Is the "Bema Seat Judgment" Biblical?-by Tony Warren
However, the truth is a lot less complicated. The Greek word [bema], which is translated seat, is from a root that means 'base' or the foot (and by extension, step). It is therefore used to designate a stepped seating area for Judgment. Thus bema simply refers to the raised seating of a judge or a king. For example, the throne of a King is usually stepped seating. In other words, seating which is raised above the level of the surrounding area. Much the same as our courts today have established for judgments. One must approach the raised Judgment area called the bench. Likewise, the bema seat is simply the raised seating of someone sitting to judge.
But the problem of the Bema Seat Judgment is not really one of misunderstanding the Greek, it is an exegetical problem where some teachers are reading their own presuppositions "into" the text. They have formulated a doctrine that holds that there is a adjudication specifically to judge the value of the Christian's service to the Lord. And so they attempt to shape the word "bema" to conform to their predetermined doctrine. There are two ways that this erroneous doctrine has been introduced into Christianity. The first, by using extra-biblical documentation to support their ideas. And second, the actual evidence of scripture on the matter is ignored, fragmented, suppressed or denied. So though their beliefs certainly cannot be proven Biblically, many of these theologians (using secular testimony) have gone to great lengths to justify the doctrine, even though it clearly contradicts the Bible text itself. Some claim that this particular seat was only used to reward, never to punish. However, these secular ideas are not only contrary to all other doctrines of scripture concerning God's rewarding us for our work, but they are contradictory to the way the Greek word [bema] itself is used in the scriptures. God's word does not lend itself in support of such an obviously Biblically indefensible position. In fact, God clearly illustrates just the opposite. For example, Pilate sat on the Judgment seat [bema] when Jesus was being accused of wrong doing. Clearly this makes these theories about its purpose only being for rewards, null and void.
The Greek word translated seat is [bema]. Clearly, this isn't a seat for rewarding anyone. And the word Gabbatha means the knoll, a vernacular term for the Roman tribunal. The whole idea makes no sense. Why would his wife be warning him not to have anything to do with this "just" man, if all Pilate was there for was to hand out rewards? In both Biblical accounts of this episode, the Greek word translated seat, is the same word [bema]. And we should note very clearly that far from being a seat to hand out rewards, it is a seat of Judgment in tribunal for crimes (perceived or otherwise). Pilate sits upon this Judgment seat and he makes a Judgment to have the the Lord Jesus Christ scourged, and handed over to be crucified. Quite clearly, this was a Judgment seat for judicial law. And this is not only illustrated by the context, but also by the content. In both passages, Pilate sits on this bema and delivers a judicial verdict against Christ (beating and handing Him over to be crucified) which has absolutely nothing to do with rewards. Likewise, in the book of Acts we find the same scenario present with this Judgment seat.
Clearly we see from the context that this word 'bema' is used in the sense of Judgment in a trial, where Paul is accused by the Jews of some crime, which they ultimately could not prove. We can say without fear of rational contradiction that this was a seat where a judgment of the law was to be pronounced against or for the Apostle Paul. It was most certainly not a Judgment seat for rewards, nor an award ceremony. And for any Theologian to make such claims concerning the 'Bema Judgment' is pure fabrication. It is a personal or private interpretation that most certainly is not evidenced by the scripture. As stated, the scriptures themselves testify against such an understanding of this type. Explicitly we learn that the bema was not used to hand out rewards, but as a place for Judgment in a tribunal.
Is this doctrine of a "Bema Seat Judgment" invented to be the believer's motivation to work? Are believers truly motivated by a desire for rewards (above and beyond the reward of inheritance in our salvation in Christ) in the kingdom of heaven? The answer is an emphatic, no! And to have a doctrine that postulates our possible loss of rewards if our works on earth are not up to standards, bridges on the heretical. Rather than have the Christian be motivated to persevere through love, this doctrine actually threatens our future reward at the bema seat based upon our good, or not so good works. So despite all objections to the contrary, this is a doctrine that promotes "Merit" rather than "Grace," and it makes a total mockery of the passages (divinely inspired of God) that clearly demonstrate that our reward in heaven cannot be by both by Grace of God, and by our own merit.
Our labor is gracious only as it is through "the work of Christ." Because there is no disagreement between God's Grace and human responsibility. But there can be no agreement between a merit system of rewards based upon our own works, and not the work of Christ in us. Neither should our responsibility be confused with human merit. But that is exactly what many of these theologians have done in formulating the Bema Seat Judgment. Responsibility does not mean that Christians must in any way cooperate in their own perseverance in works. Nor does God motivate us to work through diverse crowns or rewards based on our effort. Those who misinterpret the scriptures that exhort work, does not truly understand why the Christian either wills or works. For a scripture out of context, is a pretext.
