"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 37





Chapter 37: Judgments & the New Testament (5)

- The Final Judgment (2) How it works



Chapter 37 Contents

37.1 Introduction

37.2 The Means of Assessment

37.3 Sentencing Believers?

37.4 Sentencing Unbelievers?

37.5 Summary



37.1 Introduction


In the previous chapter we considered the “Final Judgment” by putting it into context by observing the sequence of events leading up to it, starting with the second Coming of Christ. Originally I placed this and the previous chapter together, but to make the subject matter more manageable I have separated out the actual Judgment into this chapter


We have in the previous chapter observed the fact, as conveyed by the whole of the New Testament, of a final day of Judgment, a time when all of mankind who have ever existed have to account before God for their lives.


For clarity – or at least to recognize that it is not clear – it may be worth while repeating the options we considered in respect of the ‘timing' of this ‘event':

  •   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, OR
  •   The moment you least space-time history, you immediately go into eternity and experience the Final Judgment which may take place (to use our present terms) in a split second.

But what will happen there?



37.2 The Means of Assessment


But what is the way God judges, i.e. assesses every person?


Twice in Rev 20:12,13 that we considered in the previous chapter, the phrase was used, that people were all “ judged according to what they had done


As there is no explanation for that phrase, to try to understand this ‘measuring stick', we need to look back in the scriptures for guidance. We may, by way of summary, initially suggest there are two groups of people who need to be considered:

  •   those who have never heard of Jesus Christ
  •   those who have heard of Jesus Christ.


i) Those who have never heard of Jesus Christ


The apostle Paul in chapter 2 of his letter to Rome covers these people. Note immediately the similarity in the way he begins to what we have already read twice:


Rom 2:6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done ."

  •   A footnote to that verse points out that this is a quote from Psa 62:12 and Prov 24:12
  •   He then distinguishes between two groups of people.
  •   First:


Rom 2:7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

  •   He makes the suggestion that there ARE people whose hearts are utterly for good. We may suggest that they are few and far between but they can exist.
  •   A look at a couple of paraphrase versions can perhaps help shed light here:

“He will give eternal life to those who patiently do the will of God,  seeking for the unseen glory and honour and eternal life that he offers.” (Living Bible = “who patiently do good.” seeking for the unseen glory and honour and eternal life that he offers, implied.)

“those who, in patiently doing good, aim at the unseen (but real) glory and honour of the eternal world.” (JBP version)

  •   Note the three things such people seek:
    •   Glory – this word is rarely used in the Bible except to refer to God. Such people, Paul infers, are God-seekers.
    •   Honor – this word suggests high esteem. In verses earlier in chapter 2 Paul denounces human assessment and so this is honour accorded by God.
    •   Immortality – another word for this might be ‘eternal-life' which again in the Bible only comes from God.
  •   Although not spelt out, such people in the apostle Paul's discerning eyes will be God seekers, accepted by God and granted eternal life.
  •   Thus when we come across people who have never heard of Jesus Christ, this is the standard set for them.
  •   The alternative for these people is shown the verses that follow.
  •   So, second:


Rom 2:8,9 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil , there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil:

  •   Guilt and condemnation are the experiences of all other such people.
  •   There was also another group of people who, until Jesus came, received special mention:

Rom 2:12,13 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

  •   The Jews had the Law of Moses. If they completely kept to it, all well and good, but if they failed then, the apostle Paul goes on to point out, they need the salvation that comes only with Jesus Christ.

Now we need to pick up on something Paul said earlier in the chapter:


Rom 2:2 Now we know that God's judgment …… is based on truth.

  •   The point he goes on to make is that it is the reality of what is found in a person's life that will determine how God responds to them.
  •   It is not what you say, but what you do.


In the first 16 verses of Romans 2 Paul sets forth principles that indicate that for those who have not heard of Christ, God judges

  • according to truth (v. 2),
  • according to deeds (vv. 6-11) and
  • according to the light a person has (vv. 12-15).

There are those who (cynically?) suggest that no one fits Paul's caveat of this first group of glory and honour and immortality seeking people, and thus he is setting up an impossible set of criteria that show that actually we are ALL sinners in need of Christ's salvation.


The Case of Natural Revelation


Before we move on to consider those who have heard or ought to have heard of Christ, we would do well to pick up on what is sometimes referred to as ‘natural revelation'


Psa 19:1,2 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

  •   i.e. for those with hearts to see, the natural creation reveals the wonder of a divine Creator.
  •  However those who are self-centred and godless will be blind to these wonders, even as we have modern film-makers who wonderfully film these things of Creation yet still deny God.
  •  The apostle Paul condemned such men:


Rom 1:19,20 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

  •   William Paley's ‘Watchmaker design argument' is clear and obvious and yet is still ridiculed by those who start from the place of self-centred godlessness.
  •   Yes, says Paul, perhaps reflecting Solomon in Eccl 3:11, such men have no excuse. The are condemned for denying the obvious.


ii) Those who have heard of Jesus Christ


The testimony of the Gospels is quite clear and a distinction is made by the apostle John in his Gospel (we'll provide a layout to emphasise his points):


