The Four Judgments
From childhood I have heard much said and numbers of sermons preached on “The Great Judgment Day.” I was left under the impression that there would come a time when all people would be raised from the dead and would be brought into one enormous assembly before the presence of Christ. Then each one would be called in his turn. The record of his entire life would be read in the presence of all. If the good deeds overbalanced the bad ones, the one being judged would be placed on the right-hand and would be permitted to enter into the kingdom of God. On the contrary, if his life was evil, and his bad deeds outweighed his good ones, he would be sent off into perdition. In this connection, I recall an old song which I as a child used to hear. It ran something like this:
There's a great day coming, a great day coming,
There's a great day coming by and by,
When the saints and the sinners shall be parted right and left,
Are you ready for that day to come?”
That hymn made an indelible impression upon my youthful mind. As I recall it now, I can see how its sentiment was but an expression of the theology which colored the preaching to which I was accustomed to listening. Whenever anyone has such a conception as this, he can never know whether or not he is saved and can never have any permanent satisfaction and peace, for he does not know whether or not he has performed enough good deeds to counterbalance the evil. This type of teaching is contrary to the doctrines set forth in the Scriptures.
There are four specific judgments mentioned in the Scriptures. These must be differentiated if one is to have a clear understanding of the biblical teaching regarding them. To the investigation, therefore, of what the Scriptures say, let us now turn.
The Judgment at The Cross
In the chart below one sees the cross at the extreme left. It was central in Paul's thinking. He saw Jesus when he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. The Lord spoke to him out of glory, and without any hesitation he surrendered to Him, becoming an humble, faithful follower. Constantly in his epistles he refers to that event. In his preaching to sinners he held up to view Him who died on the cross for our sins. In discussing the Christian's relation to God, he always magnified the blood and the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
Why is the cross so very important? Let us allow Paul himself to explain. “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens” (Colossians 1:19,20). From this quotation we see that God is reconciling all unto himself and making peace through the blood of the cross of Christ. There is no other way except the way of the cross.
Our Lord, in speaking of His followers, said that they who hear His word and believe upon Him have eternal life and shall not come into judgment, because they have passed from death into life. Let us read these words in order that they may convey to us the richness of His meaning: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Jesus declared that those who believe upon Him shall not come into judgment. Why is that? The answer is that the stroke which was due to fall upon everyone fell upon Christ, and we who accept Him go free. Thus the believer's judgment occurred at the cross.
In Psalm 40 David foretold that God would no longer accept animal sacrifices, and that He would prepare a body for the Messiah to assume in order that by His sacrificial death He might do the will of God. (Read Psalm 40 and its interpretation found in Hebrews 10:1-18.) According to this prediction, Christ in His body did the will of God with reference to the sin question. It is, therefore, “by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Furthermore, it is “by one offering that He has perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Christ, in His death, satisfied the justice of God and paid the penalty for my sins. When I accept Him, His righteousness is imputed to me and God views me through the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus. By the one offering of Himself, He has perfected forever those who come unto God by Him. The cross, therefore, was the first judgment. Those who therefore accept the Christ of the cross will never come into judgment to be tried concerning salvation.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
“For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences” (II Corinthians 5:10,11). When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we shall not be judged with reference to our sins, for they are all washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Men are saved by the grace of God; that is, by accepting His grace and the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ; but they are to be rewarded according to their deeds. For instance, our Lord according to Matthew 16:27 declared that, when He returns, He will render unto every man according to his deeds. This thought is expressed repeatedly by the sacred writers.
If I take my pound (Luke 19:11-27) and gain five or ten other pounds, I shall be rewarded accordingly. If I lay up my treasures in heaven instead of upon the earth, when I appear before the judgment seat of Christ, I shall receive a definite reward for the service that I have rendered.
But let us remember that I shall be rewarded, not only in proportion to the service which I render, but also in regard to the quality of the service performed. This phase of the question is dealt with in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). In this passage the man delivered to his servants his goods, according to their ability. To one he gave one talent; to another, two; and to a third, five. They were instructed to trade therewith and gain other talents during his absence. The one who received the two talents had the capacity to use that much and no more — he was a two-talent man. He could do a perfect job with that much, but his capacity would not allow him to handle three or four talents. He could not do a perfect job with that many. On the other hand, the one who is a five-talent man is given that much because God expects him to use all his ability for His glory and for the salvation of souls. The parable of the talents, therefore, emphasizes the thought that God desires quality service, whereas the parable of the pounds emphasizes the quantitative element that enters likewise into the awarding of rewards.
