"Its use in the epistles by Paul, because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests, is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks.
This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (see 2 Timothy 2:5
). The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema
. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Corinthians. 9:24-25
In all of these passages, “Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema
to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema
to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema
bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.
We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor.
In other words, it is a reward seat and portrays a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination, but it is not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. Such would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the Cross because He totally paid the penalty for our sins.