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Judgment to come

It was left for him who proclaimed himself the "Resurrection and the Life" to define clearly the relation of judgment to the great scheme of which he was the pivot and the means. Jesus appears before us as the solution of the great difficulty which must have haunted the minds of the faithful men of ancient times, in reference to the declaration that "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked" (Ecclesiastes 3:17). He exhibits in himself the method by which the arbitration of the unapproachable and immeasurable Deity is to be brought to bear upon mortal and finite man. The "Word made flesh" proclaims himself the instrument and vehicle of divine judgment. He tells us that "the Father has committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22), and that as no man can come to the Father but by him, so no one will be judged by the Father but in the light of the word which operates through him (John 12:48).

It is highly important that this fact should be distinctly recognised, because it is part of the truth concerning Jesus, which forms a prominent feature in the proclamation of the gospel. This is evident from these testimonies:

1st, that in which Paul comprehends the doctrine of eternal (aionian) judgment among first principles (Hebrews 5:1-6:1);

2nd, the declaration of Peter: "He commanded us to preach unto the people and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead" (Acts 10:42);

3rd, the statement of Paul that there is a "day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my (Paul’s) gospel" (Romans 2:16).

These general evidences are strengthened by the following testimonies, which we submit in detail on account of the importance of clear and Scriptural views on the subject:

"He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him, the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).

"As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law" (Romans 2:12).

"Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is" (1 Corinthians 3:13).

"The Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man’s work" (1 Peter 1:17).

"The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Romans 2:5,6,16).

"We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...Every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:10,12).

"Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

"We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10).

"The Lord Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1).

"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this (that is, when the death-state ends in resurrection) the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

"Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead" (1 Peter 4:5).

"That we may have boldness in the day of judgment" (1 John 4:17).

"The time of the dead that they should be judged" (Revelation 11:18).

The proposition that judgment is one of the prerogatives and functions of the Messiah, thus stands upon a very broad Scriptural foundation, not merely as a fact, but as a constituent of the truth as it is in Jesus. The bearing of the fact is apparent in connection with the mission of the Messiah, as related to our particular dispensation. This is briefly defined by Paul to be to "purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14), and by James, "to take out of the Gentiles a people for his name." The mode of accomplishing this work is the preaching of the Gospel. An invitation has gone out to the ends of the earth, for people of any "kindred, nation, people, or tongue" to become servants of the Messiah, and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love him.

Over the whole period of the times of the Gentiles the number of these who respond to his call is considerable; but all who are thus called are not chosen (Matthew 22:14), because many who accept the word preached are not influenced by it to "present their bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable". As in the case of the Israelites under Moses, "the word preached does not profit them, not being mixed with faith in all who hear it" (Hebrews 4:2). The soil being bad, the seed produces no result of any consequence. The net of the kingdom (Matthew 13:47) submerged (by preaching) in the ocean of "peoples and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," encloses bad fish as well as good. The propagation of the gospel results not only in rejectors, but in servants, and not only faithful servants, but unfaithful also.

Not only so, but there are different degrees of merit among those who are faithful. Some sow bountifully, others sparingly. Some bring forth fruit thirty fold, and some an hundred fold. No man can assess the degrees. None of the servants can say, "This shall be accepted much, and that little, and the other not at all." In this matter, they are commanded to "judge not" (Matthew 7:1), and indeed they cannot do it; though, if censoriously inclined, they may attempt it, and sin. There are secrets unknown (good and evil), which require to be known most accurately, before a just judgment can be given. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Here, then, is a great community, living and dead, every member related to the rest by the closest of ties, and yet each sustaining a problematical relation to the finality upon which they have set their hearts - the attainment of immortality, and the inheriting of God’s kingdom; each having a right to the promised blessing, so far as the judgment of the rest is concerned, and yet each so situated with reference to God, that unfaithfulness will bring his damnation, though all his comrades approve.

When and by what means is this endless variety of causes to be adjusted? When and how is there to be a settlement of the account still open between the Deity and his servants? Has God made any provision by which this superhuman task shall be accomplished? this balancing of good and evil in the infinite diversity of millions of "quick and dead"? - this determination of the minute shades of merit and demerit, attaching to the responsible dead and living of a hundred generations? - this rewarding, in just ratio, of unknown and forgotten deeds of constancy and mercy? - this exposure and retribution of evil thoughts, hidden malice, hard speeches, and deeds of darkness? Has he arranged for such a scrutiny of the affairs of his people, as shall result in the separation of the evil from the good, the reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked among them?

The answer sometimes given to this question is true in the fact upon which it is built, but wrong in the construction of the fact. It is said that "the Lord knoweth them that are his", and that, therefore, there is no necessity for a judgment; that "He discerneth the thoughts and intents of the heart," and "needeth not that any should tell him what is in man." This is true, and marks the difference between the "judgment seat of Christ" and a human judicature which makes inquisition for the purpose of ascertaining the facts. But when this truth is made the means of displacing the necessity for the revealed purpose of judging the quick and the dead, it is applied with an illogical and pernicious result. It is illogical, because it by no means follows that the Deity’s omniscient perceptions are not to have official expression, especially when, as in this case, those perceptions affect the standing of those who are the subjects of them, and determine in the expression of them, their destiny.

