Vol. 10, September-October, 1948 No. 5

The "Bema" Of Christ

(in the light of Col. 2:6-13)

"As, then, you accepted Christ Jesus, the Lord, be walking IN HIM, having been rooted and built up IN HIM, and being confirmed in the faith according as you were taught, super-abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Beware that no one shall be despoiling you through philosophy and empty seduction, in accord with human tradition, in accord with the elements of the world, and not in accord with Christ, seeing that IN HIM the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily. And you are complete IN HIM, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority, IN WHOM you were circumcised also with a circumcision not made with hands, in the stripping off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. Being entombed together WITH HIM in baptism IN WHOM you were roused together also thru (His?) faith in the operation of God, Who rouses Him from among the dead, you also being, dead in the offences and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He vivifies us together jointly WITH HIM, dealing graciously with all our offenses."—(Concordant Version.)

To begin with I want you to notice the words in CAPITAL letters—IN HIM and WITH HIM. How many times do each of these occur? Furthermore, this is in the doctrinal part of the epistle.

It is thus not practical experience and outward walk and life he is here speaking about. He tells us here what was done IN CHRIST, in our behalf. He is presenting these things from the same angle as when he wrote Romans 5:15-19 and I Cor. 15:22, etc. "As in Adam all are dying; even so shall all be vivified in Christ." In these scriptures we see the two representative race-heads with whom God deals. The race died in Adam—the one man. The race is to be made alive in Christ—the One Man. None of these scriptures speak of experiences. They do not tell us what has taken place in humans; but for humans—in behalf of each and all of the race. Let us bear this in mind when we meditate upon Col. 2, as given above.

They do tell us what has taken place IN HIM—for all. And all this has taken place in the past. There is no indication that the different things spoken of here have to be experienced by each one in order to become partakers of it. It has to be BELIEVED, only.

And for this very reason the rectifying standard by which all pertaining to their relationship to God must be tried is not philosophical formulas, tradition, or the like. The Standard is a Person. The measure, the rule and criterion is: "According to Christ." All the benefits enumerated here are "IN HIM." Consequently, no standards or criterions outside of Him are applicable here. All the marvelous benefits enumerated here are crystalized in that precious verse, the 10th: "You are COMPLETE in Him."

The following verses, 11 to 13, are amplifications, show ing how this could be, It tells us of God's method in making all these blessings available to us—sinners, It was by dealing with Him, in our behalf. It starts with

"You were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands."

If we bring this into the realm of actual experience then we might ask how one felt it, when it was done, how old were you when it happened, and so on.

The purpose of circumcision is stated here, It is the "stripping off of the body of flesh," This brings us directly to the question: What does "flesh" stand for here?

There can be no doubt that this expression is used very often (and also here) in a figurative sense, It does not mean the physical body-material—meat, sinews, etc. That "flesh" means just this in many scriptures we doubt not. A few of these are In, 1:14; Acts 2:26 and 32; Ro. 2:28; 7:18; 8:3, etc. As samples of 'figurative usage we might cite Jn. 6:51, 53, 54, 55, 56; Ro. 7:5; 8:4,5,8,9; 13:14; Gal. 5:13, 16, 17, 19, 24, etc. These are only representative samples on both sides.

In our text (Col. 2:11) "flesh" is also used figuratively to express all of the human tendencies, sinful potentialities, that are in contrast to the holiness of God. This, I believe, is the meaning of "flesh" in many scriptures. The physical body-material of which we are built, is neutral in relation to sin and evil; but it is an apt receptacle, and a handy tool for sin and evil to use, It has a preference for sin and evil, instead of for Godliness. In order to be an instrument of righteousness it must be prevailed upon by the Spirit of God, and only then can our body-members be used for Him.

