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This Christian Journey:

 

The Bema Seat

By Walter D. Huyck Jr., D. Min.

www.thischristianjourney.com

 

Everyone likes to win!  I have seen many leap for joy when they have won the victory, but I cannot recall seeing a loser leap for anything.  I remember going to a little league baseball game and watching a Methodist pastor leap upon the home plate fence while cheering on his son, who just hit his first home run.  His excitement ignited his son's team who went on to win a grand victory that day.  You see everyone just likes to win.

However, there are many Christians who have set themselves up for failure in the inevitable future.  They cannot win because they just don't know how to win.  The purpose for this study is to help Christians win when they face the Bema Seat of Christ, one day soon.  You see, the Bible tells us that every Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5.10).  As we stand before our Savior we will either suffer loss or receive rewards, maybe even a little of both (1 Cor 3.11-15).  Yet, you cannot be victorious if you do not know how to win.  The only way a person can win the victory in anything is to learn the rules, understand the goals, and develop the skills and ability necessary to earn the prize.

God has established some incentives for Christians who will discipline themselves to learn God's rules for life, understand God's goals, and develop the skills and abilities necessary to please Him.  You see, these rewards are not really about the individual believer, they are about pleasing God.  The rewards and the actions, disciplines, and characteristics that are required to earn them all lead us to a fulfilling relationship with our heavenly Father.  These Crowns and Privileges are not just about setting something up for yourselves in heaven, they are the outpouring of God's pleasure upon those who would love Him enough to strive for His purposes. 

Any Christian that will seek after God with his or her whole heart will quickly realize that they will not please God by happenstance.  As they begin to sincerely seek God they will quickly develop the disciplines of prayer, devotions, and serious Bible study.  For as they seek to be acceptable in the sight of God they will come to understand, rather quickly, that they will only experience the joy of God's approval if they learn what makes God happy and discover how to achieve those divine goals.

God has revealed to us, in His Word, the Bible, what He expects for His people.  He has also revealed that there are at least seven privileges and five crowns that can be earned by His children.  These rewards will be awarded to those Christians that overcome in this life.  These crowns and privileges will be awarded at the Bema (Judgment) Seat of Christ.  I have developed a chart that should help you as you study these scriptural rewards.

 Bema Seat Chart

The Seven Privileges

"Christians who are overcomers in God's Kingdom now are in store for special blessings in God's Kingdom later." [Dr. Tony Evans, The Overcomers of the Kingdom" [TOK], Tape LK104B, (The Urban Alternative, Dallas)].

An overcomer in the context of the seven Churches of the Revelation is not indicative of just simply being a Christian, for while all Christians overcome (1 John 5.5), not all Christians who overcome are overcomers.  All Christians have overcome their sinful natures by accepting Christ and receiving the adoption of sons.  However, all saints do not continue to overcome in the circumstances and situations of life, day to day.  Therefore, John in Revelation is referring us to living moment by moment in the overcoming presence of Jesus Christ.

1. The Church at Ephesus - The Intimacy of God's Presence (Revelation 2.7)

If there is one thing we know about this church it is that they were a very traditional or orthodox church.  They had their religious practices and had tenaciously performed what they called "God's work."  Indeed, they may have been doing the right things, however, they executed the labors of the church while leaving behind the heart of Christ. 

Perhaps they had become legalistic in their religious practices.  It seems the natural tendency to immediately point ones finger at the legalistic side of religious practice.  Yet, I think this goes a little deeper than just legalism.  This could represent a church that has just become so traditional and mechanical in their annual practices that they just could not be swayed by the Spirit of God.  I suppose that one indicator of such a church would be the frequent reference to the way they have always done things.  Keep in mind that Christ warned us against the use of vain (worthless) repetition (Matt 6.7). 

What did this church lack?  It's fault is described as the loss of their first love (Rev 2.4).  They had become so focused upon what they were doing that they had forgotten why they were doing it in the first place.  The emotion and devotion was lacking in their labor because they had lost intimacy with the Lord.  "God never meant for your duty toward Him to replace your love for Him.  Duty and devotion must always work side by side." [TOK]

What is the remedy?  "Repent, and do the first works." (Rev 2.5)  Do what you used to do.  When intimacy and devotion give way to duty, just go back to the courting stage of your relationship.  What brought you close to the Lord in the beginning will still bring you close to the Lord.  As a matter of fact, this is true for all of our relationships.

What do we need to do in order to overcome? We need to avoid a lack of intimacy and devotion for God.  The mechanics of duty without the inspiration and emotion of love is not what God is looking for.  He wants us to serve Him because we love Him and want to be near Him.

