The Judgment Seat of Christ
April 22nd, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 5:10-11
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:10-11
4-22-56 7:30 p.m.
Now, may we turn to the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter – Second Corinthians 5. We’re going to read the first eleven verses. This morning the pastor preached through the eighth verse, and the message tonight is in the tenth and the eleventh verses: The Judgment Seat of Christ. But let’s read it all together: the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, the first eleven verses, first eleven. All right, together:
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Wherefore we labor that, whether present or absent, we might be accepted of Him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat 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.
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
[2 Corinthians 5:1-11]
Now, this is the text and the subject. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . . Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" [2 Corinthians 5:10-11]. There’s not any note that is sounded more constantly, reiterated more often, emphasized more earnestly, than this note in the Bible that some day all of us – all of us shall some day stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God. We shall all be there, all of us, and each one of us shall receive from the hands of God according to what he hath done. We shall receive the estates we have purchased. We shall receive the garments we have woven. We shall receive the just recompense of the rewards of our life, and there is no escape. We shall all appear before the judgment bar of God. Hebrews 9:27 could be used as one of the great refrains of the holy revelation of God: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment."
The little babe in the cradle reaching up its tiny arms is reaching toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That you with elastic tread is striding to the judgment day of Almighty God. That old man with his cane is tottering toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man with splendid equipage is driving to the judgment day of Almighty God. That poor man dressed in rags and barefoot is walking to the great judgment day of Almighty God. The Christian with Psalms on his lips and with praises in his heart is pilgrimaging to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And the lost sinner doing despite to the Spirit of grace and trampling underfoot the blood of the covenant and saying "no" to Christ and "no" to God and "no" to the church and "no" to the preacher and "no" to appeal of the evangelist and "no" to this one tonight, he also is moving toward the great final judgment day of Almighty God. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. For we must all appear before the bēma of the Lord Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 5:10].
That is not alone, I say, in the apostle Paul. It is a note reiterated, emphasized, sounded again and again. Listen to the word of the Lord Jesus in the fifth chapter of John:
Verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.
For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given the Son to have life in Himself,
And hath given authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man.
Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice
And shall come forth
– all of them –
They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
But all of us are to come forth, and all of us shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ [John 5:28-29]. Two resurrections there: the resurrection of the saved and the resurrection of the damned. But whether saved or whether damned, all of us appearing before the judgment seat of Almighty God [Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15].
In the great sermon that Simon Peter preached at the Gentile Pentecost in the tenth chapter of Acts, he says, "And God commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this Jesus is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and of the dead" [Acts 10:42]. That same thing is in the sermon of Paul on Mars Hill. God "hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained;" and the witness thereof is this, "that God raised Him from the dead" [Acts 17:31].
And when I turn to the last [book] of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation, there I find that same thing reiterated again. All of us: first the resurrection of the just, the resurrection of the saved, and they appearing before the judgment seat of Christ to receive from His hands the deeds done in the flesh, and then the great and final resurrection of the damned; what you call here in the Bible the Great White Throne Judgment [Revelation 20:11-15]. And they stand before Him and they whose names are not found in the Book of Life, they’re judged according to the deeds of the body. And after their judgment and those rewards, they are sent away where the Beast and the Dragon and the False Prophet are to be tormented forever and forever [Revelation 20:10, 13-15]. Oh, what words, what revelations, what things God has to say to us who are human souls.
That’s the reason Paul says in that next verse, "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" [2 Corinthians 5:11]. The first verse: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" [2 Corinthians 5:10]. And then the next one, "Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" [2 Corinthians 5:11]. Therefore, there’d be no terror, there’d be no cringing, no fear, no hesitancy, if, when all of us appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we were without stain and we were without blemish and we were perfect in all of our ways. But there’s not a man that liveth that sinneth not [Romans 3:23], and there’s not a soul in divine presence tonight that could stand in the presence of Almighty God and say, "There has been no sin and no wrong and no mistake and no darkness and no scarlet and no cloud and no blackness and no night and no mistake and no shortcoming in my life" [Romans 3:10-18; 1 John 1:8]. We all have sin – all of us [Galatians 3:22]. We all are condemned [Romans 3:10-18]. Alike, we are a lost and fallen race. We are the children of old man Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22].
I had in our church, the little church that I – among which I first began to preach, one of my first pastorates – I had a dear family, so poor; farming family. They’d come to church, and the husband was old and hardly able to work but had to make a living on that little farm, and his wife was deaf. Come there and sit down and listen to me preach, and when I’d make known to her, write to her, "It’s a marvel to me how you come to church," she’d say, "But I love to see you as you preach, and when I look into your face, I don’t know the words you say, but I catch something of the spirit of the hour as you stand there to preach the Word of God."
They were a family; that’s the family, poor family. There were several children in it, and one of the boys got a job in the county seat town, and he was doing good there. He was a very smart boy. He was doing good there. He was in the bank. Then upon a time while he was working there, these bank examiners came and they found that that boy had manipulated the books that he was keeping and had taken money from the bank – a federal offense. And it was taken to the Federal Court in Louisville, Kentucky. Oh, what sorrow into the heart of that poor old farmer; that blessed, Christian, sainted man who knew nothing but to toil with his hands on that dirt farm. And that poor blessed mother bowed down in grief, her boy tried because of forgery and thievery and embezzlement. No family in such sorrow.
Well, they came to me with it, and I went to the federal judge. And so the day came when they had the boy’s trial up there in Louisville, Kentucky. And I went with the boy, and we went up there to the courtroom. He had a wonderful, fine, sweet lawyer. I thank God upon every remembrance of that good, sweet, fine lawyer. He was so kind and gracious. There weren’t many in the courtroom; just a few of us. So the judge sat there behind the bar, and this young fellow, my friend, this boy who had fallen into that error, he was brought up there and he was placed right in front of the judge. I sat right behind him, and there to his right sat this wonderful lawyer. And the judge looked at the boy; just, oh, turned a few pages of the brief that had been presented him, and he turned to the boy and looked straight across the bar and asked him one little question. He said, "Son, are you guilty or not guilty?" And the boy had been instructed, and he answered back, humbly, "Guilty, Your Honor."
Then the lawyer there said a few words to the judge of kindness and sympathy. "Your Honor," he said, "the boy, brought up in a very poor home, and the boy, tempted, overwhelmed, did this wrong. But, Your Honor, I happen to know that there’s great repentance in his heart, sorrow in his soul. This is his first offense, and there are some of us who’ll be responsible for this boy. There’s nobility in him. He’s a Christian, and, Your Honor, if he could probate his sentence, suspend it, we’d all be so grateful."
Well, the judge said such-and-such time he would pass sentence. Then, the end of it, he gave the boy about three years and suspended it. And I watched the boy all through those years. He never went wrong again. He stayed true to his high calling and is a fine businessman today.
But the thing that stayed in my memory, and does tonight, is the judge looking into the face of that lad and asking that simple question, "Son, are you guilty or not guilty?" And when you look into the face of God, and He asks you that simple question, "Are you guilty or are you not guilty," you can’t help but reply – you have to reply, you have no other choice but to reply – "Lord, I’m guilty. I’m guilty. I’m guilty."
That’s the basis for the writing of the Word of God. That’s the basis for the coming of Christ into the world. That’s the basis for the whole preaching of the plan of salvation. When God looks into our souls and He asks us, we have no other way, no other choice. Our reply is universal: "It’s all of us, Lord. We are guilty. We are a fallen humanity. We’re sinful people." I say that’s the basis of the whole gospel message of the Son of God [1 Corinthians 15:3-4].
When you go back into the preaching of the message of Christ, you’ll find those old-time prophets and those first evangelists and apostles and those old-time preachers – you’ll find them always beginning there. They began with a message of the wrath of God upon our sins and upon our lost souls! When the great forerunner, John the Baptist, came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, he was saying, "The ax is laid at the root of the tree" [Luke 3:9]. "Flee from the wrath to come!" [Luke 3:7] That’s John the Baptist.
