In the church I attend, another fellow and I are teaching a class that, week by week, is going over the the Doctrinal Statement of the American Baptist Association. We are currently in our section on the Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection of the Saints. During the course of our discussion of the Resurrection of the Saints, we began discussing the Judgment Seat of Christ we will face at that time. We also got into a discussion about the Crowns we can receive and how the whole concept of Crowns plays out in the Bible.
I have to be honest, the question caught me flat footed, so to speak. There are two reasons for that: One, I simply had not given much thought or study to the matter; two, I am not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination. I am not seminary trained; in fact, other than a three year program called Faith Bible Institute, I have zero formal Bible training.
What is the point of all that? Well, it means there is a bunch of stuff I don’t know, and it means there is a bunch of stuff I have difficulty learning and subsequently explaining. So, I have studied, prayed and meditated on this issue and am going to do my best to present an answer which makes sense. We aren’t going to really have time to cover it our formal class, so I am going to cover it here.
We will all be judged
The Bible is quite clear in teaching that every single human who has ever lived will be judged at some point in time. Here we are going to briefly discuss the judgment of Believers, which will take place at the Bema, or the Judgment Seat of Christ. We need to clarify one thing quickly before we dive into this topic. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judgment to determine whether we are admitted into Heaven or cast into Hell; believers have made that particular decision during their lives here on Earth.
1 John 2:2 teaches us that the determination of that was made by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and our faith in Him, John 3:16. Romans 8:1 teaches us that we will never be condemned for those sins.
We will face the Judgment Seat, then, not to determine where we will spend eternity, but to determine and reward us for the quality of our works on Jesus’ behalf while here in this life. At the Judgment Seat, we will give an account of our lives to Jesus, and will be rewarded(or not rewarded) for our works, not judged for our sins. The Judgment Seat is mentioned a couple of times in Scripture, and the context of the passages makes it clear this is not a condemnation/salvation judgment.
Romans 14:10-12 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
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.
The word for Judgment Seat, Bema, is used a couple of ways in the New Testament. One way was in the sense of the place from which Pontius Pilate would have been when he pronounced sentence on Jesus in Matthew 27:19 and John 19:13. Another sense in which the word was used was then sense in which it appeared in athletic competitions of the time. Victorious athletes would stand on a raised platform, called a Bema, and receive their reward for their winning performances. What would the winning athletes receive on the Bema? They would receive a wreath, or crown, placed on their head as a symbol of their victory. In an interesting note, the winning athletes not only were rewarded for victory, but the way they won was analyzed to insure they had followed the rules in obtaining that win! We see this illustrated in 2 Timothy 2:5.
Three things seem relevant here. One, context indicates that our Bema is for reward and not punishment. Two, Paul often compared the Christian life to an athletic competition, so the use of Bema as that seems to fit. Finally, the people he wrote to in Corinth would have understood both usages of the word, as both types were present in the city of Corinth. The use of Judgment Seat as a reward for faithful service seems to mesh right in with our topic of Crowns, as we will see later.
What Crowns can we get?
There seem to be five crowns spoken of in The Bible, and we will review them each here. We will also cover what it seems we have to do in order to be presented with those crowns. This all is a matter of some interpretation, so we won’t be dogmatic about it.
The Crown of Victory, or the Imperishable Crown. We see this in
1 Corinthians 9:24,25 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
What is this crown for? Very likely it is for those who have tried live a temperate life. This would be those who have tried to live a life not of the flesh and the world, but focused on Holy things. This may be for those who opted to not lay up their treasure on Earth, but in Heaven, Matthew 6:19. What Peter addressed in 1 Peter 3:4, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,”
The Crown of Rejoicing.
1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
Some refer to this as the Soul Winners crown, as Paul seems to be rejoicing over the souls he saw saved during his life. Aren’t we fortunate that God will judge us for our efforts and not our success? All of us can get this crown, not just those who see thousands saved!
The Crown of Righteousness
2 Timothy 4:8 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.
We can look at righteousness in a couple of ways. We all receive imputed righteousness, this being the instantaneous righteousness we receive at the moment of our salvation; that is the moment when our sins no longer matter, and we are declared righteous in the eyes of God due to the payment Jesus Christ made on our behalf. We can also look at it in terms of the sanctified righteousness which represents the lifelong work God performs in us to make us righteous and Holy as a way of life. This crown may represent our transition from striving for righteousness to that eternal state where that is all we will ever know.
The Crown of Glory
1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Some think this is a reference to a crown which will be given to those who served as overseers, or pastors and deacons in this earth. The verses prior to that could possibly indicate that to be true. If so, it could meant that those who have faithfully served will finally get the reward they deserve, while those who served with less than honorable intentions will have their crown withheld.
The Crown of Life
Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
James tells us in James 1:12, that the Crown of Life is for “them that love Him.” How do we show we love God?
1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
This is possibly for those who have suffered tribulation and perhaps even martyrdom for the Love of God. It may even be simply for those who have loved God, i.e the saved. Either way it is for those who have stayed steadfast in their love for God through all the various trials and tribulations this life has to offer.
Are our Crowns Real? And what will we do with them?
Before we move on, let’s look at one last thought. All of our works, not just the ones the fit into some category we put them in will be evaluated.
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.
All that we do will be analyzed by God, for the quality and intent with which it was done. This leads us to the question of whether the crowns are real or figurative.
The Bible never once says they are figurative. Like most things we find in the Bible, we usually cannot go wrong if we simply take it the way it reads. We may very well have real crowns placed on our heads at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
On the other hand, Paul was noted for his comparing of life to an athletic contest, and the crowns may be an analogy based upon that. I think one could lean that direction and not be accused of “spiritualizing” the Word of God.
What will we do with our crowns, real or figurative?
Revelation 4:10,11 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
It is generally accepted that if we do receive real Crowns in Heaven, we will follow the example above and cast them at Jesus feet, for they were given by Him. We only had the ability to earn them based on the power He gave us in the first place. Like all that we do, these crowns will be eternally for the honor and glory of Almighty God and not for us anyway.
Even if the crowns are figurative, the same scenario applies. All that we are here on Earth for, and all that we will be in Heaven eternally for, is simply for the honor and Glory of Him. All the honor and glory and power is due Him, for He created all things, and all things were created for Him and His pleasure.
In closing, the question has to be asked: Will you even be at the Judgment Seat of Christ? There are two judgments taught in the Bible. The one we have discussed is only for those who belong to Jesus Christ. The remaining people, alive and dead will also be resurrected to face a judgment. It also will not be a judgment to decide Heaven or hell. We make that choice only while living. Here, non believers will be judged not for their works, but for the severity of their sins; then all who face this judgment will be eternally cast into the Lake of Fire.
Do you know which judgment you will face? Have you come to understand that you are a sinner, condemned already in the eyes of God? Are you willing to repent and turn away from that sin? Do you understand that a penalty must be paid, but that Jesus Christ has already paid it on your behalf? His payment is a gift from God to you. All you have to do is believe, through faith, that you deserve to pay, that Jesus paid it for you, that He died and rose in three days to conquer your sin and death. Believe that and accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord and you, too, can be at the Judgment Seat of Christ.