The (Possible) Truth about Judgement Day
Some people live with an unrighteous fear of judgement day, and this is partly due to a misunderstanding of what will happen. The subject of what will happen is one that is well worth engaging with. One writer on the subject is Greg Stier of Dare to Share. His blog entitled the Real Judgement Days tries to clear up some of the facts.
Before reading on it should be stated that Stier presents one line of theological thought on the subject. Other theologians however remain unconvinced by the distinctions that this line of thought draws.
Stier begins by informing the reader that biblically there are two judgement days. More specifically, there are two judgement scenarios.
For believers, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that there is “the judgment seat of Christ” and for unbelievers, John writes in Revelation 20:11-15 there is “the great white throne of judgment”. Stier states that both these scenarios are intense and awe-inspiring, but they each serve a different and dynamic purpose.
Stier goes on to outline the difference between the two: “the judgment seat of Christ is a rewarding stand for the believer while the great white throne judgment is a criminal court of law where sentences of everlasting destruction are passed out.”
He says that when we begin to dig deeper than our western translations of scripture, we begin to unravel these distinctions in a greater context. Using the Greek language to try to understand Paul and John’s writings, the truth of the judgement scenarios begins to make greater sense.
The Judgement Seat of Christ - 2 Corinthians 5:10
In Greek, Paul uses the word “Bema” to describe the judgment seat before which each believer must stand (or perhaps more appropriately, kneel). In ancient Greek, the Bema would be where the Olympic judges would stand to evaluate the Olympic games and the success of each contender.
The emphasis of the Bema is not only about deciding the position in which the contender has finished but the reward the contender should receive.
Paul writes the following in 2 Corinthians 5:10:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians implies that the judgement seat of Christ - the Bema - is the place where we get rewarded for serving Christ. Stier notes here that “every believer will be equally loved in heaven (Matthew 11:11) but not every believer will be equally rewarded.”
The apostle Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, expounds this reward concept in greater detail:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
The reward system in place at the judgement seat of Christ seems clear: Some believers will receive a reward for a life well lived to the glory of God (be that gold, silver, precious stones), while other believes who have not lived a life to the glory of God will enter heaven with perhaps considerably less. The apostle Paul makes this even clearer in 1 Corinthians 4:5:
“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God”
Greg Stier underlines that based purely on these verses alone it could be easy to misunderstand the meaning of the judgment day for the believer. Stier says: “We are not saved by our good deeds. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes that crystal clear. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone based on what his death on our behalf on the cross. We believe and we receive the free gift of eternal life. But after we believe and receive we can then achieve all of the rewards he has stored up for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4.)”
Believers must ensure that the correct balance of motivation is in place. Whilst the believer should be more motivated by a love for Jesus than any potential reward, in Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus commanded the following:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Greg Stier encourages believers to be fueled by their appointment at the judgement seat of Christ. He notes that writing on the subject of judgement day, 1 Corinthians 5:11 commends that our expectation of judgement day should be the catalyst we require to tell friends, family, work-mates, neighbours etc.
The Great White Throne of Judgement - Revelation 20:11-15
As Stier states, for non-believers judgement day will present an appointment at The Great White Throne of Judgment.
In Greek texts, whilst describing his vision of heaven (the book of Revelation), John uses the word “Krino” to describe the apparent method of judgement. Krino is the word used to describe a court of law when a sentence of guilty has been passed. Everyone who stands for judgement before the eternal judge, who is Jesus, will be guilty of sins against the God of the universe.
John writes the following description in Revelation 20:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Stier points out that although everyone who stands before the great white throne of judgement will be condemned to hell, this passage seems to present a slight twist. He says: “Why are these unbelievers “judged according to what they had done” if good deeds don’t save us to begin with? I believe that it is to determine the level of suffering they will receive in hell.”
Stier goes on to quote Jesus in the book of Matthew 10:14-15:
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
The passage implies that Jesus presents believers with different rewards according to what they have done, so different types of sentence will be handed down to unbelievers on the day of judgment. For unbelievers the difference in sentence will be the different degrees of punishment they will suffer in hell.
Greg Stier implies that the emphasis of judgement day should not simply be placed on some being sent to heaven and some to hell (that bit is not up for discussion - you either will be or won’t be). The emphasis must be placed on the evaluation process by which varying rewards or punishments are assigned.
We do not know when the Lord will come again to judge creation, but we do know that day is fast approaching. One day it will be too late to assign faith in Jesus and the judgement will be approved. But God is a Father full of love, grace and mercy and until that day comes it is not too late, and no one is too far away or too bad to receive His forgiveness and salvation.