End Times Judgment
- What is the foundation of judgment?
- ~God is a God of justice
- ~God is a merciful God
- Who carries out the judgment?
- Who is to be judged?
- ~All human beings, dead or alive, believers or unbelievers
- On what basis will humanity be judged?
- ~Judgment is according to knowledge
- ~Judgment is according to deeds
- How will believers be judged?
- When does Judgment take place?
- How then should we live?
- We believe in a God of love. In fact, he is love. But, as we shall see, like any good father, God’s love is both kind and stern.
- We are not called to “roast people over hell” in fiery sermons. We are called to proclaim the message of God’s love. However, if we don’t (lovingly) include the aspect of what Paul calls the sternness of God we are failing to love the people we are addressing. How can we love people who are heading into danger if we don’t warn them? How can we love them if we lull them into a false sense of security that they can safely ignore God and still be confident of going to heaven? How can we love people if we allow them to die not realising that after death there is judgment?
- This subject is an important one. We need to understand it so we can help others to do so, but, above all, to prepare for that judgment ourselves.
the old saying puts it: “We have become matey with the
Almighty.” We have lost much of a sense of God’s holiness. We live in
easy-going, pluralistic society where my truth is as good as your
though it may contradict it and where all truth is relative: we’ve all
we’ll all get prizes. So the idea of accountability is much reduced and
idea that we are accountable to God is largely absent. Yet the NT says:
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is
uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give
account” (Heb 4:13).
- The important thing is that although society and attitudes have changed, God hasn’t. He is still the God of the Bible, including of the Old Testament. Of course, we are not under law but under grace. But God hasn’t changed. He is still as holy as the following Old Testament passages teach.
- This is how the Bible describes the presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai:
- “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’ (Ex 19:16-22). “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Ex 20:18-21).
- Whatever the exact nature of the “thunder and lightning” and trembling mountain, it is clear that God was manifesting his presence in a truly awesome way. They were warned not to come too close on pain of death. Even the priests had to consecrate themselves before they approached the Lord. Just imagine the crashing thunder, the dazzling lightning, the violent shaking of the ground, the thick black smoke concealing glory and majesty beyond their imagination. And, again, God has not changed. This is not the Santa Claus god of much modern thinking. This is the awesome Lord of the universe, utterly holy, radiantly majestic, totally magnificent, enthroned in splendour.
- One commentator wrote: “God's
final preparation was to underline to Moses his deadly nature for any humans
who are not especially prepared to meet him …. Not even the ordinary priests
could survive. Casual familiarity with the Most High is a dangerous thing.”
- It wasn’t just at Sinai that God’s awesome, fearful holiness was present. It was inherent to the Tabernacle and Temple. Only the High Priest was allowed, on one day a year – the Day of Atonement - to enter the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary to offer sacrificial blood. He did so in great fear and trepidation because: “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover …. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die” (Lev 16:2, 12-13).
- There were also many other regulations to do with respecting the holiness of God and of the special objects used in worship in the Tabernacle and Temple. Those responsible for carrying the ark had to cover it with the curtain which shielded the Most Holy Place and carry it with the poles provided which fitted through rings fixed to the side of the ark. They were forbidden to touch it or other holy objects, lest they die (Num 4:5-15). The priests had to wash carefully before going into the sanctuary, lest they die (Ex 30:17-21). They also had to follow the rules of sacrifice strictly. Nadab and Abihu didn’t do so. They deliberately flouted the strict rules and used unconsecrated coals and did what only the high priest should do. They paid for it with their lives.
- Lest it be thought that this is only an Old Testament concept of God, we should note the complementary description of God. The Lord “passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). This is equal to any New Testament concept of God. However it continues: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
- There are many other passages in the OT which underline the holiness of God, such as Isaiah 6.
- Again, holiness is stressed throughout the New Testament.
- Jesus calls his Father “Holy Father” (John 17:11). John describes how: “Day and night [the four living creatures] never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’” (Rev 4:8). Those who overcome the Antichrist sing: “Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev 15:3-4).
- Jesus himself is “the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34, 6:69 cf. Acts 2:27; 13:35). He is “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), the “holy servant” (Acts 4:27, 30). Speaking of him, the writer to the Hebrews says: “Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all ….. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:10, 14 cf 13:12). When Jesus was transfigured the disciples “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:6).
