Of all the doctrines taught in the Bible, none is declared with more consistency and fervor than the doctrine of divine judgment.
But how many judgments are there? And who will be judged? Though there are a number of judgments that may be found in the pages of Scripture, there are five that I believe are particularly important. Let us briefly examine these.
The first judgment I want to mention will take place at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will be a judgment of the works of believers.
"For 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." Mat 16:27
"For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore 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: and then shall every man have praise of God." I Cor 4:4-5
"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Rev 22:12
Whatever the Christian has built upon the foundation (Christ) -- whether it be gold, silver, precious stones, or else wood, hay, and stubble -- it must be tried by the fire of divine judgment. The work of some believers will stand the test while that of others will be burned away. But even though a man's works may be consumed, his faith in the imperishable foundation will remain and his salvation rests secure.
"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." 1Co 3:11-15
It should be noted that Paul's counsel is directed here to Christians, for only the Christian will appear before the judgment seat (Greek: Bema) of Christ. This Bema judgment has nothing whatever to do with the unsaved, for they are never mentioned in connection with it.
One of the greatest errors ever perpetrated in Christian theology is the idea that one great judgment will take place at the end of the age, at which all men will be gathered before the Great White Throne. There is absolutely no basis in the Word of God for such an idea.
A second divine judgment concerns the righteous judgment of all nations. Scripture declares that this judgment will also take place at the return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:32). It should be distinguished from the final judgment of the wicked -- which takes place at the Great White Throne -- since three distinct groups of individuals are represented: sheep, goats, and brethren. And, according to verse 31, the setting of this judgment is the earth (i.e., not a Great White Throne).
"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:" Mat 25:31-32
A third judgment in Scripture concerns the nation Israel. Bible scholars may disagree about the nature and extent of this judgment, but they are fairly well agreed that such a judgment must take place. Such passages as Ezekiel 20:37-38, Isaiah 1:24-26, and Malachi 3:2-5 definitely teach such a judgment.
"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." Eze 20:37-38
"Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city." Isa 1:24-26
"But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts." Mal 3:2-5
Certainly, as Paul puts it in Romans 11:2, "God hath not cast away his people" (Israel). But it will be necessary for them to pass through great tribulation so that a godly remnant may be saved out of the wrath that is to come.
A fourth judgment is that of Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and Satan's multitudinous emissaries -- the fallen angels. Jesus once declared, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out" (John 12:31). In that statement Satan's doom was sealed. Although sentence was pronounced upon him at the Cross, it is not until Revelation 20:10 that the sentence is executed: "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
A fifth judgment in the Word of God concerns that of the Great White Throne.
"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. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Rev 20:11-15
In this judgment the saints will be seated with Christ, and the wicked -- those "not found in the book of life" -- will be judged. The fate of those who endure this judgment is the second death, everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord.
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Rev 21:8
The wonder of the doctrine of divine judgment is the fact that the Christ of Calvary's cross will be the Judge of the Great White Throne. What a comfort it is for the believer to realize that he has passed from death to life and will not be judged in the final Great White Throne judgment.
These facts should cause us as believers to judge ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31). Indeed, since Peter tells us that "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17), we ought to examine ourselves closely.
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." 1Co 11:31
"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"1Pe 4:17
The Christian has nothing to fear from these judgments. He need only see that his works be composed of the gold, silver, and precious gems that will endure the fire of God's holiness.
For more of Walter Martin's work go to the Website hosted by his family: http://www.waltermartin.org/