Judgment Seat of Christ
Arlen L. Chitwood
That Every One May Receive
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.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . . . (2 Corinthians 5:10, 11a).
Decisions and determinations emanating from findings at the judgment seat, according to Scripture (cf. Matthew 12:30; 25:19-30; Luke 19:15-26; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11), will fall into two categories:
“Well done, good and faithful servant . . . .”
“You wicked and lazy servant . . . .”
The fact that “a just reward (Hebrews 2:2; KJV: ‘a just recompense’)” — exact payment for services rendered — will be meted out to every individual is set forth in Scripture in a number of different places through a number of different means (types, parables, metaphors, direct statements).
Beginning with the writings of Moses in the book of Genesis and terminating with the writings of John in the book of Revelation, Scripture is replete with information concerning exactly what the future holds for all Christians; and there is no excuse for any Christian with an open Bible set before him to be other than knowledgeable concerning these things.
Each Christian, individually, will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The specific statement is made that Christians will be judged solely on the basis of that which they themselves have done, which will be a judgment solely on the basis of works.
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by [in] fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
(1 Corinthians 3:13).
The works of Christians that will be tried “by [in] fire” in that coming day will, according to Scripture, fall into two central categories: “gold, silver, precious stones,” and “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12). And every Christian will receive “a just reward (KJV: ‘a just recompense,’)” completely commensurate with that revealed by his works.
Reason for Judgment
There are two major events in Scripture, common to all Christians, with which every Christian should be intimately familiar.
One event is that past moment when the individual became a Christian by and through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The other event is that future moment when the same individual will be removed from the earth to appear before the Lord in judgment.
A Christian’s presently possessed salvation in no way prepares him for that which will occur at the judgment seat. Becoming a Christian only places the individual in a position where he can appear at this judgment.
Otherwise, he would appear at the great white throne judgment, with the unsaved dead from throughout Man’s Day (Revelation 20:11-15).
Issues of the judgment seat of Christ will occur before the Millennium, and issues of the great white throne judgment will occur after the Millennium. Issues of the judgment seat of Christ must occur before the Millennium for the simple reason that these issues will involve the Millennium itself. Such will not be the case with judgment to be executed at the great white throne. Issues of this judgment will involve only the eternal ages beyond the Millennium. Thus, the judgment seat of Christ finds its place in Scripture preceding the Millennium, and the great white throne judgment finds its place in Scripture following the Millennium.
The Church was brought into existence to be the recipient of that part of the kingdom that Israel rejected, the kingdom of the heavens; and the Church must appear in judgment, with the kingdom of the heavens in view, preceding the time Christ takes the kingdom.
The primary purpose for the judgment seat of Christ is to reveal, by and through a testing “by [in] fire,” each Christian’s qualifications for occupying one of the numerous proffered positions as a co-heir with Christ in the kingdom. Emanating out of this revelation through testing will be a just reward (KJV: recompense) — each individual receiving exactly what he deserves, either receiving rewards commensurate with his service or suffering loss commensurate with his failure to serve.
Christians, at the judgment seat, will be shown to be either qualified or disqualified to occupy positions of power and authority with Christ in the kingdom. And every Christian will either enter into and occupy one of these positions or be denied one of these positions.
Issues surrounding the judgment seat will involve the activities of two dispensations — the present dispensation, and the coming dispensation. The present dispensation is one filled with trials, testing, and preparation; and issues of the judgment seat will be based entirely upon Christian involvement in these activities, with a view to the coming dispensation. Then, in the coming dispensation, the Messianic Era, findings and determinations previously made at the judgment seat will be brought to pass.
In the coming dispensation, every Christian will find himself in one of two positions. He will either occupy a position of honor and glory, or he will occupy a position of shame and disgrace. And there will be no equality among Christians in either position, for there will have previously been a just reward (recompense) at the judgment seat.
There will be a reaping in accord with the sowing. Every Christian will “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” This is the reason why some Christians will occupy higher positions in the kingdom than other Christians. And this is also the reason why, while some Christians will be given territorial authority, other Christians will be denied any authority at all (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27).
The words, “judgment seat,” are a translation of the Greek word bema. This word refers to an elevated platform upon which the chair of a magistrate rested. This was the recognized place of magisterial authority; and the person occupying this chair issued decrees, judgments, etc. relative to the matter at hand.
