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Friday, August 26, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Where Would You Like to be Judged?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Not all religions acknowledge coming judgment, but Christianity does.

Tom: As we discussed last week, Immanuel Can, the Bible teaches there is both a general judgment of sinners and a separate, distinct judgment of Christians. That division was not clearly traced in our Old Testaments, and most Jews know next to nothing of it.

But it’s there in our New Testaments, and getting rid of it involves ripping out whole pages of Paul’s epistles.

Immanuel Can: Lay it out for us, Tom: what’s the difference?

The Judgment of the World

Tom: The judgment of the world is a truth we find traces of throughout all of scripture, but not in great detail until the New Testament. Still, even Old Testament saints were conscious that God would hold men accountable beyond this life in some way.

IC: What are you thinking of?

Tom: The first example that comes to mind is the Lord telling Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book”. Moses, a believer, had volunteered to have his name blotted out on behalf of his people, and God rejected the offer. That may be our first hint that believers have no place in that particular judgment.

IC: And later?

Tom: After Moses, we have a mention of judgment in Daniel 12, but it’s more like a quickie synopsis than anything explicit. It’s really Revelation 20:12-15 that describes the judgment of the dead at the Great White Throne, a judgment which results in those whose names are not written in the book of life being thrown in the lake of fire. It’s the tropes related to this first judgment that most people are familiar with.

IC: So these OT passages speak of a judgment of the wicked and something different for the righteous, but do not actually tell us what that “something” is?

Tom: Correct. Technically what God’s nature precludes, per Abraham, is the judgment of righteous and wicked together, as if they were all the same. We get the message that both will be judged, but not in the same way, and not together.

The Judgment of the Church

The actual nature of that judgment of believers is only revealed in detail in four places in the New Testament: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; and 2 Corinthians 5:9-10. All four come from the pen of the apostle Paul, and all are new revelation. Because details about the Church are not explicitly laid out in the Old Testament, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

IC: No, because there was no Church. The Church began at Pentecost. So noted.

Tom: A quick read of those four NT passages shows this particular judgment: (a) applies exclusively to believers, not the unsaved; (b) is a judgment of stewardship while serving Christ in the body; and (c) is intended to display the character and work of the God’s servants for the purpose of reward. Ideally, believers will “receive commendation” for the things done in the body. At worst they will be “saved as if by fire”. Heaven and hell are not in view at all in this second judgment.

Thronos and Bema

IC: So the judgment to which Christians go is about how much reward we will get, not about whether or not God loves us or will accept us. The scriptures call this the “Judgment Seat of Christ” and the “Judgment Seat of God”, in contrast to the Great White Throne of Revelation 20.

Tom: Right, and two different Greek words are used. Both can mean “throne”, but the word for judgment seat in Romans and Corinthians is bema, a word which bears the additional meaning of a rostrum from which games may be viewed and awards given. Now doctrines don’t generally turn on a single word, but it’s interesting that the meanings of the two words used are consistent with the stated intention of the two judgments.

IC: Okay. Now, if we can’t lose our salvation, and if the judgment for Christians is all about deciding what our lives have been worth to God, what’s the value of knowing that judgment’s coming? Some people might think it’s a case of que sera sera.

Tom: Some may, true. But if we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ and not merely church attendees, it is going to matter to us that the world will be judged. For Abraham, it wasn’t enough that he would escape the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, he wanted Lot out too. That’s the spirit of genuine faith. It thinks like God does about these things. And I suspect (though I can’t prove) that God shared with Abraham the revelation that he was about to destroy Sodom precisely in order to draw out of Abraham his sympathies for those condemned in the judgment, sympathies which were akin to God’s own.

The Judgment Seat and Your Life

IC: Well put. That describes our attitude to the lost. But how should the recognition of the Judgment Seat impinge on our own lives as Christians?

Tom: Well, the apostle Paul seemed to take the prospect of the Judgment Seat very seriously indeed. In Romans, he says we should avoid passing judgment on our brothers in Christ because “each will give an account of himself to God”. In 1 Corinthians, he says both “reward” and “loss” are at stake at the Judgment Seat. Does any real Christians want to appear before his Lord and Saviour with nothing to show for his life? Later he adds that the Judgment will “disclose the purposes of the heart”. I can’t tell you whether that means “disclose to you and God” or “disclose to all believers present”, but either way, it is clear there will be no secrets when the Lord judges his own. Finally, in 2 Corinthians, he says each one will receive “what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”.

I can’t tell you what that means either, other than that I do not want to deal with God flippantly or in a rebellious way. That seems an exceedingly dangerous mode of thinking to entertain.

IC: Perhaps not “dangerous” to one’s salvation, provided you have the faith … but that’s awfully hard to show, as James says, if you don’t do the works. I remember hearing a preacher talking about the Judgment Seat, and he made the best comment I’ve heard on it. He asked, “Is someone who has done nothing for Christ actually saved?”

There was a moment’s pause and silence.

He said, “Here’s the answer: I don’t know — and neither does he.”

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