A comment was left on my last post about the judgment. A decent answer is far too long to leave as a comment, so here’s my response.
Please note that rather than quote long sections of her comment and whole verses she quoted, I’m going to summarize to help keep this post a little shorter.
Your post on judgment made me think of two verses. John 5:24 says that if we believe we have eternal life and won’t come into judgment. 1 Thess. 4:15-18 says that believers are raptured. They are either not judged at all, or this is a judgment showing they are not condemned but belong to Christ.
I have to answer those two verses separately.
John writes much differently than Paul. In the end, the basic message is exactly the same, but the way of saying it is different. John always speaks of eternal life as a present possession. Paul always speaks of eternal life as a future reward (e.g., Rom. 6:22).
Only their terminology is different. The life we receive from Christ upon believing is just called life by Paul, while it is called eternal life by John.
John, however, is every bit as clear as Paul about works and about the judgment.
First, while John quotes Jesus as saying that the one who believes has eternal life, know for certain what John means by believing. John says that if a person claims to know God but doesn’t keep his commands, then that person is a liar (1 Jn. 2:3-4). He says that a righteous person is someone who practices righteousness, and he tells us not to be deceived about that (1 Jn. 3:7).
Second, John talks about judgment a lot, and he says the same things about judgment that he says about eternal life. The difference is what people do.
If we want to "assure our hearts before him," we must love (1 Jn. 3:18-19). If we want to have confidence at the judgment, we must love and we must walk as Christ walked (4:15-18).
So John’s very clear about what it means to be safe at the judgment. Your faith had better produce good works. If good works aren’t being produced, then John tells you repeatedly to assume you do not believe, you do not know God, and you are not his child.
That’s not because he wants to condemn you! That’s because he wants you to have real faith!
That’s nothing different than what James says in James 2.
1 Thess. 4:15-18
Like I said in my comment, this passage comes to my mind, too. Obviously, those who are caught up to be with Christ forever are already judged by God to be Christ’s. They have an eternal reward.
Of course, this isn’t really any different than Matthew 25 or Revelation 20. In both cases, everyone is gathered before Christ, but he already knows who has an eternal reward and who has condemnation. The sheep and goats are already divided when Christ sits down on his glorious throne in Matthew 25. The sheep are at his right, and the goats are on his left.
In Revelation 20, there’s a Book of Life. Whoever is not found written in it is cast into the lake of fire.
That book is not only in Revelation 20. It’s only in Revelation 3. Jesus warns the church of Sardis to repent, and he says that those who overcome will not have their name blotted out of the Book of Life. The tie to Revelation 20 is obvious.
So your point that God and Jesus know in advance who has eternal life and who does not is accurate. Jesus can return and catch up his own to be with him because he already knows who he is.
But those who are his are not all those who claim to be Christians. John himself makes that clear. He tells the church that some left and those who left never belonged to Christ (1 Jn. 2:19). While they were there, since they never belonged to him, had Christ returned, others would have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, but those described in 1 Jn. 2:19 would not have been snatched up.
John 5:24 and John 5:28-29
Your point, about those who are in Christ avoiding judgment, seems to be backed up by the rest of John 5:24-29 as well.
This is an interesting passage. In v. 25, "the dead" hear the voice of Christ. In verse 28, those who are "in the graves" hear the voice of Christ. Ordinarily, these would seem to be the same people, but I think anyone who has read John can look at that passage and know they are different.
"The dead" are those who are dead in their sins. Those who are in the graves are those who died physically. The former, when they hear the voice of Christ and believe are given life, and they avoid judgment. The latter, when they hear the voice of Christ, are judged by their works.
I’m looking at that and thinking it would be very difficult to interpret those verses any other way.
That’s not really a problem for two reasons …
- 1 John says repeatedly that the only true believers are those who are doing good works (see above).
- All the passages on the judgment make it clear that each person’s judgment is known in advance.
So How Does All This Apply to Us?
Whether the judgment is discussed Jesus’ way, John’s way, Paul’s way, or Peter’s way, the answer is the same.
Jesus tells us that those who will enter his kingdom are those who do his Father’s will (Matt. 7:21). When he has to admonish the churches, he tells them to repent, do good works, and overcome (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).
Peter tells us to fear the judgment (1 Pet. 1:17) and to be diligent to make our calling and election sure by adding to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and good works (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Paul tells us to walk by the Spirit, saying that those who walk by the flesh will die (Rom. 8:12) and reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). He compares walking by the Spirit to doing good (Gal. 6:7-9). He also says that eternal life is the end of holiness, which is the product of freedom from sin and servitude to God (Rom. 6:22).
John tells us that if we want to have confidence in the day of judgment, we must love and be as Christ is in the world (1 Jn 4:17-18). He tells us that the way we will be able to determine whether we know God or not is by whether we keep his commands (1 Jn. 2:3-4).
The Judgment for Christians
Paul says we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. Peter says that if we address God as Father, the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, then we should conduct ourselves throughout the time of our sojourning here in fear (1 Pet. 1:17).
They both seem to be suggesting very clearly that we should expect a judgment.
Perhaps the best answer to all of this is that whether we are judged right here on earth or judged at the same time as others at the end of time, we are nonetheless judged according to our works.
Again, take a look at Jesus’ letters to the churches in Rev. 2 & 3. There is little doubt that he is judging those churches according to their works. Those that he found lacking, he warns. And his warnings ring of eternal judgment, not temporal punishment. Every reward for the overcomers is something for the afterlife.
You mentioned the judgment of the sheep and the goats. I believe that passage is talking about a judgment of living people who are on earth when Christ returns. … I don’t believe those who were in the first resurrection before the millenium will be judged for salvation.
Those who are part of the first resurrection are those who are martyred for Christ. Martyrs are mentioned twice in Revelation as being in heaven before the judgment, once in Rev. 6:9-11 and once in Rev. 20:4-5. In chapter six they are told to wait for others to be martyred, which would be those mentioned in Rev. 20:4-5.
Anyone who has read the early Christian writings cannot miss the respect early Christians had for those who gave their lives for Christ. Although the early Christians believed that even Christians went to a paradise—the same place referred to as Abraham’s bosom in the story of Lazarus and the rich man—they did not believe martyrs went there. Martyrs got to bypass the judgment. They went straight to heaven.
Even Ignatius, who wrote his letters around A.D. 110, believed that. This is significant, since the apostle John appointed him to be the head elder of the apostle Paul’s home church.
It seems like a guy like that would have pretty reliable theology.
As far as Matthew 25 goes, there’s nothing to indicate that this is only those alive when Jesus returns. But even assuming that it is, it really doesn’t change anything.
The question I’m trying to address is, do the works of Christians matter?
Everything we read suggests they do. Thus, it is safe to say that our doctrine of salvation by faith alone—the doctrine as it is taught by most Evangelicals—is false.
We have misinterpreted Paul’s words on salvation by faith alone, and we have applied those words in ways that contradict Paul’s own teachings on the judgment. Our interpretation has caused us to dance jigs around passages like Galatians 6:7-10 and many, many other verses.
I have several articles addressing the various details of the doctrine of salvation on my Rest of the Old, Old Story web site.
However, I’m about to write a very short version of those pages for my next post.