I have been taught for years from many pulpits that Christians will gain or lose reward at the “Bema” for years. But when I endeavored to do an independent study I can not validate what I have heard from the pulpit, so I have altered my position and I think the bible gets more and more clear the more we allow the New Covenant to determine our frame of reference for our interpretation. I invite your comments both pro and con.
I welcome the Berean and loving discussion of this and any of the issues that come up on this site. Enjoy.
The Bema = The Judgment Seat of Christ
There are two main ways in which erroneous teachings are introduced into Christianity:
A. Non-biblical evidence is used to support the novel concept.
B. The Biblical truth on the subject is suppressed or fragmented.
Dispensationalists have done both with this modern notion of the Bema seat award-judgment. The Biblical information on “Bema” (the Greek word) is suppressed. And appeal is made to non-biblical “evidence” to make the concept seem biblically valid. There is no such thing as the Bema award-judgment, as presented so often today in pulpits, books and web sites of today. There is a Bema judgment, but it is quite different from what is presented to us.
1. DISPENSATIONALISTS DEFINE “BEMA” AS…
“Thus, associated with this word [“bema”] are the ideas of prominence, dignity, authority, honor, and reward rather than the idea of justice and judgment” – Dwight Pentecost
“It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the judgment is unrelated to the problem of sin, that it is more for the bestowing of rewards than the rejection of failure.” – Lewis Sperry Chafer
“Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.” – Hoyt
“[The “bema”] was a seat or raised platform where a judge sat as he made his decision regarding a case.” …”This word was also used in connection with the platform on which the umpire or referee sat during the Olympic Games or the Isthmian games at Corinth. This was the place where the winners of the various events received their rewards.” ….”The apostle Paul seems to have this idea of reward in mind as he speaks of the ‘judgment seat of Christ.'” – Paul Benware
The “bema seat judgment” is an “investigative probe into a believer’s lifetime of works…” “[E]very Christian must meet God for an investigative judgment of his entire life. This moment will be a time of jubilant victory for some.” … and “a time of weeping for others.” “‘ Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”” – Jack Van Impe
“Judgment Seat of Christ. The place or occasion for the divine evaluation of the faithfulness of Christians’ lives resulting in the giving or withholding of rewards (2 Cor. 5:10).” – Paul Enns
Charles Ryrie says of this time of the Bema that “individual believers will be judged for their works done as Christians (1 Co 3:11- 15). Salvation with its assurance of heaven is not in question, only whether heaven will be entered with or without rewards.” – Charles Ryrie
Notice these recurring themes in the above definitions:
A. It is for Christians only.
B. It is for rewards (or loss of rewards) only. There is no punishment.
C. It can be illustrated by sporting contests award ceremonies (as opposed to Bible cross-references).
D. The terror or shame involved here is merely that of disobedient or unproductive Christians. Now let us turn to the Bible to see if what the experts above say matches with scripture.
2. THE “BEMA” ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE (WITH COMMENTS)
Occurrences: Matt.27:19, John 19:13, Acts 7:5; Acts 12:21; Acts 18:12, 16, 17; Acts 25:6, 10, 17; Ro.14:10; 2Cor.5:10.
“When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” (Matt. 27:19)
If the Bema was only a place for rewards, as the Dispensationalists insist, we would expect Pilate to answer back to his wife, “Silly woman, don’t you know that I am seated at the Bema? Giving out punishment is the farthest thing from my mind.”
But what did Pilate actually do at this Bema?
He released Barabbas – and gave over the Prince of Life to be crucified!
See also the next verse.
“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)
Hoyt insists that “the judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.” Tell that to Pilate, Mr. Hoyt. He not only whipped the “Loser”, he had Him crucified! Why, oh why, do people blindly follow the experts in defining scriptural terms when the Bible is quite clear in defining many of it’s own terms?
The Bema is clearly a place of awesome judgment, and not a mere award ceremony.
“And he gave him no inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on : yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.” (Acts 7:5)
“Set his foot on” is the translation here for “bema”, an idiomatic rendering. At any rate, there are no rewards here.
“And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne [“bema”], and made an oration unto them.” (Acts 18:12)
“And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat“ (Acts 18:12)
“And he drove them from the judgment seat.” (Verse 16)
“Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.” (Verse 17)
“And when he had waited among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.” (Acts 25:6)
“Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as you very well know.” (Verse 10)
“Therefore, when they came here, without any delay the next day I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.” (Verse 17)
Each one of these “Bema” passages from Acts involves a civil magistrate making a judicial decision, some involving matters of life or death. There are no rewards spoken of here. No Olympic games or any such thing.
“But why do you judge you brother? or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Romans 14:10
At first glance this might be used to hold up the modern notion of Christians only being present at the Bema – only you read on to verse 11, and read the cross-references of Isaiah 45:23 and Phil. 2:9- 11. Clearly this is the time when ALL of creation will be present, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.”
Every knee will bow at this Bema. Everyone will be there, Christians as well as every unsaved person. The fact that Romans 14:10 connects the Bema with Philippians 2:9- 11…
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
…makes this absolutely certain. Who do we believe then, the inspired Apostle Paul or these modern writers and their imagined scenario of athletic awards? Shouldn’t the biblical evidence be given first consideration?
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10.)
Once again, this is a convocation of everyone who exists or has existed, saved and unsaved. Don’t take my word for it. Read the verse in context and you will see, if you are willing to let the Word explain itself, that the passage speaks of Christians as well as unsaved.
3. THE BEMA IS THE GREAT WHITE THRONE.
Part of the method of faulty expositors of the Word of God is to assign non-cooperating puzzle pieces to another part of the puzzle. This is what is done with the Great White Throne Judgment. Does it make sense to you that something as awesome as this would only be mentioned once in scripture?
No. In fact it is mentioned several times in scripture. Many of these other occurrences were covered earlier in this article. We should allow the Bible to use different terms for the same concept. For instance, in Revelation there is no mention of “justification”, “sanctification”, etc.
Yet we do read of the ones whose “robes are washed in the blood of the lamb”, of the “over comers” and of those who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes”. It is the same with the Bema (Judgment Seat of Christ) and the Great White Throne. The latter is a poetical, symbolic description in a poetical, symbolic book.
4. EVERYONE GETS REWARDS AT THE BEMA, BUT….
Jesus promised (Revelation 22:12) “I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.” Everyone will get rewards. But look at the wider context (verses 11- 15 The unsaved will get their reward – judgment and eternal doom!).
Consider these verses:
“And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time.” (2 Peter 2:13)
“Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” (Jude 11)
“Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she has filled fill to her double.” (Revelation 18:6)
5. RETHINKING THE BEMA
It is certainly hard to unlearn something we have been taught. The idea of being rewarded for our righteous acts (works, actually) goes contrary to the Gospel itself.
If it is not right that any flesh glories before God, how is it possible that we should be rewarded over against other Christians for accomplishments that we have no right to claim credit for? Or do we not believe that it is Christ who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure? (Phil. 2) And why would He reward us for something that was really His doing?
How can we expect rewards for our obedience, seeing that even if we obey perfectly in everything we are still unprofitable servants? (Luke 17:10)
The modern notion of the Bema award-judgment is a concept that is foreign to Scripture. It is foreign to the Biblical use of the word. And it is foreign to the Biblical definition of the Gospel and to what we know of God.
Thanks to my good friend Tom Riggle for pointing many of these things out to me.