After the saints have been caught up to heaven, and before they return with Christ in glory, there will be a season set apart for the review and reward of service rendered here. This tribunal or "judgment-seat of Christ," is spoken of in many parts of the inspired Word, and its character and results are there foretold. In view of the many crude and traditional theories respecting judgment which have held the field for centuries, by which this great and blessed subject has been obscured, it is needful to distinguish between "things that differ." There are various judgments spoken of in the Word, differing in character and time. There will be a judgment of living nations at the beginning of the Millennial reign of Christ (see Matt. 25:31), and there will be a judgment of the dead at its close (Rev. 20:11). We must not confound these with the judgment-seat of Christ. In both of these judgments, some go from judgment to punishment. But there is no such portion for the saved, no damnatory judgment awaits the saints of God.
Their judgment as sinners is past at the Cross: there they judicially died, and in virtue of the Cross they come no more into judgment (John 5:24, R.V.). As children their judgment is present. They are subjects of the Father's discipline and rule (Heb. 12:6-9). As servants, their judgment is future, at the judgment-seat of Christ, before which they shall stand in resurrection glory, within the heavens, to have their service reviewed and rewarded by their Lord and Master, and their places in His kingdom and glory determined. In order to apprehend the full meaning of all this, it is needful to remember that the saints of God are also servants of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:1) ... and stewards entrusted with their Master's goods, during His absence (Matt. 25:14). Runners in the race (I Cor. 9:24-27), and wrestlers in the fight (2 Tim. 2:3-4). Now, they are to be gathered before their Master to hear His estimate of their earthly work. All that has been done by them while in the body, since they were converted, will be "manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ " (2 Cor. 5:10, R.V.). The ancient "Beema," or judgment-seat, was an elevated place on which the umpire of the Grecian games stood, watching the progress of the race or contest. When all was over, the runners and wrestlers—the successful competitors—assembled before that "Beema," to receive "the corruptible crown" of laurel leaves or parsley, from his hand. Some had no reward, they had lost "the Victor's Crown." But while they had no reward, there was no punishment for them.
Such is the imagery used by the Apostle, in pointing us onward to the judgment of our service there. In the midst of the glory within the heavens, surrounded by heavenly hosts of wondering beings, the judgment-seat will be set. The servants of Christ, all in glorified bodies, will be gathered there. From every corner of the earth, from various paths of toil and warfare: some unknown, others well known, all will be there. Hidden ones, whose days on earth were spent in lone corners appointed by the Lord of the harvest! Great ones who stood before the world on the pinnacle of fame! All will be gathered there, to hear from their Heavenly Master's lips what value He has put upon their earthly service. The works (I Cor. 3:14). the motives (I Cor. 4:5), and the manner of their service (2 Tim. 2:5), will all be manifested there. Christ will publicly avow His approval of all that has been pleasing unto Him, the rest will be burned up (I Cor. 3:13) and for that the servant will suffer loss.
Much that in "man's day" had been accounted great, will appear as "hay and stubble" there. Much that passes now as "'zeal" and "faithfulness," in that day, when the hidden springs and motives are disclosed, will be seen to be only self and sin. Deeds that were blazed abroad through the Church and the world, may be of little value there; but that which was of no esteem in the eyes of men, though it may have met the world's displeasure, will receive the Master's "well done."
"Deeds of merit, as we thought them,
He will tell us were but sin;
Little acts we had forgotten,
He will own were done for Him."
The servants of Christ will be all possessed of their Master's mind, and able in His light to see light clearly. Each and all will say "Amen" to His verdict, and thus they will pass on from the judgment-seat to other scenes of glory, with wondering gratitude and praise. The "Victor's Crowns"—for such is the meaning of the word used by the Spirit in describing them (see Newberry's Bible, margin)—which will be given to the faithful servants, will be according to their service here. Amid all the glories of the ages to come, they will be the remembrancers and memorials of their toil and conflict here. The Crown of Life (Rev. 2:10), of Righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), and of Glory (I Pet. 5:4), all speak of recompense and reward, and point to places of honour in the kingdom and the glory to come.
When the period of David's rejection was over, and the day of his power and glory was about to shine forth, he called before him those of his faithful followers, who had been with him in the cave of Adullum, who had shared the sorrows of his lowly path, and appointed them to places of honour in his kingdom. Three of his faithful bodyguard, who fondly loved him, heard him whisper, "Oh that one would give me to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem" (2 Sam. 23:15). To gratify their royal master, they broke through the ranks of the enemy, and brought it to him at the risk of their lives. That deed, although not immediately rewarded, was surely recorded in the annals of the kingdom. And when David came to the throne, he publicly recognised that deed of love, and rewarded his three faithful servants in the sight of all Israel. And thus it shall be in the coming day of Christ's judgment-seat. No cup of cold water given in His Name will be forgotten. All that has been done for and in the Lord will be fully remembered and recompensed. The rewards and honours will be according to heaven's estimate. Some will be there, who were little thought of here. Their labours, privations, and sufferings for Christ's Name's sake, received no acknowledgment on earth. They passed away unknown, unnoticed, and unnamed, to their rest and reward. Yea, some of them bore the brand of shame and dishonour. As one who knew by experience the meaning of it, sang—
"I have borne scorn and hatred,
I have borne wrong and shame;
Earth's proud ones have reproached me,
For Christ's thrice-blessed Name;
Where God's seal set the fairest,
They've stamped their foulest brand;
But judgment shines like noon-day,
In Immanuel's land."
From The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus, with Subsequent Events in Heaven and on Earth by John Ritchie. 3rd ed., enl. Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, .