2 Corinthians 5:10 & 11 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”
There can be few themes as solemn as this. One day every single one of us is going to be held personally accountable by the Creator of the universe for our entire lives. “On the day of judgment,” said Christ, “men will render account for every careless word they utter,” (Matt. 12:36). We men and women are going to be answerable to our God for the things we have done while in the body, whether good or bad. Compared to Jehovah God we are like insignificant specks of dust, sustained throughout our brief existence entirely by his providential care. Our very breath is in his hand. But the Lord has made man alone in his image and likeness, and so we, even more than the angels themselves, are the most accountable beings in the universe. Every individual possess a real freedom which true responsibility entails, and Almighty God himself is going to evaluate our relationship with him, and with one another, and how we have spent our years. A day is coming when he will confront us and pass his judgment upon us. Think of it! This is the theme of these words before us. May God help us to face up to them and their implications for our entire lives.
1. THERE IS A JUDGMENT SEAT BEFORE WHICH WE MUST APPEAR.
Our text makes this fact starkly clear: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v.10). Paul is referring to the tribunal on which the Roman governor sat to hear accusation and defence of an accused person standing before him. Christ will have his tribunal! You think of the climactic words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matt.7:21-23). There, right at the beginning of the New Testament, and at the commencement of the ministry of this rabbi from Nazareth, we are being confronted with a self-consciousness of staggering proportions. “All mankind are going to appear before me,” he claims, “and I will determine their eternal destinies.” Those are the words of an egotistical maniac, or they are the words of the living God, and all the despising and rejection which Jesus endured for three years did nothing to change that conviction. At the end of his life he still speaks about it even expanding his description of that event: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matt. 25:31-33). There are certain times in the course of a year when a shepherd has to separate his goats from his sheep. He must drive them through different gates into different fields. He will keep them apart. Thus the Christ who has watched mankind, does know infallibly who are his own sheep and who are the goats, and in that tremendous day he will separate them, one from the other. This is what Jesus the Son of God claimed. These are the words of the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who raised the dead, who spoke to the storms and they were stilled.
Consider how the disciple Jesus loved, the apostle John, describes that same day in the book of Revelation: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, death and hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15). Or again think what the apostle Paul told some Europeans when he was visiting Athens, speaking to an audience which included actual Greek philosophers: God “now … commands all men 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 men by raising [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Or think of the most compressed statement of all: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebs. 9:27).
We are saying that this is the witness of the entire Bible. So far I have quoted only the New Testament, but don’t we also find a God who judged our first parents when they defied him? Did he not judge the world at the time of Noah? Did he not disperse the people at the Tower of Babel? What of the judgment that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah? Did not the bones of his own people Israel lie bleaching in the wilderness when they defied him and they perished before ever reaching the land of promise? His condemnation was the sufficient barrier which prevented their arrival there. What of the judgements that came upon Egypt, and Assyria, and Babylon, and the ten northern tribes, and the two southern tribes? I say, does not the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, speak of a God who will judge the world? You remove that truth and the whole Bible disintegrates. Is not the justice of God the foundation on which the cross of the Lord Jesus is erected? Would he have suffered, bled and died if God were not a God of justice?
But does not your conscience – as those favoured people who have come within the orbit of the Christian faith to different degrees – tell you that this is indeed so? Let the criminal beware. He may be a murderer, or a rapist, or a thief, and he has got away Scot free with all his monstrous actions. He pushes his trolley to the check-out till in the supermarket. He watches the lottery draw on a Saturday night, and he drinks with his mates in the “Bull and Bush”. Few suspect the cruelty he has inflicted and the lives he has destroyed. But God does know – “Thou, God, seest me.” That criminal’s evil deeds are going to meet him some time. He has sowed a wind. He will reap a whirlwind. No one can hide from God or from himself. In the darkest areas of paganism, however limited their knowledge of God, in those lands they yet believe in a deity who judges. If the devils believe and tremble surely sinners will. When Paul reasoned of judgment to come with one such man whose name was Felix that man trembled. The people on the shore of the island of Malta watched with horror as a viper fastened on the hand of the apostle Paul just after he had just swum ashore on driftwood from a shipwreck. They cried out to one another, “This castaway must be a murderer. He can’t escape the condemnation of God. Vengeance would not suffer him to live.” Even they, who had never heard of the name of Jesus, believed that we are living in a world in which what we sow that we also reap. They made a wrong application of that truth, but their conscience bore witness to the inescapability of judgment.
