The Principle of Eternal Judgment
“… of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”(Heb. 6:2)
God’s Response to Man’s Sin
Throughout the Bible we find many occasions where God has responded to man’s wickedness with a judgment and punishment. The most serious of these occasions was the Flood in Noah’s day, where God was so angry with the whole human race that He wiped them out with a flood, saving only Noah and his family, to preserve His original purpose for mankind (Gen. 6). Shortly after the flood God intervened again at the Tower of Babel, there confusing their languages, so that they could not complete their rebellious task of building a tower to reach the heavens (Gen 11).
In Moses’ Day God gave a standard of righteousness, in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3–17), that he expected mankind to aspire to, failing which the punishment was very severe. While reading through the Old Testament it is easy to gain the impression that God is a very strict and almost cruel Task Master, putting people to death who picked up sticks on the Sabbath day (Num. 15:32–35) and opening the ground to swallow those who rebelled against Moses (Num. 16:31–32). The truth however is that God is love and He is very merciful and filled with tender compassion.
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;” (Ps. 103:11)
“The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Ps 145:9)
The Old Testament message is therefore not that God is a cruel Task Master but about the seriousness of sin and the consequences of sin. No sin will go unpunished. (Gen. 2:17 and Rom. 6:26)
The Severest Judgment of All
Our loving, merciful God created man to have fellowship with Him, but this was made impossible by man’s sin because God cannot have fellowship with sin or with sinners.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Co 6:14)
All sin, whether committed in the Old or New Testament dispensation has to be punished, for ‘the wages of sin is death.’ Here is where God’s great love stepped in, he sent Jesus in the form of a man to bear the punishment of all the sin of mankind. For Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice for mankind, He had to be without sin. This was emphasised throughout the Old Testament, where all the lambs sacrificed for sin had to be ‘without blemish’ (Ex. 12:5).
The crucifixion of Jesus upon the cross was God’s ultimate or severest judgment upon sin. It was so serious that God the Father even separated Himself from Jesus. We know this because Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) This one sacrifice of a sinless man, who became sin for us, was sufficient to appease the Righteousness of God for all eternity.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:12–14)
This was God’s eternal judgment on sin and it offers us eternal forgiveness and eternal righteousness.
Believers should Judge Themselves
Once we have responded in faith to God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation through the judgment of His Son on the cross, we need to constantly be reminded of this. In a similar way when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they were told to keep the Passover as a remembrance of God’s great act of deliverance. (Ex. 12:11-14). This is a type and shadow of what we are told to do in the New Testament. We are instructed by Jesus and confirmed by Paul that we should break bread and drink of the cup often in remembrance of the Lord Jesus and what He did for us upon the cross.
“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Lk 22:19–20)
Paul gives us further insight into this by telling us that: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Co 11:26–29)
From this passage we understand that the ‘bread’ symbolises the body of Jesus and the ‘wine’ symbolises His blood that was shed. We therefore need to be fully appropriating and trusting in the work of the Cross for our salvation and carefully discern and understand what we are declaring as we partake of these emblems. This is where Paul tells us to ‘judge or examine ourselves’ (verse 28).
To understand this ‘judgment’ a little better, we need to read through John chapter six, where Jesus explains that if we eat of Him and drink of Him, He will raise us up in the last day. (John 6:54). If we are not living by Jesus Christ, fully trusting in Him to save and keep us, then we may be eating and drinking in an unworthy fashion. By eating the bread and drinking the wine we are declaring that we are living by Him and this may be a false declaration. This therefore is what I should constantly examine.
If I don’t judge myself, the Lord may judge or chastise me, to get my attention and to draw me back into relying fully upon Him. This is an act of mercy from the Lord, as Paul explains, to prevent us from being judged with the world.
“For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (1 Co 11:30–32)
This is also very reassuring because it tells us that we (Believers) are not going to be judged with the world. The world or unsaved people will have to face a judgment.
The Bema Seat of Christ’s Judgment
“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 Co 5:10)
In 2 Corinthians chapter five, Paul is addressing Christian believers and he makes the above statement that we will all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. The word ‘judgment’ in this case in the Greek is ‘Bema’ and is often then referred to as the Bema Seat of Christ because it is not the same as the final judgment that the (unsaved) world will have to face.
We know that our sins have already been judged in Jesus upon the cross; the full penalty for our sin has been paid. We can therefore no longer be judged for our sin, which is a wonderful blessing.
We do however have to give an account to the Lord for our works, or what we have done in our service for Him. Paul also gives us further insight on this where he tells us: “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Co 3:12–15)
It is clear from this passage that believers will have their works judged, but even if they suffer loss because their works were not acceptable, they themselves will still be saved.
Jesus said: “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”” (Mt 10:42)
We can conclude then that believers will not be judged to see if they are worthy of salvation, but rather to see if their works are worthy of rewards. We are also told by John: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Re 20:5–6)
From this passage we can conclude that the believers who are part of the ‘first resurrection’ will not face judgment at the Great White Throne.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Co 15:58)
Judgement of the Nations
During the Millennium (the thousand year) reign of Christ on earth, He will judge the Nations. He will be particularly hard on those nations that have ill-treated Israel. Jesus tells us:
““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. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” (Mt 25:31–34)
We are given further insight into this aspect of judging the nations in Zechariah chapter fourteen where we are told that Jesus will be King over all the earth and the nations will have to come to Jerusalem to pay Him homage.
A careful study of the life of Joseph as the Governor of Egypt is a wonderful picture of Jesus on His Throne, with all the nations coming to Him. (Gen. 41)
The Great White Throne Judgment
God the Father has committed the responsibility of the Judgment of the world to a man, the man Christ Jesus.
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (Jn 5:21–30)
This authority to judge every individual, Jesus will exercise at the Great White Throne judgment, spoken about in Revelation chapter twenty.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Re 20:11–15)
A Summary of the Various Judgments
- God judged sin by sacrificing His Son upon the cross.
- Believers are to judge themselves, as they partake of the emblems of bread and wine.
- Believers will give an account to the Lord at the Bema Seat of Christ, where they will receive rewards, if their works are found to be ‘gold, silver and precious stones’ (spiritually speaking).
- Jesus will reign on the Throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years where He will judge the nations as King.
- Every unsaved person will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment.
The Principle of Eternal Judgment
We have briefly looked at the various judgments that the Bible speaks about, but it is important for us to understand the principle behind these judgments. The details and timing of these judgments could vary, depending on one’s interpretation of prophecy and understanding of end-time events. The principle however, remains the same and it is this principle that we need to hide in our hearts as part of the Foundation of Jesus Christ, which Paul spoke about when he said: “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Co 3:10–11)
The basic thread that runs through all of these judgments is the fact that man is accountable to God for His actions and that there will be a final judgment with eternal consequences.
When it comes to those who are in Christ as believers, the principle of eternal judgment lies in the fact that Jesus took the accountability for our sin and paid the price on our behalf. We therefore are accountable to God to abide in Jesus by eating and drinking of Him spiritually and we are accountable to Jesus for the works that we do in our body because they have eternal rewards.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Co 4:16–18)