Some expositors have sought to understand the word bema in the sense that it was used in connection with the ancient Grecian athletic games in Athens. At these games, the bema was a raised platform upon which the president or the umpire sat; and the victorious participants would appear before the bema, at the conclusion of the contests, to be rewarded. At these games, there was no thought of judicial activity in connection with the bema, only rewards; and this use of the word has led many Christians to view the bema of Christ within the same framework — a rewarding stand, apart from judicial activity.
However, the word bema is used a number of times in the New Testament in quite a different sense, and Scripture must first and foremost be understood in the light of other Scripture. The use of words in contemporary sources outside the Scriptures can, at times, provide added light on definitions, meanings, etc.; and this could extend into the way in which the word bema was used in connection with the athletic games in Athens. But the use of this word in connection with these games shows only one facet of the way in which the word is to be understood. New Testament references show other facets, which are quite different.
In many instances, rewards will emanate from findings at the judgment seat. Every man’s work will be tried “by [in] fire.” The race will have been run (the present “race of the faith”), judgment will follow, and only then will rewards come into the picture. The Grecian athletic games had only the contests and rewards in view, with no thought of judicial activity in connection with loss following the various contests. The use of the word bema in this respect shows only a portion of one side of the judgment seat.
Victorious and non-victorious runners alike will appear before the judgment seat of Christ: “For we must ALL appear . . . .” This was not true at the Grecian athletic games. Only the victorious participants appeared before the bema at these games. But all Christians will appear before Christ’s bema, judgment will be executed, and, as previously seen, a just reward (recompense) will result in every Christian receiving “the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad “ (2 Corinthians 5:10b).
Despite the previous differences, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul likened himself to a contestant in the games of that day, though one with an entirely different purpose and goal in view. A contestant in the games conditioned himself physically, with his ultimate goal being the reception of a corruptible crown; but Paul, as a contestant in the race of the faith, conditioned himself spiritually, with his ultimate goal being the reception of an incorruptible crown.
The thought in both contests is straining every muscle of one’s being as the contestant moves toward the goal.
(The word translated “striveth — NKJV: ‘competes’ — [v. 25]” is from agonizomai in the Greek text. This is the word from which the English word “agonize” is derived. Note Luke 13:24 where the same word is translated “strive”; note also the intensified form of this same word [epagonizomai], translated “earnestly contend,” in Jude 3.)
Paul knew that he would appear before Christ’s bema at the termination of the contest, as a runner either approved for an incorruptible crown or disapproved for this crown (in verse 27 the word “castaway” in the KJV and “disqualified” in the NKJV [Greek: adokimos] should be translated “disapproved”).
At that time, approval will result in the person subsequently being crowned (after Christ receives the kingdom and returns [cf. Daniel 7:13, 14; Revelation 19:11ff]), and disapproval will result in the crown subsequently being denied. The contestant who fails in the race of the faith will also “suffer loss” at this time (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15).
The word bema is only used twice in the New Testament relative to the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The reference in Romans 14:10, according to some Greek manuscripts, should be translated “judgment seat of God.” This is the rendering preferred by most commentators, but the rendering is open to question.
In the final analysis though, the question resolves itself as really being immaterial. “For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). And since the judgment seat in Romans 14:10 is the one before which all Christians must stand, this can only be synonymous with the judgment seat of Christ referred to in 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Other uses of the word bema in the New Testament are found in the gospel accounts of Matthew and John and in the book of Acts. In these accounts, the word bema appears in connection with magisterial functions of Pilate, Herod, Gallio, Festus, and Caesar.
Note the different usages of the word bema in these three books:
1) Matthew 27:19; John 19:13: The word bema is used in these two passages referring to the place where Pilate sat when he issued the decrees that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate sat in judgment upon God’s Son, but the day is coming when these roles will be reversed. God’s Son will one day sit in judgment upon Pilate; and the past judgment rendered by Pilate, among other things, will be accounted for (Revelation 20:12).
2) Acts 12:21: Herod arrayed in “royal apparel,” sat upon “his throne [bema] and made an oration.” The people listening associated his voice with that of “God” rather than “man”; and Herod, not giving God the glory, was executed by the angel of the Lord.
3) Acts 18:12, 16, 17: Gallio, deputy of Achaia, refused to judge Paul when the Jews “brought him to the judgment seat [bema]” (vv. 12-16). Then in verse seventeen, “the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat [bema].”
4) Acts 25:6, 10, 17: Paul was brought before Festus’ “judgment seat [bema],” which he called “Caesar’s judgment seat [bema]”; and upon Paul’s appeal to Caesar, Festus rendered the decision to send him to Rome.