- Then, of course, the third person of the Trinity is frequently called the Holy Spirit. Such is the holiness of the Spirit that Jesus warns: “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:31-32). When Ananias “lied to the Holy Spirit” over his giving “he fell down and died” as did his wife (Acts 5:1-11).
- The church, like Israel, is called a holy people on many occasions (Acts 9:13; Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1, 18; 2:21; 3:18; 5:3; Php 1:1;Col 1:2, 12; 3:12; 2 Thess 1:10; 1 Tim 2:8-9; 2 Tim 2:21; Philem 1:5; Heb 3:1) and must live accordingly. God chose believers in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). God reconciled us by Christ’s physical body through death to present us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Col 1:22). We “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 cf 9).
- In view of all this, Paul urges Christians to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and to control our bodies “in a way that is holy and honourable …. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thess 4:4-7). He prays that God will strengthen the hearts of Christians so that they “will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess 3:13 cf. 2 Peter 3:11). We are to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
- Peter writes: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
- The laws about the High Priest entering the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement were still in place in Jesus day. Maybe that influenced his action in driving out the money changers from the Temple court. God had not changed.
- However, when Jesus died “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” and, reminiscent of Sinai, “The earth shook, the rocks split” (Matt 27:51). We must not forget that God is still the same utterly holy God as he was in Old Testament times, but by his death Jesus gave penitent sinners access to his Father’s presence.
- The concept of fearing God is alien to much modern thinking, even in the church. The words “God-fearing” or “God-fearer” have dropped out of use. And yet fear of God is at the heart of true Christianity. As we shall see, fear of God is not just important in the Old Testament but also in the New Testament.
- Moses told Israel they were required to fear, obey and love God: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” (Deut 10:12). Adults, children and foreigners must learn to fear God (Deut 31:12-13). To fear God and to keep his commandments is the duty of all mankind (Eccl 12:13)
- The Psalmist writes: “Who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psa 89:6-8)
- Fear of God is a motive for holy living and governs the way we should treat other people (Lev 19:14; 25:17; 2 Chron 19:7; Neh 5:9-11). Humility is the fear of the Lord; (Prov 22:4).
- In fact: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10). Also “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love” (Psa 33:18) and “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psa 34:7)
- Isaiah foretells that the Messiah will exemplify fear of the Lord: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isa 11:2-3).
- The early church was characterised by the fear of the Lord: “The church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:31). Fear of the Lord was Paul’s motive for evangelism (2 Cor 5:11) and early evangelism was successful amongst the “God-fearing” (Acts 13:26; 17:34).
- Sinners have “no fear of God before their eyes” (Psa 36:1). Paul says no-one is righteous “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18). Peter exhorts believers to fear God (1 Peter 2:17). So did the angel who “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people” in Rev 14:6-7. “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.”
What does it mean to fear God?
- It means to be in awe of his otherness, his greatness, his majesty and his power; to recognise our humanity, our frailty and our sin; to repent and to seek to order our lives in line with his standards – or else to be judged by the Lord.
- Judgment is based upon the fundamental truth that God is a God of justice who is gracious and compassionate (Isa 30:18). He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4). There is so much injustice in this world and often it is the innocent who suffer. But God loves justice (Psa 11:7) and judges justly particularly for those who suffer innocently. In his suffering and experience of injustice Jesus “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1Peter 2:23). Jesus said: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice” (Luke 18:7-8). John foresaw that the saints who endure the Antichrist will eventually sing “Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (Rev 15:3 cf Rev 16:7).
- At the heart of the Gospel is God’s justification of believers. He declares them righteous because of the cross of Christ where his justice and compassion were fulfilled by Jesus bearing our sins. This is the language of the law court. God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (Rom 3:30). Paul asks: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one.” (Rom 8:33-34). Through justification and sanctification God intends to bring about a holy people in the fulfilment of his kingdom who are righteous in all their ways – a truly just society.
