darkness” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth [the second death]” (Matt. 25:14). See also Luke 19:12–27.
Jesus further warned those who walk after the flesh: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21–23). Luke’s account adds, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which again speaks of condemnation and the second death ( 13:28). These people thought they were saved, but woke to the startling reality that they were eternally damned because of their compromise with iniquity.
These passages drive home the importance of knowing that we “are in Christ Jesus” and that we are walking “not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). Only then are we free from the shackles of condemnation.
In summary, the judgment seat of Christ will occur at the resurrection, on the last day. All will be there, both the just and the unjust. Overcomers will be justified and inherit everlasting life, but the wicked will be condemned and inherit everlasting punishment, which is the lake of fire—the second death.