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72. What will happen at the final judgment?
On the final judgment day, Christ will publicly examine the lives of all rational creatures and finally sentence them to heaven or hell, in varied degrees, according to their response to God’s revelation.
The Old Testament taught a final judgment day (Jude 14, 15; Ps. 1:5; Eccl. 11:9: Isa. 45:22). There are temporary, providential, partial judgments and rewards for evil and for good. But the final judgment is the culmination of many precursors of God’s rewarding righteousness and punishing evil (2 Pet. 2:9-10). The Bible and conscience teach us to look forward to a final judgment to answer all questions, solve all problems of justice, and to remove all apparent discrepancies (Matt. 25:31-46; Jn. 5:27-29; Acts 25:24). This is not a process in time but a very definite event at the end of time.
Premillennial dispensationalists have four “final judgments”:
- Judgment of believers at the rapture: Parousia judgment of the risen and living saints which rewards them for their works and assigns them a place in the coming millennial kingdom
- Judgment of the nations: Revelation judgment seven years after (1) and after the great tribulation where the Gentile nations are judged as nations according to their attitude to Israel. This will determine which nations enter the millennium.
- A judgment of believer’s works.
- White throne judgment of the wicked dead (Rev. 20:11-15). 1000 yrs after (2)&(3) where the dead are judged according to their works and the degree of punishment decided.
But the Bible speaks of final judgment as a single event.
We look forward to the day not the days of judgment (Jn. 5:28, 29; Acts 17:31; 2 Pet. 3:7), also called “that day” (Matt. 7:22; 2 Tim. 4:8), “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).
The righteous and the wicked appear together in judgment for a final separation (Matt. 7:22, 23; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-7; Rev. 11:18; 20:11-15).
Where eternal issues are at stake God does not judge nations as nations but only individuals. A final separation of the righteous and the wicked cannot possibly be made until the end of the world. Matt. 25:31-46 shows that it will be a universal judgment of individual men. There is no mention of entering into a millennial kingdom on earth or exclusion from it but the eternal destinies of people.
It would be inconsistent with all God’s previous ways to deal with people according to the nation they belonged to.
- Generally speaking, God is Judge. “But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccles. 11:9); “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccles. 12:14); “And to God the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23); “And if ye call on the Father, Who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).
- But as sin is committed against the Triune God, not one of the Divine Persons is excluded from the avenging of it. Hence the retribution for sin is ascribed to the Father. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses:’ (Matt. 18:35) (See also Heb. 11:6)
- The Holy Spirit also works in the avenging of sin; He gives knowledge of the judgment. “And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not in Me;’ etc. (John 16:8-11)
- However, the Father has appointed Christ to be the “executive” judge. It is the judgment seat of Christ in His mediatorial capacity. He will be the future judge (Matt. 25:31, 32; Jn. 5:22-27; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). This was part of the honor conferred on Christ as reward for His work and part of his exaltation (Jn. 5:26-27). As judge Christ is completing the redemption of His people, justifying them publicly, and removing the last consequences of sin. This is an unspeakable comfort to God’s people (HC LD 52) and an unspeakable terror to the wicked.
- The angels will assist him in this great work (Matt. 13:41, 42; 24:31; 25:31). Their ministry is auxiliary and subordinate to that of Christ. To the angels is assigned the work of gathering the peoples together for the judgment and executing the judgment that is pronounced (e.g. Matt. 13: 41-42; 24:31; 25:31, 2 Thess. 1:7).[footnote]Venema 399[/footnote]
- The saints will judge with Christ (Ps. 149:5-9; Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Rev. 20:4). They will condemn the world by their faith as the Ninevites did the cities of Jesus day. They will at least observe the judgment but also more. They will concur in the judgment of Christ. The saints will have some real active share in the judgment of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2, 6). The context would seem to indicate a careful evaluation and wise discernment will be exercised by us. On the principle that believers are co-heirs with Christ of all things (1 Cor. 3:21-23), it follows that they have some part in his work of judgement. Nothing that they might do could be done independently of what Christ will do, nor could their activity add something which is lacking in his work. Perhaps it is best to note simply that they share in the victory and glory that belong to Christ in his role as the judge.