The use of the word bema in the preceding passages is not at all in accord with the thought of a rewarding stand. In each instance the judicial activities of a magistrate is in view, which is exactly the Scriptural view of the judgment seat of Christ. When the various Scriptures bearing upon the subject are viewed together, it is clearly revealed that this judgment will result not only in praise and rewards but also in rebuke and suffering loss. The latter will be as much of a reality as the former, or vice versa; for, again, every person will “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Justification by Faith, Works
At the judgment seat of Christ there will be an execution of perfect justice and righteousness. If rewards are merited, then rewards will be forthcoming; if, on the other hand, punishment is merited, then punishment will be forthcoming. Every Christian will be judged “according to his works,” and there will be exact payment for services rendered. The former will be exactly commensurate with the latter.
In Scripture there is a justification by faith and there is also a justification by works. And, correspondingly, there is a salvation associated with each. Verses such as Ephesians 2:8, 9 deal with justification by faith, with Ephesians 2:10 leading into the thought of justification by works. Then, a passage of Scripture such as James 2:14-26 deals more in detail with justification by works.
This is where individuals often commit mayhem when studying Scripture. They see only justification by faith throughout Scripture, and they attempt to make passages such as James 2:14-26 fit into the framework of teachings surrounding justification by faith. And, as a result, confusion reigns supreme.
Justification by faith is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary and has to do with the salvation that Christians presently possess — the salvation of the spirit (“. . . that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:6b]). Works performed by the one being justified by faith cannot enter into this justification in any form or fashion — either preceding or following salvation.
That is, unredeemed man cannot do any works to be saved, and redeemed man cannot do any works to either stay saved or to show that he has been saved. It is a justification “by grace through faith” completely apart from the works of fallen man — whether preceding or following salvation. Works enter into this justification only to the extent that Christ performed the works on man’s behalf, and man can be justified only by receiving that which Christ has already done.
Justification by works, on the other hand, is based entirely upon the actions of those who have already been justified by faith, those who have been justified on the basis of Christ’s finished work. “Faith” itself is not part of justification by works. There is no such thing in Scripture as a justification by faith and works. There is a justification by faith, and there is a justification by works; but there is no such thing as a justification resulting from a combination of the two.
It is true that works emanate out of faith. And it would be equally true that a different type of works, on the other hand, would emanate out of unfaithfulness (James 2:14-26). All Christians will be judged on the basis of that which emanated out of one or the other. They will be judged either on the basis of that which emanated out of their faithfulness or on the basis of that which emanated out of their unfaithfulness. That is, they will be judged on the basis of their prior reaction to faith (cf. Romans 1:17), which will have to do with either their prior faithfulness or their prior unfaithfulness. And, emanating out of the former or out of the latter will be a revelation of works at the judgment seat comparable to either “gold, silver, precious stones” or “wood, hay, straw.”
In justification by faith, it is the work of Another that makes possible justification on the basis of faith; in justification by works, it is faithfulness on the part of those who have already been justified by faith that not only results in works but makes possible justification on the basis of works.
In this respect, the type of works resulting in justification by works emanate from one’s faithfulness to his calling; and works of this nature, in turn, bring faith to its proper goal. And the goal of faith, brought to this point as a result of works, is the salvation of one’s soul — the salvation associated with justification by works (cf. James 2:22; 1 Peter 1:9).
Thus, justification by faith is based entirely upon Christ’s righteous, justifying act — His finished work at Calvary (Romans 5:16, 18); and justification by works is based entirely upon the “righteous acts of the saints” — the works of those having previously been justified by faith, through the work of Another (Revelation 19:8, ASV).
The word translated “righteous acts (KJV: ‘righteousness’)” is plural in the Greek text (dikaiomata) and cannot refer to the imputed righteousness of Christ possessed by every Christian (which is a singular righteousness). Dikaiomata in this verse can only have to do with the works of saved individuals (the same word, appearing in the singular, is translated “justification” and “righteousness” in Romans 5:16, 18 [referring to justification by faith, made possible through Christ’s finished work at Calvary]; and a cognate verb [from dikaioo] is translated “justified” in James 2:24 [referring to both justification by faith and justification by works]).
The “righteous acts of the saints” — justifying acts of the saints — emanate out of faith (faithfulness to one’s calling). And these acts alone will result in justification by works.
