Monday, October 5, 2015

When Are People Judged?

     Reading The Judgment Seat of Christ[1] is quite interesting. I’ve gotten into the chapter that talks about the timing of the judgment for Christians. Are we judged immediately after we die, at some other time, with unbelievers or separate from them? Some of the pertinent verses (ESV) are:
·         Matt 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
·         Luke 14:14b “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
·         1 Thess 4:17 “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
·         1 Cor 3:13 “Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
·         1 Cor 4:5 “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
·         2 Tim 4:8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
·         Heb 9:27 “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
·         Rev 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
·         Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”
     Your answer will probably have a lot to do with your view of when Christ returns and what you believe about the resurrection. As I review these verses, it is not going to be an exhaustive explanation but I hope it provides food for thought.
     In Matthew the key to understanding 25:31-32 is that, the nations are gathered. This is inclusive of all people and without reference to a resurrection. It most likely occurs immediately after Christ returns and these people are the only ones left alive after the tribulation. The righteous enter into the millennium as mortal beings. The unrighteous go to hell for the 1000 years (vs 41). This doesn’t conflicts with Rev 20:11-15 as verse 13 says that Hades gives up the dead.
     Luke is very brief and implies that there will be more than one judgment, one specifically for believers (the just).
     First Thessalonians speaks of the rapture. It does not specifically speak of a judgment. However, many assume that there must be one because the marriage supper of the Lamb occurs just before Jesus comes back with the armies of heaven (believers who were caught up in the rapture) to defeat His enemies at the end of the tribulation (Rev 19:6-14).
     First Corinthians is written to believers who have a really messed up church. It emphasizes that the judgment for believers will be when Jesus comes back and there will rewards for what we’ve done well but also losses where we have messed up with bad motives.
     Second Timothy brings about another point. Paul did not expect to receive his reward until the judgment. He will be rewarded at the same time as other believers. This closes the door on the idea that we will be judged immediately after death.
     Hebrews opens the door to consider a personal judgment immediately after death. However, in light of 2 Timothy 4:8, I have to believe that Hebrews does not mean immediately, but simply that judgment occurs sometime after death. Hebrews 9:28 talks of Jesus’ return implying that is the time of judgment.
     Revelation 20 spans the thousand-year reign of Christ or is simply the end of life on earth if you don’t believe in the millennium (amillennialism) or believe Christ comes at the end of it (postmillennialism). Either way, there are two points that must be made. The first is that it tells of two resurrections. The first to be raised are those who will reign with Christ (Rev 20:4). The rest are called the dead and are only raised after the physical heaven and earth disappear (Rev 20:5, 11-12). The second point is that the dead are the ones judged at the Great White Throne Judgment, not the living who have been resurrected.
·         If you believe in premillennialism (a literal thousand year reign of Christ after the tribulation), then the question must be answered, when do Christians who die during the millennium get judged?  The most likely answer is that they too will be at the Great White Throne Judgment as there is no provision for a resurrection between Revelation 20:6 and 11. This may not be a problem because these would have their names in the Lamb’s book of life according to Rev 20:15.
·         If you believe in postmillennialism or amillennialism, there is no problem with those who die before Christ returns. They believe one of the following:
o    Revelation 20:4 must mean that they are raised and judged at the first resurrection immediately before the Great White Throne Judgment. While solving one problem it also creates its own by failing to explain what the thousand years are all about in which the resurrected are reigning with Christ (vs 3, 4, and 6).
o   Many who follow this position believe that everyone, believers and unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne. This resolves the previous problem explaining a thousand year because everything must be spiritualized meaning there is no 1000 years and the resurrection mentioned in verse 4 is the same time as verse 5 and 12.
     Revelation 22:12 is a reminder that we really don’t know when Jesus is coming back. However, we do know that his recompense means both reward and punishment. The Greek word, misthos, is used as both reward or punishment in various verses, both in Rev 15:22, reward in Matt 5:12, and punishment in 2 Peter 2:13.[2] The context of verse 11 reinforces that the He will bring both reward and punishment.
     The only question not answered in all this is what happens to believers and unbelievers upon death? Maybe next time.

[1] Samuel L. Hoyt, The Judgment Seat of Christ: a Biblical and Theological Study (Milwaukee, WI: Grace Gospel Press, 2015), Chapter 4.
[2] NT:3408 Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.

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