When Pilgrim’s Progress [John Bunyan, 1678] begins, it’s with a man with a burden on his back, dressed in tatters, setting his face away from the City of Destruction, from the city of wrath, seeking to find a way out. When you read Milton and Dante, those greatest of poets, they exalt the human language trying to detect the awful judgment of God upon sin and the human soul. And when you go back into those evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and like Charles Finney, they were preaching the judgment and the wrath of God upon sin. We are a lost and undone people. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . . Knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" [2 Corinthians 5:10-11].
Now, we live in a modern age and in a modern world. That’s medieval today. That belongs to another era and another time, but in this enlightened day, we don’t have such awful truths pressed upon our souls and our hearts. For example, this is a sentence out of a book that church authorities, I mean everywhere almost, prescribe for young people. You listen to this sentence out of that book: "The fear of hell and the devil has been eliminated for which we ought to give thanks." That’s what the modern theologian says, and that’s what he prescribes for our young people to read. There’s not any hell. There’s not any judgment. There’s not any devil. There’s not any damnation. There’s not any great appearing before God, and there’s no such thing as a terror of the Lord.
"Oh," you say, "that’s extraneous. That’s way over there some other place." In one of these evangelistic conferences that I preached through this year, this year – in one of those evangelistic conferences, there preceded me a professor from one of our seminaries. And the thesis of his message was that when a man stood up to preach and he preached the wrath of God and the judgment of God, then he had a wrong motive in making an appeal to the people to turn to Christ. And, brother, was I on the spot because I stood up next to preach and my sermon was this: the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew where John the Baptist comes and says, "Bring ye forth fruits meet for repentance. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" [Matthew 3:7-8] Now, wouldn’t that beat you? Wouldn’t that beat you? Wouldn’t that? Wouldn’t it?
That’s the same thing as I run across here in the city of Dallas time and time again. I don’t know how many times I run across it. There’ll be a family, and one of the members of the family has a terrible and incurable cancer, and they’ll go a thousand miles. They’ll go five thousand miles. They’ll come from everywhere to the city of Dallas. And there’s a fellow here in the city of Dallas who will say to those stricken people, "Here, here. Here, here. These doctors scare you. They say such terrible things. They say such awful things, but what they say to you is not true. Not true. Not true. Here, you take this little capsule. Here, you take this little vial of medicine; and here . . ." And he’ll stroke the hair and speak words of cheer and kindness and encouragement, and they follow after him – the dupes. And they listen to him, the quack. And for a while they may appear to be better, but by and by that incurable disease drags them down to the grave!
And there are times when they might have been saved and there are times when they might have been cured, but instead they listen to the siren song of a quack. That’s not honesty. That’s not truthfulness. That’s not medicine. That’s not the revelation and Word and fact and science of God. I don’t believe that it’s right anytime, anywhere, to mislead anybody! I don’t care who it is. I don’t care who it is. What we ought to do is receive from the hands of God these revelations from the Lord. These things are the truth. These are the facts, and I must face them. I must, and I must.
And one of the great truths and one of the great facts of Almighty God is this: that there is a judgment day that awaits every soul and every heart and every life – every one of us, every one of us. Could I say another text that I think, like that, the Bible is a commentary on, and it is this? "For it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" [Hebrews 10:31]. It is an awful thing, a terrible thing. The Lord God said, "Adam, in the day that ye eat thereof, you’ll surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. And Satan said, "Did God say? Did God say? [Genesis 3:1] He doesn’t mean that! That’s not true! He’s trying to pull you away from some of these things that if you partook of them, oh with what joy and delight would you share them" [Genesis 3:4-5]. And Satan fooled them and deceived them; and the woman fell and with her, her husband [Genesis 3:6-7]. That’s God’s judgment day! It’s the truth. God reveals it in His Word!
And the Lord God said to Noah, "I’ll destroy this world!" [Genesis 6:13] And Noah preached for a hundred twenty years saying, "God shall destroy it" [Genesis 6:3; Hebrews 11:7], and they laughed at Noah. And only Noah and his family were saved [Genesis 7:23].
And Lot came to the citizens of Sodom saying, "God shall destroy the city." And Lot came to his own sons-in-law, and the Bible says, "And to his sons-in-law he seemed as one to mock!" [Genesis 19:14] Who would believe that God would do that – God would do that? "God’s too good to do that," said his sons-in-law, and they remained in Sodom [Genesis 19:15-17]. And the Lord God said to David, "And the sword shall never leave thy house – never:" the Lord God’s judgment upon the house of the king of Judah [2 Samuel 12:10].
And the Lord God said to Israel and said to the people, the Lord God said, "Except you repent, you’ll go into captivity." And the Babylonians came in 606, and Jeremiah said, "Except ye repent" [Jeremiah 7:1-15; 18:1-17]. And they came back in 598, and Jeremiah said, "Except ye repent" [Jeremiah 18:8, 26:1-6, 13]. And the Babylonians came back in 587, and they didn’t need to come any more. They plowed up Jerusalem in heaps and took the nation away captives [2 Kings 24:10-16, 25:1-22; 2 Chronicles 36:9-21]. And the Lord God Himself looked upon Jerusalem, weeping, and said, "And your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:37-38; Luke 13:34-35]. And it’s been one of sorrow and trouble and heartache all the years that are since – the great judgment day of Almighty God.
And all of that is but a picture of this final, final great and awful hour when we stand before the Lord:
And the heavens departed as a scroll . . .
And everybody, the kings, and the great men, the chief captains, the mighty men, the bondmen, the free men, they hid themselves in the dens of the rocks . . .
And they cried to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb,
– the wrath of the Lamb –
For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"
There are some things that I don’t think we ought to tremble before; we ought not to be afraid of. You ought not to be afraid of man – what man says or man can do. You’re not to be afraid [Psalm 56:11, 118:6; Hebrews 13:6]. A man ought to be courageous in his convictions and in his duty [Joshua 1:7-9; Acts 27:24]. A man ought to be absolutely fearless and unafraid when it comes to many things like the defense of our country and the protection of our people [Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Psalm 46:1-11].
But there are some things before which a man ought to tremble. He ought to be afraid. When you go by and go by and go by and there’s a big sign and it says, "High voltage wires," I say it’s a fool that touches them! The sign says, "Sure death and danger. High voltage wire."
"But I’m not afraid."
You go and you go and you go and you go and there’ll be a sign saying, "The bridge is out. Road closed!" But you laugh and mock, and down that highway sixty, seventy, eighty miles an hour. I say it’s a fool that drives mocking the sign of danger and death. The bridge is out. I’ve been in several floods, and the doctor will say, "All of the water is polluted. It’s typhoid; it’s scarlet fever." But you laugh and mock.
I say there are some things before which it is well, it is reasonable, for us to be in fear and in terror, and this one of those things. When the Lord God says, "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4], when the Lord God says, "and the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], when the Lord God says, "He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him" [From 1 John 5:12 and John 3:36], man ought to tremble. He ought to be afraid – afraid to die and afraid of the judgment and afraid of Almighty God.
What saith the word of the Lord? "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 9:10]. That’s where it starts. That’s where it begins. When God’s voice speaks, the whole heavens thunder [Psalm 18:13, 29:3-4; Hebrews 12:26]; and we tremble in the presence of the voice of the Almighty God that shakes heaven and earth. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 9:10]. Not afraid of man but afraid of God, what God can do [Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5; Romans 8:31].
"Well, Preacher, then where do we go and what do we do?" That’s the message of the Book. That’s the why of the Savior. How do you get ready for such an awful and awesome day? How do you do it? How do you meet God? How do you do it?
Did you ever have somebody come up to you and say, "Did you know so-and-so died? Did you know he died? Did you know?" All of us have that experience. "Did you know so-and-so died? Did you know he died?" And then so many times, there’ll be a response like this: "Oh, poor fellow. I hope he was prepared," or, "Oh, poor soul. I hope he was ready. I hope he was ready." How do you get ready? How do you get prepared? How do you do it? You got debts to pay to God you can’t pay! [Romans 6:23; Colossians 2:13-14] You have sins in your soul and in your life, and they stain forever [Psalm 51:2, 7; Isaiah 1:18]. How do you wash them out clean and pure and white again? How do you do it? How do you do it?
How does a man prepare to meet God? How does he do it? How does he do it? Oh, our righteousnesses in God’s sight, God says, "are as filthy rags" [Isaiah 64:6]. "I’ll be good." But God says that goodness of a man is like filthy rags in His sight.