In all transactions between man and the Deity, there is an invariable accommodation on the part of God to the necessities and finite apprehensions men. Why did Jehovah allow a faithless generation of Israelites to escape from Egypt under Moses, and go through the miraculous experiences of the desert, and finally pronounce condemnation on them, instead of acting on his knowledge, and summarily destroying them in a night, like the Assyrians, without warning or explanation? Because he was anxious to bring down to human apprehension the methods of his moral procedure, which he could only do by acting on human modes and processes. Why did he allow Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to lurk in the camp for a season, and trouble the congregation by attempting a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, instead of acting upon his omniscience, and weeding them out at the beginning of the journey, and so save the nation from turbulence? Because such a mode of procedure, instead of illustrating and justifying the ways of God to man, would have wrapped them in mystery, and clothed them with the appearance of caprice and injustice.

Why did he so long forbear with the Jews in their obstinacy foreknowing their ultimate rejection of all his messengers and his own Son? Why did Jesus, who discerned "spirits", tolerate Judas till he convicted himself by betraying his master? Why did the Spirit suffer Ananias and Sapphira to come into the presence of the apostles, and go through the formality of hearing their own condemnation, before their mendacity was punished by death? In fact, why do things happen at all as they do? Why did not the Deity frame the terrestrial economy of things on such a basis that obedience and not disobedience should have been the law? The whole history of divine procedure, in relation to human affairs, shows that divine omniscience is never allowed for a moment to forestall or displace the natural order of events, but rather sets up and enforces the law by which everything has its full and logical course, before the culminating consequence is reached.

To say that because God knows the righteous from the wicked, he will not bring them to the formality of a judgment, is to reason against every operation of the Deity on record. It is true the Deity knows; but is it not necessary that the righteous and the wicked themselves should know? How shall the righteous know themselves approved, and the wicked condemned, and the Deity be justified in the eyes of both, without the declaration of what he knows?

We have quoted testimony sufficient to show that the doctrine of the judgment of the living and dead by Christ is part and parcel of the gospel proclamation about him. We further submit that, logically viewed, it is a natural and necessary part of the glad tidings. It is one of the finest sources of relief which the truth affords, the knowledge that the disputes, misunderstandings, and wrongs of the present maladministration of things, are destined, in the purpose of God, to come before an infallible tribunal, at which every man shall have praise or condemnation, according to the nature of the disclosure.

It is gladdening to know that there lies between this corrupt state of things and the perfection of the kingdom of God, an ordeal which will prevent the entrance of "anything that defileth", which, as fire, will try every man’s work, and thin down, by a process of purification, the crowd of those who do no more than say "Lord, Lord!" It is comforting to know that wrongful suffering will then be avenged, that secret faithfulness will then be openly acknowledged, that unappreciated worth will be recognised, and that evil doing, unpunished, unsuspected, and unknown, will be held up for execration, in the face of so august an assembly as that of the Elohim, presided over by the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This is part of the glad tidings concerning Jesus Christ.

In these remarks, we assume that the object and effect of the judgment is to mete out to every man who is summoned to it, according to his deeds, whether good or bad. This is apparent from the testimony quoted to prove that judgment will be executed by the Son of Man at his coming. We append further and more specific evidence on this point:

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord . . . And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt.7:22-23).

"Every idle (evil) word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).

"The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27).

"Every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12).

"Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12).

"Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12).

"The work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways" (Job 34:11).

"I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:10).

Another important evidence of the conclusion to which these testimonies lead us, is to be found in the parables of Christ, in many of which he illustrates the relation between himself and his servants in connection with his departure from the earth. In all of these, he presents the fact that at his return he will "take account" of them. and deal with them according to their individual deserts. Thus, in the parable of the nobleman:

"It came to pass that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants to be called unto him to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading" (Luke 19:15).

Those servants are given as three in number, and, doubtless, represent the several classes of which the bulk of Christ’s professing servants are composed. The first gives a satisfactory account of himself, having increased five talents to ten, and receives jurisdiction over ten cities. The second has made two talents into four, and entitles himself to meritorious recognition, and the allotment of four cities. The third, who, though less privileged, might have stood equally well, had he turned his single talent into two, justifies his indolence on the plea that he dreaded a service where more was expected than was given in the first instance. This man, who stands for the unfaithful, is rejected. The decree is, "Take the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents.... Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness (Matthew 25:28-30). Here the unprofitable servant figures in the judgment of the king’s household, at his return, as well as the approved.

In Matthew 22:1-14, we have another parable in which the same feature is introduced. A certain king issues invitations to his son’s marriage, but the parties invited make various excuses for not coming. The king then orders a general invitation to all and sundry whom his servants may find on the highways, and his servants execute the orders, and "gather as many as they found, bad and good". The king then comes in to see the guests, and "saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment", whom he ordered to be "bound hand and foot, and taken away". This shows that the judgment to be carried out by Jesus at the time of reckoning has the practical effect of "severing the wicked from amongst the just".