The type of works possessed by every Christian will be revealed “by [in] fire” at the judgment seat. Works emanating out of faith will be revealed as works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones.” And works of this nature will bring about three things:
1) Justification by works (i.e., a justification on the basis of works that will have emanated out of faithfulness [James 2:14-26]).
2) Provide the Christian with a wedding garment (made up of the righteous acts of the saints [Revelation 19:7, 8 cf. Ruth 3:3; Matthew 22:8-14]).
3) Bring faith to its proper goal (which will result in the salvation of the soul [1 Peter 1:4-9]).
An individual having been justified by works will appear in Christ’s presence properly clothed. He will possess a wedding garment; and, consequently, he will be in a position to participate in the activities attendant the bride. Having denied himself, taken up his cross, and followed Christ, he will realize the salvation of his soul (Matthew 16:24-27). And he will be among those who will occupy positions as joint-heirs with Christ in the kingdom.
An individual having failed to be justified by works will appear in Christ’s presence improperly clothed. He will not possess a wedding garment; and, consequently, he will not only be naked but also ashamed (cf. Revelation 3:15, 17, 18; note “works” [v. 15], “naked” [v. 17], and “shame” [v. 18]).
Lacking a wedding garment, he will be in no position to participate in the activities attendant the bride. Having saved his life (soul) — living for self, rather than having lost his life (soul) for Christ's sake during the present day of trials and testing (Matthew 16:25) — he will not realize the salvation of his life (soul) in that coming day. Faith will not have been brought to its proper goal; and, as a result, he will not be among those who will occupy positions as co-heirs with Christ in the kingdom.
(Saving one’s life, living for self, has to do with allowing the self-life [the soulical man] with all its fleshly desires, appetites, etc. to control oneself [in opposition to Matthew 16:24]; losing one’s life for Christ’s sake, on the other hand, has to do with bringing the self-life [the soulical man] with all its fleshly desires, appetites, etc. under subjection to the spiritual man [cf. Genesis 16:9; Galatians 4:21-31], taking up one’s cross, and following Christ [in accord with Matthew 16:24].)
Terror of the Lord
Faithfulness to one’s calling, the righteous acts of the saints (the wedding garment, the covering associated with works emanating out of faithfulness, providing a justification by works), and the salvation of the soul are all intimately related and have to do with issues surrounding the judgment seat. Scripture deals with this overall subject on a far broader scale than many realize. Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; and 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11 are only three of many passages dealing, either directly or indirectly, with the judgment seat in the New Testament. From the parables in the gospel of Matthew (e.g., 22:1-14; 24:40-25:30) to the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, the New Testament is replete with information concerning things related to the judgment seat.
According to 2 Corinthians 5:11, the judgment seat is the place where “the terror of the Lord” will be manifested. The word “terror” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word phobos, referring to that which causes “fear,” “terror,” “apprehension.” This is the same word translated “fearful” in Hebrews l0:31 (“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”), another reference to events at the judgment seat.
Actually, Hebrews 10:30, 31 forms a parallel reference to 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11, and the preceding verses (vv. 26-29) provide additional information concerning that facet of the judgment seat associated with “the terror of the Lord.”
Note how this entire section in Hebrews chapter ten begins:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge [Greek: epignosis, mature knowledge] of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
but a certain fearful [Greek: phoberos, a cognate of phobos] expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation that will devour the adversaries. (vv. 26, 27)
That Christians, rather than the unredeemed, are in view is evident. The verses introducing this passage (vv. 19-25) deal with Christians alone (“Having therefore, brethren, boldness . . . .” [v. 19]), and, beginning with verse twenty-six, there is no change in the identity of those addressed.
The word “we,” appearing twice in this verse, shows that the writer is talking about himself and other Christians, continuing without a break in the overall continuity of thought from the preceding verses. Further, the word “knowledge” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word epignosis, showing that these individuals had acquired a mature knowledge of the truth (“after we have received the knowledge [mature knowledge] of the truth”).
Gnosis is the regular Greek word for “knowledge,” and epignosis is an intensified form of this word (by means of a preposition being prefixed to the word), referring to “a mature knowledge.” Only redeemed individuals possess saved spirits into which the Word of God can be received; and only redeemed individuals possess the indwelling Holy Spirit who can take the Word of God, after it has been received into their saved human spirits, and lead them into “all truth” (resulting first in gnosis, but leading into epignosis). None of this is possible for the unredeemed, for they possess no means to either receive or rightly divide the Word of God.