"I resurrect myself. I’ll present myself." You never know how weak you are until you meet any final issue in life – age and death and the forever to come! O God, who is able and who is adequate? "For the great day of His wrath is come" [Revelation 6:17]. And the great day of his judgment is at hand. And who shall be able to stand? God, what shall we do? And where shall we turn? And what shall we say?
Well, I haven’t time to preach it all tonight. But that’s what the Book’s about. That’s what the Book’s about. "For God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" – justifying us in His presence as though we’d never done wrong – "and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation" [2 Corinthians 5:19]. "We then as ambassadors for Christ, as though God would beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God" [2 Corinthians 5:20].
How is a man made ready? How does a man prepare to die? How do you get ready to meet God in the judgment day? Can’t do it myself. My righteousness, no. My goodnesses, never. My strength, so unavailing. What I’m able to do, so insufficient and inadequate. Then what do you do?
This is what we do. We take our poor souls and our sorry lives and our weakened hands and our needy selves, we take them to the Son of God who is our righteousness for us [1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9], to Him who can pay our debts for us [Colossians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24], to Him who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21].
We take our sins to Him who is able to justify us before God [John 3:13-16], to declare us righteous as though we had never sinned. [Romans 5:1, 8:33-34]. We are saved in Christ, and outside of Him there’s not any salvation [Acts 4:10-12]. Our sins are washed away in His blood [Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and outside of that blood, there’s not any stain that is ever taken out of a man’s heart and out of a man’s soul. Our lives are redeemed and bought again and saved by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 1:7]. He came for that cause. He died for that purpose; He was raised for that justification [Romans 4:24-25]. "And to those that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" [Hebrews 9:28]. That’s the gospel of the Son of God [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. That’s the way we get ready. That’s the way we’re saved. That’s the way we prepare to meet God.
While we sing this song tonight, somebody you – anybody you – into that aisle, down here to the front by the side of this preacher: "Preacher, tonight, I take the Lord as my Savior. I’m not looking to myself. I can’t save myself. I’m not trying to wash my own sins away. I can’t wash my sins away, but I’ll trust Jesus for it. I’ll trust Him for it. I’ll take Him at His word and at His promise, and here I come, and here I am."
Somebody you, already under the blood, already looking to Jesus, already trusting Him, you’ve been baptized: you put your life with us here in the church coming by letter or by promise or a statement – however God shall say the word. While we make this appeal, anybody, somebody you – tonight, would you come? "Here I am, Pastor, taking the Lord as my Savior: my preparation in Him, not looking to me but to God; trusting Him, and here I am. Here I come." Or putting your life here in the church, while we sing this song you come while we stand and while we sing it.
THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:10-11
I. Scriptures repeatedly emphasize that we all will stand before the Great Judge
A. Each one of us shall receive from God according to what he has done
B. There is no escape; we must all appear (Hebrews 9:27, 2 Corinthians 5:10)
II. Paul is not alone in this testimony
A. The word of Jesus (John 5:21-29)
B. Preaching of Peter (Acts 10:42)
C. In the sermon of Paul on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:30-31)
D. In the Revelation (Revelation 19:4-5, 10-15)
III. Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:10-11)
A. There would be no terror, no hesitancy, if we were without stain and blemish – but all have sinned
1. Young man’s trial for embezzlement – he pleads guilty
B. Our guilt the basis of the whole gospel message
1. Old-time preachers always begin with the wrath of God upon our sins (Luke 3:7, 9)
2. Modern theology denies that there is hell, judgment
a. Preaching an evangelistic conference on the wrath of God after professor spoke of how doing that is a wrong motive in making appeal
C. The Bible is a commentary on the terrible judgment of God (Hebrews 10:31, Genesis 2:17, 3:1, 6:13, 19:14, 2 Samuel 12:10, Revelation 6:15-17)
IV. Our response
A. There is a time to be brave, fearless
B. There is a time to tremble (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23, John 3:36, Proverbs 9:10)
C. How to be prepared (Isaiah 64:6, Revelation 6:17, 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, Hebrews 9:28)