What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 4 - ‘I will come again’
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Whilst all believers should be longing for the coming of the Lord, many of us may not be so enthusiastically waiting for the judgement seat of Christ that immediately follows it. This event is something that all believers will face and the way we live now should be governed by the conscious realization that we each will have to give account. It was this realization that motivated and controlled how the Apostle Paul served, ‘Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him’, 2 Cor. 5. 9, 10.
Who is going to be judged?
This review is inclusive, for every believer will be there, but it will be carried out individually for the verse in 2 Corinthians continues, ‘that every one may receive the things done in his body’. We will not appear there as part of a family or as part of an assembly congregation but as individual servants before their Lord.
When will it happen?
In writing to the church at Corinth the apostle states, ‘judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts’, 1 Cor. 4. 5. This assessment follows on directly after the rapture and as such it is salutary to think that it can happen at any time.
Who will be the judge?
The judge is the Lord Jesus; hence it is called the ‘judgment seat of Christ’. Therefore, our service is going to be reviewed by One who Himself became a servant. He took upon Himself the form of a servant but, unlike you or me, He was an unfailing servant. He did not bow His head and dismiss His spirit on the cross until He had said ‘it is finished’ and that is why long before He came, Jehovah could say of Him ‘behold my servant . . . he shall not fail’, Isa. 42. 1-4.
How grateful we should be that our life and service is not going to be reviewed by each other. We only have partial knowledge and we are prone to some degree of bias. Thankfully, instead of our prejudices determining the outcome of the review the one who will judge ‘is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which you have shewed toward his name’, Heb. 6. 10.
What will be judged?
Our Lord will not sit on a throne as He does when He judges the nations at the close of the tribulation, and as He does when He judges the wicked dead at the end of time. The judgement seat is not a throne and therefore we will not be there as subjects before a sovereign. This is not a judicial trial where a penal sentence will be handed down for there is no possibility of those who have been justified being condemned.
However, we shall appear before this judgement seat as servants before their Lord and He will hold us to account for the way that we have lived and served. His assessment will not be judicial but it will be governmental – and that is no different to how He deals with us now from time to time. There are four primary matters that will be reviewed; we shall consider each briefly.
1 My contact with my brethren, Rom. 14.
In the church at Rome there were differing viewpoints on certain matters, resulting in the believers judging one another. Two specific matters are highlighted by Paul; he refers to matters of diet and the observance of days. Within the church there were Jewish converts who may have found it difficult to relinquish some of their former dietary restrictions and observances of feast days. Paul describes these people in verse 1 as being ‘weak in faith’. On the other hand, Gentile converts would not have had any such inhibitions and felt free to eat whatever they wished; they also regarded every day as being of equal import unto the Lord.
These differences created tensions. The weak were judging those who didn’t share their scruples and therefore were guilty of exercising a prerogative that wasn’t theirs. On the other hand, those who had liberty were despising or being critical of those who didn’t enjoy such liberty. Paul’s objective was to impress upon both parties that they were equally at fault and he reminds them that none of them will sit on the judgement seat of Christ but all will stand before it.
Perhaps we judge others over insignificant matters, failing to discern between a personal preference and a biblical principle. Maybe we treat contemptuously those who have a tender conscience, classing them as being too legal. How many upsets and needless divisions have been caused in companies of God’s people because of our failure to live with one another in a spirit of forbearance. May we seek grace to be humble in spirit and to receive (or accept) one another just as Christ also received us.
2 My contribution into the building, 1 Cor. 3.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul focuses on Christ’s assessment of the work of the Bible teacher. He uses three metaphors to describe a local church, a cultivated field and a building in verse 9, and a temple in verse 16. In describing the church as a field, he refers to his planting and Apollos watering and both activities were done by teaching. Notice that no reward is given for increase in the field for God gives the increase, the reward is given for effort.
However, in the building reward is not given for effort but for the quality of the teaching, the teacher has to ‘take heed how he builds’. Six materials are listed in verse 12 and the distinction between them is stark. Three are of value; they are the gold, silver and precious stones. Three are of little or no value, the wood, hay and stubble.
At the judgement seat the work of the teacher will be reviewed, and Paul uses another metaphor, fire, to make that point. Teaching that is contrary to the word of God and would defile an assembly will be burned and the teacher suffers loss. Teaching that passes the test will bring reward for the teacher.
By application, we might extend these details to every aspect of service each of us render to God. Whilst effort is commendable, it is not enough, for, I might be busy in doing that which will not meet with the Lord’s approval. Our responsibility is to appraise what we do by the touchstone of the Bible.
3 My conscience about my behaviour, 1 Cor. 4.
Paul begins the chapter by stating that far from being a party leader, as some were making him, he was a servant and a steward. As a servant, he took instructions from the Lord, and as a steward he administered divine things on behalf of the Lord. He points out, in verse 2, that the primary duty of a steward is to be faithful, and that issue is critical to understanding what follows. The subject matter of verses 1 to 5 is faithfulness as a steward, not competence as a preacher or conduct as a person.
There were those in Corinth who were being judgmental of Paul’s faithfulness, but, in verse 3, he dismisses that. It mattered not to Paul whether the church at Corinth or any human court formed a judgement on him; in fact, he wasn’t even able to fully assess himself in relation to this issue.
All human judgement is subjective, even Paul’s in relation to himself. Although he was not aware of any personal deficiency, he would not justify himself for he may have made an incorrect assessment, and so he says in verse 5, ‘judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts’.
The ‘hidden things of darkness’ may not mean evil things but matters not public, things done that no one knows about. The ‘counsels of the heart’ refers to my motives. Thus, the first phrase relates to what I have done, the second to why I did them. One day my faithfulness as a steward will be fully examined. What I have done and why I did it will be exposed with reward being given only for what has met with the master’s approval.
4 My conduct in my body, 2 Cor. 5.
As already stated, one of the things that motivated Paul was the prospect of appearing before the judgement seat of Christ and receiving the things done in the body. The time is coming when we shall all ‘appear’ before the judgement seat. The word ‘appear’ means ‘made manifest’ so that what we have done in our bodies is going to be manifested to us by the Lord and we shall ‘receive the things done in the body’.
The word ‘receive’ conveys the thought of ‘receiving back’; it is a recompense. Then Paul adds, ‘whether good or bad’ and the word ‘bad’ means more than what was just worthless. The Lord will reveal to me what He saw, nothing escaped His attention and I shall be recompensed for it. What was bad will be exposed and burned up and I shall suffer loss of the reward I could have had. This is salutary; how much of what I have done will I see burned up?
The judgement seat is a place of reward
Whilst it is challenging to think that we are going to be reviewed, we must also remember that the judgement seat is a place of reward. There are crowns to be won and positions in the kingdom to be earned, and these will be given to us at this review. The last reference to the judgement seat is an indirect one but it is connected to this thought of being rewarded. In Revelation chapter 22 verse 12 the Lord says, ‘behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be’.
So, we each must make a choice. We can either live for now and lose later or live for Christ now and be rewarded eternally. This is something that Charles Thomas Studd came to appreciate when he wrote:
‘Only one life, yes only one,?
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;?
Then, in “that day” my Lord to meet,?
And stand before His Judgement seat;?
Only one life,’twill soon be past,?
Only what’s done for Christ will last’.