Jn 1:10-13

  •   He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
  •   He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him .
  • Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
    •   i.e. although it was obvious to all and sundry who and what he was (see Acts 2:22 for insight) nevertheless there were those who rejected him. By implication they were not allowed to become what the believers became (failed to receive God's salvation, with all that that means).
    • There were those who accepted him and those were declared by God to be His children and were ‘born again' of His Spirit.
    • John further explains this:

Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  •   Believing in Jesus is the criteria for salvation and the result is eternal life. •  Even here the implication is that failure to believe means people perish. This is spelled out as he continues:


Of his Gospel, John explained:


Jn 20:31 these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name

•  Earlier in his Gospel he spells out God's measuring stick:


Jn 3:18,19 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

•  His point was that Jesus came as the Light of the world and was obviously that and so they who refused to see that condemned themselves.

A Clear Illustration


Scholar William Barclay, in his commentary on the gospel of John, has produced the following explanation in the light of John 3:18,19 and because I believe it is one of the best explanations I have come across I include it here:


“It is quite possible to offer a man an experience in nothing but love, and for that experience to turn out a judgment. It is quite possible to offer a man an experience which is meant to do nothing but to bring joy and bliss to a man, and yet for that experience to turn out a judg­ ment and a condemnation.

Suppose we love great music; suppose we get nearer to God in the midst of the surge and thunder of a great symphony than anywhere else. Suppose we have a friend who does not know anything about such music. Suppose we wish to introduce this friend of ours to this great experience; we wish to share it with him; we wish to give him this contact with the invisible beauty which we ourselves enjoy. We have no aim other than to give this friend the happiness of a great new experience. We take him to a symphony concert; in a very short time he is fidgeting and gazing around the hall, obviously completely uninterested and clearly bored. That friend has passed a judgment on himself; he has no music in his soul. The experience which was designed to bring him a new happiness has become a judgment. This always happens when we confront a man with greatness. We may take a man to see some great masterpiece of art; we may take him to listen to someone who is a prince of preachers; we may give him some soul-nourishing book to read; we may take him to gaze upon some beauty. His reaction is a judgment. If he finds no beauty and no thrill we know that he has a blind spot in his soul. It is told that a visitor was being shown round an art gallery by one of the attendants. In that gallery there were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius. At the end of the tour the visitor said: " Well, I don't think much of your old pictures." The attendant answered quietly: "Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are." All that the man's reaction had done was to show his own pitiable blindness

This is so with Jesus. If, when a man is confronted with Jesus, his soul goes out in a thrill to that wonder and beauty, that man is on the way to salvation. But if, when he is confronted with Jesus, a man sees nothing lovely then he stands condemned. His reaction has condemned him. God sent Jesus in love. He sent Him for that man's salvation. But that which was sent in love has become a condemnation. But it is not God who has condemned the man; God only loved him; the man has condemned himself.

By a man's reaction to Jesus Christ, that man stands revealed. By his reaction to Jesus Christ his soul is laid bare. If he regards Christ with love, even with wistful yearning, for him there is hope; but if in Christ he sees nothing lovely he has condemned himself. He who was sent in love has become to him for judgment.”

Enough said!


The Final Judgment: Sentencing


There are two verdicts that may be given:

  •   Guilty but already dealt with by the Cross
  •   Guilty and requiring a sentence of death.

We will consider them in that order shortly.



37.3 Sentencing Believers?


The Need of the Cross


Now it may be that you are surprised that I have labelled everyone – Christians included – as guilty, but that IS the truth. We noted in the previous chapter that the prophecy of Revelation 20:11-13 spoke of books being opened with everything we have done during our lifetime recorded in one of the books. If we are Christians (or the rare glory-bound non-Christian from Romans 2), we are recorded in the ‘book of life'.


Now, will there be a specific instance, in our existence and our awareness, where we literally find ourselves standing before a literal throne and an angel comes with a literal book? I think perhaps not. These are prophetic pictures to convey a truth of reality. A ‘book' conveys the idea of a record that has been kept, that is known to God.


I have often wondered if, when we get to meet the Lord in heaven, whether He will allow us to look back over our personal history with full insight, full vision, so we see everything that happened with utter clarity and total understanding. That is, I believe, the equivalent of the record of every detail of our lives (in a book if you insist!).


That is the knowledge the Lord has (in His ‘book') and, trying to break free from limited materialistic thinking, I suggest this may take place in a split second or what feels like a considerably long time. If He does that, I suggest He will do two things.


First , He will show us every thought, word or deed that fell short of perfection throughout our entire lives. Hopefully they will have diminished after the point where we were ‘born again'. Yet, I suspect that the reality of facing our shortcomings (which will be great in number if not in magnitude) will bring us to tears of anguish and horror (if not terror) at the realisation that we deserved severe punishment for what we have seen as the reality of our lives, the shear volume of our misdemeanours, the staggering extent of our having fallen short of perfection, of what could have been. .