- So God desires this world to reflect his justice and compassion. The kingdom of God, established ultimately through Christ, is a kingdom of love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness. Jesus the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever” (Isa 9:7). The sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of his kingdom (Heb 1:8). He will bring justice to the nations and particularly to the poor (Isa 11:4). He defends, sustains and secures justice for the fatherless, widows, alien, oppressed, weak, needy and poor.
- God hates injustice, oppression, extortion, dispossession, dishonest business, bribery and commands us to avoid them. He commands us to defend the rights of the weak, needy, fatherless, poor and oppressed; to rescue the oppressed and administer justice. Under Old Testament law the poor are to be provided with food, not to be charged interest or sold food at a profit. Their debts may be cancelled.
- God watches over foreigners (or people from another tribe, race, social or religious background) and condemns those who ill-treat or withhold justice from them. All human beings are equal in God's sight (Gen 1.26-27; Gal 3.28). He commands us to love foreigners as ourselves, to treat them as our native-born and help them where necessary (Lev 19.33f). Even the offender is to have humane punishment and is not to be degraded (Deut 25.2f).
- It is vital to understand the importance of justice and to recognise that perfect justice is the basis of the Judgment of God. He will one day put right all those wrongs which have not been corrected in this life, as a precursor to the fulfilment of his kingdom, over which he will reign with perfect justice.
- In dealing with the End Time Judgment, we must remember the love and kindness of God who offers salvation to everyone. Judgment will be severe, but it will not be unloving or without mercy. However, despite the love, kindness and mercy of God, there will be plenty of impenitent, rebellious people who will experience his judgment. No-one, including believers, deserves his mercy but the fact is that believers in Christ have come to repentance and, despite their unworthiness, will be declared righteous by God and acceptable in his eternal kingdom.
- As we have noted, God’s love is manifested in both kindness and sternness (Rom 11:22). He is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4, James 5:11), “full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11) “delights to show mercy” (Mic 7:18) and delights in kindness (Jer 9:24). His “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
- We saw above that immediately after Moses was given the Ten Commandments “The LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’” (Ex 34:5-7). This is a foundational statement about the nature of God revealed in the OT.
- There is a similar statement in Deut 7:7-9: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you ... keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”
- Jeremiah writes that “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jer 31:3).
- Hosea writes a beautiful passage about the tension between compassion and wrath in God as he deals with his rebellious people:
- “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the LORD. Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One’ (Hosea 11:1-12).
- There are many other references to the love of God in the OT.
- The New Testament teaches that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) and he is love even in judgment.
- God demonstrated his love ultimately in giving his Son up to death “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is very important, whilst considering End Time Judgment to remember that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). The fact that many will not believe and be saved is their own responsibility. God has made every effort to provide salvation “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10).
- Believers can rejoice in the overwhelming love of God. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Col 3:12). We can “see what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Also we can say with Paul: “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
- Bearing in mind what we have just been considering about the love of God shown in Christ, it is very significant that the Son is God’s agent of judgment.
- Jesus is quite clear that: “the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him” (John 5:22-23 cf Acts 17:31). Jesus, who was so despised, humiliated and rejected, will be finally vindicated and honoured by being the judge of all.
- However, in his love he mentions the offer of salvation in the same breath as judgment. This shows the love of God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). But they have to come to faith in Christ. Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life … For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man” John 5:24-27).
- On the one hand Jesus says: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved … I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:9-10). On the other, he said: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39).
- The purpose of his coming is that all should be saved but, because of human unbelief, the result of his coming will sometimes be judgment. This is outlined in the following passage: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil … Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:17-19, 36). Jesus says that his word will be the judge on the Day of Judgment because it is not only his word but the Father’s also: “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken” (John 12:47-49).
- So the judge is our loving saviour who wants all men to be saved. He is also “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Heb 4:15). What better judge could we have? Nevertheless, as we shall see, the ultimate punishment for those who reject the gospel is severe.
- It is important to add that Jesus judges in line with the Father’s will. He says: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does … By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:19, 30). Paul writes: “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom 14:12). Sanday & Headlam comment: “God here is mentioned as Judge because (see 2:16) He judges the world through Christ …. It is important to notice how easily Paul passes from Christos to theos. The Father and the Son were in his mind so united in function that they may often be interchanged. God, or Christ, or God through Christ, will judge the world.”