The “things of the Spirit of God,” revealed through the Word of God (John 16:13-15), are “foolishness” to the unredeemed; they cannot “know [gnosis]” these things, for these things “are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The unredeemed man, the soulical man, cannot even come into a rudimentary understanding (gnosis) of the things revealed by and through the Spirit of God, much less a mature understanding, referred to by the word epignosis (note also the word “illuminated” in v. 32. This is from the same Greek word translated “enlightened” in Hebrews 6:4, which, drawing from the type in chapters 3 and 4, can refer only to the saved).
Thus, there can be no room for controversy concerning exactly who is in view in Hebrews 10:26ff. Drawing from both the text and the context, the passage can be understood only one way — a passage of Scripture dealing with the saved alone.
(Epignosis in v. 26, as it is used throughout the epistles, is often seen having a peculiar relationship to knowledge as it pertains to the Word of the Kingdom. And, contextually [from vv. 23-25], that is the relationship seen in this verse through the use of epignosis. Then, also contextually, it is only those who have come into this mature knowledge of the Word of the Kingdom who are able to commit the particular sin in view.)
Christ provided Himself as the Sacrifice for sin, His blood is today on the mercy seat in heaven, and He is presently occupying the office of High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary on behalf of sinning Christians. Christ is presently performing a cleansing from defilement for Christians who sin, and all a Christian needs to do in order to avail himself of this provided cleansing is to confess his sin. When he does this, cleansing will occur (1 John 1:9).
The willful sin of Hebrews 10:26 results in defilement, as does any sin. But, a different situation exists with this sin. This verse states that no sacrifice exists for those who sin after the manner dealt with by the verse, which separates it from Christ’s present ministry.
How does this sin differ from any other sin that Christians can commit? Is it possible that this sin could somehow be brought under Christ’s present ministry and confessed, with forgiveness resulting from the person's confession? If so, How? If not, Why not?
1) Christ’s Present Ministry
To properly understand the willful sin, for several reasons (one reason being contextual), it should be viewed, first of all, in the light of Christ’s present high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Note the context of Hebrews 10:26 (vv. 19-22) and also 1 John 1:6-2:2. The “blood” of Christ is presently on the mercy seat in the “holiest [Holy of Holies]” of the heavenly sanctuary; and a “new and living way” of access has been provided through the One who shed this blood, our “High Priest over the house of God.”
The blood of Christ, presently on the mercy seat of the heavenly sanctuary, “cleanses [keeps on cleansing]” Christians who have become defiled (through sin) as they “walk [keep on walking] in the light” (1 John 1:7; cf. Hebrews 10:22). It is impossible for the ones walking in the light to occupy a position other than being cleansed from sin; but, viewing the other side of the picture, it is entirely possible for Christians to not walk in the light, in which case there will be no cleansing.
To understand exactly what is meant by walking in the light, one must draw from the typology of the tabernacle. The light was provided by a seven-leafed golden candlestick inside the Holy Place where the priests carried on part of their ministry, and the only way that these priests were permitted to enter the Holy Place and walk in this light was through a previous cleansing at the brazen laver (basin) in the courtyard.
This laver lay between the brazen altar and the Holy Place and had upper and lower basins for washing the hands and feet. The entire bodies of these priests had been washed upon their entrance into the priesthood (Exodus 29:4; 40:12-15) — an act never to be repeated — but in their subsequent ministry, it was necessary to avail themselves of partial washings (washings of parts of the body) at the laver. Their hands and feet became soiled in their ministry, and these parts of the body had to be cleansed prior to entering the Holy Place (Exodus 30:18-21; 40:30-32).
Exactly the same thing holds true for Christians, New Testament priests, in the antitype today. Christians have received a complete washing (received at the point of the birth from above, upon their entrance into the priesthood) — an act never to be repeated. But, as the Old Testament priests, they must now avail themselves of partial washings in their ministry. And this is seen in the type by and through the actions of Old Testament priests washing at the laver.
This is what Jesus alluded to in John 13:8, 10:
If I do not wash [Greek: nipto, referring to a part of the body (the Septuagint uses this same word in Exodus 30:19, 21)] you, you have no part with me [note: not ‘in me,’ but ‘with me’]”; and “He who is washed [Greek: louo, (‘bathed’ in the NKJV) referring to the entire body (the Septuagint uses this same word in Exodus 29:4; 40:12)] needs only to wash [Greek: nipto] his feet . . . .