That is the foundation of the comfort of the grieving relatives of children abused and murdered by unknown criminals. Those parents go over and over in their minds what they imagine to have been the last hour of their little girl’s life, thinking of her pleas, and fear, and screams and cries for Mummy and Daddy, and hate themselves for not being there when their little one needed them the most. They think, “That man, whoever he is, will go to hell for what he did.” God has appointed a day of judgment. But when it is no one knows, not even the angels in heaven. God has withheld that information from all mankind. Even one minute before the time there will not be a single person in the world who will have been given prior information. That it is coming let all men be persuaded, as sure as the earth is round, and night follows day: when it is coming no man knows.
2. IT IS NECESSARY FOR ALL TO APPEAR BEFORE IT.
“we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v.10). “We must,” says the apostle, and that necessity is rooted in a number of factors. It is earthed in the glory of God. In other words it is not for the purpose of letting God find out about men and women. We know that they have lived and moved and had their being in him. God knows what our minds are thinking at this very moment. He doesn’t need others to bring evidence for him to sift. This is not the wise Solomon sitting on the throne and listening to claims and counter claims. This is the omniscient God to whom King Solomon himself must give account. In this judgment God’s glory as the just one, and the righteous one, and the fair one, and the straight one will shine forth before all creation. There will be no resentment in eternity that there were miscarriages of justice before this throne. No husband in heaven will whisper to his wife that he is lucky to be there, that he is delighted that certain facts didn’t come out. No sinners in hell will go on a hunger strike because of the injustice and over-severity of their sentence. Not one. The day of judgment will magnify the truth that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. God’s universe is a fair universe. “The wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:25). In all of heaven and earth and hell the glory of God’s utter integrity will be acknowledged in how he dealt with every single one of his creatures. That is the prime reason for this awesome event.
Again the ‘must’ of the apostle is rooted in the inequalities of this earth. Innocent men are sent to prison. Wealthy criminals pay lawyers to organise a not-guilty verdict. The men who chopped off the hands of men and women in the horrible civil war in Sierra Leone grow old and fat while the impoverished mothers struggle to nurture their babies without hands with which to hold them. Those who did such things have so destroyed their consciences that they have persuaded themselves that what was done was right, and they sleep at night in peace. The godly have been burnt at the stake, kept in stinking wet dungeons without light until they have gone mad. They have been hung, and drawn, and quartered while multitudes spectated. Yet Christ has pronounced them to be blessed. One day his blessing will be seen to be theirs. There must come a day when injustice ends and there is a righteous distribution of punishments and rewards. “All of history cries out for world judgment. The whole creation longs for it. All people witness to it. The martyrs in heaven cry for it with a loud voice. The believing community prays for the coming of Christ. And Christ himself, the Alpha and Omega, says, ‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work,’ (Rev.22:12-13)” (Herman Bavinck, “The Last Things,” Baker, 1996, p.140).
A philosopher has said, “The history of the world is the judgment of the world” (Schiller). In other words the Nazis did their wickedness and judgment came upon them. The Stalinists did their wickedness and judgment came upon them, and so on. The drug barons are doing their wickedness and judgment will come upon them. There is some truth there, but if that is the only judgment that exists then judgment had become some natural process like a pattern of ecological abuse and the ensuing dust-bowl. Judgment has become pantheistic. All that men have is the natural order, and confused ideas that most things will work out in the end, as they wish. But Christ was not vague. He spoke of a reward that will be ‘great in heaven’, that is, in the presence of God. It will be a reward bestowed by Jesus Christ. There are also going to be degrees of punishment. You compare a Chinese peasant woman who lived a life of unrelieved hardship 500 years ago, never having heard of the Lord Jesus, with a Lancashire doctor who kills about 200 patients with lethal injections. The dead will be judged “by what they had done” (Rev. 20:12,13). There must be an evaluation of the works men have done. Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating” (Luke 12:47-48). For some men it would have been better for them to have been citizens of Tyre and Sidon than to have been exposed to the truth and power of Christ. There will be scribes who will receive greater condemnation (Lk. 20:47).