…will publicly examine…
Some say that the final judgment is not necessary as each man’s destiny is determined at his death. If a man died in Christ he is saved and if in his sins he is lost. The matter is settled and no further judicial enquiry is necessary. Whether we judge it necessary or not, God teaches us that there will be a final judgment. The final judgment will display the declarative glory of God in a formal forensic act which will magnify every attribute. Unlike the judgment at death, this will be public not secret, pertain to soul and body, and will include all. It will be a theodicy – vindication or justification of God (See WCF 33:2) The Revelation 20-21 sequence is
- final judgment,
- new heavens and new earth.
Some passages seem to teach a judgment before the recreation of the heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:7). Belgic Confession Article 37 seems to teach that the final judgment will follow the transformation or renewal of all things
…the lives of all rational creatures…
- Fallen angels (Matt. 8:29; 1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6);
- Satan and his demons will meet their final doom in the day of judgment;
- Good angels (implied in 1 Cor. 6:3). When there is no definite article then we would normally assume a reference to good angels. The WCF seems to exclude obedient angels (33:1). Angels are ministers of Christ in the final judgment (Matt.13:30, 41; 25:31; 2 Thess.1:7, 8). Kersten says no because they have never fallen and are eternally confirmed in their most glorious state.
- Every individual of the human race (Eccl. 12:14; Ps. 50:4-6; Matt. 12:36, 37). Not limited to those who enjoyed the privileges of the Gospel. Not limited to the wicked (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 10:30; 1 Pet. 4:17). Even the sins of believers will be revealed, though revealed as pardoned sins. Does not conflict with Rom. 8:1. The righteous will appear before the j seat of Christ (Matt. 13:30, 40-43; 39). Our sins will be manifested but as covered by blood of Christ. It is not for God (to find out things) nor for us (to find out if we are saved or unsaved – we will know that already) but it is all about the manifestation of the justice of God so that all will acknowledge that God is just
Criteria of judgment: deeds of the body (2 Cor. 5:10); those things done to “the least of these My brethren” (Matt 25:35-40); secret things (Luke 12:2-3; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5); idle words (Matt. 12:36).
Every man will see himself as he appears in the sight of God. His memory will probably prove an indelible register of all his sinful acts and thoughts and feelings. His conscience will be so enlightened as to recognize the justice of the sentence which the righteous Judge shall pronounce upon him. All whom Christ condemns will be self-condemned. Moreover, there will be such a revelation of the character of every man to all around him, or to all who know him, as shall render the justice of the sentence of condemnation or acquittal apparent. (Hodge 536).
…and finally sentence them to heaven or hell…
There are only two possible destinations: heaven and hell. We will look at them in the last two questions.
…in varied degrees…
There will be degrees of blessedness/misery within these destinations (Matt. 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, 48; Jn. 19:11; Rom. 2:12-16; 1 Cor. 15:41; Dan. 12:3). Does that not introduce merit and make future blessedness of all impossible? There are three approaches:
- Reward because of true merit (Roman Catholic);
- No reward because no merit;
- Reward of grace not merit.
The right response is (3). It should be an encouragement not a motive; and must be compatible with perfect blessedness. The perfection of blessedness does not require a complete similarity of gifts and capacities.
The diversity of giftedness, capacity, and office in the final kingdom will be an occasion for joy among God’s people. It is hard for us to separate happiness from possession and position. Let us use this to encourage others to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25)
…according to their response to God’s revelation (law and gospel).
The standard will be the same for everyone; what has been revealed to them concerning God’s will. To whomsoever much is given much shall be required (Matt. 11:20-22). Gentiles will be judged by the law of nature inscribed in their hearts (Rom. 1:18-23; 2:11-16). Carl Henry: “All are judged by what they do with the light they have, and none is without light. The Israelites of the old dispensation will be judged by OT revelation. Those who have the greater light of the Gospel will be judged by that also.”[footnote]“Is it Fair?” edited by William V. Crockett and James G. Sigountos, (Baker: 1991) 254.[/footnote] What are the moral purposes of the final judgment ?[footnote]Grudem 1147-8.[/footnote]
- Satisfies inward longing for justice
- Enables us to forgive others freely
- Motivates righteous living
- Motivates evangelism