The Dais or “Judgment Seat”
of God and His Christ
GOD HAS SWORN that He will win the worship of every knee and the acclaim of every tongue. Before His bema, or dais, all must come (Rom.14:11). This is in full accord with His purpose to reconcile all to Himself at the consummation (Col.1:20). Then, after the unbeliever has been judged and vivified, it will be fully accomplished. But those who believe will come to this blessed end long before, in the former resurrection, when Israel’s saints are raised, and, still earlier, when those of this secret administration are presented at the dais of Christ, and each gives an account of himself to God (Rom.14:12).
Hitherto we have stressed the grand purpose of God to save and justify and vivify all mankind and finally reconcile the universe. It may be well in the future to press to the attention of all who love God and revel in His Word this still more precious and fundamental truth. Not only will all His creatures obtain blessing, but HE will be glorified by all. God Himself is the great Beneficiary of His marvelous operations. I sincerely hope that even those who refuse to believe His plain declarations concerning the blessing of all His enemies, will not deny that He will get the worship of every knee and the acclamation of every tongue, for His oath is back of it.
All will give account of themselves at the two great crises of the eons. For the unbeliever, it will take place at the great white throne, after the present earth is swept away. For the believer, it may come in the near future, between the evil and the good eons, in preparation for the millennium on earth or our removal to the celestials. In brief, it follows man’s present existence in humiliation and distress, and precedes his future life in glory and bliss. And this is just what should be expected. So long as mankind fails to give God His due, there can be and should be no blessing worthy of the name. But when the race or any part of it comes to the full acknowledgement of the Deity, blessing is bound to overflow.
The dais will be the second great crisis in our experience. When we first believed, most of us were exercised concerning our sins. Faith in the blood of Christ relieved us of all condemnation. We were happy because our acts would not be reckoned against us. But what we are was not so satisfactory. Being still mortal, we soon found that we were not freed from sin’s presence, and by no means delivered from its power. In order to please God we had to die to sin. Death and crucifixion are the means of escape from its thralldom now. But this will be reversed in the resurrection. Then we will enjoy life and glory. We will be rid of the very presence of sin and free from its power, because we will be immortal. The dais is the introduction to this. Our whole past will be put into the crucible for final assay, so that all the vexing and troublesome problems of the present will be settled, and whatever is of value will be preserved.
First of all let us clear the ground, lest the dais of Christ should be confused with suffering for our sins. Those who stand before the great white throne will be judged according to their acts, but those who are presented before His dais will be requited for their good deeds. The dead who stand before the final judgment throne will be condemned for their doings, but the immortals who appear before His dais will be applauded for their achievements. Christ is the Judge of one company, but distributes the prizes to the other. He may, indeed, penalize for infringement of the rules, but He does not condemn. Negatively, as all our work will be tested by fire, some of it will be burned up, and we will forfeit our wages, but we ourselves will be saved (1 Cor.3:12-15). For the first time in our existence, our sins will not only be gone, but we will be what we should be.
Moreover, the dais will not be a judgment. It is a grave error to translate the term bema thus, and leads, not only to serious confusion, but positive contradiction in the Scriptures. Judgment for sin is past for the believer. Even the Circumcision were assured by our Lord that “he who is hearing My word and believing Him Who sends Me has life eonian and is not coming into judging, but has proceeded out of death into life” (John 5:24). Here we have a hint why there is no judging possible. Even the circumcision saints will be vivified at their resurrection and receive eonian life. Instead of the judging that comes to Israel at the return of their Messiah, the saints receive wages (Rev.11:18). They will receive a place in the millennial kingdom commensurate with their deeds. If they are not judged, how should we be, to whom grace abounds in such fuller measure, and who receive bodies far exceeding theirs in glory?