Consider the coming of Christ into the world and one remark he made. He said that it was for judgment he had come into the world. The word he used is the one from which we get our word ‘crisis.’ People who heard and saw him were thus brought to a point of crisis about him. They could not sit on the fence. If they were not for him then they were against him. There were also those who thought they could ‘see’ through him, and they had decided Jesus was an evil man, and they opposed him at every step of his life. They ended up not only crucifying him but mocking him as he hung on the cross. They were, in fact, displaying just how blind they were. They were themselves facing a crisis of judgment, being condemned by their attitude to Christ. Whereas there were others brought to a crisis who would beat their breasts and wouldn’t even look up to heaven but sighed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Such a man was in fact declared righteous. In other words, sinners might think they can come to church and can pass judgment on the preacher and the sermon and even on the Christ who is being preached and whether they are going to choose to follow him and when, or not. But is it the Lord who is facing a day of crisis, wondering how many supporters he is going to get? In fact the crisis they are facing is about themselves, their futures and their eternities. The confrontation is a judgment on them, not on him. He is not the one being judged. He is not in the dock. He is where he has been for 2000 years and will be for ever, on the throne of the universe. It is sinners who are being judged in their response to him. He is beyond judgment. So all must appear before him in that day for the secret judgements to be declared from the house-tops, and those who merely said “Lord, Lord,” but were never loved by Christ, to be manifest as the liars they are.
3. ALL CREATION MUST APPEAR BEFORE CHRIST TO BE JUDGED.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v.10). Angels are going to be judged, and we are going to be involved in their judgment. If that is so then this judgment, of which our text speaks, has nothing to do with the on-going process of self-judgment that is continually taking place in the life of Mr Everyman. This occasion, when angels will be summoned before Christ, is not that judgment. This will be an utterly supernatural event in which the entire Christian four-fold view of man will be vindicated. The angels who pre-historically rebelled against God – before Adam was created – who at that time were swept out of heaven and banished for ever – they will be brought to the judgment seat of Christ. The great Serpent himself who seduced our first parents – he will be condemned to the place where he will not die, where the false prophet will be, and all who have been seduced by him. Those angels also who refused to take part in that rebellion will be judged and vindicated at Christ’s throne.
Do you see the implications of that for ourselves? If the grace of God can make us competent to judge the angels – and one angel could destroy the entire Assyrian army – doesn’t that mean that whatever the issues this congregation will have to face in the future our sufficiency in handling them will come to us from God? Let’s not be afraid of officers’ meetings and church meetings and those rare periods when one crisis seems to hurry on the heels of another crisis into the life of a congregation. Consider the words of the apostle: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life” (I Cor. 6:2-3). The grace of careful evaluation, and wise discernment, and justice tempered with mercy will be given. Remember John saw in paradise thrones, and “seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed” (Rev. 20:4). Throughout history God has placed in human hands mighty issues of judgment, and he says that repenting believing sinners whom the gospel church declares to be forgiven he also recognises them as forgiven. The Head and the members are one.
Then we must say this, that unbelievers also will be judged, the great and the small. Paul says, “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed … he will render to every man according to his works … for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:5-7). This is the grand assize, the greatest gathering in all history. Adam shall see all his posterity at once. “When God sees that the crimes of men have made them ripe for judgment, then judgment will commence. It will come when men will not expect such an event. Mankind will be sleeping securely in sin when the last trumpet will sound. And though many guilty men and women have resisted the sound of the Gospel trumpet, they must hear the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God on the last day. The great trumpet will sound, perhaps, at midnight, but at any rate it will be midnight to sinners.
“They must appear naked, and none can conceal their vices. The mark of sin will appear upon their bodies according to what they have committed … deformed with the burdens of their lusts and vices. The people who spent their time idle, in drinking, dancing and feasting, will have no music then, but the screams of wicked men and women, their companions in sin … They will rise out of their graces, and, O, what a nauseous sight will their ugly bodies appear. The scars that their uncleanness and drunkenness fixed upon their own persons will appear most abominable in the sight of God and his holy angels ….
