- Prologue: Judgments Preceding Jesus Christ’s Return
- The Timing of Jesus Christ’s Return
- Jesus Christ’s Return
- The Final Judgment (I): Its Scope and Outcomes
- The Final Judgment (II): The Process
- Jesus Christ’s Universal Rule
The history of the world as we know it will culminate in Jesus Christ’s dramatic and awesome return. Associated with this is God’s final judgment of all people, through Jesus Christ, in which the eternal destiny of each person will be pronounced.
Note that the section cross-referenced above also deals with events of the end times – in its case, events that precede Jesus Christ’s second coming. As such it is a further aspect of the biblical teachings that are often referred to as “The Last Things”.
The passages in this section are largely extracts from visions that the apostle John received. Bear in mind that they are from Revelation, chapters 6-18, which contain apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is prophetic and largely symbolic. It mostly speaks of events of the end times. Many of these events involve great destruction, but show God’s emphatic control and justice. As such apocalyptic literature provides great encouragement to God’s people.
Commentators differ in their interpretation of a number of aspects of the three series of seven judgments below. Such points of difference include: to what extent each of the judgments are symbolic or literal; the timing of the judgments; and whether the three sets describe the same events, although probably most commentators think that they do not even though there are parallels.
Rev 6:3-4, 7-8 [John:] Then when the Lamb [Christ] opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” 4And another horse, fiery red, came out, and the one who rode it was granted permission to take peace from the earth, so that people would butcher one another, and he was given a huge sword. … 7Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth. NET
Quite possibly the seven seals represent events leading up to the end of the age, although it is open to conjecture as to whether these take place just prior to the end or over a longer period. The latter two sets of judgments (see below) certainly appear to be among the events of the end of the age, with the bowl judgments – the most severe – taking place immediately prior to Jesus Christ’s return.
Rev 8:7, 12 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there was hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was thrown at the earth so that a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. … 12Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. And there was no light for a third of the day and for a third of the night likewise. NET
Rev 9:15 The voice said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Free the four angels who are tied at the great river Euphrates.” 15And they let loose the four angels who had been kept ready for this hour and day and month and year so they could kill a third of all people on the earth. NCV™
Rev 16:2-3, 8 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. Then ugly and painful sores appeared on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. 3Next, the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea and it turned into blood, like that of a corpse, and every living creature that was in the sea died. … 8Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was permitted to scorch people with fire. NET
Rev 16:17-18, 20-21 Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!” 18Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake – an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake. … 20Every island fled away and no mountains could be found. 21And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous. NET
Matt 24:36-37 No one knows when that day or time will be, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son. Only the Father knows. 37When the Son of Man comes, it will be like what happened during Noah’s time. NCV™
In v. 36, “that day” most likely refers to the day of Jesus Christ’s return – “the coming of the Son of Man” (v. 37). The verse indicates that God has set a time for it.
1Thes 5:1-3 [Paul, to the Thessalonian believers:] Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. ESV
Matt 24:38-39 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage right up to the day when Noah went into the ark. 39They were unaware of what was happening until the flood came and swept all of them away. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man comes. ISV
Luke 21:9-11 And when you hear of wars and rebellions, do not be afraid. For these things must happen first, but the end will not come at once.” 10Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven. NET
2Thes 2:1-4 [Paul, to believers:] Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so–called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God. NET
This “man of lawlessness” (v. 3) appears to be a final antichrist, probably the first beast of Revelation 13. Presumably he will be the prime instigator of this momentous “rebellion” (v. 3) against God.
Matt 24:29-30a Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. NET
Note that these cosmic events may be the ones referred to in Luke 21:11 in the previous subsection.
James 5:8-9 [James, to believers:] You, too, must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is near. 9Do not complain about each other, brothers, or you will be condemned. Look! The Judge is standing at the door! ISV
Obviously when the NT was written Jesus Christ’s return was not near in terms of our perception of time. One explanation of this is that as “a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3:8, NET), Christ’s return can be spoken of in a sense as “near” from any point in time. Another view is that the writers are asserting the certainty of Christ’s return rather than its nearness in time.
2Thes 1:7b He will do this when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with his mighty angels, … GNT
Jude 1:14b Look! The Lord has come with countless thousands of his holy ones. ISV
Luke 21:27 Then they [people] will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. NET
1Thes 4:16-17 [Paul, to believers:] For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. NET
Matt 24:31 The great trumpet will sound, and he [Christ] will send out his angels to the four corners of the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from one end of the world to the other. GNT
1Pet 5:4 [Peter, to believers:] Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. NET
1Cor 15:23-25 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. NET
As reflected by the above cross reference (and some of the cross references under the following subsection headings) the outcomes of the final judgment are further discussed in the second half of this chapter.
