"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 36





Chapter 36: Judgments & the New Testament (4)

- The Final Judgment (1) Where it fits



Chapter 36 Contents

36.1 Introduction 

36.2 The Day of the Lord

36.3 The Return of Jesus.

36.4 Why the Second Coming?

36.5 The Final Judgment itself

36.6 Summary


36.1 Introduction


In the previous chapter our intention was to provide an overview of the large variety of ‘judgments' that appear in the book of Revelation. Within one of the breakdowns of that book we noted, “ 20:11-15 The Final Judgement before the throne of God.” Thus, in this chapter we will start to consider this “Final Judgment” putting it into context by observing the sequence of events leading up to it, starting with the Second Coming of Christ.


Questions to be asked


As this sometimes becomes a major feature of preaching or theology, it is only logical that before we wind up these deliberations about the judgments of a loving God, we try to look in some detail at this ‘Final Judgement' and within this chapter ask

  • Where does it fit in the end-time sequence of events,
  • Who are involved in this end-time sequence of events, and
  • What happens to them,
     as we prepare the way for the following two chapters.

Problems of Interpretation


Now we must note two difficulties in reading these passages:

This is prophetic vision throughout the book of Revelation and therefore it is difficult to know whether specific events are to be taken

  •   all literally
  •   all figuratively
  •   some literal and some figuratively.


Different interpreters suggest different approaches in respect of the chronology of the events portrayed in the book and so some alternatives are:

  •   One thing follows after another, exactly in chronological order as in the book
  •   There is overlap so that one thing may be an expansion of what went before


The biggest difficulty is reconciling time and eternity, and we will make some suggestions as we proceed. Perhaps more than any other chapter, the Summary-Conclusions at the end is the all-important part although you cannot have it without the explanations of the content of the chapter.



36.2 The Day of the Lord 


The Day


Although there are references throughout the whole Bible to such a day, those within the Old Testament naturally have a bent towards Israel and so we will limit this short section to the more general New Testament references to a coming time of winding up present existence and judging what has gone before. We will lay out the first set of verses in a way to make more clear their contents:


2 Pet 3:10-13

  •   But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
  •   The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
  •   Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
  •   That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Note the characteristics mentioned here:

  • It will come as a surprise,
  • There will be a cataclysmic destruction of all present existence,
  • There will clearly be a moral accounting that should impact how we live now,
  • It will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, a new possibility of a new life with God for those who are deemed righteous (see the next chapter for that definition).

1 Cor 1:8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • It is a day involving the Son of God
  • It is a day when Christians are still on the earth
  • There is a moral accounting implied here
  • Ditto Phil 1:6,10, 2:16,
  • It will be a surprise – 1 Thess 5:2

Judgment Seat


Although not specifically put together in the New Testament apart from the 2 Peter verses above, the fact of a judgment as part of ‘the Day' is clearly implied:


Heb 9:27 man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment


Acts 17:31 F or he has set a day when he 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."


Rom 14:10-12 we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' " So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God


2 Cor 5:10 For 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.

Thus we see that on God's agenda for the world there is a time when everything as we know it in the present, will be wound up and there will be a time of reckoning before God for how we, human beings with free will, have handled ourselves in the brief period of our individual lifetimes.



36.3 The Return of Jesus


The Order of Events


It is perhaps important to note the order of the events that run up to this judgement which we might summarise as follows, the things noted in the previous chapter that appear in the book of Revelation:


1. Return of the conquering King of Kings, Jesus, the Son of God (19:11-21),


2. Satan bound for a thousand years (20:1-3), but those who followed the Lamb will now be in authority (20:4-6). Satan is subsequently released, deceives nations, and is overthrown (20:7-10)


3. The Final Judgement before the throne of God (20:11-15) followed by


4. The Creation of the new heaven, new earth and new city of God (21:1-27)


We will consider these as four parts of the overall winding up of the end times.


The Conquering King deals with the two evil spirits


Using the above breakdown, in Part 1, with the coming of the conquering king, the first step is to deal with the two rebellious spirits leading the rebellious humans, who are defeated and dealt with. Because of what we will consider later, I want us to note some distinctions in the way God deals with the different parties involved in this time. For ease of identifying what happens, we will again split up the layout:


Rev 19:19-21

  •   “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. (Rebellious war)
  •   But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. (Defeated)
  •   The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (Eternal fire for spirit leaders)
  •   The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. (Death for people)


So, in the previous chapters in Revelation, the 'Beast' and the ‘False Prophet' are almost certainly human figures but, we might suggest, human figures that carry demonic powers (see Rev 11:7 - in the same way, we might say, that the body of Jesus Christ carried the eternal Son of God from heaven). That needs bearing in mind in what follows.


There is a distinction in the verse above between these two demonic beings and their followers:

  •   These two beings were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur,
  •   while their followers were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse
  •   which indicates the demonic spirits went into the fire continuing to live, while the people died.


So, we note these two spirits (only) are cast into a place of prison or torment that goes on for ever and ever.


The Conquering King deals with Satan


In Part 2 of our breakdown, we see in what follows, the conquering King defeats the rebels and takes control. Satan (20:2):

  •   is cast into “the Abyss” – an underworld prison for spirits, mentioned eight times in Revelation
  •   where he is kept captive and restricted for a thousand years
  •   until he is released for a short period (v.3) to deceive those who can be deceived (v.7-9)
  •   until he is again defeated and those with him killed (v.9,10). Observe:  


Rev 20:9,10 the nations ….. gather …for battle…. and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them . And the devil , who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur , where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever .”


Again we note the distinction between what happens now to Satan and then to his human followers:

  •   his followers were killed by fire
  •   he was cast into the fiery lake to join the other two evil spirits, for eternal punishment.

We will come back to this later but for the moment note these descriptions:


Rev 20:14 The lake of fire is the second death .

Rev 21:8 the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death ."


Now all of this is an apparent run-up to the Final Judgment. At this point all of time-space history can be summed up as concluded with

  •   the vast majority of people in history have come and gone, i.e. lived and died
  •   the three demonic spirits are in the lake of fire
  •   some believers are still alive on the earth (20:9)



36.4 Why the Second Coming?


Now a question I don't think I have ever heard asked or answered, is why is Jesus coming again. If Revelation is in chronological order then it comes some time after a lot of things, bad things, have gone on in the world and one could have asked, if he is coming why didn't he come long before all these bad things happened? From our considerations earlier in this book, I suggest two reasons:


i) Grace allows Sin


Again and again – especially in the study of the kings of the northern and southern kingdoms – we have seen that so often the Lord seems to sit back without intervening and allow sin to continue and get worse and worse. Why? Because He declares in both the Old and New Testaments that He longs for people to repent and come to salvation. Terminal judgments are, we have said, judgments of the last resort. The apostle Peter saw it most clearly, speaking of his return and the Day of Judgment:


2 Pet 3:6-9 the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.


There that says it all! He is holding back – even though such a day of Judgment WILL come – to allow us to come to repentance and be saved. Once people are dead, it is too late!


ii) It is so bad, He must act


When you read through the middle chapters of Revelation we see talk of a third of the earth being burned up (8:7), a third of mankind were killed (9:15,18), and they worshipped the beast and the dragon (12:3,4,8) and a second beast leads the earth even further astray (13:11-17). Despite all these judgments, sinners of the earth refuse to repent (9:20,21 & 16:9,11).


Years ago, when I was young, people used to wonder how these massive destructions seen in Revelation could ever come about. No longer. Today we know that we have ‘weapons of mass destruction' that could wipe out the entire population of the earth ten times over. Included within this, we have nuclear weapons, germ warfare or chemical weapon capabilities that could all equally do the same. Today we might suggest that these large numbers being wiped out are as a result of the Lord lifting off His hand of restraint over the nations and the destructions will, in fact, come by the hands of man.


We said earlier in the book that God's terminal judgments are judgments of last resort, i.e. there is nothing left to do; the only way to save the situation is destroy the offenders. The suggestion we make, in the light of all these things seen in Revelation, is that Jesus returns a second time as a conquering king, not because he thinks it is a good idea but simply because, to generalize an expression given to Abram, “ the sin of the Amorites has (not yet) reached its full measure." (Gen 15;16) i.e. the Lord knows when the earth cannot cope with any more sin. To let it continue means it will move into total self-destruction, and all will be lost. The Lord always seeks to save a remnant in these times. For this reason, we suggest, the coming of Jesus as seen in Revelation 19, is to halt the self-destruction and deal with those we've seen in the previous section who have been working towards that.



36.5 The Final Judgment itself


Here we move into Part 3 of our breakdown above and will note what happens – who are judged and on what basis. For the moment, we will only cover the actual event and will leave going into detail to the next chapter.


The ‘judgment' comprises:

  •   an assessment of each person and then
  •   the sentence passed on them.


Because of the nature of the sentence and questions that are so often asked, we will postpone dealing with the ‘sentence' until the next chapter. For now, let's simply note that God assesses the entirety of mankind who now stand before Him accountable for their lives.


The Assessment before the Throne


Observe the verses and then the basic details:


Rev 20:11-13 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 to 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.”


Now let's look at those verses, piece by piece:


  •   Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it
    •   it takes place before the throne of God, presumably in heaven in eternity


  •   Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them
    •   all of the material past history is removed. See 2 Pet 3:10


  •   “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,”
    •   i.e. all of the old material world is removed - just us and God left!!!
  •   And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened
    •   it involves all human beings who have been on the earth throughout history but who are now ‘dead'. A facing up to God.
  •   Another book was opened, which is the book of life
    •   they are judged by their recorded activities – reality exposed (see the next chapter).
  •   The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books
    •   they are judged according to “what they have done.” (see next chapter for detail)
  •   The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them
    • this involves the dead from whatever sphere on the earth, everyone who has ever existed takes part in this.


  •   and each person was judged according to what he had done
    •  again it is according to “what they have done.” (Again, see next chapter for detail)


We should be quite clear, that throughout history, and even in some of the more ‘recent' things noted above, the outcome for human beings has been death, as we noted near the end of the previous section. We ALL die at some time: man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Heb 9:27)


When does this happen?


When the writer to the Hebrews, quoted above, wrote, “and after that” we have to confess we move into an area of immense uncertainty. To the penitent thief on the Cross, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43). We tend to think of ‘today' as within this twelve or twenty-four hour period, and so did Jesus mean, ‘as soon as you die you'll go to heaven'? If that is so it raises bigger questions for the ‘time-frame' of all we are considering in this chapter. We might consider events within time-space history and events in eternity (i.e. outside of time).


We did, earlier in this book refer to the analogy that C.S.Lewis used of time and eternity. He imagined time-space history as a long line on the ground, a road if you like. Above it, in the sky we might say, God exists and looks down on this road and can see all of it from start to finish. Where He is, is eternity and it has no boundaries. The ‘Final Judgment' we are about to consider takes place ‘in eternity' where God dwells. (A concept no doubt beyond our finite minds! “He has… set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11)


Now here is where alternatives have been suggested by scholars through the years, or often depending on Church grouping:

  •   Some suggest that, in true time-space terms people die, go into a waiting space until all of human chronological history is completed and they are then brought out and face the Final Judgment.
  •   A better alternative, I believe, is one that corresponds more to Lewis's analogy, whereby it doesn't matter where on the road of history you die, you immediately go into eternity and experience the Final Judgment which may take place (to use our present terms) in a split second. If we go along with some of what I am about to suggest in the next chapter, it may appear to be considerably longer.



36.6 Summary


In this chapter we have observed the sequence of events leading up to the Final Judgment :

  • Jesus' return as the conquering King of Kings
  • Satan bound for a thousand years (the so-called Millennium)
  • Satan is released, deceives nations, and is overthrown
  • The Final Judgement before the throne of God
  • This is followed by the creation of the new heaven, new earth and new city of God


With the coming of Christ again, we observed the different ways he will deal with the rebels :

  • The Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the lake of fire where they exist for eternity
  • Satan (after the millennium) is similarly cast into that same lake of fire for eternity
  • The human followers of the Beast and the False Prophet are all killed by the word of the conquering king.
  • The human followers of Satan (after the millennium) are all killed by fire from heaven.


Please hold on to those differences in the following chapters, because they are significant.


We also asked why should Jesus come again and suggested:

  • Because God's grace had permitted Sin to build up, it had got to a point where self-destruction was almost inevitable, but that would include believers as well as unbelievers, and so he comes down to prevent that and hold the world accountable.
  • That accountability simply deals with the people who are alive at that time, while the ‘Final Judgment' holds every person who has ever existed accountable.


Finally we asked, when does this Final Judgment take place and considered

  • The difficulty of events in time and events in eternity
  • So, for example, Jesus spoke of the thief being with him in heaven that day.
  • Yet the Final Judgment appears to take place in heaven, i.e. in eternity.
  • The options, considered over the centuries by scholars seem to suggest:
    • Chronological time-space events but people passing into eternity to wait for time-space history to be completed and then face the Final Judgment OR
    • The Final Judgment happens in eternity and appears to the individual to happen the moment they leave time-space history.


To expand on a familiar phrase, time and space and eternity will tell!


Now we are ready to move into the next chapter.




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