The exhortation to, "...hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering," is not a proof of our indispensable cooperation, but the illustration of the necessary evidence of true salvation, which is the compulsory results inevitable when Christ is truly working within us. We are motivated by the Spirit, not by rewards. The fact of the matter is, of ourselves we merit no rewards, for it is Christ's work in us that merits reward for our labors. Why then a bema seat Judgment when we merit nothing of ourselves? Why such a doctrine when it is only by Grace of God that we merit the reward. For our own works are unprofitable, and merit us no payment (translated, reward). The only reward we get is for the work that Christ did on our behalf.
Do you see any merit of reward in that verse? It is by the sovereignty of God that Christians are good servants and are moved to do the works of Christ. It is by 'His Work' within us (not our own) that we both have the will to do, and are wherewithal to do it. What then is this Bema seat a test or Judgment of? God's own work in us? If that be the case, then we shall all receive a full reward, because Christ's work is perfect in us. All credit goes to Him, and we thus merit nothing of our own. And this is not speculation, for God is not silent on this matter.
How then are we standing before the so-called Bema seat being judged for doing good things that we cannot 'honestly' take credit for? Because Christ moved us to do that which we in our 'sinful nature' would never do? He gave us the will to do good. There is none that seeks after God, there is none that doeth good, no not one (Romans 3:12). We have to be moved of God to do good. And that is how we find that we do accomplish good works after we are saved. But it is 'only' because the Spirit of God is now dwelling within us, making our body His habitation, His Holy temple, making us perfect in every good work we do. What reward does a perfect man receive, and wow many rewards shall he lose for imperfection? Obviously, a full reward and none lost. Each good man in Christ, shall receive a good man's reward.
It is Biblically absurd to argue for additional personal rewards for the good that we do, or loss of them as Judgment for any imperfection (which is sin), while all the while arguing that it is not a Judgment for sin. If we are not perfect in our works, we are in sin. It was for this reason that Christ went to the cross. That we "could" appear before Him blameless, perfect, and without fault in all our works. That we "could" appear before the bema seat and be judged according to the work of Christ.
The Bema seat is not to punish believers I agree, but it is not to reward anyone based on his individual righteousness (meritorious works) either, for we are all worthy of a full reward of inheritance because we are all without fault. And if any of our works could be faulted, it is sin. And the wages of sin is death, not the loss of rewards. All our punishment was paid for by Christ at the cross, and our full reward was "secured" for us by that very same 'work' of the cross.
The inheritance is not diverse crowns handed out at the Bema seat, it is in being regenerated or born of God, we have the seed of Christ remain in us that we are Sons of God. And thus heirs of the promise to the Son. Yes, there are scriptures that some theologians use to attempt to undermine this inheritance in Christ's Reward, but once carefully examined none of them either support these doctrines, nor speak of diverse rewards for believers. One such passage often quoted as proof is Revelation chapter 22:
Their belief is that if every man is rewarded according to his own work, then believers shall receive different rewards. The problem with this assumption is that this scripture doesn't say believers. It says every man. In other words, one man will receive reward for Good. And the other shall receive the reward for bad. Two different rewards, but for two different men. You see they totally misunderstand and thus misapply this verse. The wicked are paid (translated rewarded) also. What shall their wages or reward be? God's wrath.
Let's look at the word translated reward. It is the Greek word [misthos], and means payment or wages for work. Thus (as it declares) every man shall be rewarded according to his own work. Whether good or bad.
That is the exact same word [misthos] meaning payment or reward for our labors. The wicked receive for his work the reward of damnation, and the righteous receive for his work, the reward of everlasting life in the inheritance of the Son. That is how Christ gives to every man according to his own work, whether good or bad. Because when every Christian is rewarded according to his work, then every one of them shall receive the exact same reward, seeing how every work of the man of God is without blemish. Every single one. God looks upon us all as blameless, and so how could any of us merit less than another? It is impossible.
God declares that they stand without fault before the King, and so how could one be faulted that he not receive the same reward that another receives? It is totally unbiblical to believe that one is better than another to be given rewards at the bema seat. When we are rewarded according to our own works. One (the reprobate) is rewarded according to 'his own' evil work, and the other (the believer) is rewarded according to the work of Christ on his behalf. He thus receives a full reward. There is no way to escape the obvious implication that our rewards are earned by our own righteousness or good. And all we can say to that is, "God forbid!"
Another passage that is often quoted by the proponents of meritorious rewards, is Matthew chapter six. The idea is that God is saying that we should all labor to heap up rewards in heaven.
Some theologians use this verse to teach that not only does this justify individual meritorious rewards at the Bema seat, but it tells us to pursue them. But again, that is a careless reading of the text. First of all, this verse does not in any sense teach that believers will receive varying rewards depending upon their own merit, it does not even mention the bema seat, and it does not tell us to pursue such rewards (payments). Rather, it points out the uselessness of possessing earthly "treasures," and the glory of laying up spiritual "treasures" that are incorruptible. The incorruptible treasure in view is Christ, a spiritual reward that is in us a tree of Life. Not a meritorious reward or payment because we have evangelized so greatly, or worked so much harder than the next Christian in the mission field. We lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven when we become rich in Christ.
