Martin Luther said, “There are two days in my calendar: This day and that Day.”1 “That
Day” is judgment day, the day when we will stand before the Lord to give an account. It’s good for us to live in light of these two days. There is a day coming for believers when each of us will be judged by our Lord for our service to Him and our faithfulness to the truth of His Word.
As with many topics in God’s Word, the topic of the judgments to come must be considered rightly divided so we don’t confuse them. I have heard believers mistakenly say things like, “When I stand before the Lord at the Great White Throne…,” or, “When unbelievers are judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ….” I have winced when I’ve heard this kind of error. It is important for us to have a proper understanding of the judgments to come, when they take place, and to whom they pertain.
Judgment Seat of Christ
“…for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12).
The first judgment to come will be the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Rapture is an imminent hope (Titus 2:13), meaning that it could take place at any time. Following the Rapture, the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1). When the Rapture occurs, the entire Body of Christ will be in heaven, from Paul to the very last member to join. It is at this time that the Lord will judge the Body of Christ. The Judgment Seat of Christ is only for the Church, the Body of Christ. As members of Christ’s Body, the Judgment Seat is “that Day” for us when we will stand before the Lord to give account and receive rewards from Him.
Our service and stand for the truth will be evaluated by the Lord at the Judgment Seat. Christ has a system of rewards that will be granted or withheld based on our faithfulness. Crowns will be awarded at this judgment (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8). The degree of glorification of our resurrected bodies will be decided (1 Cor. 15:41-42). And our reigning position with Christ will be determined (2 Tim. 2:12). Following this judgment, the Body of Christ will enter our eternal state in our glorified bodies, reigning in the heavenlies in Christ.
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
Moses was sent to make the law known to Israel, but Paul was sent to make grace known to the nations. Moses was the master builder of God’s dwelling place with Israel, the tabernacle. By revelation, God gave him the plans and specifications, telling him, “See… that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount” (Heb. 8:5). Likewise, the Apostle Paul was a master builder of a new dwelling place for God. By revelation, Christ gave to Paul the plans and specifications for “God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9), the Church, the Body of Christ.
Paul wrote that the foundation for this building is Jesus Christ, and that Paul had “laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon” (v. 10). A new dispensation was revealed to Paul in which the foundation that was laid was Christ, not as the King of Israel, but as the Head of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Paul wrote, “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (v. 10). He cautioned the Church that those who work and build on the foundation of Christ under grace are to do so according to His present heavenly ministry. We are to build on the foundation of Christ as laid by Paul, serving according to the truths of Christ and His grace for today that are revealed in the letters of Paul.
In the building of the Church, each and every work will be made manifest, brought to light, and “revealed by fire” (v. 13). This fire refers to the Word of God. Jeremiah 23:29 tells us, “Is not my Word like as a fire? saith the Lord.” Our works, our service for the Lord, will be tested and tried by God’s Word, and specifically by the grace truth revealed in Paul’s epistles which give us the commands of Christ for the Church today.
The question will be how much of our works, service, and stand will survive the test of God’s Word in determining whether we receive a reward or whether we suffer loss of reward. If we work and serve the Lord according to grace, making known the gospel of pure grace and serving by God’s instruction for today, this is “gold, silver, precious stones” in God’s eyes, and we’ll be rewarded for it. If, however, we work and serve according to the law, making known a wrong or mixed gospel, trying to serve the Lord based on instruction meant for Israel, many of our works will be regarded as wood, hay, stubble and will be burned up, resulting in loss of reward. But no matter how much of a person’s service goes up in smoke as worthless, that person will still “be saved; yet so as by fire,” as no person who has trusted Christ will suffer the loss of salvation at the Judgment Seat.
As gold, silver, and precious stones are refined when passed through a fire, so these three signify the permanent nature of our service to Christ. They represent those things done and taught in accordance with grace and building on the foundation of Christ according to the Pauline revelation of grace for today.
Judgment of Israel in the Wilderness
“And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 20:34-38).
After the Judgment Seat of Christ, the next judgment to come is that of Israel in the wilderness. A great regathering of Israel will take place prior to the Millennial Kingdom on earth. At Christ’s Second Coming, angels will sound trumpets summoning all Jews, who have been scattered throughout the world, back to the Promised Land.
“He [the Son of man] shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect [Israel] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31).
As we just read, Ezekiel also describes this future exodus of Israel from the nations and her regathering in the land which God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Reminiscent of Israel’s exodus from Egypt which was done “through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm” (Deut. 5:15), likewise this exodus from the nations to the Promised Land will be “with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm” (Ezek. 20:34).
The Lord Jesus Christ will regather scattered Israel out of the nations to bring them “into the wilderness” (Ezek. 20:35) where they will stand before Him. Here He will plead and judge them “face to face” (v. 35). And the Lord will cause Israel to “pass under the rod” (v. 37). This is a reference to a practice in biblical times in which a shepherd would make his sheep pass under his rod as he counted them. As Israel is judged, it will be determined whether or not they will be gathered into the fold and counted as sheep which belong to the Lord, “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). Those who are judged and counted to be the Lord’s sheep will be brought “into the bond of the covenant” and will experience the blessings of the New Covenant, which includes entrance into the earthly kingdom and dwelling in the Promised Land forever.
“And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:28).
At this judgment, the Lord will also “purge out from among you the rebels” (20:38). The rebels will be those in Israel who don’t believe in Christ and “transgress against” Him by not believing. They will not be permitted entrance into the land or Christ’s glorious kingdom. Ezekiel 20:36 teaches that this judgment will be “Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness.” Therefore, this future judgment hearkens back to what the Lord did after Israel’s exodus from Egypt, that though God brought them out of Egypt, He afterwards destroyed in the wilderness those who did not believe.
“I will therefore put you in remembrance… how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not” (Jude 1:5).
Like the exodus in the days of Moses, those Jews who are brought out of the nations after the Tribulation will not all enter the Promised Land. Those who did not take the mark of the beast but did not believe will not be permitted entrance into the kingdom of heaven on the earth and will perish in the wilderness.
Further, this judgment includes the organization of the government in Christ’s kingdom. Faithful, believing Israelites who enter the land to rule with Christ will be rewarded and given positions of authority within His kingdom (Matt. 19:28-30).
In Luke 19:11-27, Christ told a parable about “a certain nobleman” (v. 12). The nobleman in the parable is a picture of Christ Himself. The nobleman “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” This refers to how the Lord will go to heaven at His ascension, receive the kingdom from the Father, and then return at His Second Coming to establish His kingdom on earth.
Before leaving, the nobleman in the parable charged His servants with conducting His business while he was gone. He gave his ten servants one pound each and told them to “Occupy till I come” (v. 13), or do business with that money until He came back.
The Lord said about the citizens in the parable, “But his citizens hated him [the nobleman], and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (v. 14). The citizens, of course, represent the unbelievers in Israel and their hatred of Christ.
When the nobleman returned, representing the Lord’s future Second Coming, “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” (v. 15). The servants were being held accountable for what was put in their charge and were called before their lord to be judged for it.
The first servant had earned ten pounds with the one pound that had been entrusted to him (v. 16). He knew the money was not his own and he used it for the nobleman, to advance his interests. Thus, his lord told him, “thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (v. 17). The next servant who stood before the nobleman had gained five pounds and the nobleman gave him authority over five cities (vv. 18-19).
The next servant made excuses and accused the nobleman of being “austere” or hard and oppressive. He did nothing with the money given to him and had just kept it wrapped up in a handkerchief and then gave it back to the nobleman. He further accused the nobleman of being unjust and exacting of others of what he himself did not give or do (vv. 20-21).
The nobleman judged this servant, that if he thought that the nobleman would be rigid, firm, and even severe, it would have been the better part of wisdom for the servant to have made some use of the money and to have at least put it in the bank to earn some interest. The nobleman then had that servant’s money taken from him and given to the first servant (vv. 22-24).
This parable teaches that there will be reward and loss of reward at this judgment of Israel. The judgment will be just and right. There will be different degrees of reward, proportioned to the measure of faithfulness. Israelites who knew that their lives and talents were not their own but belonged to the Lord, were faithful to the Lord, and used their lives to please Him and bring Him glory, they will be rewarded at that day. As a result, they will be given authority over literal cities in the Millennial Kingdom. Those who did nothing with what the Lord gave them will suffer loss of reward.
This parable shows us that when the Lord returns at His Second Coming, “having received the kingdom,” He will gather Israel, His servants, before Him to reward them according to their faithfulness and service to Him. And Christ will award positions in the divine government of the kingdom to faithful Jews at that time. He will also destroy unbelieving Jews who will not have Him to reign over them (v. 27).
Judgment of the Sheep and Goat Nations
“When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matt. 25:31-33).
Also following Christ’s Second Coming, the Lord will “sit upon the throne of His glory” for another judgment to take place: the judgment of the nations. This is when the Gentiles from the Tribulation stand before Christ. At this judgment, the Gentile nations are divided by the Lord. He will classify them as either sheep or goats, according to their treatment of Israel during the Tribulation.
The Lord identifies Himself with His people (Acts 9:4). At this judgment, Christ will tell the sheep nations how they helped Him in the Tribulation by giving Him food when He was hungry, drink when He was thirsty, and clothes when He had none; how they welcomed Him into their homes when He was a stranger, and how they visited Him when He was sick and in prison (Matt. 25:35-36).
These righteous nations will not understand when or how they did these things for Him (vv. 37-39). But because these nations helped Israel to survive the Tribulation when believing Jews couldn’t buy or sell without the mark of the beast and were severely afflicted and persecuted by the Anti-Christ, the Lord will tell them, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (v. 40). Therefore, they are judged to be Christ’s sheep, belonging to His flock, and welcomed into His kingdom and given eternal life.
However, to the nations who do not assist Israel in the Tribulation, the Lord will say, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me” (v. 45). These nations are judged by Christ to be goats, not His sheep, and are commanded to depart from His presence forever and are cast into everlasting fire.
The judgments of Israel and the nations teach us that only the righteous and believers are admitted into Christ’s earthly kingdom. All unbelieving sinners are left out of it and will be slain and cast “into everlasting punishment” (v. 46).
Great White Throne Judgment
“And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-12).
Let’s review the timeline now. The Rapture could take place at any time with the Judgment Seat of Christ immediately following it. Seven years later, after Christ’s Second Coming, the Judgment of Israel and the Judgment of the Nations will take place. One thousand years after that, following the Millennial Kingdom, will come the Great White Throne Judgment.
This is the final judgment and the end of human history. It is the last event that will take place before time is done away with and the eternal state is ushered in. The Great White Throne Judgment is ONLY for unbelievers, unbelievers of every time period of history. Here they face their doom, are judged according to their works, and are cast into the Lake of Fire.
The throne is “great” because it is the throne of God and exudes power and fear. And it is “great” because of the great, eternal issues involved. It is a “white” throne, because of God’s glory and infinite holiness. Being confronted with the perfect holiness and righteousness of God, all the unbelieving standing there in their sins and unrighteousness will be completely ashamed and embarrassed. The impurity of humanity with their black, sinful hearts will stand in stark contrast to God’s perfect, white purity.
“Him that sat on” the great white throne is the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 5:22, the Lord
said, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” Sinners will be judged by the One they sinned against. The One sitting on the Great White Throne, however, had made the payment at the Cross so they could have had forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. They will see the scars of love in His hands and feet and the love that they spurned, and they will face His righteous wrath.
The unsaved will be judged out of those things written in “the books” (Rev. 20:12). The books of the Bible are the righteous standard by which all the lost will one day be judged. The Word will show them how infinitely far short they fall of God’s glory. In that day, God will judge the secrets of men by Paul’s gospel (Rom. 2:16). Paul’s gospel will show them how Christ died for the sins of the world—past, present, and future—and how a perfect provision had been made for them at the Cross. The Word will show them how they are rightfully under the condemnation of God because they are dead in their sins.
At the Great White Throne, they will be “judged every man according to their works” (Rev. 20:13). Christ will judge the unbeliever’s “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21), “wicked works” (Col. 1:21), and “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11), because “their works are works of iniquity” (Isa. 59:6). Christ will review their works to show their unbelief, sinfulness, and guilt, and to determine the degree of punishment they will endure in the Lake of Fire forever.
The Book of Life will also be opened. At this point at the Great White Throne, all the unsaved will be dead, and only the names of believers will be left in it. Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.” The word “found” means to come upon after searching. The Book of Life will be searched for their names, but they will not be found, because being “dead in trespasses and sins,” they do not have “life” and their names will be blotted out. Then they will be cast into the Lake of Fire, the place of the second death, to be forever in torment and separated from God. May this heartbreaking scene remind us to reach out with the saving gospel of God’s grace and to share it faithfully.