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Final Judgment: How Does Scripture Set the Stage? [Excerpt]
Excerpted from Alan P. Stanley's introduction to the new Counterpoints book, Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment.
It's the end of time, the place is heaven; the scene resembles a courtroom.
Front and center is a great white throne, unapproachable, encircled by
a multifaceted display of shining and sparkling jewel-like colors. An
exceedingly powerful electrical storm emerges from the throne; flashes
of lightning and peals of thunder produce an audio-visual display out of
this world. Ineffable heavenly beings surround the throne spellbound,
enthralled, fascinated, awestruck, captivated, mesmerized by the holy
one seated on the throne. Others too, worship without hesitation, adoring
the incomparable worth of God, the King of the universe.
The Judge appears in glorious splendor. He is powerful, majestic,
beyond description, awesome, and dressed in a long robe with a golden
belt circling his chest; his head and hair are white as snow, his eyes
blazing like fire, and his feet shining like fine bronze in a furnace.
He speaks. His voice is like the sound of a great waterfall. In his right
hand he holds seven stars. A sharp, two-edged sword protrudes from
his mouth, and his face blazes like the sun.
Heaven and earth flee from his presence. But the dead, great and
small, stand before the throne, where very thick books lie open. Another
book, the book of life is opened. And the dead are judged according to
the information in the books.
This is the final judgment, commonly known as the Great White
Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11 – 15). It is the last and final act of history
before God dwells with his people forever. We may disagree on other
things, but all agree that this is the final judgment.
Judgment in Scripture
Judgment in the Old Testament
That God is the rightful "Judge of all the earth"1 (Gen. 18:25) has been a stalwart of the biblical story from the beginning (e.g., 16:5; 31:53)... "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). Yes, he
will. He will judge with justice and equity (Pss. 9:8; 72:2; 75:2; 96:10),
which means "the wicked will not stand in the judgment" (Ps. 1:5) and
the righteous will "sing before the Lord" (98:9). As for when this will
happen, God has chosen "the appointed time" (75:2); "that day belongs
to the Lord" (Jer. 46:10). But God will save his people. "For the Lord is
our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who
will save us" (Isa. 33:22). Since Israel will sing on "that day," they could
sing in "their day" (Ps. 75).
Judgment in the New Testament
The New Testament similarly declares that God has "set a day," or
so variously called (Acts 17:31; cf. Matt. 8:29; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5;
2 Tim. 4:8). It is "the last day" (John 12:48), "the day of judgment"
(Matt. 10:15; 11:22; 12:36; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 John 4:17; cf. 2 Pet. 3:12),
when God "will judge the world" (Acts 17:31; Rom. 3:6). But there is
an advance on the Old Testament. This day has come closer. "The ax
is already at the root of the trees" (Matt. 3:10). "The hour has already
come" (Rom. 13:11). "The end of all things is near" (1 Pet. 4:7). Hence,
the Lord "is ready to judge the living and the dead" (1 Pet. 4:5).
But there's more.
God has selected a man to carry out his judgment,
"the man he has appointed." What's more, "he has given proof of this
to everyone by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). The man is, of
course, Jesus Christ. Thus, "the Father judges no one, but has entrusted
all judgment to the Son... And he has given him authority to judge
because he is the Son of Man" (John 5:22, 27). "Christ Jesus," therefore,
"will judge the living and the dead" (2 Tim. 4:1), though not independently
of the Father (John 5:30). Judgment, therefore, will not be left up
to "any human court" (1 Cor. 4:3). We must "wait until the Lord comes" (4:5). But we must be clear on this: "There is only one Lawgiver and
Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy" (Jas. 4:12).
The appointed day and appointed man are therefore key, nonnegotiable
tenets of the gospel. Paul declares, "This will take place on the
day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel
declares" (Rom. 2:16). Similarly, Peter recalls how Jesus "commanded
us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God
appointed as judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). This is basic
to Christian ity (see 24:25; Heb. 6:1 – 2).
Since judgment is part of the gospel and since the gospel is truth
(Gal. 2:5, 14; Eph. 1:13), God's judgment will also be "based on truth"
(Rom. 2:2). Human beings tend to judge by outward appearances (John
7:24; 8:15; 1 Pet. 4:6), but this is not always fair because we lack the full
and "true" picture required to make accurate judgments. But God is the
"Sovereign Lord" (Rev. 6:10), which means he is able and will judge
"people's secrets through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 2:16) and "will bring to
light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the
heart" (1 Cor. 4:5). Therefore his judgment will be "true" (John 8:16),
" just" (5:30; Rev. 19:11), and "righteous" (Rom. 2:5), for he is "the righteous
Judge" (2 Tim. 4:8). He will judge "each person's work impartially"
(1 Pet. 1:17; cf. Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:11; 1 Pet. 2:23). Indeed, the
Judge of all the earth will still do what is right (Gen. 18:25).
Who, then, will be judged? "God will judge those outside" the
church (1 Cor. 5:13), namely, "the enemies of God" (Heb. 10:27), "the
unrighteous" (2 Pet. 2:9) and "the ungodly" (2 Pet. 3:7; Jude 14 – 15),
"the inhabitants of the earth" (Rev. 6:10), who judged Jesus to be
unworthy of their worship. Jesus said, "There is a judge for the one who
rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken
will condemn them at the last day" (John 12:48). Clearly then, God will
judge those who have refused to receive Jesus Christ...
What about Christians; will they be judged?
Read more in Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment.
Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment
General Editor: Alan P. Stanley. Contributors: Robert N. Wilkin, Thomas R. Schreiner, James D. G. Dunn, Michael P. Barber
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