This is a neglected area of biblical truth today because the idea of divine judgement, let alone the “wrath of God” and Hell are out of step with our easy-going, egalitarian outlook in the West. However it is an important area of teaching and if we are to face divine judgement it is important to give it some thought!
WHO IS THE JUDGE?
God who is a God of justice and mercy
The Lord is a God of justice (Isa 30:18) who loves justice (Ps 11:7). The kingdom of God is established on justice and righteousness (Isa 9:7). “With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Isa 11:4, cf. Isa 16:5; 33:5; 42.1,4.
The New Testament teaches both the kindness and sternness of God (Rom 11:22). He is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4) “full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). Micah says he delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18). However, it is:
God the Son, who carries out the judgment
The Father has “entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22 cf. 9:39). God “will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
The Holy Spirit is also involved. It is:
God the Holy Spirit who convicts of judgment
WHO IS TO BE JUDGED?
All human beings, dead or alive, believers or unbelievers
One of the most solemn passages in the New Testament is not in the Book of Revelation but in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10: “ God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”
We Christians will all be judged. Each Christians “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 man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:13-15)
“We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. …. each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:10-12). “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).
Satan and his angels
In his vision John sees Satan “thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown” where “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20:10). Peter wrote: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
WHAT IS HUMANITY TO BE JUDGED FOR?
Rejecting salvation by faith
The New Testament is quite clear about this: “Whoever believes in [Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. …. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:18, 36). Salvation is by grace through faith and deliberately to persist in rejecting this salvation means there is no hope, only judgment.
Sinning in thought, word and deed
Although salvation is by faith the New Testament stresses that judgment is about works. “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. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt 7:21-23). Jesus “will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt 16:27, cf. Rev 20:12-13).
He warns that everyone “will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matt 12:36). He also says that if we have been unforgiving, judgmental and condemnatory we shall be judged (Matt 7:1-2: Luke 6:37).
WHEN DOES JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE?
In a real (and positive) sense the Lord judges us in this life, i.e. he disciplines us “so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). But the main judgment is after death. Each of us “is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27).
In John’s vision he says he “saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. …. 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 … and each person was judged according to what he had done.” (Rev 20:11-15).
WHAT IS THE DESTINATION OF THE JUDGED?
Those who trust in Christ have the glorious prospect that, like the penitent thief on the cross, after death and judgment they will be with Jesus in paradise (Luke 23:43), “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), “with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil 1:23). This is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Pet 1:4).
There will be “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet 3:13), the “new Jerusalem” will descend from heaven to earth (Rev 3:12; 21:1-2, 10) and be the eternal dwelling place of the saints.
Jesus himself spoke of the “great chasm” after death between believers and those who deliberately persist in rejecting salvation” (Luke 16:22-26). He warned that God “can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28 cf. 23:33). He spoke of “eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46 cf. 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 7).
We must always remember that we are accountable to God. The Father “judges each man’s work impartially” (1 Peter 1:17). Those “who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). But Paul says that “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Cor 11:31). So we should regularly examine our lives – thoughts, words, deeds – repent of any failure and determine by the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a way which pleases God.
We should never forget that “The judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction