|YOU'LL BE THERE
Erwin W. Lutzer
I AM REVEALED
Dec 28, 2011
Imagine staring into the face of Christ! Just the two of you, one-on-one! Your entire life is present before you. In a
flash you see what He sees.
Like it or not, that is precisely where you and I shall someday be. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of
Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body,...whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10, italics
The judgment seat of Christ is often called the Bema (the Greek word for judgment seat used by Paul in II Corinthians 5:
10, quoted above). Literally, the Bema refers to a raised platform that was used for the assembly where speeches were
given and crowns were awarded to the winners. In ancient Rome the Caesars sat on a tribunal to award those who had
made heroic contributions in winning the battle. The Bema of Christ dwarfs all other tribunals, for here we shall be
called into account before the all-knowing Judge.
Think this through: God gives us the faith by which we believe in Christ, and yet for this faith He gives us the gift of
eternal life. God then works within us so that we might serve Him, and for our service He honors us with eternal rewards
or privileges. Of course we don't deserve those rewards! But we are the sons and daughters of a loving Father who is
more benevolent than we could possibly expect Him to be. He delights in giving to those who do not deserve His love.
"I'll be content to sit in the back row!" a friend of mine quipped when I brought up the subject of rewards in heaven.
Looked at in one way, he echoed the sentiment of all of us. I interpreted his remark as a genuine expression of humility,
the deep conviction that we deserve absolutely nothing. To have a seat in heaven, even if in the farthest corridor, is to
enjoy an undeserved honor indeed. Anyone who feels differently has not yet seen his sinfulness before God!
But considered in a different light, his remark might betray a serious misunderstanding of the nature of rewards. What if
those who "sit in the back row" are there because they have displeased Christ in their earthly sojourn? What if it was
the Father's good pleasure to have us "sit in the front row," but we forfeited this privilege because of carnal living? Let
us keep in mind that the idea of rewards is not ours; it is the Father's desire to bless us beyond all human reason. We
should be all that we can be on earth so that we can be all that we could be in heaven!
I agree with Jim Elliff, who has observed that the people who piously care so little about eternal rewards are often killing
themselves trying to accumulate a great "reward" now. They profess to be content with a "little shack in heaven," but
want a much bigger one on earth! The Bible teaches that there is nothing wrong with ambition, just as long as we focus
it on heaven rather than earth.
We do not desire rewards for the reward itself, but because rewards are a reflection of Christ's approval of us. It is not
wrong to want to be in the front row if such an honor is reserved for those who hear Christ say, "Well done, thou good
and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21, KJV).
CHARACTERISTICS OF JUDGMENT
Paul begins in II Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (italics added). There is
this similarity between the Bema and the Great White Throne Judgment: attendance at one or the other is required.
There can be no exception, no special deferment. When God calls our name we will be there. We cannot hide, for God
will find us; we cannot scheme to make ourselves look good, for God shall see us. We cannot excuse ourselves, for
God knows us.
We Will Be Judged Fairly
Who will judge us? This is the "judgment seat of Christ." Christ, who knows us completely, loves us in spite of
ourselves. We are judged by our Savior. He who died to save us, now stands to judge us. Because we are judged by
One who loves us, we know that our judgment will be tempered with mercy. We'll be judged by One who wishes us well
rather than by one who is anxious to condemn us. The Christ of the throne is the Christ of the Cross.
Our Savior is also our Brother. He has invited us to join His family; we share the same Father; thus, our names have
been called for fellowship at the family table. To Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been possessed by evil spirits,
Christ said, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God" (John 20:17). This judge will be
merciful and fair because His Father is our Father. This is family business.
Even so, if we are unfaithful here on earth, the judgment could be severe. Immediately after Paul says that we shall be
recompensed for the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad, he adds, "Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord,
we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11). Interestingly, he connects the fear (or terror) of the Lord with the judgment
seat of Christ. Some scholars who think that our judgment will be a positive experience for everyone teach that Paul
must now be giving a warning to unbelievers. But obviously such an interpretation makes an unnatural break in Paul's
thought. He knew that the judgment seat of Christ for some believers would be fearful indeed.
Christ often gives severe warnings to His redeemed Church. To the congregation in Ephesus, whom He loved, He said,
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to
you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5). Our Savior and Brother will
administer only that which is right and just. But he will not wink at our disobedience. He does not play favorites nor step
aside when meticulous adjudication is called for. We can be quite sure that we will be judged only for what we have
done since our conversion to Christ. The apostle Paul expected to do well at the judgment seat of Christ even though
he had persecuted the church, jailing Christians in his preconversion days. Yet this man who claimed he was the chief
of sinners said just before he died:
good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to
all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:6-8)
days. The question to be answered at the judgment is how we have behaved as one of God's sons. We'll not be
judged on what we did from the time of our first birth, but on what we did since our second birth.
Also, we will discover that every believer had the same potential to receive Christ's approval of "well done." Rewards
are based on our faithfulness to opportunities presented to us since our conversion.
We Will Be Judged Thoroughly
When Paul says we shall "appear" at the judgment seat of Christ, he uses the Greek word phaneroō, which means "to
be made manifest." The imagery is that we shall be "turned inside out." One Bible scholar, Philip Hughes, says the
word manifest means "to be laid bare, stripped of every outward facade of respectability, and openly revealed in the full
reality of one's character. All of our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will
be open to the scrutiny of Christ."
We will be judge "for [the] deeds [done] in the body...whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). The good deeds will
be lovingly remembered. That cup of cold water given in the name of the Lord will not be forgotten. Those whom we
helped who cannot repay us - such deeds will attract the attention of the judge. (Later we will be discussing in more
detail exactly what Christ will be looking for when He investigates our lives.)
That which is "bad," or worthless, will most assuredly be a negative counterbalance for that which is classified as
"good." Because Christ is omniscient, every single detail can be brought into the final verdict, with every motive and
action accounted for in context. Everything hidden today will be relevant in that day.
We've all known churches that have split over one or more issues, sometimes doctrinal, sometimes personal. Some
people want the pastor to stay; others are convinced he should leave. Rumors circulate from one member to another;
telephone lines buzz with charges and counterclaims. Usually people are hurt on both sides and hidden animosities
simmer for years to come.
The Corinthian church had the tendency to fight and bicker among themselves, just as we often do. In I Corinthians
Paul admonishes them, "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who
will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's
praise will come to him from God" (I Corinthians 4:5).
Some disputes must wait until the judgment seat of Christ for resolution. Of course, we should do all we can to see that
these matters are settled in this life. But we all know that our best efforts often fail. We can judge a person's behavior,
but we cannot judge his motives. To know who is right and who is wrong we shall have to wait for God. I shall return to
this theme in a later chapter.
I'm told that there is a central location in the World Wide Web that records all the "visits" of millions of subscribers.
Somewhere, there is a person who could tally every Web site you and I have ever contacted. On the Internet there is
much that is good and helpful as well as that which is destructive and evil. Whether good or bad, our actions are
Just so, God has His vast information network. Everything we have done or said is known to Him. He can, if necessary,
"download" the information at a moment's notice. And whatever He chooses to reveal to us, whether it be little or much,
we will not dispute the facts. We won't need to ask for dates, times, and places, for all such details are known to Him.
Later I shall discuss the question of whether we will actually see our sins. For now, let me simply say that we can be
sure that our sins will provide input into the evaluation. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (I
Corinthians 11:31, KJV). Unconfessed sin, sin that we have rationalized and idolized, will play a special part in the
revelation and judgment.
If this seems fearful, remember that this judgment is also comforting. We've all had the experience of being criticized
unfairly, even by our friends. When our motives are misinterpreted, when lies are spread by those who would delight in
our downfall, such experiences are difficult indeed.
At the Bema the false accusations leveled against you will be brought to light. Cruelty, gossip, and misunderstandings
will be cleared up. The judgment will be as detailed as it has to be to satisfy justice. All the "he said" and "she said"
arguments will cease. Here the specifics are finally revealed; nothing but facts, nothing but the truth - the whole truth
and nothing but the truth. If you need vindication, you will have it; if you need to be shown that you were in error, you
will have that too.
Woodrow Kroll says, "Just as day brings light from the sun to reveal the hidden things of darkness, so that day will bring
light from the Son to reveal the hidden things of darkness done in our bodies. However, many hidden things which are
good will be revealed as well...It will be both a day of vindication and a day of disappointment." No time will be needed
to gather evidence; no jurors will be selected to hear the arguments. Every detail has been known by Christ from the
foundation of the world.
We will not dispute the outcome. We will not disagree with Christ, not because we are afraid to, but because we will
have no reason to! If we have a question, it will be answered, but it is more likely that we will be speechless. We will
see what He sees and know that His verdict is eminently just.
We Will Be Judged Impartially
When Paul outlined the principles by which God will judge us, he assured his readers that "there is no partiality with
God" (Romans 2:11). Indeed, the judgment of God is according to truth, that is, according to reality. No special
advantages are given to the wealthy; those who counted on perks and power in this life find themselves stripped of
every crutch, all forms of manipulation. Every trapping of man will fade into insignificance in the presence of the One
who discerns the "thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12, KJV).
