In general terms a judgment is an examination and evaluation of one’s life, deeds or actions, anda setting of consequences therefore, whether of punishment for wrong doing or of rewards for doing good.
There is an opinion among some religious circles, mostly in mainline denominational churches, that there will be one general judgment at the end of time. But this is not what the Bible teaches.
Generally speaking, there are two different kinds of judgments, temporal and eternal. The flood in Noah’s day, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues brought on Egypt by Moses, and the various judgments brought on earth in the book of Revelation are all examples of temporal judgments. Temporal judgments in general directly affect only this lifetime, but may indirectly have eternal consequences. Their main purpose is to chastise mankind for evil behavior with an eye to bringing sinners to repentance. If repentance comes, these judgments may be withdrawn.
Eternal judgments on the other hand directly determine our standing in and where we will spend eternity. There is no turning back from these. This article will focus mainly on the latter kind.
I can think of at least five different judgments that are taught in the Bible.
1. Our sins judged on the cross. The Bible clearly teaches that the Lord Jesus took all the sins of all mankind upon himself when He died on the cross. It is taught all the way through the Old Testament that the penalty of sin is death, and in order for one’s sins to be forgiven, an innocent substitute must die in his place. This is what the sacrificial system was all about. Each sacrifice offered was an act of faith, looking forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and each sacrifice had to be an animal, spotless and without blemish, a representation of Jesus. These animal sacrifices covered sin only for a time. The ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus takes away sins forever, never to be brought against us again.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus at the Jordan River where he baptized Him, he exclaimed: “Behold! the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus said of Himself when talking to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18). Paul, speaking to the church at Corinth, 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).
2. Self judgment. Self judgment occurs when we examine ourselves, acknowledge our sins and confess them to God. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Why? Because Jesus has already paid for all of our sins, when He died on the Cross and rose again.
Paul, when rebuking the church at Corinth for misbehavior at the Lord’s Supper, warned them that they were sinning in turning that sacred ceremony into a drunken party and mistreating the poor at the accompanying love feast. They were eating all the food before the working poor arrived, leaving them nothing and getting drunk on top of that. He further warns them that because of this many are sick and some have died—physically–then goes on to tell them, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of God, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 31-32). So, by recognizing and confessing our sins, we avoid God’s chastisement.
3. The Judgment Seat of Christ: Paul tells the Church at Corinth, “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).
This is a judgment for believers only, which will take place in heaven at some time following the rapture. It is not a judgment for condemnation, but a judgment to determine rewards. Paul goes into much detail about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 3:
“For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Whatever we do after we are saved, we are building on the foundation of Jesus, whether we are doing good or bad.
You notice there are two kinds of materials, “gold, silver, precious stones” and “wood, hay, straw.” The first kind will endure fire, the second kind will burn up. So whatever we do right will be rewarded, but whatever we do wrong, or with wrong motives, will be burned up and will not count toward our reward.
Jesus amplified on this when he explained that our motives for doing things count as much as what we do. In Matthew chapter six he warned his followers not to be like the hypocrites who did everything to be seen of men. He gave three instances of works, charitable deeds, prayer and giving alms. If you do these acts in secret, where only God sees them, you have a reward from God.
If you do them to be seen of men, you have your reward already, being seen by men (and impressing them), and that’s all the reward you will get. So, works we do with the motive of glorifying and/or pleasing God are represented by gold, silver and precious stones which will withstand the fire of the judgment, while works done to draw attention to ourselves and to impress people around us, or to satisfy our carnal desires, are represented by wood, hay and straw which will be burned up.
Once the judgment fire has been applied and the wood, hay and straw burned up, then we will be rewarded according to what remains on the altar. If all is burned up, the person whose works were being judged will suffer the loss of his rewards, yet he himself will be saved, but as one who escaped from a burning house with his life and nothing more.
4. Sheep and Goats Judgment: This judgment takes place on Earth between the end of the great tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ millennial reign on earth. It will be the judgment of those who have come through the great tribulation alive in their natural bodies, to separate believers from unbelievers.
There are three categories of people in this scene, sheep (believers), goats (non-believers) and brethren (the Jews). The basis of the judgment will be how they treated the brethren (Jews), as evidence of their faith or lack of it. You will find a detailed account of this judgment in Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25:31-46:
“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.’ ”
And then he goes on to list all the ways the sheep have ministered to Him, feeding, clothing, visiting him, etc. Then they answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink…?” And Jesus will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he says to those on the left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Then he lists all the ways those on the left failed to minster to Him, all the same things those on the right did, and they will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minster to You?” And Jesus answers, “…inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” So the goats are sent to everlasting punishment, while the righteous are ushered into eternal life.
Now you may wonder why it appears that these seemingly are judged according to works when the Bible plainly teaches that we are saved by faith alone. In those days there will be severe persecution and one who ministers to a Jew does so at the risk of his own life. So one would have to have faith God would protect him, and that even if he were killed he would still have eternal life. In ministering to Jews, those on Jesus’ right hand have demonstrated their faith by so ministering, and those on the left have shown their lack of faith by refusing to do so.
5. The Great White Throne: This is the great final judgment in which all the unsaved of all ages will be judged and cast into the lake of fire. This is not to determine if they are lost, but to prove they are lost, and to set punishment, which is being cast into the lake of fire. All the saved have already had their judgment some 3000 years before, when Jesus was crucified like a common criminal, not for anything He had done, but for our sins.
This judgment is described in Revelation 20:11-15 and happens in an unspecified location away from Heaven and Earth. The basis of this judgment is whether or not their names are found written in the book of life. The apostle John describes it this way:
“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 the 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. 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.”
Is God unfair in judging the unsaved and casting them into the lake of fire? Not at all. When Jesus died on the cross he paid for the sins of every man, woman and child living now, who has ever lived, or ever will live. The only requirement is that you receive Him into your life as your Lord and Savior, believing that His death on the cross has fully paid for your sins.
God has set death as the penalty for your sins. In His mercy he let Jesus take that penalty for you, and when you receive Him, God sees you as though you were just as righteous as Jesus, and your sins as fully paid for by Him and completely removed. This opportunity is available for every person on Earth today, and for everyone who will be, and was available to every last person who ever has lived. If you refuse to receive His mercy through receiving Jesus, He has no choice but to let you bear the punishment for your own sins, which is eternity in the lake of fire.
There are at least four other judgments I did not mention above. There is the judgment of the beast and the false prophet, immediately following the Great Tribulation. They are immediately thrown alive into the lake of fire when Jesus returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation, and will remain there for all eternity, Revelation 19:20.
There is the judgment of the angels who sinned, 2 Peter 2:4, bound in chains of darkness in hell, reserved to judgment at a future date.
There is the judgment of those who were killed during the Great Tribulation for their witness for Christ, and who had not received the mark of the beast. “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4).
And lastly there is the judgment of those who worship the beast and receive his mark during the Tribulation. “…If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they have no rest day day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11). All who take this mark and worship the beast and his image are condemned to eternal torment, from which there will be no escape.
Which judgment will you experience? It’s entirely up to you.
All Scripture is quoted from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.
(With grateful thanks to Kay Lowther for his helpful suggestions in writing this article.)