“Great kings and conquerors that filled the earth with desolation and murder, from Nimrod to the last tyrant and murderer will appear there. Wicked great men that made a bad use of their power and oppressed their poor people, villains of all kinds who cheated their fellow creatures by different kinds of tricks, wicked clergymen who destroyed their people by indifference, false doctrines or bad example, false professors who took no pains to obtain grace and did nothing to promote the gospel will appear there …” (Lachlan Mackenzie, “The Happy Man,” Banner of Truth, 1979, p.160). The greatness of men’s persons does not exempt them from Christ’s tribunal. Millionaires, oil sheikhs, the President of the USA, the leaders of China and Russia, African tyrants, prison governors, headmasters, TV personalities, policemen and criminologists will be there. The Rolling Stones will be there. Hollywood will be there. Every TV personality will be there with all the acting persona stripped away. The makers of porn, the drug manufacturers, the men of violence – all will be there utterly exposed. Every poser will be present. There will be no bushes for these children of Adam to hide behind. We must all appear, and appear in our own persons; not by proxy.
How explicit should we Christians be in bringing a sinner’s sin to a sinner’s conscience to warn him of this tremendous day? I judge, much more specific than preachers are. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men” (v.11 KJV). I have just quoted to you from Lachlan Mackenzie’s great sermon on this very text. He was preaching in the far north of Scotland in the remote parish of Lochcarron with remarkable effect. He was one of a brotherhood of preachers in that area who did not preach past or over the people, but to them, with authority, unction, wisdom, fervour and love. He was preaching 200 years ago, but listen to the manner he persuaded sinners, and think of what goes on in the streets around this church on a Saturday night
“We read in Scripture (Rev. 2:20) of a woman called Jezebel who seduced the servants of Christ to commit fornication. She got time to repent and did not repent …What shall we say then of people who keep a place and plenty of intoxicating liquor and plenty of food and music to raise their spirits? When these young fellows rise to dance and see a number of well-dressed, good-looking young women jumping and dancing before them, their lusts are inflamed. Heated with whisky and mad with passion, we leave to your consciences to judge what they made do when they get out into a dark night. Is it the work of God or the work of the devil they are likely to be engaged in? Jezebel seduced young people to commit fornication, and when a Jezebel to this day gives people plenty of beauty and plenty of music, is not this the strongest advice she can give men when they see young women – to be base with them? Dancing and strong drink made the children of Israel to commit whoredom with the daughters of Midian. O, ye graceless, unnatural mothers, how can you suffer you and your daughters to frequent such places? What can those sinners say for themselves? The blood of these young people will be at your doors. You do not believe the Gospel that there will be such a day as this. But among all the sinners in the nation there will not be in that day a single unbeliever. You may do all you can to hinder the success of the Gospel, but you cannot succeed. In that great day angels will tie up the tares in bundles to burn them, and the persons who gave them liquor to tempt and inflame them will have the heaviest part of the punishment. Take care, for this doctrine renders you inexcusable. I am free of your blood” (op cit. p. 162). So we are saying that angels, and that all unbelievers will appear at Christ’s judgment throne.
Again, we have to say that Christians must appear before that throne. “We,” Paul says, and he stands in solidarity with the whole Corinthian church. Not “they”, not “you”, but we must all appear there. Paul too will stand and give an account. He writes to the Romans and he says to them, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God … Each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10, 12). Does not Christ tell us so very plainly (Matthew 25:31-46) of the sheep who also are appearing before him in that great day and his rewarding them for serving him?
What can we say about the judgment of Christians? It will be a judgment of vindication for his people, not of humiliation. This judgment will present them as they truly are in the sight of Absolute Reality himself. They stood before earthly courts and tribunals of the professing church. Inquisitions decided to burn them alive, and tyrants sent their troops against them and massacred them by the thousand. “Evil men!” cried the world. “Men worthy of the foulest tortures! The scum of the earth. Let us perform all sorts of abominations on their persons. Let us rape them, and saw them in half.” But on this day of judgment Christ will cry, “Come ye blessed ones. Enter the joy of your reward.”
