A Review of Craig Groeschel’s “The End”, Part 2
A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Craig Groeschel’s first installment in a series called “the End” about the end times. While I agree with the essentials of his message, that Christ is returning and this should be a cause for hope and rejoicing for believers, it is with the secondary (but still important) interpretive matters that I take issue. Primarily his view that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 refers to a secret rapture. Such is simply not present in the text, and in fact the text seems to suggest otherwise. Also we discussed briefly his view that there will be two resurrections and two judgments. He addresses these issues more fully in his second message.
In his second message Groeschel speaks of two judgements. The first is the “Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema),” and it is the judgment of believers only. The second is Revelations “Great White Throne Judgment,” at which, according to pastor Craig, believers will not appear.
Rather than review his message in full, much with which I agree, I would like to examine his claims regarding the resurrection and final judgment(s). He basically discusses 3 passages in this regard: Luke 14:14, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:12. Therefore, we’ll discuss each passage and then decide if we ought to conclude from them two separate resurrections and two separate judgments.
The Judgment of the Righteous
First, Luke 14:13-14 states,
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Because it says that that believers will be repaid at the resurrection of the just, and last week Groeschel argued for a resurrection of believers at the rapture at Christ’s secret coming, then naturally the “repaying” spoken of here will take place at the rapture, according to Groeschel. While this is certainly a possible reading of the text, it is unlikely for two reasons. First, the only place in Scripture where two separate resurrections are mentioned is Revelation 20, neither of which, as we saw in our last post, can possibly take place at the rapture. Further, we discovered that 1 Thessalonians 4 most likely refers, not to a preliminary secret coming, but to Christ’s final coming. Therefore, there is no need to posit an earlier resurrection of only Christians. Second, if one compares this passage to other passages in the gospels which speak of resurrection, it is most likely that Luke is simply highlighting one facet of a resurrection which includes both the righteous and unrighteous (see Acts 24:15). For instance,
“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28–30 ESV)
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Cor 15:23-24).
Here we find a description of resurrection and final judgment, which both seem to take place when Christ returns. He will resurrect the righteous unto life, and then destroy all who oppose him. While the resurrection of the unjust is not mentioned, it is implied in their judgment.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40).
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sew good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”…“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:29-30; 47-50)
Finally, these two parables seem to indicate that in the Kingdom of Heaven, both the unrighteous and the righteous will exist side by side until the final resurrection/judgment, where they will each receive Christ’s righteous judgment.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)
The next argument we should look at is the one Groeschel basis on the Greek word “Bema” (βημα). Groeschel states,
“Most scholars believe that the judgment seat of Christ is a judgment for Christians only and at the judgment seat of Christ you’re not judges for salvation or damnation…but this a judgment for rewarding you for all the works you’ve done on heaven” (sic). – he means on earth.
He goes one to argue the basis for this satement:
“The Greek word for judgment seat is the word Bema…it was not the seat where the judge sat to issue a verdict, guilty or innocent, but instead it was the throne where the judge would sit to issue rewards…”
This is surprisingly a common argument among those who would want to distinguish between the judgment seat of Christ and the great white throne judgment of Revelation. The problem is, there is no evidence for this in the New Testament. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion. What do I mean? The Greek word Bema is used 12 times in the New Testament. Once it is used as a measuring unit, and is thus irrelevant to our discussion (Acts 7:5). The other instances are worth looking at individually:
“Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat (Bema), his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat (Bema) at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.” (Matthew 27:19; John 19:13 ESV)
In these two passages, the word Bemai is used of the seat Pilate sat on during Jesus’ trial. It is where he ordered Jesus’ flogging as well as his crucifixion. It is obvious that here it does not refer only to a place of reward, but a place where punishment, indeed the death penalty, is dealt.
“On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne (Bema), and delivered an oration to them.” (Acts 12:21 ESV)
Here it is apparent that the word is used as the throne of Herod, where he addresses his subject. There is no indication that it is a place of only dealing out rewards.
Also in Acts,
“¶ But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal (Bema), And he drove them from the tribunal (Bema). And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal (Bema). But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. ¶ After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered Paul to be brought. But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal (Bema), where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered the man to be brought.” (Acts 18:12, 16–17; 25:6, 10, 17 ESV)
In these passages in Acts, the word Bema refers to the tribunal of Gallio and of Caesar, where in both cases Paul is brought by an angry mob to receive judgment, which could be a judgment of either life or death.
“¶ Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat (Bema) of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” ¶ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10–12 ESV)
Here in context Paul is focusing on the judgment of believers, yet there is no mention of rewards. The point is that we ought not to pass judgment on one another, for it is God who ultimately knows our hearts and will reveal the secret things within. While rewards could be a part of this account, there is nothing to explicitly suggest so, and as we have seen, the word Bema itself should not lead us to that conclusion.
Therefore, out of the 11 relevant uses of the word Bema in the New Testament, none of them explicitly demonstrate that it was a place for only receiving rewards, and 9 of them actually say the opposite, it was a place where judgment was rendered, often judgment of the severest sort, as was the case with Jesus before Pilate. In fact, the judgment Pilate rendered unto Jesus is the same judgment of condemnation, in which he endured the full wrath of God, that unbelievers will receive at the final judgment. Thus, the argument that the Bema seat judgment is one of rewards based on the Greek would should be set aside.
Finally, a closer examination of 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 itself should give us pause before making any hard and fast statements about it referring to simply a judgment of rewards. Again, it states:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. ¶ Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” (2 Corinthians 5:10–11 ESV)
Verse 11 helps us here, for if this were only a judgment of rewards, why speak of the “fear/terror of the Lord” being the basis for our good deeds? No where in Scripture are we told to fear the Lord because we might receive fewer crowns, rather, we are told to fear not the one who can destroy the body, but the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell (Matthew 10:28). The idea of the fear of the Lord is most often understood in the context of his righteous wrath (see Hebrews 12:28-29). In other words, fear the Lord for he will one day judge all people, either unto life or eternal death. This seems to be the sense here.
While Groeschel discusses the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation, our discussion will end here. Two things should be apparent. First, while Scripture does distinguish the just and the unjust at the final judgment, it does not indicate that there will be two, let alone 3 or 4, separate judgments. There will be one judgment of both the just and the unjust, those who have believed in Christ and those who have rejected him. This will all take place at the final trumpet, the resurrection, and Christ’s second and final coming. Second, we should not be quick to base a theological argument on the meaning of a Greek word. Languages are fluid, and each word must be examined in the context the author gives it. In this case, the Greek word Bema more often refers to a judgment seat of punishment/pardon, rather than reward. This is the Bema of Christ, the Great White Throne and the final judgment.