The thought of coming judgment is not very popular. The fact that we are facing judgment makes many people feel uncomfortable. Maybe we are conscious of unconfessed sin that we would prefer to do something about before we die. We might be vaguely aware that we have not done our best with the talents and gifts God granted to us.
Perhaps we simply do not believe that a loving God would ever hold anyone accountable, and particularly that He would consign someone to an eternal Lake of Fire. Before jumping to conclusions and dismissing the concept of coming judgment, however, we need to consider what the Bible has to say about this vital matter.
The Bible has much to say about the theme of judgment. The words “judgment” or “judgments” appear in 408 verses of the Bible (in the King James Version). There are different types of judgments. Adam and Eve were judged for violating God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The people in Noah’s time were judged by a worldwide flood. God judged the people at the Tower of Babel by confusing their language. There are many examples of judgment throughout the Bible. For the purposes of this article, we will consider the judgments that directly affect us as individual believers or nonbelievers.
All human beings will face a time of accountability to God Who created them. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The Bible is clear that a time of accountability, or judgment, is coming.
1. The Great White Throne Judgment
Perhaps the most well-known judgment is the Great White Throne Judgment. This judgment is described near the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation. This is the judgment of the unsaved of all the ages (Revelation 20:5-6).
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
This will be a most awesome event for all who are present. They will be standing before God Himself. At this judgment, there will be no defense attorney or advocate to help guide someone through the system. There will be perfect judgment, from which there will be no appeal. This judgment is based on whether or not a person’s name is found written in the Book of Life.
As there are degrees in punishment, the dead will be judged according to their works. “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48).
The Book of Life is there to answer those who plead that their good works should be the basis for their justification. In this case, there will be an awful blank where their name might have been. Everyone whose name is not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). Those are the most dreadful words a person could ever hear.
2. The Judgment Seat of Christ
Those who have, in this life, placed their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will one day appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is the judgment of the believer’s works. The believer’s sins have already been nailed to the cross through faith in Christ. This Judgment is where the rewards will be handed out or lost.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
There is a time of accountability coming for believers. Paul states that the believer’s works will be tested in 1 Corinthians 3:9-15. We are admonished to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If we are truly building on the right foundation, we shall receive a reward. The works that we build on the wrong foundation will be destroyed.
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Those Christians who have humbly and prayerfully labored in the Spirit will be rewarded. But those things that are done in the energy of the flesh will be consumed by the fire of purging. God knows our hearts. He knows our inner motives. If our inner motive is to sincerely serve and honor the Lord Jesus Christ, that will not go unnoticed. But if we secretly desire to serve self, puff up our own ego, win man’s approval, or pamper the flesh, we will suffer loss.
The Apostle John raises the possibility that some may be ashamed before Him at His coming. “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). That would be a dreadful thing to happen on what should be the most glorious day of any Christian’s life. If we indulge in dishonest business, unclean conversation, or unholy living, might we be ashamed before His throne at this judgment? John admonishes us to “abide in Him,” that we may be confident on the day of His coming.
We would do well to conduct a thorough self-examination on our own initiative now, while we have the opportunity. If there are things to confess, we need to confess them. If we need to take corrective action, we have an opportunity to do that. How are you responding to God’s call in your life? Do you have talents that are lying idle?
We are to occupy faithfully until Christ comes. In the parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19:11-27), the first faithful servant whose pound gained ten pounds was given ten cities to rule. Another whose pound had gained five pounds was given five cities to rule. But the servant who hid his pound in a napkin lost the pound he had.
How are you doing with the talents, gifts, and abilities God has given you? Are you using them to build up the Kingdom of God? Are you actively engaged in some kind of Kingdom-building work? No matter what our vocation, we are all called to be laborers in the Kingdom.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
3. Judgment of the Believer’s Sins
So how can a person bypass the Great White Throne Judgment and appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ? God gives us a choice.
When there was an earthquake at the prison in Philippi, the keeper of the prison asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). This is how our sins are judged on the cross of Christ.
