“GOD hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained”—”Jesus Christ, the righteous.” “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (Acts 17:31; 1 John 2:1; John 5:22).
Most Christians have a frightening concept of “the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). They expect Jesus to return and sit on a Great White Throne amidst great calamities of nature such as falling mountains, earthquakes, and rending rocks. They think sinners will be called up from hell to hear their sins reviewed and then returned to their eternal doom. They think saints will be called down from heaven to witness all the despair of the condemned, and then return to glory. The general concept of the Judgment Day—a literal 24-hour day—is actually supposed to be a repetition of what had been already decided at death!
But this is not the Scriptural view. It is drawn from a literal interpretation of the Parable of Jesus' dividing “his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-46), and a literal view of the Great White Throne scene of Revelation 20. But Revelation is a book of symbols, and parables are stories with illustrations not to be taken literally. Why would goats go into everlasting fire and sheep to heaven?
What do the Scriptures actually teach about the great Judgment Day? What harmonious picture are all the symbols and parables meant to show?
The Thousand-Year Day of Judgment
The term “judgment” (krisis, Greek) means more than a verdict. Its meaning includes a trial with a decision that can go either way—as in a crisis (English). Although “day” can signify twenty-four hours, it often has a wider meaning—such as Noah's Day, Washington's day, or “the day of temptation in the wilderness,” which was forty years (Hebrews 3:8,9).
The Apostle Peter identifies the “day of judgment” as “a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:7, 8). It is the Millennial “day of Christ” in which Christ will reign, and “judge the world in righteousness.” During that age of judgment, the world will be granted a trial for life as well as a verdict (Philippians 2:16; Acts 17:31). “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9). When we consider all the work to be accomplished for earth's billions, this wider meaning of “day” is most logical.
Other Judgments in God’s Plan
Although mankind as a whole will yet have a Thousand-Year Judgment Day for trial and sentencing, there have been other judgment days in the past. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the whole human race was sentenced to death as a result. “Dying thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:17, margin). “As in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Every ache, pain or funeral is evidence of that universal sentence, but because mankind will be recovered from Adam's penalty, death is really like a temporary “sleep” (John 11:11-14).
Only the Church of consecrated believers in Christ have now by faith “escaped” from this original penalty (2 Peter 2:20). After being given “exceeding great and precious promises,” if they “abound” in godliness and love, they will receive an abundant entrance “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:4-11). They alone are on trial for life or death now before the world's time for judgment. The Church, as the “firstfruits” of redemption, will inherit immortality—divine nature (James 1:18; Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53). The rest of humanity will have an opportunity for life everlasting as earthly sons in the future.
Has God changed His mind because the first sentence was too severe? No, not at all. “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). God provided the redemption and recovery Plan from the beginning! Before Adam sinned, God planned for our Redeemer to “taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9; Revelation 13:8).
The Appointed Judge
God has “committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). With Jesus as Judge, there is nothing to dread. He is the one who so loved us, that he even died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). In fact, the Judgment Day is something to look forward to, for it will be a time of recovery for the world. Though Jesus himself was always perfect, he was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). He was sympathetic, and “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus will have sympathy for the infirmities and weaknesses of mankind and bring all the willing back to the original perfection lost in Eden.
A judge in ancient times was one who executed justice and relieved the oppressed. For instance, when Israel was under oppression, they cried to God and He raised up judges to deliver them. (Judges 3:9-11). Today the world is still crying for help. In God's due time, Jesus, as judge, will give that help to all. Jesus provided redemption for the world. Surely he will bless the world. “With righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm. 98:9).
Tests of the Day of Judgment
This second trial will be more favorable than the first trial. Everything will be done to help the world out of sin. Satan will be bound to, “deceive the nations no more” (Revelation 20:1-3). If one falls short of perfection then, it will be because he willfully resists the blessings then open. The trial for life will take the entire Day of Judgment, reaching its climax at the end.
Those who refuse to obey will die. However, it will not be because of Adam’s sin but their own. “The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children's teeth are set on edge; but [then] ... every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Jeremiah 31:29,30; Ezekiel 18:2-4, 20).
The penalty for willful sin, against full light and knowledge, will be “second death” (Revelation 20:14,15; 21:8). Everyone will have been given ample time and the fullest opportunity for progress, before such a judgment is imposed. “As a lad shall one die a hundred years old; and as a sinner shall be accursed he who dieth at a hundred years old” (Isaiah. 65:20, LEESER).