The key words which describe the dais are illumination, manifestation, requital, and applause. These are closely connected with judgment, but the sting has been withdrawn. They are not due to God’s indignation, as is the case with the unbeliever, but to His holiness, which insists on the removal of all that might be, a source of evil in the future. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the heart (1 Cor.4:5). The true value of our service lies in the motive back of it, not in its apparent success or failure. If it is done for His glory alone, it will not fail to find applause. But if it is centered in self, it will not survive the fire. Yet we will be glad to see it vanish.
It is helpful to note that the bema, or dais, occurs only in those portions of Paul’s epistles which deal with conduct, in the second half of Romans and in Corinthians. It is not mentioned where the evangel is in view. It is concerned with the deportment of the saints, and does not affect their salvation. Justification is not of works, but the dais deals altogether with deeds. The gratuity in one is grace, the other is a test by fire. The judgment of Christ on the cross in the past settled for our sins, the dais of Christ in the future will reward us for our service. In our meditations may we always remember the vast contrasts between these great themes, lest we lose the joy of our salvation by basing it in the least degree upon ourselves.
Justification frees from all condemnation. It is not limited to our sins as unbelievers. It includes what we do as believers. The righteousness that is ours in Christ is divine. God transmutes our every act, by the alchemy of the cross, into a source of glory to Himself and blessing to His creatures. Yet this does not imply that we are sinless in ourselves, or that we should continue as before. By the illumination of God’s Word, we learn about ourselves and seek to shun evil and aim to do good. But we are much hindered by the flesh, which is still with us. This is a slow process, which is never completed in this life. In the resurrection, however, with our incorruptible bodies, the whole process is perfected before the dais.
Many, however, are inclined to dread that future test, especially if their conscience is not clear, or their relations to their fellow saints leave something to be desired. This is a wholesome fear, but let us be thankful that we are not called upon to endure the test in our present, mortal bodies. When we are presented before Him, we will be clothed with powerful, glorious frames, and will be able to endure the searching fiery flames. Moreover, we will welcome anything that will clear up all the differences and dissensions that have marred our fellowship while on earth. There is no one to decide our cause until our Lord Himself does so in that day.
The dais of Christ is not only concerned with the service of the saints in relation to their Lord, but one of its chief functions is to clear up the relations between the saints, in view of the future. After the dais there will be no need to bear and forbear, for immortality will incline us to do right, just as the dying process now makes us do wrong. There will be no need for grace in dealing with one another after that. All that will need settling is the past. God’s searchlight will illumine all. Right and wrong will, be instantly apparent, and we will be glad to see our bad destroyed and our wrongs requited.
Any judging or setting of things right while we are in our mortal, soulish bodies is bound to be a painful procedure. The unbeliever will find it so at the great white throne. We would find it so if we should seek to straighten out everything in this life. It is not pleasant to realize that we have been in the wrong. The more sensitive our conscience is, the more miserable we feel at the thought of displeasing God or harming His people, or any of His creatures. It is a vast relief to look forward to a time when all will be cleared up by the only One Who is competent, and when our frames will be able to bear knowing the worst, because it will no longer be a soulish, or sentient body, but a spiritual organism competent and eager to cope with the matter once for all, in order that nothing be left to mar the future bliss.
Is it not evident that all differences of doctrine and deportment must be cleared up before we can enter fully into the service that awaits us in the future? Now our forbearance and grace and love needs exercise. But then all of us will be like Him, and nothing can come between us to mar our fellowship or service for the future. But our past needs to be fully purged, for our own sake as well as for that of our fellow saints. We must be illuminated as to our own mistakes, and the motives of all must become manifest. Now much is obscure and secret. Motives are misunderstood and misrepresented. All is largely superficial and artificial. Only God and His Christ can bring this into the open. And it will not be done, until we are presented before the dais. Until then we must act in grace.
