Hope in the Judgment
You know, as I look back at my life, and count the things I’ve spent my life doing, I can’t help but think of all the years I’ve spent in school—in some form or other. Now as you might know, I was homeschooled when I was young, and even through high school. Now home school wasn’t all games and crafts—my mother is very intelligent, as was my father, and they taught us well. My brothers and I studied hard, and that early education prepared us well for life. I enrolled in community college, and later transferred to a four-year university where I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree. By the time I graduated, Kristina and I were newly married, and we both said, “enough school.” I hung up my “student” hat and put on my “career” hat, and so we started into life.
But funny enough, I’ve never stopped learning. Now I can’t say I learn very fast—my wife could probably tell you that. But I love to learn and discover new things, and as life would have it, I’m now back in school, working on my Masters degree. In June, I’ll be taking two courses online. They were going to be in-person intensive classes, but due to social distancing they’ve been changed to online classes. I’ll be pretty busy over the next few weeks, so if I have to recruit some guest speakers for these “sermons in the woods,” you’ll know why!
Speaking of going to school, you know, I really do enjoy it. I always enjoy studying and learning. Doing various activities, engaging with classmates, you know. But there’s one small thing that adds a bit of stress. You see, every time I take a class, at the end of the class, there’s something that happens. There’s a letter that I get from my professor – we call it a grade. A or B, I hope, C I’m not too happy, and if it’s a D or an F, well, that’s trouble!
You know what I’m talking about, for sure! When it’s grade school, and you bring that report card home, and mom and dad might be happy, or they might be upset. If it’s high school or college, you get few bad grades on your transcript, it can mean losing scholarships, not getting into programs you’d love to get into, or missing out on a good job opportunity.
So, we study hard. We do the homework. We learn the material as best we can, and pray we can remember enough to pass the mid-term and final exams, right? There’s always the temptation to procrastinate. To put off the homework and study until the very last minute, then cram for the test. I have a bad habit of doing that… But you know, I’ve found that never pays well. The assignment always looks way bigger at the last minute, and even though professors are nice, they can’t give you an extension forever!
We study, because we know we will be held accountable. We know that a day of reckoning is coming—a final exam, a “judgment” if you will. And once that final grade is in, it can’t be changed.
It makes me think—what if we all were to get a “final grade” on life? What kind of grade would that be? And how would we be living our lives, if we knew that Someone was keeping track—that there would be quizzes, tests, and exams, and that depending on how we fare, it would determine the outcome of a life to come?
It’s a frightening proposal, for sure, but the Bible actually has a lot to say about a coming day of judgment. It has many words that may give us pause, but it also has promises of hope for that day, as well. So today, I want to look at what the Bible says about the judgment, and how we can have Hope in the Judgment.
The message of judgment is certainly not a foreign concept in the Bible. No sooner do we begin reading, we find in Genesis 6 that mankind had corrupted themselves beyond hope, and God destroyed the world by a great flood, saving only Noah and his family in the Ark.
The prophet Jonah was sent to preach a message of judgment to the great city of Nineveh. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Jeremiah and Isaiah preached the message of God’s judgments to befall the nation of Israel, as well as the surrounding nations, for their disobedience.
John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) Hear him crying out, “even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10)
Jesus spoke often of the day of judgment. He says in Matthew 12:36-37, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Peter and the apostles spoke of the judgment. And Revelation, the very last book of the Bible, paints the judgment of the last days in dramatic, full-color imagery that’s hard to mistake. In Revelation 14:7, a mighty angel proclaims “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come.”
Revelation 20:11-13 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.”
You might wonder: Why would a loving God have to “judge” his creatures? Why not just give everyone a blessed reward? You might remember a message I shared a couple weeks ago, “Clinging to the Threshold.” We addressed this question: how in order for God to love, He must bring justice to those who hurt His creatures. How in order for us to be saved, God must insure that we are “safe” to save—that we won’t continue to perpetuate abuse against His government and against those whom He loves!
Even a basic understanding of the principles of justice would dictate that there must be some kind of judgment between those who are saved and those who aren’t. Almost all Christians believe in some kind of judgment, but there are quite a few different ideas of how this happens. Some believe that everyone will ultimately be saved, but as I just said, that doesn’t really make sense. Some believe that God, in His sovereign foreknowledge, has already determined who will be saved and lost, ever since the foundation of the world. Why, then, do we even care whether we should serve Him, or tell others the good news?
A lot of Christians imagine Peter, standing at the pearly gates of heaven, letting the good people in and sending the rest to that other place. But is this what the Bible teaches? Who let Peter into Heaven, or Abraham or Noah?
Last week, we talked about the Second Coming. I spoke on how the teaching of the resurrection, at Jesus’ second coming, is central to our Christian faith. If Peter has already decided who is saved and lost, at the moment a person dies, what purpose is there for a resurrection, and why does the Bible speak of a “day” of judgment coming in the last days?
Clearly, a central theme of the Bible is a coming day of judgment. But who is being judged, and what is the basis of this judgment?
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote these words at the end of his sermon on the meaning of life:
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 KJV “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
This is the clear principle of the Bible. Everything that we human beings do, will eventually be “judged,” whether good or bad. And what standard is used to weigh
James 2:12 “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.”
1 John 3:4 KJV “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
Paul affirms that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) and goes on to clarify, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
In the judgment, what is the condemnation for breaking God’s law?“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Truly, the law of God by itself offers us no hope in the judgment. We stand before God guilty—condemned as sinners. “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) The grade is an “F,” and there’s no extra credit. It doesn’t matter how much good we try to do, it won’t help us become righteous.
If we are already condemned, how then can we hope to stand in the judgment? Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Praise God! We can have hope, after all. In spite of my sin, in spite of everything I have done, I can cling to God’s promises and claim His salvation, not because of my works, but because of Jesus and His grace!
Praise God for the Gospel. Jesus came to this world, and by His death He paid the penalty for our sin, so that we can have hope in the coming judgment.
Jesus, in His teaching, refers to this day of judgment again and again. In fact, this idea of a coming day or reckoning forms the backdrop for practically all of Jesus’ teaching. We often speak of the gospel, and we should. The gospel of the Bible is the “good news,” but without this backdrop—this concept of the justice of God and of an inevitable day of reckoning for every man, woman, and child in this world—the good news has no context. It’s like if I came to you and told you, “Good News! The bank wrote off our mortgage! That would be wonderful news, indeed, but it wouldn’t make sense if you never knew about the mortgage, would it?
So we’ve all sinned. We’ve all broken God’s commandments, and without Christ we would all stand condemned in the judgment. But Jesus paid the price. By grace, we have been saved from condemnation and guilt—through faith in God’ son!
So then, does it not matter anymore what I do? As long as I say the name of Jesus, do I have a magic “get out of jail free” card? No, my friends—this isn’t at all what the Bible teaches. After all, if that’s all we have to do, then how could Jesus say in Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)
You see, the message of the gospel has nothing to do with getting rid of God’s law. I remember one time, when I was really young. It was the first time I ever took a standardized test. Remember, I was home schooled, so I wasn’t used to going to a big school with a big classroom. Well, we went to the school, and I was given the test in a think booklet of paper, and I had a separate card with numbered rows of bubbles for the answers. Each question was multiple choice, and I had to carefully fill in the bubble for each correct answer. It was a timed test, so before we started, the teacher warned us not to spend too much time on a hard question. If the question is too hard, skip over it and go to the next ones. Well, I started in, and I was nervous. My hands were shaking a bit, but I knew most of the answers fairly well. Then I came to a hard one. I made a note of it and moved on. Finally, I finished the test sheet, just as the bell rang. But wait. Something was wrong. As I got to the end of the long test, I realized the numbers on my answer sheet didn’t line up. I was answering question 30 on row 29. I went back. Questions 29 was on row 28. I almost panicked! I’d skipped a question way back near the beginning of the test, but I hadn’t skipped the row on my answer sheet. My palms started to seat. We were supposed to be turning in our tests. I didn’t have time to fix it.
Slowly, I made my way to the front. There was only one thing I could do. I could ask for grace. So, I spoke to the teacher. I showed him what I had done. He smiled. He saw my trouble immediately. So, he said, sit down here and let’s fix it. We looked together in the booklet until we found the skipped question, and then he let me move my answers, one by one, into the correct spaces.
It’s a simple story. I smile at it, now. But to me, this is a small example of grace. The teacher couldn’t change the test. He didn’t just tell me to go outside and play, have fun, and he would take the test for me. No, I had to stay and work at it. But I had another chance, and in that moment I realized that the teacher was also my friend. He had my back, and he wanted me to do well.
1 John 2:1 “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
I love this verse, because it tells us something special about the judgment. Imagine a courtroom. You’ve committed a crime, and you’re case is brought in before the judge.
The prophet Daniel describes just such a heavenly courtroom in Daniel 7:9-10:
“I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
10 A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.”
The Bible describes this grand courtroom scene taking place in heaven, during the time when the kings and powers of earth are playing out their final scenes. But then another one appears, in verse 13:
“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.”
Imagine having your case tried in such a heavenly courtroom Who would you rather have on your case, than Jesus—the One who loves you and died for you? The devil hurls his accusations—he says this man, this woman, is a sinner! But Jesus responds, That’s why I came into the world: to save sinners! He pleads our case.
What’s more, Jesus himself is the judge! Listen to His words in John 5:22: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son”
Friends, this is what gives me hope and confidence in the judgment. In fact, I believe we’re living in the end times, and I believe already, this courtroom scene has begun in heaven. Do we need to live in fear? Do we need to worry because of our sinful lives going before judgment in heaven? No, not at all—not as long as we keep a close hold on Jesus.
Paul says it this way in Hebrews 4:14-16:
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
It’s a concept that many people, and yes even many Christians, have found confusing. Some realize the justice of God, and the high claims of the law, and wonder, “how can anyone be saved?” But when we look at the cross of Jesus, and the infinite price He paid—when we realize that He is Himself both our judge and advocate, perhaps we could wonder, “how could anyone be lost?”
I believe Jesus summarizes it well in this solemn question from Matthew 16:26-27:
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
You see, Jesus isn’t going to save anyone who doesn’t choose to be saved. He won’t force us to be saved. But by His sacrifice, He has given us the choice. What will we make of the choice? And by the fruit of our lives, it will be evident what choice we have made.
Jesus says, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:20)
If we choose to love Him, if we choose to accept His sacrifice, His love will change and transform our lives, and we will love to keep His law—not in order to be saved, but because His law describes the love of His heart. If we chose not to serve Him, our hearts will continue to be at war with His principles of love.
Jesus promises in Revelation 22:12 “behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”
I love Jesus’ own description of this judgment day in Matthew 25:31-34
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry … thirsty … a stranger … naked … sick … in prison? … 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
Same for those on the left—in as much as you did it not, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Jesus has done everything possible, my friends, to give us hope and assurance in the judgment. By His death on the cross, He has paid the penalty for our sin. By His life, He has given us an example of perfect obedience. And in His heavenly ministry, He is both our advocate and our judge.
Yet, at the end of time, there will still be two groups of people. What makes the difference? Good people and bad people? Saints and Sinners? No. The difference, really, is the love of Jesus. Those on the right hand are those who have chosen to receive the love of Jesus, and slowly, unconsciously, it has changed their hearts and lives and transformed them into loving human beings—Christians who pour out their love to Christ in the unconscious deeds of love to those around. The other group may have the trappings of good, upright, honest people. They thought they were OK—but their hearts were not transformed by Jesus’ love.
This, my friends, is the message of judgment in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the principle is clear. Someone is watching. We will be held accountable.
But this is the message of hope: God has made ample provision for us. He’s torn up the report card with the big “F.” He took our failing grade and put it down on his own transcript. He’s given us another chance to take the exam, and this time, he’s sitting next to us. He’s give us the answer key, and with that, how could you fail? We don’t have to cram for the exam. We don’t have to worry about getting the right answer, because this time, He is writing those answers on our hearts. Yes, we have the law—that standard of righteousness, and yes it’s still important. But I no longer look at the law as an impossible ladder to attain to righteousness. The law brings me to Jesus, and through His grace, he transforms each of us into His image, day by day.
God has given us every opportunity to choose, but at the end of the day, He leaves the choice to us. Whose side will we be on? How will we stand in that day? We need not fear, my friends! As long as we keep that relationship with Jesus; as long as we allow Him to cover our sinful past with His grace, His love will unconsciously to transform our hearts and our actions. Then on that day, he will say to each one of us, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)
Titus 3:3-7 “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
The resurrection of Christ is God’s pledge to the world that every man shall stand before the judgement seat of Christ. That is settled. You and I expect it; we preach it; we believe it. Then why not put ourselves there and stand steadily there? Why wait? Those who wait and continue to wait will not be able to stand there. The ungodly cannot stand in this judgement, but those who put themselves before the judgement seat of God, facing the standard of judgement and hold themselves there constantly in thought, word, and deed are ready for the judgement any moment. Ready for it? They have it; they are there; they are passing it; they are inviting the judgement, and all that the judgement brings; they stand there expecting to be passed upon, and only He who does this is safe. The very blessing that comes in that thing is all the reward that any person needs for putting himself just now before the judgement seat. And standing there what has he to fear? Nothing. And when all fear is cast out, what is it that does it? Perfect love. But perfect love can come only by our meeting that perfect standard of the judgement, in the judgement, and can be kept only by standing there.A.T. Jones & E. J. Waggoner: Lessons on Faith, chapter 5 “Christian Perfection”