But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (NKJV)
It is also in 2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (NKJV)
The judgment seat is also called the Bema in Greek and is often identified as the raised platform Pontius Pilate sat on when he judged Jesus Christ. However, Paul, who wrote Romans and 2 Corinthians, used the term Bema in the context of of a judge's chair at athletic games on the Greek isthmus. Paul envisioned Christians as competitors in a spiritual contest, receiving their awards.
The Judgment Seat is Not About Salvation
The difference is important. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not judgment over a person's salvation. The Bible is clear that our salvation is by grace through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, not through our works:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18, NIV)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1, NIV)
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12, NIV)
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, only Christians will appear before Jesus, to be rewarded for their works done in his name while they were on earth. Any references to loss at this judgment concerns loss of rewards, not salvation. Salvation has already been settled through Jesus' redeeming work.
Questions About the Judgment Seat
What will those rewards be? Bible scholars say they include such things as praise from Jesus himself; crowns, which are symbols of victory; heavenly treasures; and ruling authority over parts of God's kingdom. The Bible verse about "casting crowns" (Revelation 4:10-11) means we will all throw our crowns at Jesus' feet, because only he is worthy.
When will the Judgment Seat of Christ happen? The general belief is that it will occur at the Rapture, when all believers will be taken up from the earth to heaven, before the end of the world. This judgment of rewards will take place in heaven (Revelation 4:2).
The Judgment Seat of Christ will be a serious time in each believer's eternal life but should not be an occasion for fear. Those appearing before Christ at this time have already been saved. Any sorrow we experience over lost rewards will be more than made up for by those rewards we do receive.
Christians should reflect on the seriousness of sin now and the Holy Spirit's prompting to love our neighbor and do good in Christ's name while we can. The deeds we will be rewarded for at the Judgment Seat of Christ will not be those done out of selfishness or a desire for recognition, but because we understand that on earth, we are the hands and feet of Christ, bringing glory to him.