We can say that it will be a judgment of evaluation. There will be ministers of the Christian religion whose television shows are being broadcast all over the world, who claim they can heal the sick and have raised the dead. They are the liars to whom believers still send millions hoping that their cancers will disappear, and itching that they will soon be living luxuriously and lavishly just like these coiffured preachers who fly around the world in their private jets. But these ministers are the ones who must give account of what they have been building for Jesus. “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (I Cor. 3:12-15). What surprises there will be in that day!
In our text the apostle says that, “each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (v.10). There is a good woman whose husband is so afflicted he can no longer gesture or speak a word. He no longer even recognises her, and yet she chooses to minister to all his needs. She says, “I love him, and I promised that I would be his wife in sickness and in health.” God rejoices over her. Her life is a fragrant offering well-pleasing in his sight, and God longs to honour her before his archangels and the whole church on this great day. She will receive what is due to her for the things done while in the body. Great will be her reward. There will be unknown ministers who have pastored little churches in the inner city for many years who have seen their congregations decline as families have drifted out of the area and the shadowlands culture of drugs, prostitution and crime have taken their place. Those faithful holy men who have witnessed to Christ in the face of such discouragement will also be honoured in that day.
The Lord told the parable of the pounds, and one man who made ten pounds more will be told, “You shall have authority over ten cities.” Think of it. He had little authority in the red light district of the city where he laboured, but after the day of judgment he will have authority over ten cities. The man whose pound had made five more will be told, “And you are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:19). The Bible is unmistakably clear on this subject that there will be degrees of reward for believers at the final judgment while the joy of every single Christian will yet be full and complete for eternity. Our happiness will no longer depend on our status and position and power but in our delight in the will of God. Any decision God makes about us or concerning those whom we love will be perfect as far as we are concerned. If the apostles must have higher status in heaven than ourselves we wont sulk. What a privilege to be in heaven and to be welcomed there by God – whatever reward he gives us or chooses to withhold. Should we not take this to heart, and do all we can to encourage and help one another so that their heavenly reward were increased? Shouldn’t members of a congregation consider their pastor to stir him up to love and be zealous in good works, encouraging him, “and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
So the word of God makes it clear that all of us Christians must be judged, for everything that we have done “while in the body, whether good or bad”. When the Lord comes, he will “bring to light the things now done in darkness and will disclose the purpose of the heart” (I Cor. 4:5), just how much self-serving and self-promotion might there be hiding behind all our fine words about “only serving the Lord”. It is an awesome subject. What is the New Testament saying? “On the day of judgment must we Christians have to live through observing our sins all over again, but this time with the eyes of all the world on them too?” we fearfully ask. How could this be our entrance to heaven?
John Newton, the hymn-writer who wrote ‘Amazing Grace’, was the supreme Christian letter-writer. The six volumes of his works have been reprinted and in the very first volume there is a fine biography, and then one helpful letter after another. In the third letter a Christian writes to him and quotes this text of ours and he asks Newton, “Will the sins of believers be publicly declared at the great Day?” This is clearly a theme that has troubled Christians from the very beginning. What a wonderfully helpful letter John Newton writes to him in his bracing, lucid, friendly manner. He says, in effect, that we have to acknowledge how little we know about that great day, and that he does not want to “darken counsel by words without knowledge.” But after reading our text carefully John Newton is sure of one thing, he says that the fact that we are going to be judged “cannot be designed to weaken what we are taught, in almost every page, of the free, absolute, and unalterable nature of a believer’s justification; the benefit of which, as to the forgiveness of sin, is signified by the phrases of ‘blotting out,’ ‘not remembering,’ ‘casting behind the back,’ and ‘into the depths of the sea.’ The sins of a believer are so effectually removed, that even when, or if, they are sought out, they cannot be found. For Jesus has borne them away: believers are complete in him, and clothed in his righteousness. They shall stand before God without spot or wrinkle. Who shall lay anything to their charge?” (John Newton, “Works,” Vol.1, p.150, Banner of Truth reprinted 1985). What great comfort that is! Never forget that.
