Question: At our Bible study last night here in prison we were talking about all believers appearing before the judgment seat of Christ to have their works judged. The study book we were using said that this judgment will take place after the rapture of the church and uses 1 Thessalonians:4:14-17 to support this. I’ve always believed this myself but now I’m wondering, why can’t the believer appear before the judgment seat of Christ after death rather than waiting for the Rapture?
Answer: Perhaps there is a simple misunderstanding. I don’t know the study book, but doubt that it indicates that those who die are waiting in heaven for the Rapture to occur so their works can be judged. Is this stated specifically? If so, another reference should have been given.
It is obvious that those who are alive at the Rapture can only appear before the judgment seat of Christ after they have been taken to heaven. Thus it would seem odd to make a point of a post-rapture judgment, if the study book does so. There is no reason, however, why those who have died would not be judged by our Lord immediately upon being taken into His presence. Certainly the idea that they must wait until everyone arrives in heaven cannot be derived from the proof text you say is given.
A scripture that might be interpreted as teaching a post-rapture judgment of the redeemed would be where Paul declares that everyone’s works will be tried by fire to determine individual rewards: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it” (1 Cor:3:13). If “the day” refers to a specific day for all believers, then that would indicate judgment after the Rapture for all. But if “the day” refers to a personal time of judgment for each person, then the judgment would occur upon death.