Paul explains the way in the Book of Romans. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Following these verses, the assurance is given: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Paul further assures the Christian believer with these words, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
Jesus bore our sins on the cross. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus broke down the enmity that was between us and God. Though we were enemies of God, Jesus broke down the walls that existed. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:20-22). We cannot thank Him enough!
God gives us a choice. He does not force us to trust in Christ, or to confess that Jesus is God come down from Heaven. We can choose to place our faith and trust in Christ, or we can reject Him. When we choose to place our faith and trust in Christ, our sins are then washed away by His blood through the work He accomplished on the cross.
4. Self-Examination Before Judgment
As was already mentioned, John notes the possibility of being ashamed at the time of judgment (1 John 2:28). In the same verse, John also talks about having confidence at Christ’s coming. Later in the same epistle, John mentions having boldness in the day of judgment. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). So how can we have confidence in the day of judgment rather than being ashamed?
God in His mercy gives His children an opportunity to confess and to turn away from sin. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9).
In 1 Corinthians 11:28-32, we are admonished to examine ourselves before partaking of the bread and cup while participating in the Communion service. If we will judge ourselves, we will not be judged. When we are judged, Paul declares, we are disciplined of the Lord. The goal is that we will not be condemned with the world. God’s discipline is an act of mercy, so that we might not experience everlasting condemnation.
Another passage that addresses this theme is in Hebrews 12. The writer says that the Lord loves those whom he chastens. We are not supposed to despise the chastening, or discipline, of the Lord, or faint when we’re rebuked. Rather, we are to remember that during these times, God is dealing with us as His children. No discipline is pleasant at the time it is given, but we must remember that it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who submit.
The reason God judges believers in this life is because of His mercy! He judges us now so we do not have to be judged later with the world.
Note that God’s chastisement yields certain results. One is that we might be partakers of His holiness. Another is the peaceable fruit of righteousness. We need to desire to be ever more holy and more righteous!
What does this look like? To be more holy means we do not become entangled in the affairs of this world. To walk in holiness means to avoid the lust of the flesh. To be more righteous means that we will not compromise. We need to be totally sold out to do the will and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. James instructs us to draw near to God, and He will draw near to us (see James 4:8).
This is not something we do on our own power. Peter tells us it is through the power of Jesus our Lord that we may be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). This is how we can escape being enticed by worldly pleasures, and become excited about being actively involved in serving God by serving others.
When the Apostle Paul was on trial before the Roman governor Felix, he spoke about judgment to come. “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:24-25). Note the reaction of Felix. He trembled under Paul’s preaching. Felix was alarmed and terrified at the thought of the coming judgment. Felix was the judge and Paul was the prisoner. The preaching of the prisoner threw the judge into a state of alarm. But instead of asking what he should do about his concern, Felix sought peace by sending his reprover back to his prison cell. Just so, many people today assuage their guilt by banishing all thought of a coming judgment from their mind and consciousness.
If you have never put your trust in Jesus Christ or acknowledged Him as Lord, would you consider His claim on your life?
Yes, there is an accounting, which we do need to take seriously. There’s also good news! We do not have to come to the judgment with fear and trembling. The Bible speaks about approaching our meeting with Jesus with confidence. Paul was looking forward to being in the presence of Jesus after his death. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul said he would rather be present with the Lord than to continue living here in this life. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). But it was needful for him to abide in this life for a while longer, in order to encourage the saints. Even today we are blessed by his epistles. What kind of impact will your life and my life have on others?
Some of the last words Paul wrote are from 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Notice how Paul anticipated his future. In reality, he was facing execution by the Roman government. But he was looking at life beyond the grave. We can have that same anticipation by placing our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood. Paul said he was looking for a crown of righteousness which the Lord would give him. Then he said that is the reward that all who love Christ’s appearing can expect!
Paul had confidence as he approached the time of his departure from this earth. The believer who truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to fear in the day of judgment. Indeed, we may look forward to that time with anticipation.