What is the reward?  "The Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."  This is the same tree that Adam and Eve stood around when they walked with God in the garden of Eden.  This tree is located in the midst of the paradise of God, the same place where God is.  Therefore, the reward will be the very presence of God.  These will be privileged to walk with Him, and to talk with Him, and to hear Him call them His own.  What Christian wouldn't want this?  This will be a special time set aside in eternity for those who maintain their devotion and intimacy with God in this life.  This does not include all Christians but is a special privilege set aside for unique individuals in God's Kingdom.

2. The Church at Smyrna -  The Crown of Life, Not hurt of the second death (Revelation 2.11).

The church of Smyrna was a hurting or persecuted Church.  They suffered through jail and martyrdom for their faith.  They were not suffering for their mistakes; they were suffering for their testimony.  It is important to notice that there is no rebuke given toward this Church.  There is no remedy for some mistake in their service or attitude toward God.  So, all they are told to do in order to overcome is remain faithful unto death.  No matter what might come their way, they just needed to bear through.  Keep in mind that not all Christians are faithful unto death.  The Bible says that Lot was a righteous man vexed by the evil conversation of the world (2 Pet 2.7-8).  Therefore, faithfulness in the midst of trial is the requirement for this privilege.

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  We need to face life's trials while maintaining our  faithfulness toward God.  The persecutions and temptations must be faced as Ambassador's for Christ.  Even if those persecutions lead us to a martyr's death. 

What is the reward? The Crown of Life.  Incidentally this is also often referred to as the martyr's Crown, and some teach that this crown will only be awarded to those who suffer a martyr's death.  Yet, there are others who teach that this Crown will be awarded to all who face persecution, in it's varying degrees, with faithfulness and honor in the sight of God. 

But just what does this phrase "not hurt of the second death" mean?  If all Christians are saved from the lake of fire and the second death, then how can a Christian be hurt by the second death?  The only way that a Christian can be hurt by the second death would be for the citizens of the second death to cause a Christian to suffer some kind of loss.  In this case, when faced with persecution rendered by the lost a Christian can suffer the loss of the Crown of Life by a lack of faithfulness in the face of that persecution.  Therefore, it is my view that this Crown is available not only to those who face martyrdom but to all who are faithful in the face of persecution.

3. The Church at Pergamos - The Stone With a New Name  (Revelation 2.17).

The church at Pergamos was a compromising church.  This church is described under the terms of Balaam and Balak.  Balaam taught Balak how to lure the Israelites to intermarry with pagans and in so doing to loose God's blessings because they had disobeyed God.  Then God would eventually bring judgment upon the Jews and thus Balak would eventually prevail against the Jewish nation.  We also know that as the Jews began to intermarry they would also begin to bring idolatry into their nation through their households.  The effect of compromise is that it will always take you farther than you really wanted to go.

If we act one way on Sunday and then act a different way on the other days of the week then we are compromising.  We often compromise by looking at those that live around us.  We compare ourselves to them and say to ourselves, "self, you are doing pretty good.  You may not be perfect, but at least you don't do what they do."  The truth is, you are not asked to compare yourself to your neighbor.  You are called upon to compare yourself to Jesus, and only Jesus.  Anything else is compromise.

What is the remedy?  Repent.  Turn away from your compromises and turn toward God.

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  Stop compromising with the world.  If you start compromising then you will find yourself fighting against God while trying to please a sinful world.

What is the reward?  The manna is food that God supplied for the people of Israel while they were wandering through the wilderness.  Therefore, God has a hidden supply that will be given only to the overcomers.  This is a meal that is coupled to a white stone with a name written in it.  This stone is similar to a theater ticket.  It gave you access to some special event.  A stone with your name written on it is indicative of a special pass to an event; Tony Evans describes this as a season ticket holder.  However, in John's day this special stone entitled one not only to a season pass but also to royal treatment.  When you entered the gate there was a special envoy waiting to escort you to a special seating area with servants present to wait on you during the special event.

So the overcomers will be privileged to special dinning arrangnments with Jesus Christ unlike those who did not achieve such status.

4. The Church at Thyatira - Ruling Authority  (Revelation 2.26-28).

This Church is an unholy church.  This is the longest message to the churches given to the smallest city in the region.  Someone referred to as Jezebel ran this Church.  This is probably referring to blatant sin in the midst of the Church.   Consider that fornication, which is sexual impurity, is specifically mentioned.  As well as the eating of things sacrificed to idols, which is not only indicative of worshipping idols, but indicates ones intent to be a part of the idol and what it represents.  These individuals are described as engaging themselves in the very depths of Satan (Rev 2.24).

What is the remedy?  Repent.  Stop placating sin and call it what it is.  Notice that the death of the children of these individuals is the judgment for a failure to repent.  For most of us our children are the most important aspects of our lives.  Yet, for many caught in the depths of sin even their children fall into obscurity.  What a sad thought!

