God is judge over all the earth. Abraham recognized this when he pleaded with God concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He said:
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25 ESV)
The Bible speaks of a number of judgments that took place in the past, and tells of judgments that will happen in the future. Judgments that took place in the past would include the curse on creation because of sin, the flood, the Tower of Babel and the generation of the Israelites that died in the wilderness. Judgments to occur in the future include the judgment of the nations, the judgment of Israel, the judgment of the righteous dead and the final judgment.
Let’s talk about the need for judgment.
Over the last week, we have seen a number of riots in our inner cities. News sources and social media are full of conflicting “facts,” solutions and opinions. Many voices cry out for justice, equality and fair treatment. These cries for justice will not go unanswered. We all have an inborn sense of fairness and righteousness that informs our conscience. The Bible teaches that one can ignore his or her conscience and the conscience can be seared as with a hot iron so that it is insensitive, but the fact remains we all have a conscience. Injustice makes us angry. Even a child will cry out, “THAT’S NOT FAIR,” when he or she feels wronged. We all desire justice and even retribution when we experience offenses against ourselves, and are often stirred to righteous indignation when we witness brutality or crimes against others.
God will not let injustice go unanswered. He holds each person accountable for his or her actions. The Scripture says:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 ESV)
God will deal with all sin. The terrible cost and consequences of sin are seen in the fact that it took the death of the Son of God to pay for our offenses. But not everyone accepts the gift of God’s payment to cover his or her sin. Listen to what the Scriptures say about God’s gift and judgment of sin.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV)
God will deal with all sin, and in fact He is already dealing with it. Romans 1:18 says:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV)
This tells us the wrath of God is being revealed. This points to a present, ongoing revelation of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is revealed in a number of ways, the chief of which seems to be that He leaves us to suffer the consequences of our own choices. The consequences of sin can be seen in crime, war, disease, death, natural disasters and suffering. Our world is all messed up because of sin. The beauty we see and enjoy in this world could be much greater but for the consequences of sin.
We have seen horrific things happen, and yet things are not as bad as they could be. Right now, God is restraining sin. He is keeping our world from tearing itself completely apart. However, 2 Thessalonians tells us of a time when God will remove His restraining influence. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 says:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV)
The Day of the Lord, or the Great Tribulation, will commence with God removing His restraining influence, and evil will be loosed on the planet. This will signal the approaching end and will be another judgment of God. When God removes His restraining influence, the world will suffer evil and oppression on a scale that will make Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia seem small.
Some interpret all that the Bible says about future judgment to be speaking of just one final judgment. However, history and the Bible show us that God takes action in judgments that are separate from the final judgment. There will be a final judgment, but before the final judgment there are a few judgments that we will see first.
One of these judgments is known as the judgment of the nations. Before the Millennial Kingdom, all the nations will be gathered before Jesus and He will determine who will and who will not enter into the Millennial Kingdom. This is not a judgment of the dead but of those still living at the end of the tribulation. Matthew 25:31-32 speaks of this judgment when it says:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32 ESV)
Another word for nations in this verse is Gentiles. God will gather all the Gentiles or nations before Jesus and those that are determined to be “sheep” (believers) will enter into the Kingdom.
Another of the judgments yet to come is known as the Judgment of Israel. This judgment will take place during the Tribulation. Ezekiel 20 speaks of this judgment when it says:
“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 20:33-38 ESV)
Like the judgment of the nations, this judgment of Israel is not of the dead but of the people of Israel who are alive during the Tribulation. This is part of what the Bible is talking about when it says all Israel will be saved. As Ezekiel says, “I will purge out the rebels from among you....”
The judgment of the nations and of Israel are judgments that take place here on earth. The final judgment takes place in a different place. Revelation 20 tells us that earth and sky will flee before the great white throne. This final judgment will take place after the Millennial Kingdom has come to its conclusion. Revelation 20 tells us:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on 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. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to 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 anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)
This great white throne judgment is the final judgment. Everyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire. Notice that everyone is judged according to what they have done. True justice will be served. Notice also that this is not a judgment of believers. These dead represent those who died without Christ who have been waiting the final judgment.
Believers are not in danger of this judgment. According to what the Bible teaches, believers will face a different judgment. As believers, all our sins have been forgiven. We have been made righteous in Christ. God, the Judge, has justified us, declaring us righteous. Therefore, the judgment of believers is not of sin or of condemnation. However, believers are still accountable for the deeds done in the body. Paul speaks of the judgment of believers when he says:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV)
As this passage says, every believer will be saved, which includes being saved from the final judgment. However, some will be saved and enjoy rewards, and others will just be saved.
What we see in this world should convince us of both the need for justice and the reality of judgment. We see evidence of judgment in the consequences of sin that we mentioned: war, crime, violence, natural disasters, disease, and death. We broadcast our agreement with the need for judgment in our cries for justice and fairness. In spite of all the evidence, many avoid or deny the fact that we will each face judgment. Even though judgment seems far off and unreal, it is only a breath away.
Believer, you have nothing to fear from judgment because your sins are covered.
Unbeliever, please come to Jesus Christ to have your sins forgiven before it is too late. The time for decision is while we are in this body. Once we leave this body, decision time is over. Just as the time to decide whether or not to murder is before the trigger is pulled, the time to decide whether or not to accept God’s free gift of life is before this body dies. Once this body dies, faith will not be required, and faith is what God requires. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Please, accept the evidence and believe.