Who is judged at the Bema Judgment?
Second Corinthians 5:10 states: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Bema is a Greek word that was used to refer to the raised platform from which speeches were made and athletes were awarded their crowns. This is the judgment of believers—Paul included himself with the word “we”—and must be distinguished from the Great White Throne judgment for the unsaved dead (Revelation 20:11-15).
The Bema judgment occurs subsequent to the Rapture of the church. Revelation 19 speaks of Christ returning with His Bride, and verse 8 indicates that the Bride has already been judged and rewarded: “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” Furthermore, several scriptures (1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:12) associate the reward with the day that Christ comes for His saints. It would appear, then, that the Bema judgment must follow the Rapture, but be prior to the return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation.
Scripture teaches that there are several future judgments. All are similar in some respects, but also different in some respects. In the judgment of Matthew 25:41–46, for example, the scene is the earth (vss. 31–32) not Heaven, as at the Bema judgment; and no books are opened, as at the Great White Throne judgment. Moreover, Matthew 25 deals with the living, not with those who have been translated. The fact that the sheep and the goats are still mingled and need to be separated suggests that no Rapture takes place at this judgment.
That there are several future judgments fits in quite well with the dispensational nature of the Bible. A dispensation may be defined as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” Old Testament believers had their specific requirements from their specific revelation from God, and we in the Church Age have ours. The revelation, the requirements revealed, and the judgment associated with a particular test are not the same in every dispensation.
On the basis of these considerations we can conclude that only Church Age believers are judged at the Bema judgment. Since the apostle addresses the responsibilities of those who have built on the Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11–12), something that can only refer to the saints of this dispensation, the judgment of 2 Corinthians 5:10 probably refers to this group.
Old Testament saints and Tribulation saints are judged at the return of Christ to establish His kingdom. Daniel 12:1–3 speaks about the judgment of Old Testament believers, and Revelation 20:4–6 references the judgment of Tribulation saints.