November 18, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #11--Judgment

When does the great judgment happen for believers? Before they enter into heaven, or after they have been there awhile? Is there more than one judgment?

Many passages in the Bible teach about the final judgment of believers and unbelievers:

Revelation 20:11-15 “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 wo 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. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So when will the judgment take place?

Revelation 20 says that it will take place after what is called the millennium, where Jesus reigns on earth in peace for 1000 years, and afterward Satan is set free for one final rebellion. Fire will rain down from heaven and defeat Satan and his armies and then the great judgment will follow as described in the previous verses.

So are their two judgments, or just the one?

Well, this sort of goes back to the question of the rapture, and if you believe that there are two Second Comings of Christ. If you do believe this, then you mostly likely have to believe in at least two judgments. Here is how those who hold to this view explain their belief:

Matthew 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the sheep from the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”

This is the first judgment, or the judgment of the nations. This determines who enters the millennial kingdom. There is also a judgment of the believer’s works (a.k.a., the bema judgment) where Christians will receive degrees of reward. This judgment is described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Finally, there is the great white throne judgment where the unbelievers are punished, seen in the previous verses from Revelation.

There are problems with this view. If you read the entire passage in Matthew 25 where it speaks of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats, there is no mention of a millennial kingdom. It does, however mention eternal punishment and eternal life. So, this seems to be speaking of the same judgment as the great white throne. Also, there is no mention in Scripture of God dealing with anyone’s eternal destiny based on what nation they are from.

While many people hold to the view of different judgments, this is a fairly new theory in regards to church history. It comes from a theological system called "dispensationalism", which is widely held by many evangelicals.

My conclusion, based strictly on what the Scripture says, is that there is one judgment. Jesus is the judge (2 Timothy 4:1). At this judgment unbelievers are judged (Romans 2:5-7), believers are judged (Romans 14:10-12), the angels are judged (1 Corinthians 6:3), and also believers will play a role in the work of judging (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Two follow-up questions from our series:

1) Does Revelation mean 1000 years literally? Well...depends on who you ask. Apocalyptic literature is fond of using numbers metaphoricaly (as in 1000 being a "complete and whole" number), but it could very well mean literal years, too. There are people on both sides of the debate, and no one has definitive proof.

2) Aren't we judged when we die before we get into heaven? See the above answer. We are. The question stems from confusion about what happens if there is more than one judgment.

Tomorrow, we'll look at a question about the Antichrist. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

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