To the same purport is the parable of the net:

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to the shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away" (Matthew 13:47-48).

Also the following:

"The Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore . . . lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping" (Mark 13:34,36).


"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return . . . Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching . . . But, and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the men-servants and maidens, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:35-37,45,46).

The parable of the ten virgins enforces the same fact, viz., the unworthy portion of his servants will be publicly and officially rejected at the time the others are acknowledged.

This is in harmony with the reason of the thing, as well as with the numerous testimonies already cited from the apostolic writings. Many are called, but only few out of the many are "chosen". When should the choice take place, but at the time represented in these parables, viz., "When the lord of those servants cometh" to develop the state of things with reference to which the choice is to be made? (Matthew 25:19). The present is not a time for dividing the wicked from the righteous. Both go to the grave, and "rest together in the dust", and their merits and demerits would sleep for ever with them in the silence of the tomb, were it not for the awaking voice that calls the just and unjust, at the appointed time, from the oblivion of hades, to give an account before the "judgment seat of Christ". Now is not the time for Jesus to execute judgment. He is a priest over his own house. The great question of account is left over till he returns. "He shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom". He shall open the dread book of God’s remembrance, wherein are indelibly recorded the thoughts and transactions of those who shall come to judgment, and the dead shall be judged out of those things that are written in the book.

With the general conclusion before us, that the judgment seat is the appointed tribunal for determining the great question of individual desert, in relation to the dispensation of God’s favour in Christ, we come to the minor but involved question of the nature and position of the dead, during the interval elapsing between their emergence from the death-state and their adjudication by the judge. The object of that adjudication is defined by Paul in the following words: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive in body according to that we have done, whether good or bad(2 Corinthians 5:10). What shall those "receive in body", who have in the sense of those words, "done good"? and what, those who have "done bad"? Paul, in another place, answers these questions. He says,

God "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing (he will render) eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish . . . in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Romans 2:6-9,16).

The same fact he announces in more specific terms to the Galatians:

"Be not deceived; for God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting " (Galatians 6:7-8).

Paul does not mention the judgment in this testimony; but it is evident that it relates to the judgment, since life everlasting is not "reaped" in the present state of existence, and "corruption" befalls all alike, without reference to the "sowing". It is evident that the results of the present life are to be dispensed at the judgment seat. Paul, indeed, expressly declares it in the words already quoted, "that we may receive", etc. This is reasonable, and befitting of the Deity, who is "a God of order" to the utmost exactitude in all things.

If this be so, does it not follow that prior to the judgment seat, both classes of those subject to judgment, occupy the neutral position they hold in the present life, commingling indiscriminately, awaiting the tribunals none knowing who is who? Is it not evident that the judgment-seat forms the great natural boundary line between probation and exaltation: the great crisis for determining the standing of the many who have been "called"; the time for that disclosure of divine secrets, which results in the severing of the wicked from among the just, and the rejection and the condemnation of the one, and the acceptance and glorification of the other? If so, it follows that up to the appearance of the dead before Christ to give an account, these questions are undecided, so far as their effect in relation to them is concerned. They are, of course, known to the divine mind but not declared or enforced. Christ, as the judge of the quick and dead, is entrusted with that very office.

What is the conclusion from these Scriptural premises? There is only one: that the dead assembled for judgment are men and women in the flesh recovered from the grave, reproduced, and made to "stand again" (anastasis) in the presence of their Lord and Judge, to have it determined whether they are worthy of receiving the "hidden manna" of eternal life, for which they are all candidates, or deserving of reconsignment to corruption and death, under the special solemn circumstances of rejection by him who is "altogether lovely". Thus, those who are alive when the Lord comes, and those who emerge from the grave at that period, will be on a footing of perfect equality. They will all be gathered together into the one Great Presence, for the one great dread purpose of inquisition. Not until they hear the spoken words of the King will they know how it is to fare with them. All depends upon the "account". This can only be accurately estimated by the Judge. A righteous man will tremble and underrate his position; on the other hand, "the wicked" may venture with coolness and effrontery before that august tribunal, to recount with complacence and confidence the list of their claims to the Messiah’s consideration: "Have we not prophesied [preached] in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?"

It is evident from three things - from the reason of the thing, from Christ’s parables, and Paul’s and Peter’s statements - that the judgment will be no dumb show, no wholesale indiscriminate division of classes, but will be an individual reckoning. "Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12). It might naturally be fancied that persons before the judgment seat would simply be paralysed and rendered powerless to utter their minds; but it must be remembered that the power is then and there present that touched Daniel, and made him stand on his feet, when he was felled to the earth by the terrors of angelic presence; and, doubtless, this power will be put forth to enable all calmly, clearly, and with deliberation to manifest themselves as they are.

(Extracted from Christendom Astray by Robert Roberts with slight amendments to reflect the current state of affairs among the nations. Copies of this excellent guide to understanding the Bible are available by contacting us).


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