Throughout the Bible it is accepted that people are accountable to God. Good deeds arecommended and evil deeds are blamed. The day of judgment is the culmination of the wholeprocess. At the end of this world order God will judge all people and all deeds. Nothingwill be excepted; every secret thing, good or bad, will be brought into judgment ( Eccles 12:14 ).Sometimes, of course, judgment is seen as a present activity ( Eze 7:7-8 ), butthere is also strong emphasis on final judgment, the judgment at the end of this worldsystem as we know it, a judgment that ushers in the final state of affairs. This will be ajudgment of all the nations and all the people, for the Lord "comes, he comes tojudge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in histruth" ( Psalm96:13 ). There will be judgment on Israel ( Psalm 50:4 ) andthere will also be judgment on the whole Gentile world ( Psalm 9:8 ; Rom 14:10 ; cf. themagnificent picture of the final judgment in Rev 20:11-15 ).
Judgment day may be referred to in any one of a number of ways. It may be spoken ofstrictly as "the day of judgment" ( Matt 10:15 ; 1 John 4:17 ), orwith reference to its chronological place as "the last day" ( John 6:39 ). MostlyJohn's references to this day refer to Jesus' raising of people but he also tells us thatJesus said that the word that he spoke would on the last day judge anyone who despised himand refused to hear his words ( John 12:48 ). Themost common way of referring to it appears to be simply "that day" ( Luke 21:34 ); theday of judgment was so outstanding that nothing more was needed to draw attention to it.Indeed, it may be called "the great Day" ( Jude 6 ), or simply"the Day" ( Heb 10:25 ; 2 Peter 1:19 ).
Sometimes the day is characterized by the outcome of it all. Thus it is "the dayof redemption" ( Eph4:30 ). In one sense redemption is accomplished here and now when the sinner comes totrust Christ, but in another sense the Day of Judgment seals it all. And, of course, forthe finally impenitent sinner it is "the great day of his wrath" ( Rev 6:17 ), "theday of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed" ( Rom 2:5 ).
There are other ways of putting it; this list is not exhaustive. The point of it all isthat the day in question is the decisive day. What happens then is the culmination of thehistory of the world. A judgment will take place from which there is no appeal.
The Teaching of Jesus. Jesus emphasized the importance of final judgment. Hetold the Twelve that they were to warn their hearers that it would be "more bearablefor Sodom and Gomorrah" on the day of judgment than for them ( Matt 10:15 ). Hehimself had a similar message for the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida: It will be moretolerable for Tyre and Sidon on judgment day than for them ( Matt 11:22 ; Luke 10:14 ). Onboth occasions he warned that the people of Capernaum should not think of heaven as theirfinal destination; that would rather be Hades. "The men of Nineveh" and"The Queen of the South" will stand up and condemn Jesus' hearers at the day ofjudgment because they responded to the wisdom of Solomon and the preaching of Jonah andthose hearers did not ( Matt 12:41-42 ).We should be clear that Jesus unhesitatingly spoke of judgment day and of what wouldhappen on it.
Jesus also related the words uttered by his hearers to what will happen at the day ofjudgment. It is what goes on in our hearts that determines what we say and thus our wordsare important; our words reveal what we are. On the day of judgment we will be called onto give account of "every careless word" we have spoken and it is this that willdetermine our acquittal or our condemnation ( Matt 12:34-37 ).
Faith and Works. When we think of the reality and the seriousness of judgmentday we must be on our guard against holding that our final salvation is to be decided onthe basis of merit. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that salvation is not thereward of the good deeds that people do. It is emphasized as strongly as it could possiblybe that Christ came to this world to save sinners and that he saved them by laying downhis perfect life on Calvary's cross. Salvation comes through what Christ has done and itis applied to the individual by his or her faith. It is not any merit we may have but ourfaith that is the channel whereby Christ's salvation reaches us. That must be given thestrongest emphasis. And that has its consequences. There is "no condemnation forthose that are in Christ Jesus" ( Rom 8:1 ). To put ourtrust in Christ is to pass from death to life and among other things to know that we willreceive a favorable verdict on judgment day.
But to trust in Christ is to undergo a transformation. Justification leads tosanctification as believers are transformed by the power of God. While believers can lookforward to the day of judgment with calm rather than fear they do so because of what Godhas done in them and not on account of any merit of their own.
The believer and the nonbeliever are both accountable and judgment day is the occasionwhen that account is rendered. It is not then a question of whether we are saved or not.It is the issuing of a verdict on what we have done; it is the answer to the question ofwhat believers have done with their salvation and what unbelievers have done with theirunbelieving lives. All will be required to give account of themselves to God.