But the "flesh" in us that always wars against the spirit (Gal. 5:17; Ro. 8:5, etc.) is a principle, or power in us that can never be used for righteousness and Godliness. Even God does not attempt to reform it, Even He found no way to improve it. The only thing He saw fit to do was to condemn it to death. I believe that Paul's expression "the law of sin, which is in my members" is equivalent to the "flesh" in this sense, I also believe that it is synonymous with "our old humanity" which "was crucified together with Him," Ro. 6:6.

Now if I am right in this, then the meaning of the "stripping off of the body of flesh" is that this sin-principle, this potential power for sin in us, was dealt with by God in such a way that it was cut off from us, separated from us, disengaged from our being; in such a way similar to the piece of skin that is separated from the body in actual circumcision, done away with and destroyed so it is incapable of ever causing any trouble for the one thus circumcised, as far as his standing in Christ is concerned.

And this was done—according to our text—"in the circumcision of Christ"—not in any personal experience of our lives.

Ah! this should cause spontaneous outburst of praise from our hearts and lips, Is this really so? This pesterous "law of sin in my members," has it really been relegated to death and oblivion—in the reckoning of God, Yes, so we find it here, and so we find it in many, many other blessed divine declarations thru Paul. "If One died for all, they all died." But you may remark that it is circumcision and not death that we are dealing with now. True, but His circumcision was a part of His death. All His "life" on earth was a continuous dying, as our life also should be in relation to what the "flesh" craves.

Blessed truth: "In Christ you were circumcised."

This blessed truth is also stated in Ro. 6:4.

Entombment always signifies the termination of a life history, It is always preceded by death. When Christ died it was for sin and to sin—Ro. 6:10 and 23. Then He was entombed. But He was not alone in this. As Head of the race He had the race with Him, Just as truly as when "One is dead for all they are all dead"—2 Cor. 5:14—just as true is it that when One was buried they were all buried with Him, In other words: In the tomb of Christ ended the history of our association with Adam. Adamic life history terminated there judicially, in God's reckoning. From then on it could be said to the believer: "Thus you also, be reckoning yourselves to be dead, indeed, to sin"—Ro. 6:1l. Yes, and also buried with Him.

But some may say: In the text that we are considering it says that we were buried with Him thru baptism unto death, and, of course, most minds go immediately to water baptism; but this has nothing to do with water.

What do you suppose the Lord meant when He said: "Yet a baptism have I to be baptized with, and how am I being pressed till it should be accomplished!" Lu. 12:50. There cannot be any doubt that this was an intimation of the suffering and death that was before Him. Was it for Himself that He took this?

No, it was for the race, and the race went with him into this baptism of death. "Entombed together with Him through baptism." Ro. 6.

It was "via" baptism (through-by the means of) His baptism of suffering and death that He was brot to the tomb.

It was by the means of the same baptism that we were entombed with Him.

But just as that baptism committed Him to death and the tomb and that by it "He died to sin once," so, likewise, we who have been baptised into Him have been baptised into His death—Ro. 6. This chapter shows that just as He had to die by this baptism so must also the believer die unto sin—practically and experimentally. However, that side is not in the text in Col. 2 which we are considering. There it is only the judicial side. In Ro. 6 it is both.

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For those who cannot get water baptism out of mind when reading Col. 2:12 I want to submit the following:

1. If it is water baptism of the individual, then what about the believers that have not been baptised in water? They must then be deprived of the benefits of His death.

2. None would maintain that any of the other parts of what is here said to be accomplished is outward, actual and experimental. If the baptism here is in water, that would make the one peculiar exception to the rule that is evidently followed—that all are divine activities.

3. How could it be individual water baptism when it is said that all of these different aspects are "in" and "together with Him?" How could we be circumcised, buried, risen, quickened "together with Him" hundreds of years after these things took place with Him?

4. It is self-evident that without death there could not be burial, without burial there could not be raising up, with, out raising up there could not be quickening, and without any or all of these things there could not be salvation and life; but if the baptism spoken of is water baptism then none of these things could take place before water baptism was done. Salvation, then, would hang on water baptism, depend totally on something that man can do with his hands, and not on what has been done in and by God and Christ.

