THE LAST JUDGMENT
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 33)
One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is knowing that you will be acquitted at the Last Judgment on account of the wonderful works of your Saviour Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul comforts the Christian with the words: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” Romans 8:1.
To escape condemnation is to have been elected by the Father in eternity past. It is to have been redeemed by the Son some two thousand years ago. And it’s to have been regenerated by the Spirit at some point in your life between conception and your very last breath. Thus to have no condemnation is to be saved only by the grace of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Think about it, every single human being who ever has been or ever will be has an appointment to keep with Christ the Judge. It’s as the writer to the Hebrews says: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…” Hebrews 9:27.
There’s no escaping the judgment of the Last Day. But, as we’ve already mentioned, God has provided an escape from condemnation. This escape is found only in His Son Jesus Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12. This is why the heart of the message of the Bible is the command to keep on repenting of your sins and keep on believing on the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Day of Judgment
The Last Judgment or the Day of Judgment has been guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s declaration that He is satisfied with the works Jesus Christ did as a Man on earth. In other words, the raising of Jesus from the dead was the raising of the Judge of all mankind. For all mankind will be judged by and against Jesus Christ the perfect Man.
Jesus Christ is the measuring stick by which and against which we will all be measured. And just as a child has to be a certain height before he can go on a ride at the fair, so every human being has to measure up to the Man Jesus Christ before he can enter into glory. But the Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. But for the believer the Bible also says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2 Corinthians 5:21. So, hear again the good news: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1a.
The Day of Judgment has been appointed by God. For we see these words in Acts 17:30&31, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
So we see that the Last Judgment will be based on righteousness. Or to put it another way, the judgment will be based upon how right we are with God. How much in the right do you think you are with God? The Last Judgment is the time when you will find out for certain. But don’t wait till then, for then it will be too late. For Scripture says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Corinthians 6:2b. Thus the Day of Judgment is up ahead. But today is the Day of Salvation. Therefore repent and believe in the Gospel.
The heart of the Gospel message is that salvation has been provided by God to sinners through Jesus Christ. Indeed God’s Son Jesus Christ is the One who saves and He is also the One who judges. Thus both mercy and justice meet in Jesus Christ. It’s as Jesus says in the Gospel according to John, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son … and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” John 5:22&27. So the idea is that in order to escape condemnation on Judgment Day we should seek to get right with God through Jesus Christ – now.
Now, the judgment itself embraces angels as well as men. And somehow those who are free from condemnation will be involved in the judging of angels. For Paul the Apostle says, “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” 1 Corinthians 6:3a. Now, what this entails exactly, we’re not sure. But these angels who didn’t “keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” God has reserved for judgment. Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4. So not only is the Last Judgment about judging everyone who has ever lived, it is also about judging apostate angels. But that is why we call it the Last Judgment. For there will be one great Day of Judgment.
Now, how shall everyone who has ever lived be judged? Well, our judgment will be based on our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. As the Apostle says, “For we must all appear before the judgment 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. As Jesus says, “But for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” Matt. 12:36.
So we all shall stand, then, before the judgment seat of Christ. And we have to give account of our lives. But again, hear the good news, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Those who are in Christ Jesus acknowledge that they have sinned in thought, in word, and in deed. And they, by God’s grace, keep on repenting of their sins and keep on trusting Jesus Christ to save them.
The Deed of Judgment
What is the Last Judgment all about? What happens? If there are already people in Heaven and in Hell (as, e.g., the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus clearly teaches), why would we need to be judged again? For surely if people are experiencing torments in Hell as we speak, then surely they have been judged already? How do we answer this? Well, we’ve already noted that the Father has elected a people for salvation from before the foundation of the world. The Son has redeemed this chosen people some two thousand years ago. And the Spirit applies the benefits of this redemption to them in their own lifetime.
The Scriptures are crystal clear about this triune salvation. The Apostle Peter in his first Epistle writes of God’s people as being “…Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 1:2.
The Father, the Spirit, and the Son are all mentioned in this one verse of Peter regarding salvation. Therefore salvation is a triune activity. And if it is the activity of the Triune God to save then this means that whoever is going to be saved is going to be saved before the Day of Judgment. For the Day of Judgment, as we’ve already noted, is the day when we all give account of all our deeds done while in our body. And not one person who has ever lived can truly say that he has never sinned. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. Therefore those who die outside of Christ Jesus die in an already condemned state, which is to say, that they die with the wrath of God remaining on them, John 3:36.
So, the Last Judgment is designed to show two things: a) The glory of God’s mercy. And b) God’s justice. In the Last Judgment God will manifest the glory of His mercy in the everlasting salvation of His elect. And He will demonstrate His justice in the damnation of the reprobate, i.e., those who are wicked and disobedient.
Those who are shown mercy will be saved solely because of the grace of God. And those who are shown justice will be damned solely because of their own sins. None will be able to say that God showed them mercy because they deserved it. And none will be able to say that they didn’t deserve to be damned by God.
The Apostle Paul speaks of what God will do on Judgment Day, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honour, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” Romans 2:5-10.
So, Christ’s work of judgment or Christ’s deed on Judgment Day is that He “will render to each one according to his deeds.” Therefore what we think, say, and do in this life has eternal consequences. However, the Bible labours hard to show us that all of us think, say, and do evil. Therefore, the Bible is far from teaching us that we are saved by our doing good deeds. Rather, it teaches us to obey the truth and flee to Jesus Christ to escape the wrath to come!
That this is the teaching of the Older Testament too is found, e.g., in the words of Psalm 62:12, where David says, “Also to You, O LORD, belongs mercy; for you render to each one according to his work.” Hell-deserving sinners must look to God for mercy, not for justice! Therefore seeking the mercy that God has provided in Jesus Christ is the good that we must do. This we do in response to in response to the salvation wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.
