What is the bema judgment?


I enjoy your website. I have been reading what you have on there about the rapture. It helped me to answer one of my student's questions. Now he has asked me about the Bema judgment. I never heard of it. I looked it up on the net, but I need to know the truth of the matter.



Bema is the Greek word that is typically translated as "judgment seat" in English. It refers to the raised platform from where a ruler would give his judgment in court cases. It was also used by the Greeks to refer to the platform an athlete stood on to receive his victor's wreath after winning a game. Because of this, some claim that Christ's judgment will only be to reward the righteous. "In all of these passages, “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.” We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor" [J. Hampton Keathley, III, "The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ"].

Here then is the logical flaw: bema can mean positive and negative judgment or just positive judgment. Some verses are cited to show there is a positive judgment and then the conclusion is drawn that there is only a positive judgment. The reason behind this is that premillennialism requires two judgments, one when Christ returns to set up his kingdom and rewards his faithful and a second at the end of the millennial reign to punish the wicked.

Thus, the true question is how many judgments are there?

  • "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).
  • "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10).

Notice especially the second verse because it uses the word bema (judgment set) to say that we will receive recompense for the things done -- both good and bad. This does not describe a reward-only view. And John makes it clear that the good and bad are judged at the same time. The idea of a separate resurrection is false.

The only other verse that directly mentions Christ's judgment seat is: "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." " (Romans 14:10-11). Again there is nothing in this verse indicating a reward only judgment, nor two separate judgments.

Another reason given to avoid the obvious is the belief that a Christian cannot lose his salvation. The fact that Christians will be judged with the potential of being condemned is not compatible with this belief system. Verses typically cited are:

  • "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).
  • "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).

What is denied is that a Christian can stop believing. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6).

That Christians are judged is clear from II Corinthians 5:10, but consider also: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality" (Colossians 3:23-25).

"And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:3-11).

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