All thru this section the principle of Ro. 4:17 is applied, that "God. . . calleth the things that are not as tho they were."

This principle is applied in an illuminating way relative to Levi's paying of tithes to Melchisedec hundreds of years before Lev! was born. Heb. 7:9: "Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him."

Many have construed the raising up in Col. 2 and elsewhere as an actual fact, and have formulated the doctrine that we who are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection have already now been raised up, actually, and that we will ascend to heavenly glory immediately when passing out of this life. They also teach that as we have died with Christ we shall not taste of death. All these extremeties are reached because they do not enter into God's way of "calling things that be not as tho they were." Again I say: It is not human experiences, but divinely counted spiritual verities our text speaks about.

We have the same precious method of divine reckoning in Ro. 8:30: "Whom. He justified, them He also glorified." The 4th of Romans is God's great book, keeping chapter. Eleven times we find the word "reckon" or "imputed." May we not miss this marvelous viewpoint of God, but learn to "reckon" as He does.

Our assurance of things thus reckoned becoming actual, experimental facts, lies in the Omnipotence of God. He knows that what He has undertaken to do He will accomplish without fail, and thus He counts it as completed.

Raised in the resurrection of Our Lord and Redeemer Who conquered death! As sure as He was raised to life immortal and transcendent glory, so shall we be.

The present, practical benefit of His resurrection is also that His resurrection power is available for us for a "walk in newness of life." Ro. 6:4: "We, then, were entombed together with Him through baptism into death, that, even as Christ was raised from among the dead through the' glory of the Father, thus we also should be walking in newness of life."

But the raising up to new life had to be preceded by

This is expressed in our text thus: "He (God) vivifies us together with Him."

Everyone of the "dead" humanity was potentially vivified, or made alive in Him. All were in Adam, the first race head who led into disobedience and death. All were in Christ, the Second Adam, who led into obedience and life, therefore: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1 Cor. 15:22 and Ro. 5:17-20. Just as sure as Adam brot the whole race into death, just as sure will Christ bring them out of it.

It is too bad that so many are unable (because of tradition) to see more than physical resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:22, "made alive in Christ." As we have shown before in the Diff. the 21st verse speaks of physical resurrection, but the 22nd of something in addition to the former. It should be easy for any believer in the Scriptures to see that being made alive in Christ is far more than physical life. A hundred percent physically alive sinner is not in Christ. These two phases are sharply distinguished in 1 Cor. 15:21 and 22. In the first verse it is resurrection BY Christ. In the last verse it is vivification IN Christ.

Potentially the race was vivified when Christ was vivified.

Experimentally and historically it takes place with each one as they come into light and life with Him thru faith.

judicially—in God's reckoning—it took place with Him when He was raised from the dead.

Actually and individually it takes place when He Who is the life is received by faith.

Objectively it was accomplished in Him.

Subjectively it will be accomplished in everyone, but—"each one in his own order." 1 Cor. 15:23.

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Summarizing: We were: (In Col. 2),

To this could be added that we have also been glorified (Ro. 8:30) and "set in the heavenlies in Christ." Eph. 2. All this for us to be fully accomplished in us and in all of Adam's dead and dying race. May He be praised Who has done such marvelous things for unworthy sinners!

Did we by all this lose sight of our subject:

Not at all. This was the introduction. Why such an extensive one?

Because we are convinced that the great difficulty with many in gaining a proper understanding of the "Bema," or Judgment Seat is the question of guilt. It is so difficult—it seems—to detach judgment of evil acts from guilt. Therefore as long as the problem of guilt is not completely clear in the mind there cannot be a clear apprehension of the Bema and what goes on there.