But what about the fact “that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad”? (v.10). John Newton says that the though the Lord chooses not to remember our sins he does not and cannot forget anything, nor will we ourselves ever forget what we have done. What have been the sweetest times of our lives in a spiritual sense? Have they not been when we have been aware of our sins and at the same time have known that these are forgiven sins, and we have a deep sense of our acceptance in the beloved? Sinners, yes, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Think of the searching sermons you have heard when your sins were brought to your attention. Were not those great unforgettable occasions for you? Think of those occasions of the outpouring of the Spirit in mighty awakenings, when God seemed very near, and the response in some was to publicly confess their sins. That was never encouraged, but the awareness of their vileness constrained them to speak like that. John Newton says profound words, “When we arrive in glory, unbelief and fear will cease for ever: our nearness to God and communion with him, will be unspeakably beyond what we can now conceive. Therefore the remembrance of our sins will be no quenching of our bliss, but rather the contrary” (ibid). John Newton reminds us of the terror of the Israelites when they saw Pharaoh’s chariots thundering across the desert towards them. But after the judgment of God fell on them the sight of the same dead soldiers and horses and useless chariots half buried in the desert sands gave them no fear at all. The more they saw the more rejoiced at their great deliverance. “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea.”
So it is with our sins. I could not bear you to see projected on a screen behind me the sins of my heart and thoughts and imaginations even for these past months. I don’t want my wife and my daughters and grandchildren to know what a sinner I am, yet I realise that I know my sins only in part. But that is a very odd reaction on my part; am I in fact more concerned about your not seeing my sins – and you are my fellow-sinners – than I am about how my sins appear in the sight of the pure and holy God? I am more concerned about your disapproval than the living God’s! Why is that? Because of pride and self. There can be no other reason. But when I get to heaven I will no longer be bothered by pride and self. It will be rooted out of me. I shall feel no reluctance that men and angels and devils know the very worst of me. I will be before God as a trophy of his glorious grace. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain it.” But I have witnessed this spirit in one particular friend of mine. I have been writing about someone in his family, and so I have wrestled with whether to refer to a fall in my friend’s life. How can I let other people in the world know about this? The reality of love is that it covers a multitude of sins. I don’t want to tell a single person about my brother’s fall. So I have talked to him about this, and wondered about mentioning anything of this in the book, but he has said to me, “Geoff, you can say anything about me. I am a trophy of grace.” Now that is very great grace in his life. His mind has been brought into accord with the mind of God. The forgiveness for these sins magnifies the immensity of the divine mercy. So it will be in the day of judgment. Our text makes it plain that before the judgment-seat of Christ we are going to receive what is due to us for the bad things we have done while in the body, and yet we shall lift up our heads and cry, “Blessed Judge! Blessed judgment! Blessed rod! It is all true and fair. While I was following Christ I was yet a great sinner, but he laid those sins to my surety Jesus Christ on the cross and has forgiven me them all.”
So all will be judged, angels, demons, the world, the church. How comprehensive that judgment will be. None will be omitted. There will be no hurrying over lesser cases. Maybe this Day of the Lord could last a thousand years as the Lord will address each one of us in turn with the greatest thoroughness. There will be no miscarriage of justice through any undue haste. We will have all of eternity in which to hear the divine judgements. It will all be enthrallingly to the glory of the righteous Lord.
4. CHRIST WILL BE THE JUDGE.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v.10). He has told us it must be so: “The Father has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). It is what many churches confess each week when they repeat the Apostles’ Creed: Christ “shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.” That honour has been given to the Saviour. He who was himself judged, shall be judge. He who once hung upon the cross, shall sit upon the throne of judgment. How fitted he is to be the judge of all mankind. He is man, and so can be seen by all who stand before him. It is necessary that the judge be observed. “Behold, he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). He is God, and so he has unlimited knowledge to perfectly judge all who stand before him. He has infinite power to accomplish a just sentence on all whose case he hears. He is so wise that he cannot be deluded, and so strong that he cannot be resisted. His judgements will be utterly impartial. He can take every single factor into consideration. He cannot be bought by gold, for he has everything. He cannot be intimidated because all authority in heaven and earth is his.
Jesus! The name high over all
In heaven or earth or sky.
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.