- No-one will escape the judgment of God. Jesus said: “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matt 16:27). He also described the judging of the nations – the separation of the ‘sheep’ from the ‘goats’ according to how they have behaved (Matt 25:31-46).
- Paul says God will judge people’s secrets through Jesus Christ (Rom 2:16). He adds: “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom 14:10-12). Paul then refers to: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” and says: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess 1:7-8).
- The writer to the Hebrews says: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27).
- Then John describes the final judgment: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.” (Rev 20:11-13).
- The New Testament clearly teaches that we believers will be judged too as well as unbelievers. We need to understand that to be judged means to be subject to the justice of God and does not necessarily mean condemnation. We shall return to this important subject later.
- The New Testament also teaches that the corrupt, oppressive politico-economic system (rule of man in opposition to God) will be judged. Using the symbol of Babylon for this system John describes its downfall in Revelation 18 cf. 14:8; 16:19. Satan (Rev 20:10), his angels (2 Peter 2:4) and the Antichrist (Rev 19:20) will also be judged.
- God judges people according to the spiritual light they have, so he doesn’t condemn them for not obeying a law of which they are unaware. Paul writes: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law … (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Rom 2:12, 14-15).
- He also points out that people who do not have the law can “suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom 1:18-20).
- Jesus makes it clear that he will “reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt 16:27). In John’s vision of the final judgment “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books … each person was judged according to what he had done” (Rev 20:12-13). Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
- Jesus also warns: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matt 12:36).
- It is important, including pastorally, that the teaching of Scripture on this matter is clearly understood, so we need to examine it thoroughly.
- John 5:24 gives the impression that believers will not be judged at all. Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” But this need to be seen in the context of the New Testament as a whole. For example, Paul writes (clearly to believers): “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom 14:10-12). It is clear then that John 5:24 means that believers will not be condemned, but they will stand before God (the Son) as judge. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
- Professor William Hendriksen commented on John 3:18: “The one who abides in Christ by faith is not judged; i.e. no sentence of condemnation will ever be read against him. Even now he is in the eyes of God without guilt.” Prof. C K Barrett commented: “The believer (though a sinner) does not come under condemnation.”
- Barrett says of John 5:24: “The thought is closely akin to the Pauline doctrine of justification, according to which the believer does indeed come into judgment but leaves the court acquitted …. The believer has already passed out of the world ruled by death and entered the realm of eternal life; that is, his future reward has been anticipated, and is consequently assured to him.”
- Paul writes about the judgment of believers and says that the “quality of each [believer’s] work” will be tested and if it is not worthy that believer “will suffer loss.” These are his actual words: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor 3:10-15).
- Later he writes: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:9-10). He adds: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph 6:7-8).
- It is clear, then, that:
- · Each believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
- · Each believer’s character, behaviour and deeds will be judged.
- · If the believer’s character, behaviour and deeds are worthy s/he will be rewarded.
- · If the believer’s character, behaviour and deeds are unworthy and go unrepented s/he will suffer loss.
- · BUT all believers will be saved and will go on to enjoy eternal life, even though some by the skin of their teeth (“even though only as one escaping through the flames” - 1 Cor 3:15).
- H C G Moule, commenting on Romans 14:10-12 about each of us having to “give an account of ourselves to God” says that the judgment is not about whether the believer goes to glory or to ‘perdition’(Hell) but is a ‘domestic court’ of the king’s (Jesus’) palace. It is the king judging “his accepted servants’ labour and conduct.” He adds: “They have been justified by faith. They have been united to their glorious Head. They ‘shall be saved’ (1 Cor 3:15), whatever be the fate of their ‘work.’ But what will their Lord say of their work? What have they done for him, in labour, in witness, and above all in character? He will tell them what He thinks. He will be infinitely kind, but He will not flatter. And somehow, surely, - ‘it doth not yet appear’ how, but somehow – eternity, even the eternity of salvation, will bear the impress of that award, the impress of the past of service, estimated by the King. ‘What shall the harvest be?’ … Each will stand in a solemn solitude there, before his divine Examiner. What he was, as the Lord’s member, that will be the question. What he shall be, as such, in the functions of the endless state, that will be the result.”
