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In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul talks about the judgment seat or the "bema" of Christ. What is being "judged" here?

10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. ESV

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    This question asks about two different texts by two different authors written at different times and makes the assumption that they are speaking about the same event. The last question about how many times Jesus sits down to judge is 'searching for texts', which is strictly off topic here. You may want to consider asking on Christianity. If you wish to ask about either text here, that is fine, but it would need to be focused on a single text and not try to relate the two. – Dan Dec 11 '14 at 17:55
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    @majnemɪzdæn I agree as it is written it is a theology question; however, if one merely compared the 2 texts without assigning a theological reference, an answer could make a textual comparison and thereby discuss the implications from a hermeneutical perspective, which would be entirely "On Topic"(IMHO). – Tau Dec 11 '14 at 20:18
  • @Tau it could certainly be rewritten to focus on a linguistic connection between the texts, i.e. by identifying language in the Greek text that is similar between the two and asking where the concept came from or if they were referring to the same thing. But the modern Christian theological connection would be off topic (but not early apocalyptic theological beliefs held by the original authors - which would be squarely on topic). The problem is that requires considerably more research effort, knowledge of the original languages, etc. None of which have been provided. – Dan Dec 11 '14 at 20:58
  • As an example, it could be focused on the Apocalypse passage, asking if Paul's letter to the Corinthians may have been a source text for the idea of judgment before a throne (and if not, where the idea came from - but even a small amount of research into Greco-Roman culture would show that a 'judgment seat' was a standard component of their legal system). But the second question shows that the OP's intent is inherently to apply these texts to Christian theology, and thus would be better asked elsewhere. – Dan Dec 11 '14 at 21:00
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The context of the verse gives us clues as to who and what is being judged.

Paul has just finished talking about his ambivalence about which is better: being here on earth in his earthly tent (i.e., our corruptible bodies) or being with Christ in heaven eternally, inhabiting a "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (5:1). Paul is torn because he realizes staying on earth means fruitful ministry for Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles, some of whom have already become followers of the Way, and some who will yet become Jesus' followers.

On the other hand, Paul is not a masochist who enjoys "being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake" (4:11), but his heart is so committed to manifesting the life of Christ for the benefit of others that he is willing to endure all sorts of hardships for his Lord and Savior.

He then tells us what our Lord Christ expects of his children while they are here on earth; namely, to live lives which are pleasing to the Lord (5:9). Why? Because there is a day of judgment coming for all believers, and the degree to which they lived lives which were pleasing to the Lord, so will be their reward. In other words, believers in Christ will be judged by Christ at the bema according to the quality of their works.

In his first letter to the Corinthian believers Paul expands upon, I believe, what will happen at the judgment seat of Christ, where

". . . each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work" (3:13 NASB Updated).

The inconsequential works, the motive for which was to be noticed by others (cf. the hypocrites whom Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1-8), are likened to wood, hay, and straw which the fire of judgment will burn up. In other words, nothing of eternal value remains.

The consequential works, the motive for which was primarily to please the Lord and benefit others and not to be recognized and rewarded here on earth, are likened to gold, silver, and costly stones which will emerge from the fire of judgment unscathed. In other words, these works were those treasures which believers in Christ laid up for themselves in heaven (see Matthew 6:19-21). They took what the Lord had entrusted to them as his stewards on earth (e.g., their spiritual gifts and talents, their time, and their treasure) and invested it wisely in God's kingdom-building here on earth.

Heaven, I believe, will be a sphere of existence where Christ will reward his wise stewards with greater responsibilities in keeping with their degree of faithfulness with God's endowments while living their mortal lives on earth. As with Jesus' parable of the master's stewards (slaves, actually) who were entrusted with various sums of money, and were told to invest wisely whatever amount he gave them, we too are anticipating our master's return from a journey. When he does so, we long to hear his commendation:

"'Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master'" (Matthew 25:21; cf. Luke 19:11-27).

In conclusion, the Great White Throne judgment John spoke of in Revelation 20:11 ff., is certainly a judgment of works, but it is a judgment reserved for unbelievers. The primary and most important criterion of God's judgment there is whether or not a person's name is written in the Lamb's book of life.

On the other hand, the bema is a judgment of those whose names are written in God's book of life. Their names are there not because of works, since salvation is not something earned by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but by God's grace. While on earth in their mortal bodies they placed their faith in the one who died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring them to God (1 Peter 3:18). Their salvation is assured, but their level of reward will be determined at the bema, where some of those who were considered "first" in this life will be last in the life to come, and some who were last will be first (see Matthew 19:30; Mark 10:31; and Luke 13:30).

  • Well said @rhetorician. This is exactly the answer I'm looking for. – Bench Novia Bensing Dec 20 '14 at 8:57
  • @BenchNoviaBensing: I'm glad you think so. I'm a little disappointed others seem not to be in agreement with you! Oh well, you can't please all the people all the time. Don – rhetorician Dec 20 '14 at 18:56
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What is being “judged” in 2 Corinthians 5:10?

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

In the preceding verse Paul makes reference to his labors (ministry). To me the context is similar to what is found in the first letter to the Corinthians;

1 Corinthians 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

I see a judgment for Christians of their works, not for salvation, but for reward. I see Paul making reference to the reward he anticipates with some frequency.

Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

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