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  Stop sinning.  The overcomer is called upon to hold fast to what they do have.  The greatest deterrent to sin is the Word of God.  The Word of God reveals the works of God to us and the overcomer is called upon to keep His (God's) works.

What is the reward?  To rule over the nations and the morning star.  The morning star is Jesus Christ (Rev 22.16).  This indicates that when we are given the authority to rule in God's coming kingdom we will be given the recognition of ruling for and with Jesus Christ.  This individual will be a truly empowered ambassador for Christ.

5. The Church at Sardis -  Recognized by Jesus Privately (Revelation 3.5).

This is a stagnant church.  They are likened to soiled garments, which are not worthy to be worn.  Yet, they are the only garments available.  It is interesting that Jesus refers them to garments because Sardis was a place that made garments.

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  They are told to keep their garments clean.  Just hang on to the things that they have received and heard.  They should endeavor to strengthen the things that are near to death.  Christians ought be alive; Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not death.

What is the reward?  Jesus will give them white garments.  These garments are indicative of a special event that will be hosted by Jesus Himself.  The book of life refers to a special guest list that will be referred to in eternity that will allow these people access to at least this special event, if not more.  At this particular event Jesus will confess these peoples names before God and the angels.  What an event that will be.

6. The Church at Philadelphia -  Recognized by Jesus publicly (Revelation 3.12).

This is a struggling church that is just trying to hold on.  It is apparent that some deceptive individuals have crept into the church and have seized control of the church.  They are leading the church in religious ceremonies that are almost lacking God.  Sounds like many of our churches today.

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  Hold fast to that which they have that no man take their crown.  It is apparent from this passage that a crown may be taken away.  A Christian that is a part of a church in this condition would have to be personally disciplined in order to stay the course.  They would have to spend considerable time in personal prayer and maintain their faithfulness toward God's Word.  They would have to walk individually with Jesus in personal devotions everyday in order to keep themselves alive to Christ in the midst of a misguided congregation.  They would truly have to hold fast to the things that they have in Christ.  I can almost picture these faithful saints cleaving to the side of a cliff, holding on for dear life. 

What is the reward?  They will be made a pillar in the temple of God.  A pillar is in the middle of the temple  is there for every one to see, as well as having the purpose of holding the temple up.  Thus an overcomer will be in God's ring of honor.  This individual will have a name placed upon him by God.  They will be publicly honor by Jesus Christ in eternity.  They will literally be placed in God's hall of fame.

7. The Church at Laodicea - To Sit With Jesus  (Revelation 3.21-22).

This church was lukewarm.  This is a picture of the nature of Laodicea, where the hot springs water from Herapolis, and the cold water from Colossi merged and made the water lukewarm.  Who wants lukewarm water, people want water that is either cold or hot.  This is a picture of a community that was right in the middle, they were religious and rich and really did not seem to have a need for God.  This is the Church that Jesus said He would spew out of His mouth.

What is the remedy?  Repent.  Isn't it interesting that the word repent in repeated so often throughout the letters to the churches.  What is the need for churches that just aren't what they ought to be with God?  They need to repent, turn from their own ways to the ways of God.  This church needed to become zealous, on fire, boiling hot, for God.

What do we need to do in order to overcome?  Stop pushing God out of the Church.  Jesus is seen on the outside of this church knocking to get in.  This church needed to let Jesus into their congregation and lives.  Jesus wanted to have an intimate relationship with these people and He also wants to have an intimate relationship with you, today.

What is the reward?  These overcomers will be allowed to sit in the throne of Jesus with Jesus.  It appears consistently throughout these letters to the churches that those who will have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus in this life will have an intimate relationship with Him in eternity.

The Five Crowns

At the Bema Seat of Christ Christians will be awarded crowns for certain accomplishments in this life.  While the privileges are things that will be experienced in eternity, the crowns are more tangible and will be carried from this judgment seat by the saint.  Now, I have met Christians who have said to me, "I don't really care if I receive a reward in heaven or not.  I just want to do my best to serve God day by day."  Well it seems that the privileges and the crowns are more than just rewards.  They are offered to us as a way for God to express His desires for us.  They let us know what we need to do to please God. 

Also, in the Revelation we find the elders, who are described as a picture of the Church in heaven, casting their crowns before the throne of Christ (Rev 4.10).  In essence, this illustrates that the people of God recognize that their ability to serve God to the point of even receiving a single crown is an evident token of God's grace.  Still, I would like to have a few crowns to throw out upon the crystal sea in eternity.  If you don't know what they are and how to get them the chances are that you won't just stumble across them.  They must be earned, and the truth is that anything worth having must be worked for.  This principle that God has placed in our daily lives will prove to be true in eternity as well.  Won't you strive to please God?