There are those who see judgment day as pointing to salvation by works. The verdicts onthe sheep and the goats on the basis of what they have done or failed to do to "theleast" of Christ's brothers ( Matt 25:31-46 )are said to mean that the verdict is given for those who have done good works. But thisoverlooks a number of facts. First whether they are "sheep" or "goats"has already been determined. Then we should notice that the good deeds are done toChrist's "brothers." We are saved not by Acts of kindness but only by Christ ( Acts 4:12 ). Gooddeeds may be done by unbelievers, but this is due to "common grace" at work inour fallen society, not a reason for salvation.
Salvation is by grace alone, but judgment day registers the verdict on what we havedone or failed to do with God's grace. Jesus is not saying that there are some peoplewhose good deeds merit salvation, but that there are some whose good deeds are evidence oftheir salvation. Scripture sees the whole race as under condemnation ( Rom 3:22-23 ).Unbelievers are under condemnation even before they hear the gospel for their lives do notmeasure up; they are sinners. We are not to think that it is only when they explicitlyreject the gospel that they are condemned.
Judgment Day Is More than Present Judgment. That there will be a "judgmentday" is significant for an understanding of a good deal of Scripture. In these daysthere are many who are ready to accept the thought of accountability but who reject theidea of judgment day. They see this as no more than a needless piece of imagery and holdthat what the Bible really means is that God is constantly at work judging his people.There is, of course, a truth here. God does watch over his people and in the happenings ofevery day he disciplines them. This is scriptural, but it is not the whole of the teachingof the Bible. In addition to any earlier judgments Scripture looks forward to God'sjudgment at the end of time.
Paul tells the Romans that what the law says is written on the hearts of the Gentilesand that their response to this will determine what will happen to them on judgment day ( Rom 2:15-16 ). Itis what God has done in them and not what they have decided for themselves that forms thestandard. For an understanding of judgment day it is important to bear in mind that Godknows what goes on in the hearts of all people and he knows accordingly whether they areresponding as they should to the leading he has given them.
The Judge. Very often the day is related to God or to Christ. Thus it is"the great day of God Almighty" ( Rev 16:14 ); it is"the day of God" ( 2 Peter 3:12 ). Theearliest use of this imagery is when Amos pronounces a woe on "you who long for theday of the Lord" (5:18). Clearly the Israelites expected that day to be a day ofdeliverance and blessing, but Amos goes on to assure them that "That day will bedarkness, not light." "The day he (God visits us" 1 Peter 2:12 ) meansof course "the day when God visits" so it belongs here. It reminds us that God's"visitation" on judgment day will be a serious affair. So is it when we read of"the great and glorious day of the Lord" ( Acts 2:20 ). Thisoccurs in a quotation from Joel, so "the Lord" is clearly Yahweh.
In other places however "Lord" may refer to the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., 1Thess 5:2 ; 2 Peter 3:10 ), andthis is beyond doubt when we read of "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1 Col 1:8 ; 5:5 ). Judgment dayis the day of Christ ( Php 1:10 ) or theday of the Son of Man ( Luke 17:24 ). Jesustaught that the Father does not judge people, but that "he has entrusted all judgmentto the Son" ( John5:22 ; cf. v. 27 ). This is distinctively Christian teaching, for the Jews do not seemto have thought of the Messiah as the Judge. He would bring deliverance to the people, butit was God the Father who would be the judge.
The point of all such references is that in the end it will be a great divine act,whether we emphasize the Father or the Son, that distinguishes the day of judgment. Paultells us that on judgment day the Father will judge all people through Christ Jesus ( Rom 2:16 ) and thisperhaps clears up the references which link either of the two with final judgment.
For many modern theologians the doctrine of final judgment is a relic of the past andthey put no emphasis on it. This is curious in view of the facts that in modern timesthere has been a great upsurge of interest in eschatology and that the final judgment isat the very heart of biblical eschatology. The witness of Scripture in both Old and NewTestaments is clear: We are all accountable and at the end of time we will be called on togive account of ourselves before God.
Bibliography. O. Cullmann, Christ and Time; H. E. Guillebaud, TheRighteous Judge; J. P. Martin, The Last Judgment; L. Morris, The BiblicalDoctrine of Judgment; idem, The Wages of Sin; J. A. Motyer, After Death;J. O. Sanders, What of the Unevangelized?; C. V. Pilcher, The Hereafter inJewish and Christian Thought.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Judgment, Day of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".