- We need to be clear: anyone who trusts in Christ is saved, has eternal life and will not come into condemnation. But that believer’s character and behaviour will be judged and this will lead to reward or loss. But that believer will not lose his/her salvation. Salvation (justification) is by faith.
- However it is a solemn prospect that we shall each stand alone before our Lord as judge and he will judge how we have lived our lives.
- Three main judgments are mentioned in the New Testament:
- · The judgment of believers (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:9-10; Eph 6:7-8).
- · The judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46: The sheep and the goats).
- · The Great White Throne judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
- There is controversy over the timing of these judgments. Some interpreters believe they are three different descriptions of the same final judgment. Other interpreters believe they happen on three very separate occasions, namely:
- · The judgment of believers at the pre-tribulational Rapture of the church to heaven.
- · The judgment of the nations just before the Millennium to decide which people are allowed into the Millennial Kingdom.
- · The Great White Throne judgment after the Millennium.
- The first point I want to make is that the most important things is the fact that everyone will be judged, not the timing or timings of the judgment. It would not concern me at all if, say, the judgment of believers was separate from the more general judgment.
- The second point is that some New Testament passages seem to teach that there is only one judgment. Jesus says: “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” John 5:28-29).
- Paul seems to say there will only be one resurrection and it is argued that this means all the dead will therefore be judged at the same time: “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” Acts 24:15).
- Jesus speaks of believers being raised on the last day which it is argued implies they too will be judged at the same time as everyone else: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’ … ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39-40, 44, 54).
- However, John writes about the martyrs being raised before the Millennium and the rest of the dead being raised after the Millennium (Rev 20:4-6). It should also be noted that all the believing dead are raised at the Second Coming “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:16). Also Paul writes: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed –in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). So it is clear from 1 Cor 15 that those still alive at the Return of Christ will be transformed bodily without experiencing death. Many scholars agree that this will all happen at the return of Christ as indicated by 1 Cor 15:21-23: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” Also it will happen at the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52) which scholars relate to Matt 24:31 (the trumpet sounding at the Second Coming). Jesus “will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” There is no reason therefore to limit the believers who enter the Millennium, as some do, to the martyrs because all the saints, whether or not they have experienced death, will be ready to enter it.
- So it appears that at least there are different resurrections, whether or not there are judgments at different times. Also, as is sometimes the case with Scripture, some of these statements may be summaries which imply that events which are actually separate happen at the same time. So these passages do not provide a final answer to the question about the timing or timings of judgment.
- We should note that Paul teaches that believers have already been raised with Christ (Eph 2:4-6; Col 2:12-13; 3:1). But it is clear that Paul is addressing living believers, so he is talking about a spiritual resurrection, not the bodily resurrection.
- However we need to look at the arguments for there being three quite separate judgments. Michael Vlach is Associate Professor of Theology at the Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California. He gave nine reasons on his blog site about “Why the Sheep/Goat Judgment and Great While Throne Judgment Are not the Same Event.” He says:
1. The sheep/goat judgment is linked with the second coming whilst the Great White Throne judgment is after the second coming and the millennium.
- But it does not seem clear that the sheep/goat judgment is before the Millennium. Jesus says he will sit on his glorious throne and the nations will be gathered before him but he does not make it clear that this will happen immediately or soon after his second coming. He refers to the ‘sheep’ taking their inheritance “the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” but the kingdom he speaks of is an eternal kingdom rather than a 1000 year millennium as the following passages indicate.
- The angel said to Mary that Jesus “will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). Peter refers to Christ’s kingdom as “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Loud voices in heaven said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15 cf 1 Cor 15:24).
2. The sheep/goats judgment is to see who will inherit the kingdom and the Great White Throne judgment who will be thrown into the Lake of fire.
- However we have noted that the kingdom Jesus refers to is an eternal, not millennial kingdom. Also at the sheep/goats judgment Jesus “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt 25:41, 46). The distinction in this point does not therefore seem convincing.
3. The sheep/goat judgment includes both believers and unbelievers but the Great White Throne judgment appears to be only of unbelievers
- However, Vlach admits that Rev 20:11-15 does not exclude the presence of believers at the Great White Throne judgment. So this argument is not conclusive.
4. The sheep/goats judgment is about how the nations treated brothers of Christ. The Great White Throne judgment is about “what they had done.”