And let us not lose sight of the fact that the Bema is a Judgment Seat. Seems that some have swung entirely away from that fact, by trying to get away from the idea of guilt. Ro. 14:10, with all the context there, shows that the Bema is for the specific purpose of judging. So also 1 Cor. 3. and also 2 Cor. 5:10. How can one, according to this verse, be "requited" (C. V.), or "receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad" if there is no judging, no estimation, or evaluation? The erroneous ideas about judgment, seem to have inclined some to ,try to counteract these ideas by denying that there is real Judging going on at the Bema.

If judgment in the Scriptural sense is to rectify, to adjust, to set things aright (and no one can deny that is the Scriptural idea of Judgment), then there is as much judging at the Bema as at any other Judgment, described in the, Scriptures.

As said before, the problem of guilt is not at all involved in this Judgment. It is an evaluation of the moral and spiritual qualities of what "has been done in the body, whether good or bad"—or lack of such values—or destructive potentialities of words and acts.

What then, shall we "receive" for what is bad?

It cannot be punishment, because that cannot be meted out where there is no guilt.

'It must be something that counteracts the "bad" and brings in the good. All judgment is for adjusting. It does not only apply something negative, but supplies something.

May it not be corrective teaching? May it not be some kind of discipline? It certainly will be a balancing of the accounts. How may we know? Because it tells us of the possibility that one may lose what one has gained in the way of accumulated rewards. 2 John 8. There is a "full reward," there is total loss. 1 Cor. 3. There must, therefore, be such a balancing of the "accounts." The sum total of constructive influences that we have released will be compared with the destructive influences. If the balance comes out in favor of one he will receive a reward, if not, he will lose it.

If one has a "deficit" then what?
He will "be saved, yet so as by fire."

Yes, and—NO.

We must remember that salvation has three different sides to it: Salvation from Sin's condemnation, from its dominion, and from its presence. Everyone who appears at the Bema has been saved from sin's condemnation, acquired by Adam's transgression—Ro. 5—but none of those who are there have been saved completely from sin's dominion. That is the very reason why some will lose their reward—l Cor. 3—and shall have to be saved from sin's dominion "as by fire." The "fire" salvation is for the purpose of correcting that part. Thus it is not removal of guilt; but removal of incompetency in divine service, caused by incomplete dominion of the power of God in their lives. Thus it seems clear to me that there are three things that will be done at the Bema: Balancing of the" accounts," teaching and discipline.

May it not be that burning up of the "hay, wood and stubble" is the initial act; the removal of all the useless elements that has clung to their lives and service while on earth.

It has been a very common notion that after resurrection there would be absolute perfection in every way. I think we shall have to revise this radically. If this were so, the process of the Bema would be useless and aimless, an empty review of faults, failures and merits. It must be for the purpose of learning something, acquiring better qualifications for the service that we are then to enter upon in the heavenlies. Even after resurrection there are weaknesses and tendencies that have not been overcome while on earth and which are to be corrected at the Bema. I do not think that there are any scriptures that can be brot against this conception.

As far as I am aware of, it is nowhere intimated, or stated that death and resurrection will obliterate all deficiencies.  And it is also clear that such possible weaknesses do not, necessarily, carry with them any guilt.

They may be the remnants of Adamic death in the body, or they may be results of limitations that the person could not, possibly, help. Not all are endowed with equal capacities and abilities. God has imposed limitations on some that others. do not have. It was brot on by that man in John 11 who was born blind. And not only do we see physical shortcomings, but also moral and spiritual.

A child cannot in any way be held guilty because of its ignorance and inability, yet its training may be "as tho' by fire"—hard, severe, bitter. Why not something of the same nature at the Bema?

Discipline need not have any aspect' of guilt related to it. May not also the expression "what they have done in the body" also include what they have failed to do — omissions, as well as commissions?

But some may say that this does not explain fully, or cover adequately the expression "receive" (or be requited — C. V.) for what has been: done in the body. Does it not?