The Parable of the Sheep and Goats tells us the world will become divided into two classes—those who reform, and do good, and those who will not (Matthew 25:31-46). The judgment of individuals will be based on whether they develop perfect love for God, as demonstrated in expressing love and care for one's neighbor. At the end of the Day of Judgment, Satan will be loosed for a “little season” (Revelation 20:3). Those without perfect love in their hearts will manifest themselves by rebelling against the government of the Kingdom (Revelation 20:8,9). They will then be destroyed in Second Death—from which there is no recovery.
Thus there is a wonderful opportunity for the world in the future Day of Judgment to gain everlasting life! So does it matter what people do now, whether good or bad? Yes, it matters much. “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14). The good and evil deeds of the present time will receive a reward either now or later. “Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment, and some…they follow after” (1 Timothy 5:24).
Everything a person does now affects the character they come back with in the resurrection (Galatians 6:7). Thus, some will have it easy on the “highway of holiness” (Isaiah 35:1-10, NAS). Some will have it difficult—and a few will not make it.
Earthly and Heavenly Judges
During the six thousand years between the first judgment in Eden and the Day of Judgment in the Kingdom, God has been disciplining and training judges to assist Christ Jesus.
Even before Jesus opened up “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20), faithful servants of God—such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah—were being selected by God. Because of their faith, these “ancient worthies” will receive a “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:1-40) and become “judges,” or leaders, on earth (Isaiah 1:26). They will have a reward on earth as leaders of the world during the Millennium.
Those called during the present “Gospel Age” have a higher calling. They will rule with Christ from heaven (Revelation 20:6). “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2).
The faithful of the Old Testament were servants and friends of God, but the Church have the higher privilege of being sons of God. “Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant ... But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrew 3:5-6). Both “houses” will be agents of God in the blessing of the world. The trial and testing of both these classes has been much more severe than it will be for the world in the Day of Judgment. They have had to withstand the snares of Satan (1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11), as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). They have thus proven themselves abundantly able to give mankind the instruction and training necessary for their final testing and judgment. Satan will be “bound” during the Thousand Years (Revelation 20:1-3) so that he cannot trouble the world while they learn righteousness.
During the Day of Judgment, righteousness will be rewarded, while during the preceding ages, righteousness often met with suffering or persecution. Therefore, though the trial of these two special companies has been much more severe than the future trial of the world, their rewards and privileges also will be greater.
Rejoice! He Comes to Judge!
Satan, through his deceptions, has robbed both the world and many in the churches of the blessed assurances of the righteousness of the coming “Day of Judgment.” As a result, many are fearful and have pushed it far away in time. Others use its dread as a tool for inspiring people to “accept Jesus and be saved.” How differently did the prophets and apostles regard that promised Day of Judgment by Jehovah through His chosen representative!
“Let the heavens be glad, And let the earth rejoice;
And let men say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth.
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof;
Let the fields rejoice, and all that is therein.
Then shall the trees of the wood sing at the presence of Jehovah,
BECAUSE HE COMETH TO JUDGE THE EARTH.
O give thanks unto Jehovah, for he is good;
For his mercy endureth forever.”
(1 Chronicles 16:31-34)
Meanwhile, the whole creation “groans,” anxiously waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19-22 nas). Though they do not yet know it, they are waiting for the great Judge to deliver and to bless the world and exalt and glorify the Church! All will then come forth from their graves for a favorable trial by education and discipline for the reward of eternal life.
Close your eyes for a moment to the scenes of misery and woe, degradation and sorrow that yet prevail on account of sin, and picture before your mental vision the glory of the perfect earth. Not a stain of sin mars the harmony and peace of a perfect society; not a bitter thought, not an unkind look or word; love, welling up from every heart, meets a kindred response in every other heart, and benevolence marks every act, There sickness shall be no more; not an ache nor a pain, nor any evidence of decay-not even the fear of such things. Think of all the pictures of comparative health and beauty of human form and feature that you have ever seen, and know that perfect humanity will be of still surpassing loveliness. The inward purity and mental and moral perfection will stamp and glorify every radiant countenance. Such will earth's society be; and weeping bereaved ones will have their tears all wiped away, when thus they realize the resurrection work complete. - Rev. 21:4.