When judgment day is mentioned, the first thought that comes to mind can be apocalyptic scenes and the end of the world scenario, but is this really what judgment day is? Hollywood inundates us with apocalyptic movies with varied end time scenarios (e.g. Terminator, I Am Legend, Independence Day, Children of Men, Deep Impact, and many more). It would not be surprising if there was confusion about judgment day with a huge variety of perspectives being subtly fed to us through entertainment. It may surprise you to find out that the Bible teaches that there are two main judgment days, each occurring at different times and for two different groups of people.
We do not live in an infinite unending universe and this world will reach its climax one day. A look at the awesome and complex design of the universe, there must be much more to our existence than some unguided accidental origin. All the evidence shouts out that there is a creator, someone who brought the existence of the universe and everything within it into being. If we can accept that we are here by design, then it follows that there is more to our existence than a random series of events – surely the biggest question facing us is what happens to us when we die?
The Bible teaches that every soul has an eternal destiny, and that destiny involves one of two paths. We need to recognise that we are all accountable to God the same criteria will be applied to each of us when we meet Jesus face-to-face – deciding their eternal destination. Whether we believe it or not, there will be a time when we have to give an account of our lives:
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:12 NIV)
We all have a choice to make and this choice will determine where and when our judgment will take place. The choice is simple, if you believe that you are a sinner in need of restoration, that Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again, and begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, then you are saved and part of the body of Christ. The Bible indicates that followers of Jesus will be judged at the ‘Bema Seat’ judgment whilst those who do not follow Jesus will be judged at the ‘Great White Throne’ judgment.
Therefore, there is a judgment day for BOTH believers and unbelievers:
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV)
You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9 NIV)
Every action, thought and motive will be looked at and assessed – quite a scary prospect!
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14 NIV)
It is important to explore these two different judgments in more detail:
Judgment Day One – The Bema Seat
The word “Bema” is the Greek word that is translated “judgment seat”. In early times this meant a raised area from where speeches and awards were given. This judgment is for believers only so it does not determine salvation, but rewards. Believers will be rewarded for the good work they do for God and any actions that were of eternal value:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. (2 Corinthians 5:10-11 NIV)
This judgment will happen after the rapture of the church where believers (both alive and deceased) will be caught up to meet Jesus Christ our judge. He will award fairly and justly but He will not ignore disobedience. Every part of our lives will be considered and taken into account – anything not of any eternal value will be burnt away:
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 NIV)
All our works will be tested to see which ones were of “heavenly” value, in other words, which ones contribute to the kingdom of God. The analogy is used of testing the works with fire. It appears that any acts that do not contribute to furthering God’s Kingdom will be burned away (like wood, hay, stubble) but those that survive the testing (gold, silver, precious stones) we will be rewarded for. Everyone appearing before the Bema seat will be saved to enjoy a glorious future with Jesus Christ and appears to result in the level of responsibility in the millennial kingdom:
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
Judgment Day Two – The Great White Throne Judgment Seat
If you die without accepting Jesus as your Saviour, your fate will be sealed at the Great White Throne Judgment – this is something you should avoid at all costs. This vision the apostle John received concerning the great white throne judgment is recorded in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:11-12 NIV)
This judgment occurs after a period of time known as the Millennial Kingdom, which lasts one thousand years. If you die without believing in Jesus you are kept in a place of torment until resurrected at this time to appear before God for judgment. Again, Jesus Christ will be the judge and will judge those according to their works. The books that record everyone’s lives are opened and every deed, thought and act is reviewed.
Every word we have spoken:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-37 NIV)
Every thought we have had:
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV)
Every secret thing we have done:
This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:16 NIV)
Can you imagine everything you have said and done (and thought) available for a heavenly audience? This is a horrifying prospect for everyone.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. (Luke 8:17 NIV)
This judgment is certainly something that should be seriously feared and the Bible is not shy about warning of the existence of both heaven and hell. As much as our culture has removed language like this, there appears to be no escaping this simple fact that if you have not accepted Jesus Christ your name is not written in the “book of life” so there is only one destination – lake of fire:
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15 NIV)
What a terrible fate that can be so easily avoided. At the very least, please take these Bible passages seriously and explore the life of Jesus Christ – He is the only remedy.
Judgment Day – Heaven or Hell?
Two judgment days, two destinations, one choice…
We live in a society where many do not believe in heaven or hell. TV programs and films have turned this into a form of entertainment and something not to be taken seriously. The devil is portrayed as a comical character with horns and a pitchfork whilst heaven is portrayed full of choir-singing, cloud-sitting angels – in fact, hell is often presented as a more attractive option. The reality is very different as heaven presents the opportunity for a fully restored existence completely connected to God.
