Jim Marshall was a legendary Minnesota Vikings defensive end, but he is best known for the mistake he made on October 25, 1964. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall saw a fumble, picked up the football, and ran the length of the field. But Marshall didn’t realize he was running toward his own end zone. From that point on, he was known as Wrong Way Marshall.
In football, making it to the right end zone is necessary to win. It’s the same way in the Christian life. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we will make it to the “end zone” of Heaven, but some will make it there only after spending time running in the wrong direction.
The Great White Throne Judgment for Unbelievers
The Bible teaches that everybody after death will be judged by God. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Everyone will be judged by God, but we will not all be judged in a single judgment.
The judgment for non-Christians is called the Great White Throne Judgment. Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The result of the Great White Throne Judgment will be eternal punishment. It doesn’t matter how good you are. The only way to escape God’s eternal judgment is by trusting in Christ as Savior before you die.
The Judgment Seat of Christ for Christians
While becoming a Christian exempts us from the condemnation of God, it does not exempt us from God’s evaluation of our lives. There is a separate judgment for Christians, called the Judgment Seat of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul said, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body.”
The Judgment Seat of Christ does not determine whether we go to Heaven or Hell; that was settled the moment of your salvation. This is a judgment of rewards. And the standard by which Christians will be judged is this: Did we spend our lives on things that have eternal consequence or on things that were worthless?
When I think about God’s evaluation of our lives, I think about my annual physical exam. Part of that exam involved me standing before the physician while he measured my body fat. As I stood there, I regretted every chocolate chip cookie I had ever eaten and every time I avoided getting on the treadmill. Everything I had done was on view to that doctor. The doctor commended me for the good things I was doing: my exercise, the bran flakes I eat every morning. Then he said, “You need to lower your cholesterol. Your blood pressure isn’t where we would like it.” He gave a critique of my life.
The judgment seat of Christ will be an evaluation of everything we have done. Jesus said, “Nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
Different Experiences in Heaven
The Bible teaches that people will have different experiences in Heaven. While we will all praise God for our salvation, that does not mean everybody’s experience is going to be the same.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, we will be rewarded for what we did in this life. In Revelation 22:12, Jesus said, “My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” There are at least five crowns the Bible talks about as rewards in Heaven:
- The imperishable crown is a reward for those who live a disciplined life (1 Corinthians 9:25).
- The crown of rejoicing is a reward for those who dedicate themselves to evangelism and discipleship (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20).
- The crown of righteousness is a reward for those who live obediently in anticipation of Christ’s return (2 Timothy 4:8).
- The crown of life is a reward for those who endure trials without denying Christ (James 1:12).
- The crown of glory is a reward for pastors who are pleasing to God (1 Peter 5:4).
These crowns represent real, tangible rewards that will extend throughout eternity.
Three Kinds of Heavenly Rewards
These crowns represent three kinds of heavenly rewards. First, these rewards include special privileges in Heaven. Some people will receive a special welcome from God, like a parade (2 Peter 1:11). Some people will have special access to the Tree of Life (Revelation 2:7). Some people will even have special treatment by Jesus (Luke 12:37).
Second, these rewards entail special positions in Heaven. Those who are faithful in this life will have more responsibilities in Heaven. In the parable of the talents, Jesus commended those who were faithful: “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
Third, these rewards entail special praise in Heaven. Can you recall when somebody said something especially encouraging to you? Maybe a parent said, “I’m proud of you.” Maybe an employer said, “You’re doing a great job.” You hold on to those things, don’t you? Now, think about what it will be like to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is a reward worth working for.