The Immediate Judgment

When we sin, God knows.  You can’t slip things by Him.  Because we don’t see God, we sort of forget that He sees.  It is similar to what happens to us in a hotel.  We get into an empty hallway and we feel all alone even though possibly every room is full.  So we talk loudly as if no one is there to hear.  But everyone hears us.

God knows our sin, but for those who are connected to Jesus through faith and baptism God sees Jesus, and we live as forgiven for as long as faith remains.  In a way, we have been judged as righteous from the moment God connected us to Jesus

For as long as we live, forgiveness through Jesus is possible for anyone whom God can bring to faith.  Their fate has not been sealed.  You can’t plan on it, but even on a death bed it is possible for somebody to be saved and avoid the permanent judgment of God.

Is death the line in the sand, the point of no return?  Or is Judgment Day when eternal fates are sealed?

The Bible clearly indicates that some kind of judgment accompanies death.  With our death, we either enter Heaven because we are forgiven and therefore righteous or we enter Sheol (see my other blog entries about Sheol), because we are sinners without a Savior. Is that the final judgment?

Hebrews 9:27-28 is often evoked on this topic:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

The understanding of most is that the judgment accompanying death is immediate and final, but what is the function of Judgment Day in that scenario?  Is it merely a technicality?  The passage is making the point that Jesus doesn’t die multiple times for sin.  To bolster the point, the writer appeals to the fact that we don’t reincarnate.  Hebrews 9 doesn’t technically answer our question.  1 Peter 4:6 may speak to our question better.  I’m quoting New King James here because NIV is a lousy translation of this passage.

For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

The uncomfortable yet literal understanding of this passage is that the Gospel was preached to dead people with the end goal of having them live or, in other words, be saved.  The context of this passage is Jesus’ descent into Hell (Sheol) mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19.  If we are to understand this passage as the Gospel was preached to living people who have subsequently died, then the second half of the sentence doesn’t make much sense and you are not literally translating the original text.  You are adding (now) dead, which is what the NIV does.

Could it be that Judgment Day is the line in the sand, the point of no return?  We are given marching orders to spread the Gospel to the living.  It is of urgent importance that people hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the promise of salvation through that event while they live.  I cannot go to Sheol to preach to the dead.  But did Christ do that?   Does He still do that?  The ancient church, particularly in the East believed that He did.  I hope so, too.

Judgment Day for the Righteous

Imagine this scenario, because you very well might live it.  You belong to Jesus through the faith He formed in you and your baptism into His death.  You have died years ago and have been with Jesus in Heaven, and now the Day has finally arrived.  What day?  Judgment Day.  This should be largely irrelevant to you, right?  Clearly you have already been judged and since you have been covered in the blood of Jesus, you have been found sinless in the eyes of God.  All of this is true, except for the irrelevant part.

The Bible clearly states that Judgment Day is a day of judgment for all–saved or lost, living or dead.  It is not a formality.  It has a real bearing on our future.

Matthew 25:31f tells the “parable” of the sheep and goats.  It is not exactly a parable.  It uses one metaphor to explain that on Judgment Day, the righteous and the unrighteous will be spatially separated like a shepherd does with sheep and goats.  This separation is important to note in this story, because it is where grace is found in this description.  A reader who fails to recognize this will observe the judgment of our deeds which is described here and jump to a very false and dangerous conclusion–that we are saved based on our works.

In this description, the people on the right (those who are righteous) are commended for all the good things they did.  But ask yourself, do you really think they never did anything wrong or missed an opportunity to do good?  Why aren’t they being called out on the carpet for all their sins?  It is because they are on the right, and those on the right have been saved by what God has done for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus covers their sins and all that is left is their good.

Those on the left are sternly rebuked  for their sins.  Ask yourself again, do you really think that these people never did anything charitable or kind?  Why are they only condemned for their failures.  The answer–they don’t have Jesus’ forgiveness, and without that no charity, goodness or kindness can compensate for or cover your sins.  It is all for nothing.  They are damned.  Some of them are relatively nice people.

For those who are ultimately damned, Judgment Day is about their damnation.  Clearly this is not a hypothetical group.  It is a substantial group–a majority even.  Why would a God of love do this?  Because He is also a God of uncompromising justice and He had already provided a costly solution that was soundly rejected by this group.

The Sheep and the Goats discourse describes the Judgment Day experience as if it were a group experience.  Next time, I will take you to another Judgment Day passage that describes it as an individual experience.  I think it is very interesting and important.  I hope you read it.

When Will It Happen?

Since Judgment Day was first mentioned, people have been trying to predict when it will happen.  This is true even though Jesus makes it very clear that no one knows the day–not even Him.  There are no hidden codes or mathematical formulas for predicting a date.  If someone is selling you one, run.  Sell nothing.  Don’t quit your job.  Don’t get out a lawn chair and look up at the sky.  The Bible offers no clues only criteria of what must happen first.

The more well know criterion is mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 as he tours the temple grounds with his disciples. He states:

And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

My main question is what defines a “nation”? The geo-political boundaries of the world are in constant flux. Some are not even recognized by the people who live within them. Revelation 5 offers insight :

You were worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9)

Language groups, tribal identity, racial groups and political groups all play a part in not only who will hear the Gospel but who will be saved by it. God would love to save all, but that seems to be something that will not happen. Even so, he will save somebody from every group.

