Judgment seat, unresolved problem
When President Reagan came to see Margaret Thatcher, she went
to Heathrow Airport to meet him.
The Greeks and Romans had a similar custom. When a VIP came to
visit some other dignitary, the local man was expected to travel outwards with
his retainers until the two parties met. Then they would reform into one mass
procession, with the local bigwig escorting his honored guest to his own
provincial seat of government, in triumphal procession with great
There is a special Greek expression which was always (and
only) used to describe this ceremony of meeting the incoming VIP. It occurs
three times in the New Testament, thus:
1. "...We went towards Rome. And from thence, when the
brethren heard of us, they came TO MEET [eis apantesin] us, as far as Appii
Forum" (Acts 28:14,15).
Here, the Greek expression is used with its ordinary, earthly
meaning. This shows that Luke and, presumably, the first-century church in
general were familiar with the specialized use of this Greek phrase.
2. "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven... and the dead
in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught
up together with them in the clouds, TO MEET the Lord in the air: and so shall
we ever be with the Lord" (1Th 4:16,17).
This presents us with a big problem that, as far as I am
aware, has never been squarely faced. The Greek clearly indicates that the
saints will be miraculously lifted up to meet the returning Lord at some point
in the upper atmosphere, and then caused to escort him back, in joyful,
triumphant procession, to the earth's surface -- there to be "ever with the
Lord". But wherever can we fit a literal judgment seat into this sequence of
events? It can't be before we are "caught up", as this would then mean the
"meeting in the air" would not be a "meeting" at all, in the sense of the Greek
expression used. And it can't be after we "meet the Lord in the air", because
there could be no joyful, triumphant meeting and procession if the wicked are
still present and all concerned are still wondering whether they are destined
for life or death!
3. "And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold the
bridegroom cometh; go ye out TO MEET him... And while they [the five foolish
virgins] went to buy, the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with
him to the marriage..." (Mat 25:6,10).
This clinches the deduction made above from 1Th, that the
unrighteous will not be present when the righteous meet their Lord. The
invitation to "meet" him (in the special Greek sense of traveling outwards to
meet an incoming potentate) went to both classes -- but only the wise virgins
were in a position to accept the invitation. The foolish virgins were left
behind, and later found themselves locked out of the scene of rejoicing. It
seems impossible to fit a literal judgment seat into this sequence,
So what are we to make of all this? Does Scripture intend us
to regard the judgment seat as real in essence, but symbolic rather than literal
in its nature? (Just as the Biblical devil is real enough in essence, but is a
symbolic devil and not a literal one.) Or is there some other explanation that
fits the facts better? (AH)