For many Christians, the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians has a familiar ring to it. For sure, it is a most encouraging message! In it we learn to look beyond this life to what the Lord has prepared for us “over there” (5:1-9), and we also are reminded of our reconciliation to God (5:17-21).
In between those two topics is a section on judgment matters (5:10-15). Let us take a closer look at this middle passage of the chapter, especially at verse ten, where it is written, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” When it comes to judgment matters, what can we learn from this verse and some of the statements which follow?
The Judge – the Christ – “before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10). Jesus said, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). The Father created all things via the Son (Hebrews 1:1,2), saves the world through Jesus (1 John 4:14), and one day will judge the world through that One whom He raised from the dead (Acts 17:31).
The judged – all people – “we must all” stand before the King of kings (5:10). While the context of 2 Corinthians 5 speaks specifically about the affairs of Christians, other Bible passages make it plain that all people of all nations, regardless of their spiritual status, will be judged by the Christ. All nations will be gathered before Him to be separated, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats (Matthew 5:31,32). The Bible says that through the risen Son, God will judge “the world” (Acts 17:31). No one will be exempt from such.
Type of judgment – individual, personal – “each one” is to be judged (5:10). Such judgment for each person will be according to “what he has done.” There will be no one standing in as a substitute and no one will be able to be judged on behalf of another. The judgment of the Christ will be given to each person as an individual. That truth cries out for each one of us to be ready for that great occasion!
Judgment based on our conduct in this life – “the things done in the body” (5:10). In the writings of the apostle Paul, at times the word “body” refers to the church, but in the context of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul has been writing about our “earthly house”/physical body (5:1), being at home in our earthly body (5:6), and being absent from our physical body (5:8). When Paul writes about judgment being carried out in such a way that “each one may receive the things done in the body” (5:10), the reference is to our conduct while living on earth in our physical body. The implication is that our judgment will not be based on anything which might transpire after we leave this world. Again, we are reminded to live our lives in such a way that we will be ready for the coming judgment.
Judgment according to a standard – “whether good or bad” (5:10). It is not a question of whether the standard of judgment itself is good or bad – it is God’s standard, so, of course, it is good. The “good or bad” refers to one’s conduct in this life. God’s word is the standard of truth by which each person will be judged. The word of the Christ will judge both those who reject Him and those who follow Him (John 12:48). Those who “do good” will be raised and judged to life eternal, while those who do evil be raised and judged to eternal condemnation (John 5:28,29). God’s Son will pronounce the final judgment for each individual, but each person’s own choices in life will determine his/her eternal destiny. In this life, men may ignore, mock, or despise God’s standard for right living, but when they stand before the Savior in judgment, their life will be measured by that standard and nothing else.
The Lord’s terror and judgment – “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . .” (5:11). This thought comes immediately after Paul’s declaration about each person appearing before the Christ’s judgment seat (5:10). Thus, the Lord’s terror should motivate us to have proper thinking about the judgment and have proper conduct in order to be prepared for that judgment.
What motivates us to teach others and tell them about the Lord’s judgment? Here are some answers from the context of 2 Corinthians 5: (1) The terror of the Lord moves us to tell them of His judgment (5:11); (2) The love of the Christ compels us tell others of His judgment (5:14); (3) What Jesus did for us (“One died for all”) motivates us to declare the judgment (5:14,15); (4) We want people to know God’s will and rather than live for self, learn to live for Jesus and be ready to face His judgment (5:15).
Every person needs to know what the Bible says about judgment matters. For those who are unprepared for that occasion, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). On the other hand, those who walk with the Lord in love “have boldness in the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17).
— Roger D. Campbell