Rom 14:10b For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. NET
Eccl 11:9b But remember that God will judge you for everything you do. NCV™
Acts 24:15 [Paul:] I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. NET
Dan 12:2 Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence. NET
Matt 25:46 And these [unrighteous] will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. NET
Rom 6:22 [Paul, to believers:] But now that you have been freed from sin and have become God’s slaves, the benefit you reap is sanctification, and the result is eternal life. ISV
Rom 2:8 … but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. ESV
2Thes 1:8-9a Then he will punish those who do not know God and who do not obey the Good News about our Lord Jesus Christ. 9Those people will be punished with a destruction that continues forever. NCV™
As this section shows, there will be two prominent factors in the final judgment: people’s deeds; and people’s response to Jesus Christ (i.e. whether one has believed in or has rejected him). This has led many theologians to conclude that people’s eternal destiny (i.e. heaven or hell) will be determined by their response to Jesus Christ, with their deeds then determining the degree of their reward or punishment.
However bear in mind that there is also a correlation between godly deeds and belief in Jesus Christ, and likewise between ungodly deeds and rejection of Jesus Christ. As such, there may well be a strong correlation between judgment on the basis of one’s deeds and judgment on the basis of one’s response to Jesus Christ. (See also the introductory comment on Those who have rejected Jesus Christ – persisting in doing evil – will be condemned.)
Acts 10:42 He [Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. NET
Rom 2:16b [Paul:] God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. NET
Matt 16:27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. NET
Rev 20:12-13 [John, describing a vision of the final judgment:] And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. NET
Acts 16:30b-31 [A jailer, to Paul and Silas:] “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” NET
John 20:31 But these [miracles of Jesus] are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. NET
John 3:18-21, 36 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 19Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 21But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. … 36The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him. NET
The basis of God’s judgment – “the basis for judging” (v. 19a) – is people’s acceptance or rejection of the “light” that came in Jesus Christ and his teaching. One’s acceptance or rejection of the “light” is reflected in one’s deeds (vv. 19-21).
Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. NET
Gentiles without knowledge of the Mosaic Law, by nature have a grasp of its requirements (cf. vv. 14-15) and will be judged as such (v. 12a). Those who know the law have a clearer understanding of what God requires, and so they will be judged more strictly (v. 12b).
The subject of Jesus Christ’s universal rule and a messianic age has different interpretations. One view is that they should primarily be correlated with the present form of God’s kingdom, over which Jesus Christ rules as Lord and where people from among the nations have turned to God. Another view is that there will be a period of widespread righteousness at the end of the age prior to the consummation of God’s kingdom and the afterlife (as per “The Millennium”, see below). A further possibility is that verses speaking of the Messiah’s universal rule are portraying the afterlife. (Additionally, some of the passages may have different stages of fulfillment, and so be relevant to more than one of these scenarios.)
Accordingly, it is debatable whether chronologically this section – or particular subsections in it – should be placed: before the earlier sections on Jesus Christ’s return; before the above sections on the last judgment; or even in the second half of this chapter.
Note that while most of the subsections’ themes are open to interpretation, some of the verses that they contain quite clearly have a particular one of the above three scenarios in view.
Rev 20:4b-5 They [believers who had been martyred] came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. NET
Revelation 20:1-6 is critical to the significant concept of “The Millennium”. Each of verses 2-6 refers to a thousand-year period – a millennium. This millennium is arguably also referred to by numerous OT passages (cf. God’s Plans for Israel) and possibly a few other NT ones.
Probably the two most popular interpretations today of this “Millennium” are the Amillennialist and Premillennialist viewpoints. Amillennialists view the reign of deceased believers with Christ (cf. Rev 20:4b ↑) to refer to a present reign in heaven. They see this reign as having been introduced by Jesus Christ’s first coming, with him being pronounced Lord of all. They believe that Jesus Christ will return, and then the general resurrection will occur, followed by the final judgment. Following this would be the reign of Jesus Christ over the new earth in the afterlife.
Premillennialists believe that Christ’s return will be followed by a first resurrection of believers, who will reign with Christ in a literal thousand-year rule of righteousness on earth. This would then be followed by the final resurrection and then the final judgment.
Isa 11:4-5 He will treat the poor fairly, and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and order the wicked to be executed. 5Justice will be like a belt around his waist, integrity will be like a belt around his hips. NET
Mic 4:3 He will arbitrate between many peoples and settle disputes between many distant nations. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not use weapons against other nations, and they will no longer train for war. NET
“He” (v. 3) refers to the Lord (cf. v. 1), but many understand this prophecy as being fulfilled through the Messiah.
Zec 8:20-21 The Lord who rules over all says, ‘It will someday come to pass that people – residents of many cities – will come. 21The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the Lord, to seek the Lord who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.”’ NET
As with the verses in the adjacent subsections, this appears to have in view the time of the Messiah’s universal reign of righteousness.
Ps 86:9 [David, to God:] All the nations, whom you created, will come and worship you, O Lord. They will honor your name. NET
Phil 2:9-11 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth -11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. NET
As the Messiah, all people will bow in submission and acknowledge Jesus Christ’s identity and authority.
2Tim 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. NET