But then, second, I believe He will show us the work of the Cross and the work of His Spirit in and through us, and we will be allowed to see every thought, word or deed of ours that had its origin in heaven, and we will weep for joy at the wonder of His work in us. We may even see lives touched by us that we had no idea about and the extent of His work through us, going much further afield than anything we had previously comprehended.


The first insight reveals, as we've never comprehended it before, our need of the Cross, while the second reveals the incredible work of His grace. The first brings a fresh but real sense of sorrow and anguish leading to a fresh and real repentance, while the second brings joy, thanksgiving, praise and worship. As I say, if I am right, this may be all in a split second or much longer. Whichever, the reality of our lives will be revealed or, as the prophetic visions puts it, will be shown in the ‘book of life'.


When was justice applied?


The cry of justice has been satisfied the moment of our justification. Paul's teaching in Romans 4 makes the point that Abraham was justified when he believed, and so we similarly are “justified through faith” (Rom 5:1) i.e. when we believe. The grounds for our justification – the Cross of Christ – occurred long back in history, but it was applied when we believed.


At that second (and only God really knows when that was) we were justified and the work of the Cross applied – i.e. we were forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness, adopted as His children and indwelt by His Spirit. From that moment on our guilt HAD BEEN dealt with. Thus when we stand before the Judgment Seat, we having nothing to fear, because our guilt has long back been dealt with.


If what I have suggested above about the ‘book of life' – the knowledge of God – is true, then that revelation that I have suggested will be purely that our understanding may be completed. The two ‘insights' will immediately be subject to the historical work of Christ on the Cross in time-space history. Our failures will have been dealt with and our ‘successes' attributed to the outworking of Christ's work in us.


So what is the final sentence for believers?


Jn 3:16-18   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.

  •   The most famous of verses in the New Testament put it most succinctly. •  The reward for the believer in Christ is eternal life; he or she is NOT condemned (even for their past failures!)
  •   This ‘eternal life' is spelled out more fully in the last chapters of the Bible.


Rev 21:6,7   To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.


This final chapters of the book of Revelation shows redeemed mankind, all the believers in Jesus Christ, living in a new heaven and a new earth in eternity with God, enjoying all the wonder of His presence and all of the wonder of His provision. (There will be no need to receive all the wonder of His protection that we receive this side of death, in the present). This is the eternal life that is spoken of so much in the New Testament.



37.4 Sentencing Unbelievers?


This brings us to the rest of mankind, those who refused all the advances of God. From all my reading of Scripture while writing this book, I am sure there are two grounds of guilt for the unbeliever:

  • The guilt of refusing God's advances
  • The guilt of all wrong thoughts, words and deeds
throughout their lifetime.


I point out the first one because I am absolutely certain that the Lord speaks to any and every human being on this planet many times in their lives through a variety of means, all designed to draw their attention to Him and to seek and find Him. Most people will deny this but that is simply an indication of how involved they are with their own lives to the exclusion of God. They simply didn't ‘hear' and so, of course, they didn't respond. When they did hear, they rejected what they heard because it conflicted with their own self-centred and godless desires.


In respect of the second one, it may well be they have the same ‘first-part experience' as I suggested for the believer above, but of course they cannot go on to see the wonder of life with Him because they never allowed that to happen.


Now what is the sentence such people receive? Very simply, death, but what does that mean? I ask that question because death is spoken of in two ways. There is death that is usually spoken about as the passing of life, but there is also mention of a ‘second death' (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8) which occurs in the lake of fire (20:14).


Rev 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."


I think at this point we need to step back and view what the whole of the New Testament says about the outcome for those who reject God and go their own way. That will form the content of the next chapter.



37.5 Summary


In this chapter, as we have continued to focus on the ‘Final Judgment', we have moved on to think about what happens at this ‘Final Judgment' and how different things happen to different people.


We first of all, distinguished between those who have heard of Christ and those who haven't

  • Those who haven't will be judged on the basis of
    • the truth, whether they have truly sought after glory, honour and immortality
    • their deeds, whether they have truly been good and
    • the light each person has and how they live in the light of it.
  • Those who have will be judged on
    • whether they received Christ and believed in him and lived under his lordship, or
    • whether they rejected him.

We then considered the lives of believers as revealed in the ‘book of life'

  • facing our failures and guilt,
  • seeing our grace provision as believers,
and seeing both in the light of the work of the Cross.

We then faced the fact of unbelievers' guilt

  • who had refused all of God's overtures throughout their lives
  • who lived our self-centred, godless, unbelieving, unrighteous lives

In passing we noted the ‘sentence' for both groups

  • Believers live in eternity with God in the new heaven and new earth, enjoying all the wonder of His presence and all of the wonder of His provision – for ever!
  • Unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire, the second death, where they are destroyed.


It is as we write that last line that we move into an area of controversy, the nature and ‘duration' of hell, and so the final chapter of these three chapters considering the Final Judgment will be a detailed study of what the New Testament does actually say about ‘hell'. Yes, we will consider exactly what the New Testament says, not what people in history have postulated about hell. You may be surprised.


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