So it is the highest court in the whole universe. In our world men can appeal to a higher court, to the House of Lords, to the Supreme Court, to the European Court, but there is no higher court in heaven itself than judgment seat of Christ. How glorious the judge will be who is seated there! The Lamb of God will there be turned into a lion and the sight of him will strike terror into the hearts of all. When Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt,” we are told that “they were troubled at his presence” (Gen. 45:4). How convicted they were by their consciences for all their wickedness in selling him into slavery many years earlier. Little wonder the sight of Joseph in regal majesty troubled them. So, when Christ comes to judgment and says, “I am Jesus, whom you sinned against. I am Jesus whose laws you have broken, whose blood you despised. I am now come to judge you.” What horror and amazement will grip each sinner. How they will be troubled at the presence of their judge.
From his keen glance affrighted worlds retire,
He speaks in thunder and he breathes in fire.
But to his people how comforting the sight of this majestic Christ will be. He will come in great glory and splendour. His first coming was in humility, utterly incognito, born in a stable in Bethlehem. His second coming will be illustrious. He shall appear with the outriders of archangels and the entourage of a vast number of angels. Christ the Son of righteousness shall shine in splendour above the brightest of the cherubim, and he will acknowledge his own by name. He will personally and lovingly speak up for them. How unusual to find in a court of law the same man defending us who also is judging us, that he should be both advocate and judge. But on the day of judgment it will be so, the one sitting on the great white throne is the same one who hung on the cross for our salvation. In your judge you will see the friend whose love was stronger than death; the physician who healed your wounds with his own blood; the shepherd who gathered you in his arms and carried you in his bosom. More than that, here is your head to whom you are united, and in whom you will judge the world.
Christ will plead his own blood for the saints: “These persons I have purchased; I travailed on Golgotha for their redemption; they have sinned but my soul was made an offering for their sin.” He will vindicate them against all that the world and the devil can say about them. “I have shed my blood for them, and all their sins have been covered. Who can bring any charge against God’s elect? They are as righteous today as I am. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are mine.” Christ can find no fault in them. “Come ye blessed of my Father,” he will cry, “Inherit the kingdom” (Matt. 25:34). He will mention before men and angels all that they did for him. “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink” (Matt. 25:35). “You wept for your sins. You were unashamed of me. Well done good and faithful servant.”
Then he will beckon them to join him in the midst of the throne and join him in judging the world. “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all” (Jude 24). “Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?” (I Cor. 6:2). They shall identify themselves with his entire jurisprudence. They shall applaud each righteous sentence passed. Not one shall go to hell pleading for Jesus’ mercy, and longing to be with the holy Lord of glory. None shall spend eternity in heaven troubled with the verdict passed by Christ on those they knew. Their minds will be brought into complete harmony with the will of God on the day of judgment.
5. IN THE LIGHT OF THIS JUDGMENT THRONE WE TRY TO PERSUADE MEN.
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (v. 11). Who are the best men-persuaders? Those who fear the Lord. That is one reason you will never meet a modernist evangelist. There is no fear of God in the modernist. He could never pass judgment on the Bible and disregard much of it the way all modernists do if he feared God. If a man does not believe in the sovereignty of God, will he be gripped by the fear of God? If he does not believe that God is prepared to give a sinner over to a depraved mind, and if he does not believe that salvation does not “depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Roms. 9:16) will such a preacher be gripped by a fear of the Lord? If he paints God as a helpless being unable to do any more to save anyone but simply spectate a congregation waiting for their response, who will fear such a restrained Lord? Why is it that the greatest evangelists the world have seen, like Latimer, and Bunyan, and Edwards, and Whitefield, and Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones all believed in the sovereignty of God and all were mighty persuaders? There is a dimension of god-fearingness given to such a preacher that makes him an awesome weapon the hands of God. Would he not despise any carnal and deceitful methods of gaining converts? Any elements of hidden persuasion, like those used by the advertising men in selling their products, he would hate like the sin it is. He fears God and so is straight with men. When the NIV translates this phrase as “we try to persuade men” they are not suggesting that we are merely trying. But rather what our aim is all the time is to persuade people to be ready for the great judgment that lies after death. The AV memorably captures the original so powerfully, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Paul here is thinking of this judgment day. This Judge knows everything about us – “what we are is plain to God” are his next words, and this God has told us how we are to live. He has made his will spectacularly clear, so then men are without excuse. I once was having my student medical examination from the university doctor at Cardiff in 1959. I told him about my Christian faith and that I was preaching, and as I detected he was a Scotsman I told him of my admiration for Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He had little but contempt for these beliefs. “I’ll tell you about M’Cheyne,” he said to me. “On the day of judgment people will cry to the Lord, ‘But Lord, we didna ken! We didna ken!’ and the Lord will look back and say, ‘Well you ken now.’ That’s M’Cheyne.” You see that delusion? That men are ignorant of the standards by which they are going to be judged. But that is not the case. God has written the things of his law on the hearts of the whole human race. He has given to all men a conscience. He has spread his Word, and filled the earth with the knowledge of his Son. There are different degrees of responsibility, and all that will be taken into account by gentle Jesus on his throne of Judgment. But who shall stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire. W.G.T. Shedd preached a sermon on the text, Romans I:24, “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God.” He entitled the sermon, “All Men Guilty; Or, Every Man Knows More than He Practises.”
