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THEOLOGY > Future > The Final Judgment > Reality of Judgment


The common perception of judgment is consistent with a literal reading of the Biblical passages dealing with judgment, so much so that judgment becomes identified with a time, a place, a method, and a decision. In other words, judgment will be an ordeal, a time when the individual alone stands before His Maker to give account of his life. Truth will characterize the judgment because books containing the details of each person’s life will be present and evasion of the facts will be impossible. A search of the book of life will be conducted to determine one’s destiny, and then the announcement will be made. Such is the usual perception, give or take a bit.

This scenario has been rehearsed in both literature and the arts throughout Christian history. One cannot help but contemplate The Last Judgment depicted on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. According to the popular thinking God will be in the position of Judge and in His presence each person will stand in order to face the life that has been lived. Waiting one’s turn will surely be agonizing. There will be no escape. And the verdict will be final.

Is it possible that this common scenario does not accurately portray the Biblical teaching regarding judgment? Have too many details been pressed into a literal meaning and projected upon a future event? Does the popular idea reflect too much of an attempt to enhance and embellish the fact of judgment? Has the common conception been more influenced by the details of the teaching than by the message that the details are meant to convey? Is it possible that the message of the details is not the facts of the details but the fact that the details teach? Rather than seeking to synthesize all of the details, should not the details be utilized to affirm the comprehensive message intended by the details? 

Among those who hold to the common scenario, various interpretations have arisen regarding the specifics of judgment. Some posit a single judgment, one that is general and will be for all people, believers and unbelievers; support is found in Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; II Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15. Other teach two or more judgments, separating the Judgment Seat of Christ from the Great White Throne Judgment, while some add a so-called judgment of the nations referred to by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. Some Dispensationalists have even suggested as many as seven judgments, a suggestion so bizarre that it does not even deserve refutation (Thiessen: “there are at least seven future judgments”; Lectures in ST, 389).

It is conceivable that all of these positions are in error and miss the point of the Scriptures. The point is not time, place, number, and manner of the judgment or judgments, but simply the fact of judgment. The Bible is not giving details of the judgment, but through the details is affirming the truth that there will be a judgment. It is not the ordeal of judgment that is the intent of the text but the reality of judgment—all individuals will be judged.

Biblical teaching associates the resurrection of all people with their judgment: the resurrection will take place, and immediately there will be the judgment which will separate the saved from the lost, with each going to their specific destiny. Throughout Scripture the resurrection is for the purpose of judgment, and following the resurrection is the judgment. Perhaps this fact provides insight into the real nature of judgment. In the following verses note the close relationship of the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the judgment:

For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done (Matt. 16:27);

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, the He will sit on His glorious throne . . . and He will separate people one from another . . . and He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” . . . then He will say to those in His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” . . . and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-46);

An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (Jo. 5:28-29);

He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31);

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . so then each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12);

Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire . . . if the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (I Cor. 3:13-15);

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (II Cor. 5:10);

They will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (I Pet. 4:5);

The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints (Rev. 11:18);

Then I saw a great white throne . . . and I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books . . . and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

Clearly in the above passages the resurrection of the dead and their judgment are seemingly simultaneous. Different terminology of the end-time judgment is used, but all of the verses seem to be describing the same judgment, a single judgment though obviously from different perspectives. The purpose of the resurrection is for judgment, and there is no great time between the two events. The texts indicate that all people will be judge at the time of their resurrection, and at the time of their resurrection there will be a separation between the believer who is raised and the unbeliever who is raised.

In other words judgment occurs at the point of the individual’s resurrection—the purpose of resurrection is judgment. To be raised is to be judged; to be raised is to know your destiny; to be raised is to go to your destiny. In this sense, judgment is simultaneous with each person’s resurrection, whenever that may be—the Scriptures speak of two resurrections—and  judgment is to be understood as a manifestation.

Thus the reality of judgment is that it is virtually synonymous with the individual’s resurrection. The individual is raised to be judged; the individual is raised in judgment; the individual immediately goes to the destiny determined by the judgment. Judgment, therefore,  is instantaneous and is to be identified with the resurrection.

Resurrection implies primarily resurrection to judgment.
(Brunner, Eternal Hope, 170)

Two quotes from opposite ends of the theological spectrum speak of the figurative nature of judgment:

In the description of the great day, contained in the book of Revelation, it is said, that the Judge will be seated on a great white throne, and that the books will be opened; and that another book will be opened, which is the book of life: and the dead will be judged out of the things which are written according to their works. The representation is doubtless figurative, but we may learn from it that the decisions will be made in perfect justice; and that the acquittal of the righteous will be an act of grace (J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology, 355-6).

The judgment of God is represented to us in the Bible, even by Jesus Himself, and by Him with particular force and vividness, under the figure of a court of judgment and an actual visible separation. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The figurative character of this expression is obvious; nothing further is needed but that the divine light should pierce man’s being so that what is hidden—like the internal parts of the body under X-rays—becomes visible. This again is a metaphor implying the full disclosure of what has hitherto been concealed. “It comes to light”—that is the essence of judgment. It is revealed—not for God: for how could anything have ever been concealed from Him?—but for ourselves. We shall stand naked and exposed, according to the truth of our being, with no concealing raiment. No dossier, no protocol will be needed. It does no harm if we visualize judgment as an action, but this figurative conception is not essential: the sole decisive thing is the fact of manifestation (Brunner, Eternal Hope, 176-7).

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