It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment
The Final Judgment of God is a major revelation of Jesus to humans. The Old Testament shows much about God’s judgment, revealed in God’s dealings with the nation of Israel; but it is the teachings of Jesus that clearly show us about the Final Judgment.
We will limit our discussion here to God’s judgment at the end of time. We will not discuss the command for Christians to “judge not”, nor will we look at Church discipline as an exception to this rule, nor will we discuss God’s judgments on us while we are still alive on earth.
The main issue that this essay examines about the final judgment is whether our judgment is based on our faith, our works or on both faith and works.
Is the “final judgment” only for non-believers?
The bible is clear that non-believers and believers both undergo a judgment; that is, all humans undergo a final judgment. It is “final” in the sense that it comes after a person dies; and final in the sense that the “sentence” lasts for all of eternity.
Whether you conclude that these 2 judgments are separate or that, rather, both occur at the same “time” is not important for our purposes. What is important is that non-believers and believers are judged by different criteria, with a different intent and with a different outcome.
We will call the judgment of unbelievers the “White Throne Judgment” and the judgment of believers the “Judgment Seat of Christ”.
We will start with the “White Throne Judgment”. This term derives from Revelation 20:11-16:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”.
In this essay I am following the church throughout history in interpreting this passage to be saying that those written in “the book of life” are those that have placed their faith in Jesus and who have been justified. They are saved from God’s wrath. Those who are not saved are condemned.
Now, this White Throne passage doesn’t say anything about a believer’s judgment; but, many other passages do talk about a believer’s judgment:
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God”. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done while alive on earth”. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
The important thing to realize here is that the above passages refer to a believers’ judgment. This is not a matter of heaven or hell, but a matter of reward. Consider 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now a man can build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones or he can build with wood, hay or 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 has built upon the foundation, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work gets burned up, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire”.
Some people contrast the White Throne Judgment with the Judgment Seat of Christ this way: The judgment of unbelievers is about condemnation, but the judgment of believers is about commendation. That is, it is where a believer is rewarded for their works. Their works do not save them, but they are nevertheless very important.