- A traditional interpretation of Matthew 25 says that the nations are judged on the basis of good works. However R T France says more recent interpreters have insisted …. That such an interpretation does not do justice to the description of those in need as Jesus’ brothers … it is therefore increasingly accepted that the criterion of judgment is not kindness to the needy in general, but the response of the nations to disciples in need.” Another interpretation is that the sheep/goats judgment is about how the Gentile nations treated the Jewish people and this is the criterion for deciding which nations will enter the Millennium. It is true that “the nations” normally refers to the Gentiles. But, again, this does not do justice to Jesus’ reference to those in need as brothers. That means disciples, not just fellow-Jews.
- It also has to be said that the Great White Throne judgment on the basis of works would include attitudes towards disciples of Christ so it is not conclusive that this is a different judgment.
5. The sheep/goats judgment is of those alive at the second coming but the Great White Throne judgment is of the dead.
- It seems likely that in Matthew 25 Jesus is speaking about the judgment of all individuals, not of nations as such. We have already said that the idea that it is judgment of nations concerning their attitude to Israel does not do justice to the word “brothers” which means disciples. It doesn’t seem possible that nations, as opposed to individuals, will be judged for their attitude to believers and receive eternal life if they were positive towards believers or to hell if they were not. So, when Jesus says “All the nations will be gathered before him” this can easily be understood as meaning all the people on earth stood before him. Since it is not conclusive that the sheep/goats judgment is at a different time from the Great White Throne judgment it is also not conclusive that the sheep/goats judgment is only of the living.
- Another argument is that if the sheep/goats judgment is after the Millennium it implies that believers were hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison during the Millennium which does not fit with it being a period of the ideal rule of Christ. Others argue that the judgment may refer to conditions before or after the Millennium, especially if it includes judgment of the dead who may have lived before the Millennium.
6. The sheep/goat judgment doesn’t mention a Great White Throne
- This does not seem a very strong point. A “glorious throne” is mentioned in Matthew 25:31.
7. The sheep/goat judgment doesn’t mention the “book of life”
- Again, this does not seem a strong point. It is possible to have two incomplete descriptions of the same event.
8. The sheep/ goats judgment does not describe death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire.
- The comment made under point 7 is relevant here.
9. The fact of two resurrections (Rev 20:4b-5) suggests there are two judgments
- This inference is by no means certain.
- My conclusion is that, whilst not being dogmatic, it does seem likely that the sheep/goats judgement and the great White Throne judgment are two different descriptions of the same final judgment which takes place after the Millennium. It seems reasonable that there should be only one final judgment, although the idea of their being an earlier judgment of believers (before the Millennium) does not seem unreasonable.
What is the destination of those judged?
- We shall return to the subjects of eternal life and eternal punishment later.
- The subject of judgment is not theoretical, e.g. about timing. It is a challenge to live in the light of the fact of judgment. As we have noted above, we believers will stand individually before the judgment seat of Christ so we need to live our lives as those who are accountable to God. Peter warns: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). Jesus makes it clear that “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matt 12:36). Similarly James writes: “Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9). Paul says: “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Cor 11:31-32). Those of us who are teachers and leaders in the church should take note of James: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
- So, if judgment includes even careless words and grumbling against one another, which are often accepted in human relationships, we should pay serious attention to the sure prospect of standing before the Lord Jesus as our judge.
 Adsbury Bible Commentary
 See Isa 30.18; Ps 11.7; 33.5; 61.8; Isa 9.7; 11.4; 16.5; 33.5; 42.1,4
 Deut 27.19; Prov. 20.10, 23; Isa 10.1-2; Amos 8.4-7
 Lev 19.33-34; Ps 82.1-4; Isa 56.1; Jer 22.3; Mic 6.8
 Lev 25.35-38; Deut 24.6, 17, 19-21; 15.3
 Sanday and Headlam, International Critical Commentary on Romans (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1960) p. 389.
 William Hendricksen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Banner of Truth, London 1961, p. 143
 CK Barrett, The Gospel According to John, SPCK London 1958, p. 181
 CK Barrett, op. cit., p. 217
 R T France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP, Leicester 1985, p. 355.
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