Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:10-11

2 Corinthians 5:10‑11  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The apostle now introduces the very solemn consideration, not exactly of judgment, but of the judgment-seat of Christ. Judgment of course is included, but the judgment-seat embraces more, as we shall see.
“For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in [literally, by] the body according to what he did, whether good or evil. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God, and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences.” (Vers. 10, 11.)
Grace is not at variance with righteousness, but on the contrary reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Nor can any truth be more indisputable or universally applicable than the manifestation of every man, saint or sinner, before the Lord. There is the utmost precision in the language as always in scripture. Never is it written that we must all be judged. Indeed this would contradict the clear declaration of our Lord in John 5 that the believer has eternal life and does not come into judgment (εἰν κρἰσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται). It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; whereas we, believers, are not all to die, but all to be changed: in fact, none of us alive when Christ comes shall fall asleep but be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven without passing through death, mortality being swallowed up of life. But if no believers shall be judged, all must be manifested, saint no less than sinner, that each may receive the things [done] by the body (or, as the Authorized Version says, done in it), according to what he did, whether good or bad.
Hence it may be noticed that the form of the phrase favors the universality of the manifestation. In 2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18), where no more is meant than all of us Christians, it is ἡμεὶς δὲ πάντες, whereas here it is τοὺς γὰρ παντας ἡμὰς, which lays greater stress on the totality, and makes it thus absolute. Accordingly the language suits the aim or comprehending Christians within an area which has no exception.
So again it is not a question of rewarding service as in 1 Cor. 3:8, 148Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:8)
14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:14)
, but of retribution in the righteous government of God according to what each did whether good or bad. This covers all, just or unjust. It is for the divine glory that every work done by man should appear as it really is before Him who is ordained by God Judge of living and dead. Only as the believer is by grace exempted from judgment both as a partaker of everlasting life and as having in Jesus a perfectly efficacious Savior, his standing before the judgment-seat assumes the character of manifestation, and in no way of a trial with the awful possibility of destruction. There is not the smallest compromise of the salvation he now enjoys by faith; and he is accordingly glorified before he stands there. He will give account of himself to God and be manifested; but there is no condemnation depending on the issue then, as there is none now to those that are in Christ. This may not be reasonable in man's eyes, but it suits the God of all grace and is due to the glory and suffering of the Son of God, and harmonizes with the testimony of the Holy Spirit, whose seal will not be broken or dishonored in that day. And as it is for God's glory, so it is for the perfect blessing of the believer that everything should stand out in the light and he himself should know even as he is known.
Nothing will blind the eye then, no unsuspected motive warp the heart or mind before the judgment-seat of Christ. The merciful care, the overruling power, of God in all our ways will appear in their astonishing wisdom and goodness, no longer concealed by the mists of this life. We shall know perfectly what debtors we were to grace, and the resources and activity of that grace in our checkered history and experience even as saints, and the boundless patience of God to the last, as well as His rich mercy at the first. Even now what a comfort for us to have renounced the dishonesty of the natural heart, to judge ourselves unsparingly in presence of love that never fails, to be in the light of God, and have no guile in our spirit as those who know Him who by redemption can and will impute nothing to us! And this is true to faith now that we believe in Him who suffered once for us that He might bring us to God: not a cloud above, not a spot within. The blood of Jesus elitist His Son cleanses us from all sin. Perfect love casts out fear. We love Him who first loved us, and shirk not but welcome the light which makes everything manifest. “We have been—we are—manifested to God.” It is the mighty and abiding effect of Christ's work, which made us meet for sharing the inheritance of the saints in light. We no longer walk in darkness as once when we had true knowledge of God; we walk in the light as He is in the light.
Yet are there times when what is always true in principle is applied powerfully in fact to the Christian whom God gives in quiet retirement, often in a sick chamber, to review his ways and examine himself alone with God, when energy or self-love or flattery do not enfeeble a holy self-judgment; and all the more deeply, as he firmly holds to the assurance of God's changeless favor. What is thus verified in a high degree by the way will be complete and perfect at that day, when already caught up and glorified in the body we shall be manifested before the judgment-seat without a trace of the shame that either hides or confesses with pain. It is great gain to have such times on earth, though the process be but imperfect, greater still the more it approaches an habitual state. How full the blessing when all is absolutely out in love and light with Christ
But as we have seen the manifestation has an end here described, that each may receive the things [done] in [or, by] the body, good or bad. Even in the saints all had not been good; and all has its result, though not to jeopard the grace that saved by Christ. But as God is not unrighteous to forget the work of faith and labor of love, so failure and wrong entail loss; and the soul itself will in full intelligence and unmurmuring adoration bow and bless Him who orders the place of each in the kingdom, and who while never abandoning His own sovereignty will take note of the greater or less fidelity and devotedness of each in service or ways.
Thus will God be vindicated, displayed and enjoyed in all that He is and does; and thus will the saint have perfect communion with all, in not a single detail any more than as a whole missing the joy and blessedness of what He is to all His own and to each forever.
But the manifestation of the wicked, as it will be at a considerably later time, so it will have a wholly different character and effect. The judgment-seat in this case will be the judgment of the great white throne after the reign of the thousand years, as for the righteous it will be before it, when the dead small and great are (not manifested only but) judged each according to their works. (Rev. 20) They refused the Savior; they stood in their own righteousness or were indifferent about the lack of it, thinking nothing of God or counting Him like themselves. They had no life, as no faith, in Christ; they rise to a resurrection not of life but of judgment, for God will judge all who believe not by Him whom they despised. And if the righteous be saved with difficulty, or a difficulty which nothing but sovereign grace in Christ could surmount, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? It is eternal judgment dealing with evil, and the issues as sure as awful and endless.
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God, and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences.” (Ver. 11.)
The language here again confirms and necessitates the universality of the manifestation already noticed. For as there is no reason to soften down “the terror of the Lord,” so there seems no force in our persuading men if it does not mean the heart of the saint urged in love by the tremendous sense of divine judgment impending on the heedless yet guilty sinner. How deep and loud and constant the call for those who believe to arouse those who believe not, while the day of grace lingers, that they may not unwarned brave that judgment which will be their irremediable ruin to “persuade men” on the one hand of the wickedness, the folly, and the danger of sin; on the other of the reality and freeness, of the fullness and certainty, of salvation in Christ. Fearing always ourselves, no less than knowing His love, we realize for them what unbelief easily forgets till too late, and would be therefore the more in earnest to call to repentance in the light of the gospel of God's grace. And in this we are the more free, because we have been and are manifested to God. Our guilt is gone; we are justified, and are children of light, though once darkness—light in the Lord. Hence we speak what we know and press a remedy, a deliverance, we have proved. We are already manifested to God; so that the manifestation before the judgment, let it be ever so profound or minute, awakens no alarm for ourselves but anxiety for “men,” for all in their natural state, who have not Christ.
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God; and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences.” A most pressing motive was that judgment-seat, with the terror of the Lord for men, to preach the gospel far and wide; and the more because consciously before God, as he humbly but not without a reproof adds, “and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences.” Of the former he was sure and speaks absolutely; of the other he could only say “I hope also,” not because it ought to have been doubtful; but because their state was not all he could desire. And a state that is not good is apt to suspect evil in those who reprove it. The Corinthian saints, though in a measure restored and restoring, had not dealt with the apostle as became them. Love ought always to be able to count on love; but he had to say of them that, the more abundantly he loved them, the less he was loved.