The “bema seat” was simply a platform in an open area where people would gather to hear the judgment and wisdom of the authority. It wasn’t always about punishment. Sometimes the authority would settle disputes. Sometimes he would establish or communicate laws. Just like today’s courts, the bema seat judgment was used for more than pronouncing sentence on offenders.
In Romans 14 we are cautioned against judging each other when we have doctrinal disputes. One believes he may eat all things, Paul says, while another may eat only vegetables. What may be wrong for one may not be wrong in the heart of another and the only One who gets to make the call is Jesus. He is the authority who will sit in the bema seat, not us. If it is acceptable to Him, then it ought to be acceptable to us.
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Romans 14:10(NKJV)
Who is right and who is wrong? Let’s wait until our Lord tells us. The basic message in this passage is that we must not set ourselves up in the Lord’s position. He is the judge over what is acceptable and what is not.
Notice that this, again, has nothing to do with salvation. It doesn’t even have anything to do with rewards. In the end, we will learn from Jesus. He is our authority. This presents a mystery for those who want to live by rules. I envision a time when the Lord says, “Well done” to someone who smoked cigars, and “Well done” to someone who refrained from smoking. The earthly rules of the legalists will found nowhere in this judgment.