Thursday, March 22, 2012

ALL will be judged

The fact that there will be a final judgment for all men, both believers and unbelievers, is clearly stated in many passages of Scripture. Every person will one day stand before Christ and be judged for his or her deeds.

But, there will be several judgments.

The first judgment is a judgment of believers’ works and will take place at the rapture or very shortly thereafter, when we've been caught up into the air. This judgment is often referred to as the "judgment seat [bema] of Christ." Paul uses the Greek word bema to describe the place where this judgment will take place. Bema was the name for the platform on which the chief judge of the Grecian games in Athens presided, which was associated with honor, authority and reward, not punishment. 

In 2 Corinthians 5:10 we are told that "...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." Romans 14:10-12 also says, "...we will all stand before God’s judgment seat..."  In context, it is clear that both scriptures are referring to believers, not unbelievers.  Therefore, the judgment seat of Christ will not determine our salvation, which is by faith alone (Eph 2:8-9), nor question our sin. Because all our sins have been forgiven past, present and future, we will never be condemned for them (Rom 8:1-2).

Our position in Christ is the "foundation" spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. What we build upon that foundation can be of "gold, silver, and precious stones" or of "wood, hay and stubble." The judgment seat of Christ will separate the bad from the good; those things we have done with wrong motives will be removed and only the things of true value will remain and be rewarded. Therefore, we should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives, based on how faithfully we served Christ (1 Cor 9:4-27; 2 Tim 2:5).

There is another aspect to this judgment.  Most, if not all, of us have unresolved issues with other believers (not with God!), things that have lain hidden beneath the surface — jealousy, bitterness, cruelty, abuse, etc.  We won't drag these reminders of our sinfulness into heaven with us. The Lord will bring all these things into the open and resolve them (1 Cor 4:5).

After the rapture and the judgment seat of Christ, we will then reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12).

The second judgment is the judgment of the sheep and the goats or the judgment of the nations (Matt 25:31-36). This takes place after the tribulation period but before the millennium. Its purpose is to determine who will enter the millennial kingdom.

Reading Scripture literally and progressively, we see that God has a plan for His chosen people, Israel. When our Lord returns to earth at the end of the tribulation, He will set up His millennial kingdom. But, "...not all who are descended from Israel are Israel..." (Rom 9:6). So just as Ezekiel prophesied, "I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the LORD" (Ezek 20:37-38).

Because our Lord will be on earth at this time, this judgment will occur on earth. Those who have believed will enter the Kingdom. Those who have not believed will be thrown into the outer darkness...where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30). 

The unsaved Gentiles who are alive at our Lord's second coming will also be judged at this time (Matt 13:47-50). They will be judged in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2). The name Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges." Although the millennial kingdom centers on Israel, many Old Testament prophecies show that people from other nations will be blessed through God's chosen people (Dan 7:14).

The third judgment is the great white throne judgment at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:11-15). This judgment does not determine salvation either because everyone at this judgment is an unbeliever and is therefore already doomed to the lake of fire (Rev 20:4-5). These are all the unbelievers who have died from every age, plus any still living at the end of the 1000 years...if there are any, that is.

Revelation 20:12 says that unbelievers will be judged from the things which are written in the books, according to their deeds. Those who have refused to believe will be judged based on their works alone, and because the Bible tells us that "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified" (Gal 2:16), they will be condemned. No amount of good works and/or keeping God’s laws is sufficient to atone for sin, so all their thoughts, words and actions will be judged against God’s perfect standard and found wanting. There will be no reward for them, only eternal condemnation and punishment. Maybe you think this is all a bit harsh, but don't forget the step God took to save us from His own justice:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

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