Now that the fake judgment day, May 21st, has come and gone without a ripple (or a rapture for that matter) let’s talk a bit about the real Judgment Days. That’s right, according to the Bible there are two of them.
There’s a judgment day for the believers that the apostle Paul nicknamed “the judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10. And there’s a judgment day for unbelievers that Christians have nicknamed “the great white throne judgment” based on Revelation 20:11-15. Each of these judgement days are intense and awe-inspiring, but they each serve a different and dynamic purpose.
Here’s the bottom line difference: the judgment seat of Christ is a rewarding stand for the believer while the great white throne judgment is a criminal court of law where sentences of everlasting destruction are passed out. This conclusion is not only clear contextually, but with the actual Greek words used to describe each judgment.
The word “bema” is what Paul uses to describe the judgment seat each believer must stand before someday. It’s the stand where olympic judges evaluated who won the race in the Greek olympics. It was the stand where each winner of each race would stand before after the race and be rewarded.
Bema smacks of reward. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” This is where we get rewarded for serving Christ. Don’t get me wrong, every believer will be equally loved in heaven (Matthew 11:11) but not every believer will be equally rewarded.
You see this clearly in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 when Paul paints a scenario of the judgment seat of Christ, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each personâ€™s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be savedâ€”even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Here you see that some believers will receive their reward for a life well lived for God (gold, silver, costly stones) while other believers will enter into heaven with little reward and their clothes smelling like smoke (got that line from the great J. Vernon McGee.) But whether a lot or a little Paul said, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” 1 Corinthians 4:5.
Now please don’t misunderstand the meaning of the judgment day for the believer. We are not saved by our good deeds. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes that crystal clear. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone based on what his death on our behalf on the cross. We believe and we receive the free gift of eternal life. But after we believe and receive we can then achieve all of the rewards he has stored up for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:3,4.)
Some of you more pious ones may be clucking your tongue and saying to yourself, “Well, I’m not motivated by rewards. I’m motivated by my love for Jesus.” Be careful. Jesus himself commanded us to store these rewards up when he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6:19-21.
What should we do about judgment day if we are believers? Let us be fueled by it! Let us live everyday in light of that day. Let us reach as many as we can before it’s too late. After describing judgment day Paul declared, “Therefore, because of the fear of the Lord, we persuade men….” 2 Corinthians 5:11. Reach your friends, classmates, teammates, family members, co-workers and neighbors before that great and awesome day.
On the other side of the judgment day coin is the great white throne judgment. This day is for unbelievers. The greek word “krino” is used to describe this brand of judgment. This word was used in a court of law when a sentence was passed on someone who was guilty. And everyone who stands before Jesus at this judgment will be guilty of sins against the God of the universe. Here’s how John, the best friend of Jesus on earth, described it, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
It seems as though everyone at the great white throne judgment will be condemned to hell but it also seems that there’s a slight twist here. Why are these unbelievers “judged according to what they had done” if good deeds don’t save us to begin with? I believe that it is to determine the level of suffering they will receive in hell. Even Jesus himself said in Matthew 10:14,15, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Jesus is talking about different types of sentences handed down on the day of judgment here.
What do I conclude from this? That, just like the judgment seat of Christ for believers will result in different amounts of rewards we carry with us throughout eternity, that the great white throne judgment for unbelievers will result in different degrees of punishment they will suffer in hell. Why else would there be an evaluation time if that weren’t true?
The application of this post is clear and straightforward. If you are a believer and you have already received the gift of God through faith in Jesus then work with all of your heart for a good showing on Bema day. Work for the bling (and the “well done”) that matters most.
And if you are an unbeliever then put your faith in Jesus before it’s too late. Don’t let the fake judgment day sizzle and fizzle throw you off. The day of recompense is approaching for everyone. You don’t want no krino on that day because, no matter what your degree of punishment in hell, it will be bad.
Trust in Jesus before it’s too late and then live a life for Jesus to the hilt because the real judgment days are coming. The Bible, not Harold Camping, tells me so.