1.  The Incorruptible Crown  - For Striving For The Mastery (1 Cor 9.25-27).

In this text Paul is writing to a carnal church that has failed to achieve spiritual maturity.  They have divisions in their congregation and sin has been allowed to fester unchallenged.  In chapter nine Paul starts describing the disciplines that healthy Christians exercise as they grow to maturity and he uses the example of an athlete that disciplines himself to master his sport.  Paul explains that the crown will only be won by a single victor.  He then challenges Christians to strive for the mastery of the Christian life. 

What does a mastered Christian life look like?  It should be conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8.29).  It will look just like Jesus.

What is the reward for those that master the Christian life?  The Incorruptible Crown.

2. The Crown of Life  - For Enduring Persecution (Revelation 2.10).

If you recall this crown was addressed under the privileges when we considered the Church in Smyrna.  This crown is the one that will be awarded to those who overcome the trials of persecution.  By the way, God tells us in his word that if we are living godly lives in Christ Jesus that we will experience persecution (2 Tim 3.12).  So, you won't have to go out and look for trouble to get this crown.  You just focus on learning to live a godly life, in an intimate relationship with Jesus, and our adversary will come to you.  It would be best for you to get so close to Jesus that when he does arrive you can hide in Jesus strength and presence.  For it is not a question of whether you will experience persecution, but when.

3. The Crown of Glory  - For Feeding the Flock (1 Pet 5.2-4).

The context of this passage is that of an elder, which many teach is indicative of a pastor, shepherding and feeding the church of Jesus Christ.  For those who are good examples and take responsible oversight for their charges there will be the reward of a crown of glory that will never fade.  It may be possible that this crown may be available for spiritual Christians that are willing to take a mentoring role with new Christians in helping them with their spiritual development.  However, this is not the traditional view concerning this crown.

It is important to notice that this context is set in that of a shepherd caring for his flock.  Shepherds were hard working people.  Their work with their flock was more of a way of life than a job.  They had to be sure that their flock was constantly cared for.  Sheep are said to be some of the dumbest animals on earth.  They tend to wander off, have apparently no sense of impending danger, and have no way to defend themselves.  Yes, this does kind of sound like human beings.  Perhaps that is why God chose to use this illustration.  The key here is persistent, committed care.  Developing spiritual maturity is not easy or natural.  It is described in scripture as a struggle with an aggressive adversary.  It requires discipline, and discipline is not something that we all look forward to.  It's just hard work.

Yet, the rewards are great.  A crown of glory.

4. The Crown of Righteousness - For Those Who Love His Appearing (2 Tim 4.8).

In writing Timothy, Paul reminds him that there will come a time when people won't want to hear sound doctrine.  They will want to hear those things that will sound reasonable to them and will help them achieve their personal goals.  Yet, he encourages Timothy to stay the course and tells him that there will be a reward at the finish line for him.  The Crown of Righteousness.

Paul said that he had earned this crown because he fought the fight, he finished the course and he kept the faith.  Thus, we find that God had a plan for Paul's life, which Paul recognized and completed.  He was willing to stay the course set before him by God even when it led him into trying circumstances.  For Paul life was not about finding the path of least resistance or of greatest comfort, it was about fulfilling God's purpose for his life.  As a result he had earned the Crown of Righteousness.

This is the token of a life spent yearning for the appearance of Jesus Christ.  They are more concerned with pleasing their Savior than they are in pleasing themselves.  They are literally in love with Jesus Christ and long for His arrival.  These are the ones that will earn the crown of righteousness.

5. The Crown of Rejoicing - The Soul-Winners Crown (1 Thes 2.19-20).

It has often been said that when this life is over you can take nothing with you into eternity.  That is not entirely true.  There is one thing that you can take with you when you die.  That is the souls that you lead to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  This is the expression that Paul makes in this passage.  He is saying that his crown of rejoicing will be the brethren in Christ that he has had the privilege of  leading to Christ and nurturing to spiritual maturity.  What an awesome experience it will be to see people that you shared the gospel with in heaven. 

However, if there is one thing I know about Soul-Winning it is that it doesn't Just happen.  People share the good news of Jesus Christ because they intend to.  It takes planning and preparation to lead someone to a saving knowledge of the Savior.  Therefore, the only ones that will earn this Crown of rejoicing will be those who decide to seek the lost with the purpose of leading them to Jesus Christ.  It's not all that hard to do, but it does take purpose and resolve.

What will you set aside for yourself in heaven?

In our culture today we hear a lot about retirement plans and saving for the future.  Yet, I think that many people miss the most important investments in life.  There are some eternal investments that we can make during our lives that will remain long after we have left this life.  When you step into eternity and stand before the Bema (Judgment)  Seat of Christ will you hear Him say well done my good and faithful servant, as He is awarding you the crowns and privileges He wants to give you?  Or will you suffer loss as your wood, hay and stubble are consumed by the fire of His presence.

I hope you will make an eternal investment in your future!

 



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