Should we not all reverence and fear so great a Lord as this? If not, who will we reverence? Is there nobody or nothing bigger than you? Paul and all the New Testament church knew that of which most members of the professing church today are in the deepest ignorance, what it means to fear the Lord. How much of the decline of congregations, and how many gimmicks introduced into worship, and how much the lack of any evangelistic impact upon the world of our day are directly attributed to this ignorance of the fear of the Lord. The early Christian were a body of people overwhelmed by the greatness of the Christ they served. All they did in their meetings and in their testimony to the world was characterised by reverence and godly fear, for their Saviour-Judge was a consuming fire.
This fear of God overspilled into society and was a mighty agent in the conversion of multitudes of people. In Acts chapter 5 we are told about the judgment of God falling upon lying Ananias and Sapphira for their deceit in the midst of the church. That miracle of judgment was a foretaste of the day of judgment. In other words it was also, we say, an eschatological act – a sign and an earnest of what is to come. We are told that when those first believers saw this, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (Acts 5:11). The fear began with those people who actually witnessed the sudden death of husband and wife, but the news reached out and out bringing dread to a vast company of hearers. You might imagine that this resulted in the church shrinking, that nobody would want to have anything to do with such a people, but in fact the consequence was the very reverse, church growth, and every member evangelising! We are told, “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” and “they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:14, 42). They knew the terrors of the Lord and so they persuaded men as the prophet once did, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die O house of Israel? “Ezek. 33:11).
Will you not fear being judged by a sin-hating God? When Lot was told to flee from Sodom because a judgment was soon to fall upon it how foolish he was to linger. The wrath of God is about to fall on sinners and will we remain undecided? Fly quickly! Fly immediately! Escape for your lives! Don’t look behind you, but hasten to the mountains even to Mount Golgotha that place of refuge.
Do you want to stand acquitted at the day of judgment? Then labour to get into Christ. O that you may be found in him – that is the safest place in the whole universe. In him there is no condemnation. Give him no rest until you know you are clothed in his righteousness and that his blood covers all your sins. Then keep a clear conscience. Listen to Paul, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16). Be careful about the ten commandments. Be holy. Be fair. Be patient. Don’t cheat. Be careful not to get hooked on heavy pounding rock music. Keep away from public houses and night-clubs. Be careful what you watch on television or how you surf the Internet. Don’t even say that you are just looking to see what is on display. We don’t need to know… ever! It is simply more filthy and depraved than you can imagine and it will destroy you entire life. Don’t take baggage like that with you to the judgment seat of Christ. Listen to the voice of your conscience. The voice of conscience is the voice of God. If you will not heed it now you must heed it on the Day of Judgment. If your conscience condemns you not then the Lord will acquit you. “If our heart condemn us not, then we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:21). Trade with your talents. What gifts God has given to you see that you do not bury them but ensure that they multiply with use. Lay out yourselves for God. Honour the Lord with everything you have.
If you would stand acquitted at this judgment seat remember the greatest of all is love. Do you love those who bear the name of Christ? Would you lay down your life for them? Are you patient with their foibles? Are you forgiving of their sins? Do you reverence their graces? How otherwise do you know you have passed from death to life, only in that you love the brethren? (I John 3:14).
April 22nd 2001 GEOFF THOMAS