by Lambert Dolphin
Information about life after death and eternal judgment is sparse in the Old Testament. However, Daniel clearly describes a final resurrection of the dead divided into two classes:
"At that time [the end-time] shall arise Michael, the great prince [archangel] who has charge of your people [Israel]. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." (Daniel 12:1-3)
Judgments in the Bible are of various types and kinds. Often
they are temporal---we all suffer lost opportunities in life due
to inappropriate choices which have displeased God. Discerning
the will of God (for believers) is described in Romans 12:1, 2
as being three-tiered. We are to prove in experience what is the
will of God,"...what is good, acceptable and perfect."
Excessively carnal behavior after one becomes a Christian can
result in what is called a "sin
unto death". This is essentially a foreshortening of
one's lifespan on this earth due to sin.
Other temporal judgments of God in history can include the destruction of a city or a nation due to sin. For instance, God ordained the total destruction of the Canaanite peoples who inhabited the promised land in the time of Abraham, though God granted them a stay of execution amounting to some 400 years (Deut. 10:16-18). The entire Old Testament records temporal judgments on Israel and the surrounding nations as well as judgments upon individuals or cities. Temporal judgments differ from eternal judgments in that the death of an individual because of such a judgment may be unrelated to whether or not a person is eternally saved or lost. First Corinthians 10 describes the death of an entire generation of Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. Even Moses was denied entrance into the land because of disobedience. Yet great numbers of these covenant people knew the Lord in their hearts and so will enter the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lot's life in Sodom was hardly exemplary, yet he is described as a believer in the New Testament. Much more can be said on the general subject of temporal judgments from God which occur in history.
To end this introduction on a positive note, it can be said that repentance and a whole-hearted turning to God often delays judgment--pushing it further into the future. We should be encouraged to know that "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 Corinthians 11:31-32).
Seven judgments described in Scripture have special significance. These are,
(1) the judgment of the cross which includes the judgment of the believer's sins,
(2) the self-judgment of the believer whereby we avoid God's judgment for sins, (1 Cor. 11:31);
(3) the judgment seat of Christ immediately after the believer's death where the quality of a Christian's life is evaluated and rewarded, (2 Cor. 5:10);
(4) the "sheep and goat" judgment at the start of the Millenium determining which gentiles may enter the kingdom;
(5) the judgment of Israel at the beginning of the Millenium. This is described in Ezekiel 20:33-44;
(6) The judgment of fallen angels, (Jude 6, 1 Cor. 6:3) and,
(7) The great white throne judgment (or "last judgment") of unbelievers at the end of the Millenium.
Although the last judgment follows 1000 years after the second coming of Christ to earth, as far as earth-time is concerned, when any individual dies he or she immediately leaves time and enters eternity---there is no intermediate state. In the experience of that individual, whether he is a believer or an non-believer, the next event experienced is one of two judgments. Unfortunately in our culture we are so accustomed to thinking of time as linear and everywhere the same in the universe. But, it is clear from the Bible that mortal man is trapped in a linear time frame, whereas heaven runs by different set of clocks (See Time and Eternity.) At physical the individual time-travels in an instant to one of two judgments---either reward or eternal punishment. This immediate judgment after death (as far as eternity is concerned), for both believers and unbelievers, is described for us in connection with the Second coming of Christ in glory (his epiphaneia) recorded in 2 Thess. 2:
"...we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering---since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (v 4-10)
All judgment of mankind is committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. One man, Christ Jesus, is now ruling our entire universe as the Lord of time and space, and nature, and history, and human affairs. Every person's life and destiny is in his hands. Jesus himself said this:
"For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
"Truly, truly, 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 also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs 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 judgment. (John 5:21-29)
The setting of the judgment of the great white throne is associated with an event in the Bible called the "second" resurrection.
"The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended...
"...Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Also another book was opened, which is the book of life.
And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.