A third factor entering into the giving of rewards is the spirit in which one serves. This fact is clearly set forth in the parable of “the laborers in the vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-16). In order to see the force of this parable one must read verses 16-30 of the preceding chapter. The men who bargained to work for a shilling labored throughout the heat of the day. Those who went in at the eleventh hour were willing to trust and toil. They took advantage of the first opportunity of service which came to them. They did not have the haggling, dickering spirit of those who entered at the beginning of the day. On the contrary, they were willing to trust their employer to do the proper thing. He appreciated that fact. Their trustful attitude was the factor determining the amount which they were to receive. The Lord despises a self-seeking spirit. He appreciates a trustful, loving attitude. Jesus, therefore, shows that the attitude of a person will enter into the awarding of rewards.
When and where do people appear before the judgment seat of Christ? From all indications it appears, though I shall not be dogmatic, that this great event occurs near the end of the Tribulation. Before the seven years of wrath, the Lord descends from heaven to the air, raises the dead in Christ, and catches up the living saints. They return with Him to glory and are in heaven during the Tribulation.
Revelation 11:15-19 announces the outcome of the judgments of the-latter half of the Tribulation. In verse 18 John speaks of the Lord's rewarding His servants. When this passage is taken into consideration and studied in the light of the entire Book of Revelation, it appears to me that God's servants receive their rewards in very close connection with the time when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. These facts lead me to believe that the judgment of the saints is held in heaven close to the time of our Lord's return at the end of the Tribulation. This thought is indicated on the chart.
The Judgment of the Living Nations
Our Lord concluded His Olivet Discourse with a graphic picture of the judgment of the living nations, which occurs when the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels and shall gather the nations before Him to separate them as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Let the reader turn to Matthew 25:31-46 and read this passage most carefully. This portion of Scripture is the one which is usually relied upon to prove that all people — the saved and the unsaved — will be brought before the bar of God at the great judgment and will there be separated. This passage by some is studied in connection with Revelation 20:11-15. To correlate these scriptures and interpret them as referring to a great judgment day is to bring nothing but confusion into the minds of the people.
Let us remember that the one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall not come into judgment, for he has passed from death unto life; therefore he will not be judged as to whether or not he will be saved and allowed to enter the kingdom in its glorified manifestation. Those who are brought before this judgment of Matthew 25 are the nations. Those who have departed this life are nowhere called the nations. This fact should cause us to be slow in interpreting this particular passage as referring to a great judgment day.
Nothing is said of a resurrection in the passage. Men are simply reading this thought into it if they discover a general judgment there.
The basis of this judgment is the treatment extended to our Lord's brethren according to the flesh — the Jews. Those who are good to them are put on the right hand and are permitted to enter the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. On the other hand, those who are placed on the left hand, and who are sent off into everlasting punishment, are the ones who have been inhospitable towards His brethren. These facts show that this is not a judgment to determine whether or not one is saved. When anyone accepts the Lord and is actually trusting Him, he has passed out of death into life. He is safe in Jesus. Those of whom we read in the judgment of Matthew 25 are apportioned their destiny upon the basis of works. In view of all these facts, no one can possibly read into this passage the conception of a universal judgment into which both the saved and the lost are brought.
On the other hand, if we allow this passage to give its message, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the nations here mentioned are those which survive the Tribulation. As we have already learned, the Tribulation is a period of seven years which follows this day of grace. During this time God pours out His judgments upon the world. There are three series of them set forth under the symbolism of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls (Revelation 6, 8, 9, and 16). The major portion of humanity will be swept from the face of the globe at that time, but there will be some who will survive the ordeal and who will be brought into this judgment of the nations. That there will be those who do survive is evident from the statement of Isaiah 13:12, “I will make a man more rare than fine gold, even a man than the pure gold of Ophir.” An examination of this passage in its context shows that the prophet was speaking about the Tribulation, which here is called “the day of Jehovah.” In the twenty-fourth chapter of this same book the prophet again, in a most vivid manner, describes the Tribulation judgments. In verse 6 he gives this information: “Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are found guilty: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” These few men who are left will be brought into this judgment of the nations. Christ will then separate them as sheep from the goats.
The Judgment of The Great White Throne
In Revelation 20:11-15 we read of the judgment of the “great white throne.” This occurs after the Millennium. John saw the passing away of the heavens and the earth to such an extent that there was not found any place to which they fled. They therefore pass out of existence. At that time the sea gives up the dead that are in it. All who are in the bowels of the earth come forth and appear before this judgment. Who are these? By the process of elimination we can learn. No believer in Christ will come into judgment (John 5:24); therefore we may be certain that there are none at this time. Those who are living during the Millennial Age and accept Christ were likewise judged at the cross. Those born during the Millennium and living to be one hundred years old without accepting Christ will feel the stroke of judgment falling upon them and wiping them from the land of the living. From these and many other facts, we see that those appearing before the judgment of the great white throne are the ones who have never accepted the provision which God made to settle the sin question. In other words, they are the lost who are raised at the end of the Millennial Age and who appear there to hear their doom pronounced.
May I say to anyone who reads this book that, if he has never accepted the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, he should do it now without any hesitation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not upon your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)