Using such a definition there is more people groups than one might realize. For instance, defining how many distinct languages exist on Earth is a hard thing to do for definitions of what makes a language distinct are not standardized. Still, you can get a feel for the scale of magnitude. In 2009, Ethnologue, enumerated 6909 languages of which 2508 had a translated version of the Bible. The number is changing rapidly. Mission India, an evangelistic outreach group, shows that unreached people groups have been reduced in half during a mere four year period from 2010 to 2014. Of course, God gets to decide who is a people group and when we are done. The point is that we could be getting close.

The other criterion is found in Revelation 6:11:

Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

The context is Heaven where martyred Christians were eagerly awaiting Judgment Day. The Day has to wait until a pre-known number of martyr deaths was realized. This may cause you to wonder why God would want more martyrs. Martyrdom is a tragedy. Apparently, it is also a high honor to die because of your testimony for Christ. Future martyrs deserve the opportunity to fulfill this destiny.

This, of course, flies in the face of Islam’s definition of a martyr.  A Christian martyr commits no violence and has their life taken from them rather than deny Christ.  It is a witness (which is what “martyr” means) to the impact of Jesus on a person’s life in the form of bravery, gentleness and conviction.  The Islamic “martyr” makes a witness too–one that should be quickly understood as not from the God would created and loves mankind.

So what do we learn from these criteria? First, the reason the world continues to turn is so that more people can be saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Secondly, the path to the completion of God’s plan will include resistance, persecution and violence. Still, it is an eternal honor to be a part of bringing God’s plan to its completion.

Finally, we learn to be ready, because it could happen any day.

The Day of the Lord

In churches that use a pericope system (a system of bible readings that can cover one to three years), this time of year, near the end of the Church year, is often dedicated to passages about Judgment Day.  Judgment Day is definitely a part of the conversation if we want to be comprehensive in talking about life after death.  Everyone will be a participant in Judgment Day, says the Bible, like it or not.

Judgment Day is a very prominent theme in Scripture, all of the Abrahamic religions and even within our secular society. Prominent or not, Judgment Day is largely misunderstood, especially with respect to the role it plays in a Christian’s existence.

So what do you think of when Judgment Day is mentioned? Is it destruction and mayhem? Is it a mass extinction event caused by natural catastrophe, nuclear war, or even intelligent robots? Our fears get embodied in Judgment Day themes, and in general, Judgment Day is something we fear. There are fearful events connected with Judgment Day for sure, but there is also hope and promise.

In our study of Judgment Day and Judgment Day-like themes in the Bible, we start with a phrase, “The Day of the Lord”.

 The Day of the Lord

The first revelations about the coming of God’s judgment start in the Old Testament prophetic books. Here a phrase is coined, “The day of the Lord”. Immediately, we might conclude that “the day of the Lord” has to be Judgment Day. Without a doubt there is a connection, but it seems that there have been several such days with perhaps more to come. In each case, there is strong negative judgment carried out by God. Considering that God characterizes Himself as a God of love, why would the “day of the Lord” be a day of harsh judgment?

Several things are important to recognize about the character of God and His bringing judgments on the people of Earth. First, we must note that God is not quick to arrive at a day of Judgment, nor does He do so without a long time of warning. Bringing punishment is not God’s goal. Showing mercy, granting forgiveness and relenting from judgment are preferred by God. That said, God will bring judgment. We say that this is His “alien” character. It is contrary to His main character. But it is a part of His character and we would be wise to respect this.

Those who want to focus solely on God’s love for the purpose of dismissing judgment or denying hell, do no one a favor. Their logic about how God has and will operate is flawed. God does bring judgment, even permanent judgment on sin, but not without providing every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.

Probably the first chronologically to speak of the “Day of the Lord” is Amos, though it seems to be a topic already understood by the people around him. He says in chapter 5:

18 

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why would you have the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, and not light,

19 

as if a man fled from a lion,

and a bear met him,

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,

and a serpent bit him.

20 

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?

 

Apparently, people were looking forward to God’s judgment because they thought it would affect other nations and not them. But is this a reference to Judgment Day? Amos later explains, “I will send you into exile beyond Damascus”. In this case, “the day of the Lord”, is the Babylonian exile–a day when God will bring judgment on His disobedient people. So why talk about it here? The phrase is definitely used in a New Testament context to speak of Judgment Day. In other Old Testament references it could be so as well. Considering the use of “the day of the Lord”, it would appear that the Babylonian Exile was a type, or mini-version, of Judgment Day itself.

Isaiah also has language about the “Day of the Lord” that seems to be a double entendre. In chapter two he warns Israel about impending judgment on them because of their cultic practices, materialism and idolatry. Yet there are phrases here that are quoted in Revelation in regard to Judgment Day. In this case references to hiding from God in caves and underground. In chapter thirteen, the warning moves to Babylon. Their “day of the Lord” will come at the hands of the Medes, but Isaiah also speaks of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, both used in the New Testament about Judgment Day.