The Return of Christ: The Final Judgment
As we contemplate the return of Christ we have to come to terms with the fact that while it is a day of unequalled glory for the believer it is, for the unbeliever, a day of dread and woe. As such we must turn out attention to the Final Judgement.
When will the Final Judgement occur?
The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that the day of Christ’s return is the Day of Judgement. Various passages support this view such as John 5:25-29, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:11-15 and especially Matthew 25:31:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
It is difficult to speak about an exact chronology in relation to the events of the last day. The various remarkable happenings will probably occur simultaneously but for those who like things set out in an orderly scheme it would seem that after the resurrection of the body and prior to the transformation of the creation Christ will sit down upon the throne of judgement.
Who is the Judge
This question is largely superfluous as it is evident from the various texts already quoted that Jesus Christ himself is the supreme judge before whom all men will stand. Matthew 25:31, John 5:27 and Philippians 2:10 all state this very clearly. But, lest there be any doubt, let’s listen to the Apostle Peter as he preaches Christ to those who had gathered in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea:
...it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.Acts 10:42
While there is no one who can fulfil the role of Judge apart from Jesus Christ himself it would appear that the angels will be quite actively involved in the work of judgement. Indeed it would appear from 1 Corinthians 6:2 & 3 and Revelation 20:4 that the saints will in some way share in the work of judgement but the role of the angels is clearer. In Matthew 13:41 and again, similarly, in Matthew 24:31 we are told that the angels will be the messengers employed by Christ to gather in the elect and also to bring before the throne those who ‘practice lawlessness.’
Who will be Judged
The simple answer to this question is that every individual of the human race who is alive at Christ’s coming and all who have ever lived throughout the generations of time will be judged. Everyone ‘We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ.’ (Romans 14:10. See also 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:12).
Satan and the fallen angels will also be ushered into the presence of the Judge as both Jude and Peter maintain (2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6).
The fact that believers are going to appear before the judgement seat of Christ has created a difficulty in the minds of some Christians. If we are in Christ’ and have died ‘in Him’ have our souls not been immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus in heaven? Why then do we need to appear before Christ on the Day of Judgement? There is surely no doubt over our eternal destiny. All of this is true but we must not misunderstand God’s purpose in bringing believers to stand before Christ on the great day. As the Catechism so helpfully puts it we will not appear before the Saviour because there is some doubt over our standing in Him but to be ‘openly acknowledged and acquitted’ by the Saviour. It is an opportunity for Jesus to declare, concerning those on his right hand, ‘these are my people whom I love. These are my people for whom I lived and died.’
What will be judged?
If everyone is going to stand before the judgement seat of Christ, then everything is going to be laid bare on that day. Our words, motives, thoughts, actions and attitudes will be exposed.
For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.2 Corinthians 5:10. See also 1 Corinthians 4:5
In the vivid parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus indicates that the good works of the saints will be revealed on the last day while in Matthew 12:36 his focus is on the speech we have uttered from our lips.
Those who are troubled about the fact that the saints are going to appear before the Lord in judgement are also disturbed at this idea of our lives being totally exposed on that day. Matthew 25 is essentially comforting for the true Christian as Jesus is commending his people but the other passages referred to in this section are chilling and disturbing. Will my sins be laid bare for all to see on that day?
AA Hoekema in ‘The Bible and the Future’ provides a comment which is in accord with the teaching of scripture on this vexed issue and provides much comfort to God’s people who are troubled by this matter.
But the sins and shortcomings of believers will be revealed in the judgement as forgiven sins, whose guilt has been totally covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
How will men be judged?
This question could have been framed in various ways. The issue which we’re trying to address and understand is what standard the Lord will use in judging those who stand before him. It has become fashionable in many church circles to suggest that men will be judged according to the light that they have received. In other words if you live in some dark corner of the earth where the gospel has never been preached and you have never had any access to the Word of God either spoken or written then you will be judged according to the life you have lived. You will be judged by your works, by your good deeds.
Such a view is contrary to the clear teaching of Jesus himself. In John chapter 3 at verse 18 the Saviour made it very clear that the all important factor for determining man’s eternal destiny is his relationship to himself.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Surely this should stir us into action? Men and women are perishing having never heard about Jesus. We have the message in our hands. Let’s not hold back. Let’s, with urgency, do all we can to make Christ known to the many people groups who as yet have not heard his Glorious Name.