And we must not forget to tell others where the mercy of God may be found, for we read the following words in Proverbs 24:11&12, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps the soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?”
Therefore we who know about the mercy and justice of God in the Last Judgment are obligated to tell those who are heading toward death and being drawn to the slaughter about what lies ahead. In other words, Christians are those who practice what Jesus teaches in the Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” Matthew 5:7.
Are your deeds the deeds of one who is merciful? Do you care about the lost, those who are on their way to Hell? – those drawn toward death, those stumbling to the slaughter? Do you care enough to point them to Jesus Christ? Well, invite them to a Bible-believing Presbyterian church where they will keep on hearing about the mercy of God in the Gospel as it keeps on being proclaimed and taught.
The Apostle Peter sums up what it’s all about when he says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began” Acts 3:19-21.
The Lord is calling His people to repent, i.e., to turn from their sins, and to be converted, i.e., to have a change of mind, a renewed way of thinking. This repenting and believing in the Gospel brings with it times of refreshing, a token of which the Christian experiences now, but will experience in its fullness at Christ’s physical return. For Jesus has risen bodily from the grave and has ascended physically into heaven until the time all things will be restored.
That time of restoration will be on the same day as the Last Judgment. That day will be the day when Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead. On that day those who have been justified, i.e., those who have been declared righteous by the grace of God on account of Christ’s shed blood on the cross, will go into everlasting life. They will receive the fullness of joy and refreshing that shall come from the presence of the Lord on the consummated creation, i.e., the new heavens and new earth. But the wicked, i.e., those who do not know God, those who do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast body and soul into eternal torments. And they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
If this all sounds like so much fire and brimstone then you have got the message! Who would wish to suffer the torments of Hell? Only those who would refuse to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, only those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. But let us continue to seek the Lord while He may be found! Again, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” And again, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, God’s mercy will be manifested to those who are in Christ Jesus. But God’s justice will be shown to those who are outside of Christ Jesus. These will enter into a Christless eternity.
The Doctrine of Judgment
What is the Lord teaching us with the doctrine of the Last Judgment? Well, the doctrine of the Last Judgment teaches us at least three things: a) It is to deter all men from all sin. b) It is to comfort the godly in times of trial. And c) It is to encourage a holy walk with the Lord.
It is alleged by many today that the threat of punishment does not deter people from committing crime. For example, we hear all kinds of convoluted unbiblical and anti-biblical diatribe from Secular Humanists that the death penalty for convicted murderers is no deterrent. But surely anyone about to commit a murder would ask himself: What have I got to lose?
Surely anyone involving himself in premeditated murder would ask himself the question: What have I got to lose if I get caught? And when they consider that the Secular Humanists have all but made the death penalty obsolete, the person planning the murder will answer that question: Nothing much really! Oh sure, the murderer might lose a bit of freedom for a few years. But they know they’ll be out sooner than later for good behaviour. But that’s not the way it is with God. “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained” Acts 17:31a. So, the point I make is that though the Secular Humanist might virtually let convicted murderers away with murder, God won’t let anyone away even with the least of his or her sins. There is a day of reckoning.
Peter says that that day will come upon us suddenly, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up [or laid bare]. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” 2 Peter 3:10&11.
Clearly the Lord believes that the threat of judgment is a deterrent! Clearly He believes that sin will be restrained somewhat when people consider eternity, i.e., when they consider the Last Judgment. But alas, as the Secular Humanists gain more control in the Western nations, we see punishment for capital crime being replaced more and more by rehabilitation. And people think this is a good thing! And so they release murderers, rapists, paedophiles back onto our streets.
But unlike our streets today, the streets of the consummated New Earth will be free from this kind of thing, for the Lord says to His prophet John, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” Revelation 21:8. The Christian trembles at this bad news! But the Christian rejoices in the Good News that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.
If even the vilest of sinners was to repent of his sins and believe in the Good News he will not be condemned on the Last Day. The Apostle Paul was involved in the murder of Stephen, Acts 7:58; 8:1. Saul/Paul went about breathing murderous threats to Christians, Acts 9:1. But the Lord by His grace granted the Apostle repentance and belief in His only begotten. Therefore, God’s mercy is still available even for murderers before they die.
Knowledge of the Last Judgment is also there to comfort the godly in their trials. For, Christians look forward to the Last Day. For that is the day they will be delivered from all sin and corruption. The Apostle Paul puts it like this, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” Romans 8:20-25.
The Christian therefore is comforted by the knowledge that this tired and worn out heavens and earth will give birth to the new heavens and the new earth. And the Christian knows that the date for the birth of the New Heavens and the New Earth is the day the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. That’s the day when all the wrongs of man will be made right by Jesus Christ the Judge. For that’s the day of justice and mercy.
Now, no one knows when that day will be, Mark 13:32. Scripture has left the date of the birth of the New Heavens and the New Earth unsaid. This is to encourage a holy walk in Christians. The Lord says in Mark 13:35-37, “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming – in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning – lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.”
So we see then that if we knew exactly when the Lord was coming we might slacken off beforehand. We might slacken off warning people to flee from the wrath to come. We might slacken off from telling people to flee to God in Jesus Christ for mercy. We might slacken off from doing good.
It’s my hope, as we all look forward to the day of His appearing that we will be diligent as Christians to live godly lives. After Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes had considered what life was all about he concluded with the following words: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” Ecclesiastes 12:13&14.
And, as John the Apostle says in Revelation 22:20&21 at the conclusion of the whole Bible: “He who testifies to these things, says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”