This is also what is alluded to in Hebrews 10:22 and 1 John 1:7.
Old Testament priests whose hands and feet had become soiled through activity in the courtyard could not bypass the laver and proceed on to the Holy Place. Nor can New Testament priests. New Testament priests must first, as the Old Testament priests, avail themselves of cleansing. Defilement in the Christians’ case comes through contact with sin; and cleansing, according to the context of 1 John 1:7, is accomplished through confession of sin:
If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (v. 9)
And this cleansing is accomplished solely on the basis of Christ’s shed blood on the mercy seat in the heavenly sanctuary:
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate [Greek: parakletos, one called alongside to help in time of need] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
And He Himself is the propitiation [Greek: hilasmos, (God appeased, through Christ’s work on the basis of His shed blood on the mercy seat)] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world [contextually, a reference to all of the saved in the world, not the unsaved (a cleansing for Christians alone is in view; the unsaved and eternal salvation are not in view at all in these verses)].
(1 John 2:1, 2)
Thus, the ones walking in the light in 1 John 1:7 are Christians who have availed themselves of the provision in 1 John 1:9. As they continue walking in the light (continue availing themselves of this provision, allowing continued access to the Holy Place), the blood of Christ continues cleansing them from “all sin.”
And a Christian refusing to avail himself of provided cleansing today is seen walking in darkness. He has not come to the laver and, consequently, can only remain in the darkened courtyard outside the light in the Holy Place. He has refused confession of sin; he has refused the cleansing provided by Christ. And for such an individual, in reality, “there remains no more sacrifice for sins.” That is, there is no sacrifice for those refusing the sacrifice that God has provided in the person of His Son.
Thus, contextually (Hebrews 10:19-22), one might think that the willful sin in verse twenty-six (for which there is no sacrifice) would be a Christian’s refusal to avail himself of Christ’s present high priestly ministry. In this respect, there would be no sacrifice for his unconfessed sins (for a Christian refusing to confess his sins would be refusing the provided sacrifice).
2) But . . . .
But Christians harboring sins of the flesh and refusing to confess these sins cannot possibly be that which they are warned against in Hebrews 10:26. This verse continues the thought from the immediately preceding verses (vv. 23-25), and this thought has nothing whatsoever with Christians confessing (or not confessing) their sins.
Nor can the willful sin in this verse be thought of in the broad sense of sins committed by Christians in a willful, or a deliberate, or a knowing manner. If the truth were known, it could probably easily be shown that most sins committed by Christians would fall into a singular category — things that Christians knew were sins before they committed them, knew were sins during the time in which they were committing them, and knew were sins after they had committed them.
The only possible way to properly understand the willful sin in Hebrews 10:26, for which there is no sacrifice, is to view this sin, contextually, within the book of Hebrews where it is found. If this is not done, a person will invariably go wrong at this point in Scripture.
Note first that all of the warnings in Hebrews are closely related, drawing heavily from the Old Testament types. The second warning (chapters 3 & 4) draws from the account of the Israelites under Moses, and the same thought is continued in the third warning (6:4ff), relating the matter to Christians.
In both the type (chapters 3 & 4 [second warning]) and the antitype (chapter 6 [third warning]), the sin referenced in the fourth warning (10:26ff) is present. The Israelites under Moses committed a sin for which there was no sacrifice (second warning), and Christians today can commit exactly the same sin, with the same result following (third warning). Then the fourth warning continues with thoughts pertaining to this sin; and the matter has to do with “so great a salvation” (chapter 2 [first warning]), resulting in “blessing” associated with the “birthright” (chapter 12 [fifth warning]).
That is the broad contextual scope of the matter. The Israelites, in the type, through their actions at Kadesh-Barnea — refusing to go in and take the land to which they had been called — committed a sin for which there was no sacrifice. And, with there being no sacrifice for this sin, God didn't, He couldn't, change His mind concerning that which He had decreed pertaining to the matter.
And Christians, in the antitype, can commit exactly the same sin relative to the heavenly land to which they have been called. And, as in the type, no sacrifice exists for such a sin. As in the type, God won’t, He can’t change His mind concerning that which He has decreed pertaining to this sin, if committed by His people today.
This is plain from that which is stated in Hebrews 6:2-4, again drawing from the type in chapters three and four:
For it is impossible . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance . . . .”
