( From Chapter Six The Judgment of God from Life, Death and Destiny)
THE LAST JUDGMENT
Occasionally it is taught that the lost simply perish forever at death, without ever facing judgment. However, the Bible states consistently that God in Christ will raise up every human being for judgment, either for life or for condemnation:
…there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous…1
Nor does Scripture, Hebrew or Greek, allow any room for reincarnation, or a post-mortem second-chance. Nothing distracts or detracts from the significance of one’s present lifetime, as a unique historic opportunity and responsibility. At the last judgment Christ will assign to each of us his or her final destiny, in relation to God’s Kingdom, based upon his or her chosen relationship to God in this present life.
It is God who will decide our final destiny, for only God has that right, as our Creator and as the One who knows us completely. At the same time, this judgment of God will not be something alien, imposed on us by One who cannot “see as humans see” (Job 10:4) . It will be given by Jesus Christ, who is not only the Son of God, but also “the Son of Man” (John 5:27), “who in every respect has been tested as we are” (Heb. 4:15), and it will be a judgment our own conscience approves.2
In each case, the question to be decided will be: What is this person’s true relationship to God? Does this person belong in His Kingdom? That is, is this person recognised by Jesus Christ as belonging to Him: has Christ “known” him or her (Matt. 7:23)? The question, in each case, will be answered by Jesus in person and His judgment will be both definitive and irresistible.
Judgment will be given, in each case, with reference to that revelation of God and His will which has been available to the person concerned (Rom. 2:12). Therefore salvation is available to all, but by the same token all are accountable. The evidence examined will be one’s “works”3 and “words”,4 rather than one’s professed ideals, attitudes or beliefs. By the same token, rather than attending to public show or status, Christ will uncover the “secrets” of the heart.5
Judgment will be according to works, because these are the test of whether or not faith is genuine, whether or not one is truly receptive to God. The test of faith, of one’s true relationship with God, is Christlike love.6 On the other hand, only works that proceed from humble repentance and sincere faith are genuinely good in God’s sight. Love, both the inward attitude and the outward act, is the fruit of faith, as well as the test of faith. Furthermore, on this basis no-one can face God in his or her own right, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, while judgment is according to works, salvation is through the grace of God, in the cross of Christ, by faith alone.
THE LAST JUDGMENT
The doctrine of final judgment is neither a primitive notion to be discarded in the name of progress, nor a mythological symbol for something else. It is an absolutely essential feature of biblical Christian faith, on the same level as creation and the atonement. And it is a matter, not merely for dread, but also for the utmost celebration:
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.7
First, it will be the conclusive revelation of the righteousness of God; the final vindication of God as Creator and Sovereign of the world; the decisive, universal assertion of His right and His mercy, of His Kingdom: “the Lord will become king over all the earth”.8
(a) This is God proving to be God by setting the world right before Him.9 A God who will not judge the world is inconceivable, not God at all (Rom. 3:6). A God who does not judge in righteousness is not worthy (Habakkuk 1:13)! God will not deny Himself! God will prove to be God, and to be worthy, as indeed He already has proven to be, through Jesus Christ.10
(b) This is God standing by His commitment, in free grace, to the salvation of humanity in and through Jesus Christ. God will not abandon His creation! The commitment God announced by raising from the dead the One who took the part of sinners on the cross, God will see through by vindicating and glorifying all who belong to Christ and renewing creation itself in Him.11
Second, the prospect of the last judgment gives final seriousness, value and meaning to human life.
(a) Good is good, finally, because God owns it as such, and evil is evil because God opposes it as such.12 Good and evil really matter. Our sense of moral responsibility is not self-imposed, and thus ultimately empty, but God-given, and therefore a pointer to ultimate reality. For we exist “in God’s image”, in personal relationship to Him, for good or ill.
(b) Being created in God’s image, we are personally accountable to Him. That is the essence of our dignity as human beings.13 Our lives mean something, in the end, because they mean something to God. What our lives truly amount to will be revealed at the Last Judgment, in the light of Jesus Christ, God’s true Image, our Judge and Saviour.
We can be absolutely certain we have a Judge, because God has already revealed His judgment against sin, for righteousness, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.14 At the same time, because God has already judged sin at the cross, we can find grace in Christ to face final judgment. Nothing in life is so important as being fit for God’s judgment. The way to be fit, is to respond to God’s salvation and will in the present: to rely wholly upon His mercy and power in Christ, while at the same time facing up squarely to His known will of holiness and love; to be sincerely committed to His demand, while casting ourselves wholly upon His grace.
- Acts 24:15. See Acts 17:30-31; Matt. 13:36-43, 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6-16, 14:9-12 ; II Tim. 4:1; I Pet. 4:5; Rev. 20:11-15
- See Romans 1:32, 2:15-16
- Rom. 2:6, Matt. 7:21-23, II Cor. 5:10, Rev. 20:12
- Matt. 12:33-34, 10:33
- Rom. 2:16, I Cor. 4:5
- Matt. 7:12, 15-20; John 13:34-35; I Cor. 13
- Ps. 96:12-13
- Zechariah 14:9
- E.g. Ps. 9:15-20, Ps. 10, Rev. 15:1-4; contrast Job 24:1-12, where the present unrighteousness of things and God’s failure to judge are lamented.
- Ps. 50:6; Is. 5:16; Rom. 2:1-18, 3:21-26
- John 17:24, I Thess. 5:9-10, Heb. 9:27-28, Rom. 8:18-21
- I John 1:6-7
- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, contrast v8
- John 16:8-11, Acts 17:30-31