If this treasure is judged at the Bema seat, then again, all the credit goes to God, for all the treasure laid up is by the power of God. What merit then is of our own righteousness in our work? there are none. If our treasure be in Christ's work, our reward is in Christ's work. Better than anything we 'of ourselves' could dream of meriting by our own labor.
The fact is, there really is no "Bema Seat Judgment" for handing out rewards versus a later white throne Judgment to hand out punishments. The Bible is clear that there is one Judgment of Christ, and it takes place at the last day. It is then that man will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account of what he has done on earth, whether good or bad. And of course, all those who were washed clean in the blood of Christ stand before God clean and white with 'good' works, being without fault before the throne. While the rest of the dead stand with 'bad' works, and found guilty in the works of sins.
With all of this evidence of reward in Christ, one may then ask, "why is there this belief by some Christians in a multiple Judgment?" The answer is twofold.
One: Man in his pride and vanity wants credit for what he thinks he has done of his own (alleged) free will.The Premillennial eschatology of a thousand year reign of Christ on earth necessitates a double Judgment. For they have some judged for rewards before the thousand years, and some judged after the thousand years. This is problematic if there is a pretribulation rapture and no Bema Seat Judgment.
Some will ask, 'Why then does God call where He is seated in Revelation chapter 20, the [thronos] or throne, and in other places say the Judgment [bema] or seat.' The answer is actually very simple. God's word is replete with symbolism, figures and word images or pictures which vary signifying or illustrating some particular spiritual truth. Some chapters and verses may be illustrating one aspect of God (such as, He being the King who rules upon the throne), while others chapters and verses may be illustrating another aspect of God (such as his position seated as Judge to mete out punishment). There really is no mystery in this. No more than the mystery of how God calls Himself in one chapter the Lamb, and in another chapter the Lion. One signifies His meekness and sacrifice, and the other His power and Strength. It doesn't mean it's two different Gods. In one verse Christ is called the Root, and in another the Vine. In one He's called the Bread, and in another the Water. There is no mystery, nor is it curious that God in one verse calls His chair the Judgment seat, and in another the throne of God. They signify different aspects of God's magnificent design. Judgment and Kingship.
Surely, there is only one time of Judgment, and that day is spoken of in scripture as "the last day." It is the day when judgment will take place for all people. There are no multiple Judgment days, although many theologians have gone to great lengths in an effort to prove that there are. One of the most popular scriptures used in support of this teaching is Romans chapter 14. Even though it says nothing about multiple judgments days, nor of this being a judgment of rewards for saints only.
This verse doesn't in any way defend or prove the theory that there are two judgments. The only way that we can see the doctrine of two separate judgment times in this verse is if we "read it into" these scriptures. Because it was obviously not inspired of God to be written there. Moreover, we have the identical language in 2nd Corinthians, and it is clear from this text that it is a time of Judgment both for the good and the bad alike. Not coincidentally, this is totally harmonious with what we've already learned when looking at the actual word "Bema" in scripture, and it's example uses for judgment for those at a tribunal.
The terror of the Lord doesn't sound to me like a time of rewards for Christians. This Judgment seat [bema] is the same one all mankind must stand before. We know Christians cannot be judged for any bad (as this verse clearly says this Judgment is for). And so this passage must be illustrating one Judgment of those the Lord will find good (those made righteous), and those whom the Lord will find bad (the unsaved in whom is sin), when they All stand before this Judgment seat. Not all believers (as is surmised), but all.
And so knowing all these things, let us go forth with confidence that all our sins (bad works) were made white as snow by Christ at the cross, and so we could never be held accountable for anything less than perfect works when we stand before the Judgment seat of Christ. Let us have the confidence to know that while all 'our own' righteous works are as filthy rags before God, the righteous works of Christ in us make us appear before Him perfect. Confidence to know that while our own prayers may be imperfect (as we are finite beings), the burnt offering of the sacrifice of Christ brings them up before the Lord as a sweet incense (Romans 8:26; Revelation 8:3). Let us not get caught up in seeking our own rewards before a Bema seat, but trust in the reward of Christ, the inheritance that the Son secured for us by His own work. Let us not set our eyes upon gain, reigns, or prideful lust for rewards, but upon the riches which cannot be earned by us. The treasures which are received by faith. Let us trust in the work of Christ, and we can never go wrong. For it is then that we will understand that when we stand before the Bema seat judgment, we will stand a 'Righteous Man,' a man perfect in every way before God, having a Saviour who has delivered him a full inheritance, a full reward, by His work.
We pray that the Lord who is Gracious above all, will give us the wisdom to understand His most Holy Word, and discern between the right hand and the left.
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Created 12/24/02 / Last Modified 12/29/02
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