(For additional information on the preceding, refer to the author’s book, Let Us Go On, Chapters 4, 5, “Leaving the Principles” and “If They Shall Fall Away.”).
Then note that the reference to this sin is the continuation of a text having to do with a central purpose for Christians assembling together during the present dispensation — whether on Sunday at a regular meeting place, or at any other time or place during the week (vv. 23-25). The particular purpose given in the text is singular: Christians meeting together in order to exhort and encourage one another concerning the hope set before each one of them (“profession of our faith” [v. 23, KJV] should be translated, “confession of our hope”). And this hope set before every Christian is the hope that they might one day realize the very thing to which they have been called — win a crown in the present race of the faith and, as a result, occupy a regal position with Christ in that coming day of His power.
In short, Christians are exhorted to assemble together for a particular purpose, and then they are warned concerning the danger of failing to assemble together on a regular basis for this purpose. They can either find mutual strength in the race of the faith through assembling together, or they can fail to assemble for this mutual strength and find themselves in danger of falling away and becoming involved in that which Scripture refers to as willful sin.
The willful sin, simply put, has to do with apostasy, after one has come into a mature knowledge of the things surrounding the hope set before Christians — something seen in the type in the second warning and in the antitype in the third warning. And sinning after this fashion will result in a Christian failing to come into possession of so great salvation (first warning), synonymous with failing to realize the rights of the firstborn (fifth warning).
Numbers 15:30, 31, immediately following the account of the Israelites refusal to enter into the land at Kadesh-Barnea (chapters 13 & 14), deals with God’s statement concerning a sin for which there was no sacrifice. And an example of such a sin — a man violating the Sabbath — immediately follows God’s instructions concerning the matter.
God’s statement concerning a sin for which there was no sacrifice in this passage had to do with a person acting in open rebellion, followed by his being cut off from the people of Israel (which was exactly what occurred at and following the events at Kadesh-Barnea). And the contextual example not only had to do with the experiences of the Israelites, beginning at Kadesh-Barnea (chapters 13 & 14), but it also had to do with a man violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).
As with the Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea, so with the man violating the Sabbath. There was no sacrifice for the sin committed by either. Rather, in both instances, the Lord commanded that a sentence of death was to be carried out. And, resulting, an entire accountable generation died on the one hand, and a man was taken outside the camp and stoned on the other.
The land set before Christians is associated with a rest, a Sabbath rest, drawing from Genesis 2:1-3 (Hebrews 4:4-9). And a Christian turning his back on this land (after coming into a mature knowledge of the things surrounding the land) would be doing exactly the same thing that the Israelites under Moses did at Kadesh-Barnea (after hearing the report concerning the land by the twelve spies). Then, in another respect, such a Christian would be doing violence to that which God had to say about the Sabbath rest set before the people of God, in a similar respect to the man violating the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32-36.
The Sabbath was a sign pointing to a day of rest following God’s present six days of work (Exodus 31:13-17). As God rested on the seventh day after working six days to restore a past ruined creation (the material creation) — establishing an unchangeable, foundational pattern — He is going to rest on a seventh day (a 1,000-year day) after working six days (six 6,000-year days) to restore two present ruined creations (both man and the material creation once again).
Thus, drawing from both Numbers 13-15 and Hebrews 3, 4, 6, it can easily be shown how Christians, in Hebrews 10:26ff, can sin willfully today. They can do so by and through only one means: coming into a mature knowledge of the truth surrounding their calling, and then apostatizing (turning away from this truth).
Any Christian committing such an act, according to Hebrews 10:29, will have done three things:
1) Trodden “under foot the Son of God.”
2) Considered the blood of Christ “an unholy [a common] thing.”
3) Insulted “the Spirit of grace.”
God places the willful sin in a category of this nature simply because of the high place in which He holds that which He has stated concerning the coming reign of His Son. And, according to Scripture, any Christian coming into a mature knowledge of that which God has stated in this realm, and then turning away — apostatizing — has only one thing awaiting him:
a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (v. 27)
Then note how verses thirty and thirty-one of Hebrews chapter ten parallel 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11:
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord shall judge His people.”
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Events of the judgment seat will be one of the most terrible times many Christians will ever experience, for Christians who have refused to follow the Spirit’s leadership during the present day and time will, at the judgment seat, “fall into the hands of the living God.” Such Christians will find it to be a “fearful,” “terrible” experience, for there the “terror of the Lord” will be manifested, and a completely just reward (recompense) will be meted out.