And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:5, 6; 11-15)
Two different documents are presented at this awesome courtroom
scene. Books recording the life-deeds of every individual are
presented. These books are evidently the records kept by recording
angels (see for example, Ezekiel and The
Destruction of Jerusalem). The second book is "the Lamb's
Book of Life" where the names of all believers are written
"before the foundation of the world," (Rev. 13:8, see
also, Phil. 4:3, Rev. 3:5, Rev. 13:8, Rev. 17:8, Rev. 20:12, Rev.
21:27). Although eternal separation from God might seem to be
in itself the most awful and terrible ultimate punishment in itself,
the text strongly suggests that there are degrees of punishment
in the lake of fire, for "all were judged by what they had
Ray C. Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California offers the following comments on the judgment of the great white throne:
Here is a startling and terrifying scene. Imagine standing on a starship, watching the earth and the planets recede from view, the stars moving against the background of eternal night. That is the vision suggested by John's words, "Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them." This suggests that all of humanity will be removed from earth, perhaps from the universe as we know it, to eternity itself, where there is no space and no time. That is where judgment will take place.
The judge is Jesus, not God the Father. "The Father judges no one," said Jesus, "but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." It is Jesus who sits upon the Great White Throne of majesty and gathers all the dead before Him. There will also be some living people from the Millennium, far it must be determined if their names are recorded in the book of life Judgment will be "according to what one had done." Deeds reveal the condition of the heart. Deeds reveal belief.
All the deeds of mankind are preserved in God's great library. Books are a symbol of the eternal record of our lives. If John were receiving this vision today, the symbol would probably be videotape or computer disks rather than books. The books are metaphors for the record of every life---and the final judgment of every life shall be made on the basis of that record.
Only those whose names are in the book of life can do righteous deeds. Only the deeds of the righteous will survive the fire of judgment. All other deeds will be consumed to ashes. Only those acts that have been done by the power of the Spirit of God and done for the glory of God will remain. Even the noblest and most impressive accomplishments, even acts which have helped many people or changed the course of history---if they were done by the power of the self and for the glory of the self---will vanish without a trace.
If your name is not in the book of life, your evil deeds will be revealed. All the hidden comers of your life will be subjected to scrutiny. Nothing will go unnoticed. Today you may have a reputation for your devotion, your caring, your humility, your abilities---but in that day Jesus will judge the hidden motives behind your deeds. He will know if your real reason for service in the church and the community was to glorify God---or if it was all tainted by selfishness, pride, and the lust for prominence, power, influence, and recognition...
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to minister to other cities and towns in Israel, they returned rejoicing that they had cast out demons with just a word of command. They were amazed at the power of God that was flowing through them, at the wonderful deeds that were being accomplished, at the fact that even the demons submitted to them in the name of Jesus.
"Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you," Jesus replied, "but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
That is the central question in life: Is your name written in the Lamb's book of life? Beside this one issue, everything else pales in comparison. Your name is written in that book when you commit your life to Jesus.
No one needs to face the lake of fire. No one goes into the Abyss against his or her own will. It is a choice we all make in this life. If we refuse the Savior, God can only give us the fate we demand.
The issue of eternal punishment raises a problem in the minds of most thoughtful Christians: What about those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Isn't it unfair that someone should be condemned to an eternity apart from God simply because he never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? This is a difficult question, but it is addressed in Scripture. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "Anyone who comes to [God] must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him." God knows the intent and condition of every human being, and He will deal with every individual according to the great declaration of Scripture, "Far be it from [God] to...kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike...Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
We know that God only holds us accountable for the light of understanding we have received. Those of us who have received more revelation are responsible for how we respond to that revelation. Scripture does not explicitly tell us the fate of those who have not heard of Jesus, of the cross and the empty tomb, of the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. But the Bible does tell us that God will deal justly with them.
The question that confronts you and me, since we have received so much of the revelation of God's truth, is this: Have our names been written in the Lamb's book of life? Jesus knows our hearts. Nothing is hidden from His view. If we come to Him, we belong to Him and He to us. We need fear nothing from the final judgment and the second death.
(God's Final Word: Understanding Revelation, Discovery House, 1991. Available from Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306)
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September 16, 1993. Revised February 18, 1996. June 19, 2005.
March 21, 2019.