Apostle Paul says that for believers “to die is to gain” and to be with Christ is “better by far” than being in this world:
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; (Philippians 1:22-23 NIV)
What do we know about this place? We are not given too many details as it is clear we cannot really grasp how great heaven will be:
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”–the things God has prepared for those who love him– (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)
But we are given some descriptions:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 NIV)
We can see here the new home will be called “new Jerusalem” which is the “city of peace”. There will be no more pain or suffering and no more death! New Jerusalem will be very big, verses 16 and 17 say it will be about 1,500 miles wide, 1,500 miles long, and 1,500 miles high (roughly the size of the moon!).
Furthermore, the entire city will be made of pure gold and jewels, its walls will be made of pure diamond and precious stones will fill the foundation – it sounds unimaginable!
However, just as heaven is described as a real place, we have to take an honest look and recognise hell is also described as a real place – the Bible provides clear details about it:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50 NIV)
Jesus makes it clear it is a place you do not want to be located and indicates it is preferable to cut limbs to avoid it:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ” ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43-48 NIV)
Worse still, hell is not described as a temporary location, it appears to last forever:
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV)
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7 NIV)
It is what the Bible describes as the “second death”:
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 NIV)
This is eternal separation from God, it is not a temporary place – it lasts forever! It is the final place of torment and punishment for rejecting Christ. This is the truth of judgment day that everyone has to understand, it’s not something you can choose at the time.
Within Christian circles, it is often suggested that heaven is an eternal location whilst hell does not last forever. Unfortunately, this is simply not consistent with the text – if we are to accept that heaven is eternal, then hell also has to be eternal as the same terms are used to describe both locations.
Why the need for hell?
The idea of hell touches a raw nerve in many people as in our culture we go to great lengths to avoid offending people. Unfortunately, this is often true of churches too, where the reality of hell is hardly mentioned and congregations prefer to hear uplifting and pleasant moral stories and ignore what the Bible actually says concerning heaven and hell. The reality of hell is supposed to instil a profound sense of terror and cause us to turn TO God – it is a tool to grab our attention. As humans, our existence does not end at death – we are eternal in nature and for that reason, we will go to some ongoing existence after this life – we will not simply cease to exist.
God is infinitely loving and merciful, but above all, He is holy and righteous. His attribute of supreme holiness means that He cannot tolerate sin and we cannot even be in His presence with an impurity of any kind – Why is “sin” such a big deal? God’s attribute of righteousness means there is a necessity to administer justice for wrongdoing and therefore God should not and cannot simply ignore sin. Unfortunately for us, humanity is corrupted by sin which means none of us is righteous and in need of a restored relationship with God.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 3:10 NIV)
God does not want to send anyone to hell, He takes no pleasure in it and wants everyone to live:
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32 NIV)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
It appears that hell was originally created for Satan and his angels:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41 NIV)
Satan would have you believe there is no such thing as a coming judgment day (Genesis 3:4) and will do everything possible to confuse the thinking of humanity with distraction and deception:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV)
Satan knows his destination is hell along with unbelievers and he will stop at nothing to prevent people from getting saved. Even more, he is desperate to prevent just one of God’s prophecies from being fulfilled to prove God does not keep His Word.
By understanding God’s nature, there is, unfortunately, a need for a place such as a hell. Throughout history, mankind has fallen short of His standards, but God has never stopped loving us and proving proof of His existence. He has chosen a whole nation of people, the Jews, through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and made a covenant with them. He has blessed those that blessed the Jews and cursed those that cursed them and this carries on to this very day. God also gave the Jews a chosen land to live – Israel, which is where they would experience these blessings and curses depending on their obedience to God. Israel will be a witness to Him to the unbelieving world – why Israel? He gave his chosen people ten rules to follow – the Ten Commandments. But even this turned into a corrupt religious system and the Israelites kept falling into idolatry. Even then, God gave us an easier way to have a relationship with Him – He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus died a painful death on the cross but was raised again to defeat the power of death and to prove He was who He said He was. Jesus’ crucifixion paid the debt for the our and his resurrection demonstrated that this payment had been accepted. God says that all we have to do is believe the blood of Christ has washed away our sins and begin a new relationship with Him and we can live in eternity:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)
The existence of hell is a reality because God is just and keeps His word, but He has given us the easiest way out possible! God has to judge sin and will put a final end to it as described in great detail, but before He does He will remove His believers from a unique time of judgment – the rapture. The signs we have been told about all point to this happening soon – Are we living in the end times?
Jesus is the ONLY way
We have a choice, God created mankind so that we can choose Him! God loves us knows every detail about us, but he will not impose himself on us and violate our free-will. We have to choose to accept his offer of redemption.
We have all fallen short of God’s standards, so God sent His Son Jesus to pay the price for us. All we have to do is believe in Jesus, He is the ONLY way into heaven:
The prospect of a coming judgment day is something you need to prepare for now. The choice is either eternal torment in hell or eternal joy in heaven – please make the right choice before it is too late…
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)
Choose Jesus – How to be Saved.
- Desiring God – How Believers Will Be Judged
- GotQuestions.org – What does the Bible say about when God will judge us?