What is the difference between the judgment seat of Christ and the white throne of judgment? One will evaluate the actions of every believer for the purpose of rewards; the other assesses the lives of all unbelievers. Let’s examine a few scriptural passages regarding these two end-time judgments.
A. The Judgment Seat of Christ
Scripture is clear that entrance into eternal life is already settled for those who have placed their trust in Jesus (John 3:16). However, at the judgment seat of Christ, He will determine the degree of eternal rewards believers deserve, based on their deeds.
No verse specifies when we will stand before the Lord. But Dr. Stanley believes this judgment will take place either after our death or following the rapture of believers, whichever comes first. We know that we will appear with Christ in our glorified bodies at the second coming (Rev. 19:14), which means we will face judgment before that time. (Jesus’ return to earth as a conquering king marks the end of tribulation and the beginning of His thousand-year reign.)
Read 2 Corinthians 5:10.
- Imagine facing the Lord to give an account of your life. What do you expect this will be like?
- In light of the judgment seat of Christ, what renewed perspective do you have on your worries, goals, and frustrations?
- Describe the result of the evaluation, according to verse 10.
Read Romans 14:10-12.
- What point does Paul make about how the coming judgment should affect our interactions with fellow believers (v. 10)?
- How could you apply this truth to a difficult relationship?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. In this passage, Paul compares the walk of faith to the construction of a home, and he describes the basis on which our lives will be judged.
- Think about the negative qualities of wood, hay, and straw as building materials. Why might Paul have chosen them to represent worthless deeds and sinful actions?
- Why are gold, silver, and precious stones good metaphors for worthy deeds?
- What will believers receive if their works were righteous and useful to God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 3:14)?
- What is the fate of a believer whose life was filled with worthless deeds or good works done with a selfish motive (1 Cor. 3:15)? What do you think this means?
At this judgment, believers will not be condemned, though they may feel ashamed or remorseful over their foolish choices (Rom. 8:1; 1 John 2:2).
B. The Great White Throne
The second judgment involves unbelievers—those who lived independently of the Lord. It takes place after the rapture, judgment seat of Christ, tribulation, millennial reign of Christ, and the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 20:4-11). It evaluates the deeds of those who never accepted Jesus’ offer of a new life in Him.
Read Revelation 20:11-15. In verse 11, the throne is called “great” because it is important or elevated (Isa. 6:1). Its whiteness might symbolize righteousness and/or indicate that it is splendid or shining.
What does Revelation mean by “earth and heaven fled away” (v. 11)? This figurative language conveys that when Jesus appears to judge the world, all mankind will see the awesomeness of the Lord. Everything else will appear to fade away in contrast.
- In what two ways are the lost evaluated (Rev. 20:13, 15)?
Notice how similar the apostle John’s description is to the judgment in Daniel 7:9-10. This scene, which is reminiscent of a human courtroom, is composed of a judge, the accused, and a written document listing the transgressions of those waiting to be judged (Rev. 20:12).
- Throughout history, the deeds of billions have been recorded in heaven. What does that fact indicate about the awesomeness of our God?
- What words indicate that all strata of society will stand before this throne (v.12)?
- At the time of this revelation, Christians were cruelly persecuted for their faith. What purpose(s) might John have had for describing the punishment of non-believers?
Matthew Henry’s “Commentary” explains the unusual terminology of verse 13: “The grave [or the earth] shall surrender the bodies of men, hell shall surrender the souls of the wicked, [and] the sea shall surrender the many who seemed to have been lost in it.”
- The “first death” describes separation of the soul from the body until judgment. At the second death, from whom are the lost separated (v. 14)?
- The lake of fire is the place of eternal punishment commonly known as hell. What is the only way that people escape it (v. 15)?
- How can a person make sure that his or her name is recorded in the book of life (John 3:36)?
Closing: God’s Word clearly teaches that all people—whether saved or not—will stand before Jesus one day to be judged. Believers will answer for their deeds at the judgment seat of Christ, and the lost will face Him at the great white throne. Wise men and women will prepare for Jesus’ judgment by living in light of eternity.
Prayer: Thank you, Father, for the gift of Your Son and for eternal life, which is available to anyone who will accept Your forgiveness. Empower us to share the hope we have, and help us honor You with our deeds and actions. On the day of judgment, may we hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.