End Times, B
Topic: English Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
This morning, as we finally come to the end of our 19-week series on Doctrine, we come to the topic of Judgment.
Like I said last week, the study of the End Times is one of the most debated aspects of Christian doctrine. People debate about death. They debate about the Rapture. They debate about the Tribulation. They debate about the Second Coming. They debate about the 1000-year span of Revelation 20. They debate about the Resurrection. They debate about Judgment. And they debate about the Eternal State.
First as foremost, Jesus taught about the End, not so we would debate it. He taught about the End so that we would respond. He taught in order to produce a response, in order to change us and sharpen us. And this is especially true with the topic of judgment. We live in a culture that screams for justice and at the same time ignores and denies the justice of God. And so, the tendency is to ignore the judgment of God. We need to push back from that and be ready to deal with the topic.
The Apostle Paul stood before a group of idolatrous pagans in Athens and here’s what he declared (Acts 17:30-31):
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
Later, Paul spoke again before Felix and Drusilla. And Acts 24:25 says he preached about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.
We won’t go through all the passages today, but God is absolutely clear when he tells us that there will be a judgment. Everyone will give an account to God.
Every story in the Bible we get of God judging sin and rewarding righteousness is a precursor for the final judgment of God—whether that be for individuals, for nations, and even for angelic beings.
There are some big but important debate as to how many judgments there are and when these judgments will take place, but despite all the disagreements there are some clear and essential truths.
The first truth is what we already stated from Acts 17. It is that the Judge will be Jesus Christ. Second Timothy 4:1 speaks of Christ as the One “who is to judge the living and the dead.”
God has delegated His judgment to no one else except His eternal Son. Turn with me to John 5:21. This is one of the clearest explanations of the deity of Christ. This is our Lord Jesus explaining His equality with the Father. And that equality includes the authority to judge. Read John 5:21-29.
It’s a simple question: Who is the Judge of the Earth? Jesus Christ. And this should affect the way you think about Him or imagine Him. As a Christian, He is your Friend. He is your Intercessor. Yet He is also your Judge. He is to be worshiped. He is to be honored. He is to be feared. This is a very different image of Jesus than many people try to give. And you can fix it just by reading Revelation (which we’ll get a chance to do in our upcoming class).
Hebrews 10:31 says: It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 12 ends by saying we are to worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Don’t separate Jesus Christ from that image. He is the Judge.
The second major fact you need to understand is that all people will be judged. I will be judged. And you will be judged. No one will be skipped.
And what you’ve got is two main categories of people. The first category is unbelievers. Though it’s not a message the world likes to hear:Hell is real. The Lake of Fire is real. This is an everlasting punishment. An eternal condemnation. It’s not something we talk about a lot. It’s not something a lot of people like to say. But it’s something Jesus talked about and taught about.
It’s the reality of a holy God. Sin against an infinitely glorious and exalted God receives an infinite punishment. This is the final destiny of Satan, the demons, and every person who has not believed and obeyed Jesus Christ and his gospel.
Matthew 25:41 describes it as an eternal fire. Matthew 3:12 calls it the unquenchable fire. Daniel 12 refers to the judgment of unbelievers as a place of “shame and everlasting contempt.”
Hell is a serious and necessary topic to talk about. There are four Greek words or phrases that can refer to “hell.” And in all, they are used in 28 verses of the New Testament. And 16 of those verses are the recorded words of Jesus. Jesus didn’t apologize about hell. He didn’t question it. He didn’t even debate it. He taught about it. He warned about it. And it would be a helpful exercise for you if you wanted to study those passages.
Today, though, my focus is not on hell. It’s not on the judgment of unbelievers. My focus is on the judgement of believers. We already stated the fact that every single person will be judged. But we need to qualify that a little bit, right?
If someone asked you, “Will Christians be judged by God?” How would you answer? If you say “no” it goes against the truth at all people will be judged. But if you say “yes” then it can sound like we go to hell, which isn’t true either. So what do we mean when we say that Christians will be judged? How are we supposed to understand that judgment?
One of the passages that helps us with this is 2 Corinthians 5. Go ahead and turn there with me. Paul has gone through some major struggles in his life. Part of his battle included people who were trying to discredit his ministry with the churches. That’s what was happening in Corinth. And it’s part of what prompted Paul to write this letter.
Paul recognizes that he is insufficient for the ministry, but that he is sufficient in Christ. And though he’s enduring much persecution and hardship, he sets his mind on eternity, not on this life. He’s focused on the glory that awaits him.
At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul talks about how he groans in this earthly body waiting for a glorified, eternal body which comes from God. And God has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. And look at what Paul says in verse 6. Second Corinthians 5:6. Read 2 Cor 5:6-8.
This is Paul’s confidence in the reward waiting for him. He wasn’t focused on this life and where it’s heading. He set his eyes on what comes next. He had an eternal perspective. And this brought him comfort. That’s why he repeats it in verses 6 and 8. “We are of good courage.” He’s confident and comforted.
And in the next two verses Paul explain what motivates him, what compels him, what keeps him committed. Verse 9-10.
Paul wants to please Christ. He knows that one day he will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
Look at verse 9 again. And ask yourself: What is your ambition? What’s your drive in life? What are you chasing after or pursuing in life? What’s the goal of everything you do? What’s your aim?
The verb Paul uses here for “having an ambition” or “making it his aim” was used for people who were seeking honor.
Sometimes you would hear of wealthy people giving a large amount of money to a cause and really they did it because they love the honor that comes with it. It was an honor for them to give it.
Those aren’t the best motives, but at the same time we don’t want to write off any action done for honor. The issue isn’t seeking honor. The issue is whose honor you’re seeking. And Paul tells us. He is seeking to please the Lord Jesus Christ. To be acceptable and gratifying.
This is the motivation of a Christian. Our lives are living sacrifices. When we give money or when we serve the church, we’re pleasing the Lord. Colossians 3 tells children to obey their parents. Why? Because that’s what good little kids do? No. Because it pleases the Lord. Titus 2 tells slaves to obey their masters by being pleasing to them.
Hebrews 13:21 says that God equips us in every good thing to do His will. He works in us that which is pleasing in His sight.
Do you ever think about God like that? God is not just a God who disciplines you when you do something wrong. He’s a God who delights in our obedience and love and service. It pleases Him. Those of you who are parents know this. When your kid shares or shows kindness, it pleases you. It brings you joy and delight. And if your children disobey, it grieves you. Well, that’s a reflection of our life. We can grieve God or we can please Him.
As Paul describes the pleasure of God, He’s not just thinking about God’s pleasure at the time of his action. He’s looking ahead as well.
Why does He want to please God? Verse 10. Because he knows he will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
That phrase “judgment seat” was used in those days for an elevated platform from where a person of authority pronounced judgment. This is what some people call the bema judgment (from the Greek term). Today we might think of a throne on an elevated platform, or a judge’s bench. It’s elevated. It’s a place of authority.
Pontius Pilate had a judgment seat at the trial of Jesus. Herod, at the end of Acts 12, had an exalted judgment seat he spoke from. And he was struck dead. Well, the city of Corinth had a judgment seat too. Everyone who read Paul’s letter knew what he was imagining.
Back in Acts 18, Paul had actually stood before the judgment seat in Corinth. The Jews dragged him there before Gallio. Paul also stood before the judgment seat of Felix and Festus, the representative of Caesar, the Emperor of Rome.
Well Paul didn’t care about the judgment seat of a man. He cared about the judgment of Jesus Christ. All of will stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. He will judge us.
Go with me for a second to Romans 14:10. This is a very instructive chapter that has to deal with our personal decisions in issues of our conscience. Basically Paul tells the people, if you decide to participate in something don’t look down on people who chose not to. And if you choose not to participate in something, don’t judge the ones that do. And look at the motivation here.
Paul’s point is this: None of us are the judge. God is the judge. We will give an account to him. So whatever you decide to do, do it for the Lord. Not for yourself. Not for other people. For the Lord. And stop acting like you’re the judge of others. You aren’t going to give an account for the decisions of somebody else. You will give an account of yourself. Go back with me to 2 Corinthians 5.
Second Corinthians 5:10 says we will receive what is due for what we’ve done in the body, whether good or evil.
Now, this can’t mean that Christians are going to be punished for their sins. Jesus died for our sins. He paid the price. Romans 8:1 says: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We’ve been forgiven for our sins. We’ve been freed from the penalty. We’ve been delivered form God’s wrath because Jesus absorbed it on the cross. So whatever this judgment means doesn’t include some kind of punishment.
It also would not include some kind of discipline like Hebrews 12 talks about. In this life, God discplines us in love. That discipline is to make us holier, to sanctify us. But since Christ has come, we’ve already been glorified. The process of sanctification is complete. So this isn’t some kind of discipline to make us holier.
So what kind of judgment is this? Well, it helps us to know that the Bema seat Paul talked about was not just for judges and kings who condemned people.
It was also a word used for a referee in the Olympic Games or the Isthmian games, which were at Corinth. And it was the seat from which the winners of the events receive their rewards. Those who were victorious received their crown. And it’s the athletic Bema seat that Paul is using here.
That’s how we need to understand the judgment of believers. This is not a judgment of punishment. This is a judgment of rewards. If you remember the words of John 5:24 it said that whoever believes Christ does not come into judgment. That’s talking about the judgment of punishment. Christians will not be condemned by God.
Will Christians be judged? Yes. But it’s a judgment for rewards. Not a judgment for punishment. The exact nature of those rewards in not completely clear. People have different ideas about what it will be. But we know it will be glorious. And it will be a result of His righteous judgment.
What’s being judged? Look at verse 10. It’s for the deeds we’ve done in the body. That just means while we were alive on earth. God will see what was good and what was bad.
Paul here isn’t talking about righteous and sinful. He’s talking about what was worthwhile and what was worthless. What had eternal and spiritual significance, versus what had no true impact.
There are a couple Greek words that mean “bad” in the sense of wicked or unrighteous. But those aren’t used here. The word here, although it can refer to an evil person, really highlights something that is substandard. Some that’s inferior in quality.
Poison is bad for you. It will kill you. But if you’re eating apples and one is amazing and the other is not so good, you might still say, that’s the good apple and that’s the bad apple. It doesn’t mean it’s poisonous, it just means it’s not up to par. It’s substandard. It’s not good. It’s not pleasing.
That’s what Paul’s getting at. Everything you do in life—what you think, what you say, what you do—has an impact. Some are very temporary. And some are eternal. The issue isn’t necessarily WHAT you’re doing, but HOW you’re doing it. Even some of the most mundane, ordinary activities (which aren’t sinful) can be used for eternal purposes. They can be an opportunity for praise and thanksgiving.
That’s why Paul said: Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
When Christ judges you, he’s going to perfectly know what was for his glory, and what was not. And the motivation here is: don’t consume your time with stuff that’s meaningless (even if it’s not sinful). Invest your life in what matters.
Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8 “bodily training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way. It holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
There’s another passage that really shows what this judgment will be like, and I want you to see it. Go to 1 Corinthians 3:12. We won’t spend a lot of time on it, but I want you to get the picture.
First Corinthians 3:12. Paul is talking about his own ministry, and he compares his own work to that of a building. The foundation is Christ, and Paul is building on that. 1 Cor 3:12-15.
There are high quality materials and there are sub-quality materials. When we used to go with Disaster Relief we always noticed what burned and what didn’t. The cheaper material burned. Pretty much the entire house. But if someone had gold or silver or diamonds or expensive jewels, they would survive the fire.
That’s Paul’s picture. The human eye sees the exterior. But on the Day of Judgment, we’ll see what really counts. All some of you see in my life is giving sermons on Sundays. Does that mean I’ll get a bigger reward? No. Not necessarily. The house might look big, but it could all be made of straw. One the flip side, a house might look small, but be made of gold. God will make it known. And whatever passes the test, we’ll be rewarded for it.
When the passage says, we suffer loss, it’s talking about a loss of a possible reward. We’re not losing something we actually have. We’re losing what we might have received.
It’s like a baseball pitcher who is on his way to a perfect game. And in the last couple innings a couple people get a hit. His team still wins, but he loses the prestige he could have earned. Any errors or mistakes don’t take away from the victory, but they do take away some of the reward.
I was reminded this week of a story of a Scottish preacher names Ian Maclaren. This was back in the late 1800s. Maclaren went to visit a little old lady in a small cottage. And the lady was crying. She said that she was sad because she had done so little for the Lord. And now that she’s old there’s not much left she can do. The pastor asked her, “What have you done with your life?”
The lady said: “Well, I washed dishes. I cooked three meals a day. I mopped floors. I mended clothing. I did everything a mother is supposed to do.” The pastor then asked her: “Well, where are your boys?”
The lady went on to explain that two of her sons had become missionaries in China. Another son had gone to Africa as a missionary, and God was working through him in a big way. And then the lady said: “Any my youngest, he’s only 19. And last night he came to me and said that God had laid Africa on his heart. And he said: ‘Mother, I’m going to Africa, but don’t worry about it because the Lord has shown me that I am to stay with you until you go home to glory. And then I’ll go to Africa. But until then I want to take care of you.”
Ian Maclaren looked at that little old lady, and he said: “Do you mean to tell me that the appraisal of your life is that you’ve only washed and ironed and cooked and run errands? When we get to heaven, I will gladly swap my mansion for yours. Somehow I believe it’s going to be nearer the throne.”
That pastor recognized that God will see things for what they really are. He sees what really matters. And He will reward us. Even for the things that may have seemed so trivial at the moment. If they were done for the glory of God they will be rewarded.
And something that you forgot long ago—some tiny act of kindness—Christ may reward you for. And He will say: “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was stranger and you invited me in. Naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me… Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me. Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Well done, good and faithful slave.”
If you have surrendered your life to Christ, Jesus will judge you for the purpose of rewarding you. The treasure you have laid up in heaven will be yours.
Do everything for the glory of God. Don’t waste the vast majority of your time absorbed in meaningless (temporary) pursuits—in worthless movies or comics or books or Netflix or Youtube or sports or whatever else. Ask yourself: “What advantage is this gaining for the glory of Christ? How much am I actually gaining with this?” And pursue the things that glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And be confident that you will be rewarded.
Let me close briefly by turning back to 2 Corinthians 5. Besides loving others and serving others and doing even ordinary things for the glory of God, there is one particular way we can be rewarded by Christ. And this is what drove Paul. Despite the persecution, despite the accusations. He was confident of His reward. He was certain that He would be judged by Christ. And so, his response comes in verse 11. The first phrase. 1 Cor 5:11a.
This is evangelism. This is discipleship. This is the Great Commission. This is ministry. He is pulled forward as he looks to the judgment of Christ. And he is pushed as he looks back on what Christ has done for him. 1 Cor 5:14-15, 17-18.
You want to live a life that demonstrates you believe in the judgment of God? Do want a life that will be reward by God? Give your life to persuade others. Give your life for Him who gave His life for you. Give your life to the ministry of reconciliation. Be God’s mouthpiece as you call people to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.