They receive discipline, instruction, criticism, correction. In all these there may be plenty to "receive."

Let us hold in mind that it is not the person that is being judged at this judgment. It is only the acts, words, attitudes, etc., that are to be evaluated. It is totally impersonal. It is for the purpose (no doubt) to teach all the value, or lack of value, of acts and attitudes.

The fact, that, it is not the person, but his acts that are to be dealt with at this judgment shows that the phases of evil that come into view here are of such a nature that the person is not to beheld responsible for it, only accountable. To this some might object, that if this be so, why the admonitions "let every man see to it how he buildeth" — 1 Cor. 3 — to which we might answer that such admonitions and warnings should act as deterrents in carelessness and also, that accountability to God has certainly sufficient weight to it to inspire carefulness, even if there is not responsibility connected with it.

As to the time when the Bema session will be, it seems to be generally agreed that it will come immediately after the Church has been taken up to meet the Lord in the air — 1 Thess. 4:13-16.

How long this session will last, as far as I have been aware of, none has dealt with this side of it. I have for a long time believed it would cover quite a long time. Some time and somehow, the Church shall be made' perfect. The perfection that we now have IN HIM shall be an actual fact in each one. As shown before, death and resurrection will not accomplish this. The idea that has come more and more to the front in recent years, that before the rapture the Body will be made perfect, I have never had any inclination to see as scriptural. But we shall be. — "He should be presenting to Himself a glorified ecclesia, not having spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it maybe holy and flawless:" — Eph. 5 :27.

That, my friends, is not going to be on this side of resurrection. The perfection process has been badly misplaced by certain zealots with more zeal than knowledge. Perfection of the Church while in the flesh, and world-wide revival are twins that never will be born, except in wishful thinking.

In Eph. 4 we see that the upbuilding of the Body shall go on "until we should all attain to the unity of faith, to a realization of the (not a) Son of God, to mature manhood, to the adult stature of Christ's complement."

More and more have I come to the conviction that this perfection process will be at the Bema, and not before.

When in Minneapolis last year I found that Bro. Wheelock had concluded that this Bema session will be at least fifteen years. Maybe so. I shall not even try to go into the details in reaching this conclusion, but I have nothing to say against it.

These will, perhaps, be the main features at the Bema. And then is the time when we will not be inclined to resist it. We shall be glad to get rid of the "wood, hay and stubble." It shall be clear to us how utterly unprofitable it was to keep grudges and to insist of every iota of our "rights" being accorded us. We shall no longer repeat the attitude of Mike on his death bed, being asked by his neighbor to forgive and forget the differences they had had, said: "If I dies it will all be forgiven, but if I lives the old grudge wilt stand."

Exposure: "Be not judging anything before the appointed time, till the Lord should be coming, Who will also illuminate the hidden things of darkness and manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then applause will be coming to each one from God" — 1 Cor. 4:5.

And again: "Some persons sins are taken for granted, preceding them into judgment, yet some are following up also"—1 Tim. 5:24. Let no one think that this is only the unsaved that will have this experience.

And one more: "If we adjudicated ourselves we would not be judged. Yet, being judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" — 1 Cor. 11:31-32.

The Bema of Christ is indeed a most solemn occasion to look forward to, although we know that it is not a question of condemnation for sins committed. We may have succeeded—if we so desired—to cover up some things that we have done, contrary to truth and justice and love, but at the Bema it will all be brought into the light, and its proper evaluation will be given. I doubt not that we shall all be perfectly satisfied with the divine verdict in every detail, and also appreciate to square up with our fellow-saints whatever may have been un-adjusted before. But let us not let things pile up for that solemn occasion. Let us have the same mind as our example, Paul, who said that "we are ambitious also, whether at home or away from home, to be well pleasing to Him." — 2 Cor. 5:9. May God solemnize our hearts in view of the Bema of Christ.

E. A. L. Last updated 9.10.2008