Nor will pastors and missionaries be given preferential treatment. Those who have given their lives to serve Christ,
often at great personal sacrifice, might receive a greater reward, but they are judged by the same standard of
faithfulness. In fact, those who teach the Word of God will be judged by "a stricter judgment" (James 3:1) because they
were given greater responsibility. Every detail will be evaluated within its larger context.
Most of us live in houses or apartments that are beautifully kept on the outside. But inside there is a mixture of
cleanliness and dirt; perhaps a neat den but a closet filled with junk. During the tornado season the walls of houses are
often blown off and everything within the closets and drawers lies visible to those who walk by. Just so, Christ will walk
through our lives that now will be without walls. He will inspect the rubies as well as the rubble. He will show us whatever
might be relevant to the judgment at hand.
In the presence of Christ, our outer image will give way to the reality of our inner character. The color of our skin, the
size of our income, and our fame or lack of it will suddenly be irrelevant. This is one courtroom in which no one has an
advantage. The Judge will determine what we did with what He gave us.
George Whitefield was a famous English preacher who had a profound ministry here in the United States during the first
Great Awakening. His preaching on the new birth, coupled with an emphasis on predestination, caused both
conversions and controversy.
Only the judgment seat of Christ will reveal the sort of man he really was. The newspapers that criticized him will be
silent. His biographers, whether friend or foe, will not be recruited for the final assessment. In the presence of Christ
the opinions of men will be woefully irrelevant, whether critic or admirer. The divine verdict is the only one that matters.
We Will Be Judged Individually
If you are familiar with church life, you know that we have a strong tendency to judge one another regarding dos and
don'ts. We like to judge others in questionable matters according to our own standard. In the first century, the Roman
church was practically split over the question of whether it was proper to eat meat offered to idols, or whether it was
right to eat meat at all. Paul stressed that we should not judge each other in these matters; petty arguments must be
put aside. Listen to his words:
shall all stand before the judgment seat of God...so then each one of us shall give account of himself to God."
(Romans 14:10-12, italics added)
himself: "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God." You will give an account of yourself; I shall give an
account of myself. We will not have to speak in behalf of someone else. So let us stop carping about others; before
our own Master we will each stand or fall.
Whenever I have been asked to sing in a choir, I try to sing softly, embarrassed that I might be off pitch. I can get by
without being noticed, especially if there is a strong bass section. What I would never do is sing a solo! But when we
stand before Christ, we will, figuratively speaking, have to sing our own song. There will be no comparisons with others;
no one to cover for us, no opportunity to point out that we have more to show than someone else.
Will the judgment be private or public? I think it probably will occur in the presence of others, including angels before
whom Christ promised to confess that we are His (Luke 12:8). Recall that in the parable of the talents, the slave who
hid his talent (mina) was reprimanded and the king gave some important orders. "And he said to the bystanders, 'Take
the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has ten minas'" (Luke 19:24). Those who are present saw what
happened and actually played a role in taking the mina away from one slave and giving it to another. The judgment was
If you find this terrifying, take comfort in the fact that it will not matter whether our friends are present or not. For one
thing, we will all be together; no one will be in a position to gloat, nor will there be much opportunity to be surprised.
There will be some good and bad in all of us.
More important, I'm convinced that when we look into the eyes of Christ, what others think will not matter. A student
giving a recital on the piano cares only what his teacher thinks. To a football player, the censure or affirmation of the
coach means much more than the boos or cheers of the fans.
In the presence of Christ, we will be oblivious to those who are around us. The expression on His face will tell it all.
The judgment will be very "up close and personal," but also public.
Since there are millions of Christians, some people have questioned whether it is possible for Christ to judge us
individually. The point is that there would not be enough time for millions of encounters, especially if it is done in the
seven-year period beginning at the Rapture and ending with the glorious return of Christ. But let us not limit Christ's
ability. We do not know how long each judgment will take; also, research will not be needed to get all the facts. Christ
can cause our entire lives to be present to us in a moment of time. There will be no files to shuffle, no witnesses that
must be called to confirm the data.
We Will Be Judged Graciously
If it is a mistake to think that our failures can never return to haunt us, it is equally an error to think that the purpose of
the Bema is that God might vent His pent-up anger at our carnality and selfishness. No, that anger has been absorbed
for us by Christ, who died on the cross. He bore our eternal punishment and was the target of God's righteous
indignation on our behalf. Nor is the purpose of the Bema that we might do better next time. There is no "next time,"
since we will now serve Christ perfectly. At issue is neither payment for our sins nor God's desire to "even the score."
The purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to properly evaluate us, to grade us so that our position in the coming
kingdom is made clear. This life is like a college-entrance exam that helps us know where we shall be slotted in the
kingdom of the coming King. To quote Hughes again, this judgment "is not a declaration of gloom, but an assessment
of worth, with the assignment of rewards to those who because of their faithfulness deserve them and a loss or
withholding of rewards in the case of those who do not deserve them.
Imagine a father who promises his son a ride in his personal airplane if only the lad will mow the lawn six weeks in a row.
Six weeks later the boy's record is one of failure: he mowed the lawn only three times, skipped two weeks, and the last
time only partially completed the job. The test period is over, and the father tells the boy what he should already know:
his dream of taking a flight above his town will not come to pass.
The father is not angry, but saddened by the boy's lack of faithfulness. He does not formally "punish" his son for his
negligence. He does, however, reprimand the son, and the boy must live with consequences of his unfaithfulness. He
must stand by while another boy in the neighborhood responds to the same challenge and is rewarded with a Saturday
morning flight. What hurts most, however, is the look on his father's face. All that is punishment enough.
Christ will not be angry, but disappointed. We will be "recompensed for [the] deeds [done] in the body, ...whether [they
be] good or bad." After the judgment is over and eternity begins, we will be denied privileges; perhaps some of us will
not get to reign with Christ because of unfaithfulness.
If you feel distraught because of your sins and failures, take heart. All of us have experienced the depths of our own
evil hearts and actions. As we shall discover, those sins that we judge through personal repentance will not be brought
to light, except insofar as they will result in a loss of rewards. But those sins that we tolerate, the matters that are
unresolved between us and God and His people - these will be the specific subject of review and judgment.
In the midst of failure there will be grace. I'm convinced that Christ will find some things for which we will receive reward.
Paul says, "Then each man's praise will come to him from God" (I Corinthians 4:5b). Perhaps there will not be much for
which we are praised, but Christ will search the Cosmic Internet and find something for which He can commend us.
Despite our propensity to sin, every one of us can live a life that will receive the Lord's approval rather than His rebuke.
Indeed, our struggle against sin, if successful, is worthy of reward. Today, in dependence upon Christ, we can live in
light of that Great Day.
LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF THE JUDGMENT
We've already learned some lessons that should affect the way we live. First, keep in mind that this life is training for
the next. We are to be learning the rules of the kingdom; we are apprentices for something better. God's purpose is to
mature us in faithfulness and service so that we will be a credit to Him on earth and a companion for Christ in heaven.
Second, every day we live is either a loss or a gain so far as our future judgment is concerned. How we live today will
help determine the words we hear from Christ tomorrow. Remember, the person we are today will determine the
rewards we receive in the future.
When Billy Graham was asked by Diane Sawyer how he would like to be remembered, sadness came across his face. "I
would like to hear the Lord say to me, 'Well done, Thou good and faithful servant,' but I don't think He will."
Two thoughts came immediately to mind. First, I surmised that Billy Graham was being more humble than he had to be!
Here is a man who has preached the gospel to more millions than any other man in history. I think of his grueling
schedule, the pressures and the heavy responsibilities he has borne. "Of course, he will do well at the Bema," I
My second thought: If Billy Graham does not think he will receive Christ's approval, what hope is there for the rest of
us? Surely, if rewards are based on results, Billy Graham will be somewhere at the head of the line.
But in this respect Billy Graham was quite right. When he stands before Christ, his fame will not influence the outcome.
Nor will the adulation of millions affect Christ's personal evaluation. Nor the fact that hundreds of thousands have come
to Christ through his ministry. Like Whitefield, the manner of man Billy Graham was "that day shall declare."
This leads us to a third lesson. Rewards are not based on results or size of ministry. Some of us have had more
widespread influence than others. Many who have served in mission fields can claim but few converts after lives of
hardship and intense personal cost. Others are called to vocations in factories, farms, and within the home; some serve
for many years, others for few. We will not be rewarded by a scale that asks for the number of souls saved, the number
of sermons preached, or the number of books written. Comparisons with someone else will be off-limits.
Nor will we be rewarded for the length of time we serve. New converts can also receive Christ's approval. We will be
judged on the basis of our loyalty to Christ with the time, talents, and treasures that were at our disposal. In other
words, we are judged for the opportunities that were given to us, be they few or many, great or small. All believers have
the potential to be generously rewarded.
To some who perhaps did not expect to be rewarded but were diligent about their calling, Peter wrote, "As long as you
practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you" (II Peter 1:10b-11). Others who did not live diligently, those who
cared little about whether they were pleasing the Lord or not, will experience "shame at His coming" (I John 2:28).
What is God's purpose for us in eternity? What rewards can we win or lose? What will Christ be looking for?
YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES