Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Final Judgement
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:6-8ESV
Question 88 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?" It gives the answer, "Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of angels and men; the day and hour whereof no man knoweth, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord." Last week we looked at the general resurrection of all the dead. This week we consider the doctrine of the final judgment.
Although there is much speculation and many different theories among theologians and Biblical scholars as to how this age will end and Jesus will return, the Bible itself is quite specific on exactly what will happen. 1 Thess. 4:16-17 clearly declares that on the last day of this age the Lord will descend to the earth with a loud command, an archangel will shout, a trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ will rise first, then living believers will be caught up together with the risen dead to meet the Lord in the air as He is on His way down to judge the living and the dead. The Catechism mentions that angels will also be judged because the books of 2 Peter and Jude teach it (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6-7). Notice how the judgment is said to come "immediately after the resurrection." Scripture simply does not teach a waiting period after Christ's return, or after a secret "rapture" of believers, where the earth will continue for a period of some years before the final judgment. Although no man knows the day and hour, the principle of Scripture is that the day God's people are rescued is the very same day that judgment falls. Jesus taught that God judged this way in the past and He would do so again in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD:
26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:26-30).
The day Noah entered the ark judgment fell. Likewise, the day Lot left Sodom God destroyed the wicked cities. God's wrath does not fall on believers. Jesus took that wrath for us on the cross once and for all. Accordingly, when God is about to pour out His wrath on the wicked, the moment after His children are preserved that wrath will fall. So it has always been. So it will always be. Thus, immediately after the dead are raised and living Christians are changed, the judgment of all flesh commences.
Additionally, the Bible teaches that there is but one final judgment of all flesh. It will occur on the last day, the day Christ returns and the dead are raised. Jesus taught in Matthew 25 that the sheep and the goats enter into their eternal abodes on the same day (Matt. 25:31-46). The great white throne of Revelation 20 is the same throne of Matthew 25:31 and every other place where the judgment of the dead is alluded to. Although the Scriptures describe many times and days of judgment from God from by flood, fire, famine, war, pestilence etc., there is only one final judgment day when all the dead are raised and Christ gives to every man according to his works. Jesus is clear in John 5:28-29, that "the hour is coming" when all the dead will hear His voice, and rise: "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." All these things will occur at the same "hour."
Finally, notice what the Scripture at the head of this article declares; the judgment will be according to our works. We are justified by faith alone, but no one will get into heaven or go into hell because of the presence or absence of a bare profession of faith. Your works will infallibly show on that day, whether or not you trusted in Christ. God grant that today you will "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8)!