There is only One Who can preside and decide between the saints in matters of conduct. Our Lord is alive and vitally interested in all that concerns His own. He alone knows the heart and evaluates the motives. After all, the relation of one saint to another and their treatment of each other is a minor matter compared with the attitude of each one toward God. So that, primarily, everything is being ordered so as to bring worship and praise to Him. That will be the principal purpose of His dais. All the conduct of the saints, whether good or bad, will contribute to this. There will be worship from all hearts when they see the glories of His grace in contrast to their fearful failures, and there will be praise exultant when they are commended for their good deeds, notwithstanding the forfeits for their bad. Then will be fulfilled what is written:
For to Me shall bow every knee,
And every tongue shall be acclaiming God.
Have you ever pictured to yourself how terrible it would be if all the saints continued to conduct themselves, after being vivified, as they do on earth? Now one who seeks to stand for God’s truth has far more to fear from his fellows than from the world. One who seeks to act graciously must be prepared to be misunderstood and actually denounced, not merely as lacking in grace, but as unjust and hateful. The Adversary sees to it that many of the acts which will receive the most applause in that day are now condemned unmercifully by those whose zeal exceeds their knowledge.
Most of us have the impression that the worst offenders amongst mankind will all be found before the great white throne, while believers, who stand before the dais to give account concerning themselves to God, will be comparatively just and good. But, if we take into account the light and privileges enjoyed by the saints, our estimate may be reversed. Our Lord laid down the rule that “to everyone to whom much was given, from him much will be sought, and to whom they committed much, more excessively will they be requesting of him.” (Luke 12:48). How much more have we received than the world! Are we that much better than they? By no means! And even great and honored saints of God have done things which few worldlings would countenance. Many of these crimes are committed in the name of God and for His sake. Alas! How much there is to humble us in the dust before Him! But what a trophy of grace would it be if those to whom God was so loving should rate even lower than His enemies in their conduct!
We shall be presented at the dais. The dead stand before the great white throne. Such appropriate perfections in the Word of God delight the heart of those who love His Word. In one the action is related to the Saviour, as if we were invited to an earthly court in order to obtain an audience or honor, so we are presented. The sinner stands before the great white throne as a trembling criminal faces his judge. The A.V. uses the word stand in both cases, even though they render it “present your bodies” just before (Rom.12:1). Indeed, they have sadly discolored the picture presented at the dais by miscalling it a “judgment seat” in ten of its twelve occurrences, when, in itself, it implies neither judgment nor a seat, but only the platform on which it was raised a STEP above the rest of the floor. A seat suggests a permanent tribunal, such as that of the twelve who will be seated on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. No one could well object if we called these “judgment seats.” But they will deal out judgment for a thousand years to the tribes of Israel, whereas the dais will, so far as we are aware, speed through in a single unseated session. It does not appeal to my sense of the fitness of things to have any seats brought into this scene, not even on the dais, for, even in the judgment of His enemies, God proceeds apace. How much faster will He deal with the redeemed and reconciled!
THE DIFFERENT ASPECTS
The dais is revealed to us from various aspects. In Romans, it is concerned with judging those who are infirm in the faith. This is forbidden. In 1 Cor.3:10-15 it applies to those who seek to edify the saints, and to the value of their teaching. In 1 Cor.4:1-5, it is related to the administration of God’s secrets. In 2 Cor.4:1-5:10 it concerns all the practices of the saints, good or bad. Besides these, we have a special word for slaves, who will be fully requited in that day (Eph.6:5-8, Col.3:22-25). If we keep these separate, it will help to clarify what has usually been deemed a most difficult theme. An intelligent apprehension of the dais should shed much light upon the practical features of our walk. Our attitude toward our fellow saints as well as the character of our service may be greatly influenced for good if we keep His dais before us.
In this series, we will seek to separate the various aspects of the dais as it affects our conduct in the different spheres of our experience, and endeavor to show, its place in God’s great purpose to bring us and all His creatures into the enjoyment of His light and love, and thus become the keynote of that great hymn which will celebrate His grace and glory for the eons of the eons and beyond.
A. E. Knoch
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