The final judgment is a sobering topic. We sometimes avoid it, for fear of feeding a stereotype about conservative believers being obsessed with hellfire and damnation. But the final judgment is the endpoint of the creation, the moment that all of human history is moving towards. It is described throughout Scripture as a moment of glorification for God. And it is also described as a moment of great joy and celebration for God’s people. (Ps. 58:10-11, 2 Thes. 1:6-7, Rev. 22:12).
The first thing that happens is that Christ returns and all the dead rise again (1 Thes. 4:16, John 5:28-29). Paul says that in the resurrection our natural body is transformed to a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44, 2 Cor. 5:2, 4, Mat. 22:29-30). God is resurrecting your body because Jesus is a complete savior.
A Just Judgment
The Final Judgment is the judgment where our works are perfectly judged (2 Cor. 5:9-10, Rom. 14:12, Rev. 20:12). It will be the judgment where the judge knows all things perfectly, including the most hidden and secret things (Eccl. 12:14, Rom. 2:16, 1 Cor. 4:5, Heb. 4:13). It will perfectly take into account how much revelation we had received, whether Scripture or merely our own consciences (Rom. 2:12).
What about Grace?
But so far this sounds like it completely ignores the Gospel and turns salvation into salvation by works. What about Eph. 2:8-9 and Gal. 2:16? There are some additional elements that we need to add here.
Glory – First, the resurrection that precedes the final judgment is a resurrection into Christ’s glory (Mat. 25:31, Col. 3:4, Phi. 3:21, 1 John 3:2).
Jesus as Judge – Second, note that God makes a point of revealing that when we are judged, the judge will be Jesus (John 5:22, Acts 10:42, 17:31). This explains how the judgment can actually be good news (Rom. 8:34-35). The judge is the one who has already determined that we would stand as judges alongside him (Mat. 19:28, Jud 14, 15, 1 Cor. 6:2, Rev. 20:4).
Judged in Christ – Lastly, we need to understand that it is at this moment that we will see the reality of our union with Christ, unlike anything that we’ve experienced here. We will walk through this judgment with:
- Our sins completely forgiven (Is. 43:25, John 3:18, 36, 5:24, Rom 8:11, Thes. 5:16-18, Heb. 8:12 (cf. Jer. 31). Our sins, to the extent that they are revealed in the final judgment, will be revealed as forgiven and not as outstanding debts. In fact, we ourselves are told to both forget our sins (Phi. 3:13) and to remember them (Luk. 7:47, Eph. 2:11).
- Our obedience not as the grounds of our justification (Rom. 3:20), but as the proof of it (Mk. 5:15). It is not a time of boasting, but rather a further praising of God’s grace (Mat. 25:31-46)
So Judge Not
The final judgment is a comfort to saints, promising us a coming satisfaction off all that we feel missing in the here and now (Rom. 14:10-13, James 4:12).
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