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, II Corinthians 5:10.
This post will not be so much as to assert the theology of the Judgment seat of Christ, but to put to rest the silly and trite usage of the Greek word "bema" when referring to it. Bema is a perfect example of how a Greek word is used to obfuscate the clear meaning of a text. It is also a crossover blunder meaning that both Neo-Evangelicals and Fundamentalists use it. Many is the time when I have cringed as some reasonably sound preacher referred to the "Bema".
There are ten times in your bible where the King James translators came across the word βῆμα, (or transliterated bema) and translated it as judgment seat. Two of those times referred to the Judgment seat of Christ and eight of them referred to a secular Roman judgment seat. The popular myth today is that the "bema" is this wonderful time when laurels are given out. This comes from reading behind Greek scholars and not looking at the text itself.
One of the more pleasant duties of a magistrate authorized to sit on a judgment seat was that he got to hand out the rewards during athletic contests. He would sit on the judgment seat bedecked in his robes of office. As can be seen from the New Testament, the man commissioned to sit in such a seat was a man of stature and authority. The races were often conducted in front of him just as a governor or king might sit in a special box and watch an athletic contest today. That duty or privilege of a judge authorized to sit on a judgment seat was one of the least things that he ever did. As is typical with today's greekifiers, they rummage through all of the ramifications of a Greek word, find a definition they like, put it in a lexicon or a commentary, and disregard any context or sense that their new faux definition might destroy.
When we look at the eight times that the word was used between Matthew, John and Luke who each used it, we see that their use of the term had nothing to do with handing out laurels. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha, John 19:13. When Pilate sat in the judgment seat, he ceased to be just plain old Pontius Pilate. He now represented the power and authority of the Roman Empire itself. Any judgments that he made from that seat would be binding. Only Cesar himself could override that judgment.
Just what could Pilate decide from that seat? It is obvious that he had the power to pardon, to scourge, to bind, or to crucify. He had whatever powers the Roman Empire had, and he had soldiers at his bid and call to back up his every judgment. We see that Gallio the chief Deputy of Achaia sat on a judgment seat. The Jews brought Paul there to be judged by Gallio. It is an interesting point of typology that Gallio did not care to judge Paul in accordance with Jewish Law and we can be sure that Jesus Christ will judge no man after the law.
Then just what was Gallio permitted to judge from the judgment seat? He answered that himself. And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drave them from the judgment seat, Acts 18:14-16. Gallio was permitted to judge things that affected the very moral fiber of the community. His judgments would have the weight of Roman law.
Does anyone think that Paul is so dense and disconnected from the rest of the New Testament that he did not know what the term "judgement seat" would conjure up in his readers' heads? Does anyone think that the Apostle Paul who had advanced revelation from Jesus Christ himself would be so sloppy in expressing himself that he would use a term that in every other application had represented a severe and all powerful judgment by a man authorized to speak for a kingdom, when in reality he meant to tell us that it would be all hugs and kisses?
I have had brethren ask me; well if all of our sins are forgiven, why would Jesus judge us? It will not be a judgment to condemn us. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Romans 8:1. There is far more judgment going on in a believer's life than judgment for condemnation. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 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, I Corinthians 11:27-32.
That passage is just one of many that show us that from within the saving grace of Jesus Christ, a Christian can live a life unworthy of his calling. That will be judged. The Lord gave us many ways to be prepared to meet him. We can confess our sins. He can chastise us until we repent of those things that grieve him. We can repent and fly right. One thing is for sure; we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. When we do, he will represent the power and authority of God's eternal kingdom. There will be a lot more than laurels handed out.
One last thing. If we want to find out the timing of the Judgment seat of Christ we need to turn to 1st Larkin 6:1, or 2nd Scofield 7:3. They have envisioned a scenario reminiscent of the great white throne and adapted it for Christians. The Judgment seat as seen in the gospels and in Acts was a one on one judgement. I think it is far more likely we will stand before Jesus Christ immediately upon death and be judged one on one. I can't imagine that heaven would be much fun waiting around for a few hundred years wondering what Jesus really thought of you.