What is “the day of judgment?”
The “day of judgment” is sometimes referred to as “the last judgment.” Although “the last judgment” is a non-biblical term, it implies a future and final trial before God. The “day of judgment” refers to a time when God’s kingdom will prevail once and for all over all injustice, hatred, and hostility. It refers to a time when God will triumph over any and all things which oppose the goodness of creation.
What will the day of judgment be like?
During the medieval period, Christians tended to think of the day of judgment much as it is pictured in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. The day of judgment was perceived as a time of anxiety and of divine vindictiveness when God will decide who would be among those called upward into the blissful clouds of the heavenly blessed, and who would be among those dragged down by hideous demons into the horrible tortures of the damned.
We Presbyterians believe that the first thought which comes to Christians when they think about the judgment day ought not to be anxiety about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Rather, it ought to be thankfulness and joy that the Creator and Redeemer of the world shall prevail once and for all—when justice will triumph over injustice, when love will triumph over hatred, and when peace will triumph over hostility. The day of judgment will come not against creation, but for the good of creation.
Presbyterians believe that the day of judgment is not a time of wrath and destruction. Rather, we believe that it is a time of fulfillment—a time of restoration and renewal for all of creation. It is a time when the reconciliation between God and God’s people will be complete. We believe that this is good news not only for Christians, but for everyone.
Do Christians also face God’s judgment on the day of judgment?
We believe that God’s judgment applies to all of creation and to all persons—Christians and non-Christians alike. The apostle Paul states that, “He [God] will repay according to each one’s deeds” (Romans 2:6). “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10).
Now, if this were all which Paul says about the last judgment, then all of us (even Christians) must look to the day of judgment with great fear and trepidation. For, no matter how moral or righteous we are of our own accord, we would still stand condemned for our failure to love God with all of our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But, we believe that this is not the final word about the last judgment. Paul also states, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So, even though we Christians shall stand in judgment before God, we can look forward to the final judgment without fear, but with gratitude that we are not condemned in the eyes of God.
Who is our judge?
The entire perspective of the last judgment changes once we realize Who the Judge will be. The Judge will not be a vengeful deity; nor will He be an unbiased “blind” judge. The Judge will be Jesus Christ Himself. The One Who judges us and all of creation is the very One Who loves us and reconciles us to God.
“Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, Who died, yes, Who was raised, Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34)
When we realize that our Judge is none other than Christ, we believe that we can look forward to the final judgment not with terror, but with comfort and assurance.
What does the day of judgment mean for those who are not in Christ?
It is certainly true that some persons have not affirmed their faith in this Judge (Jesus Christ) as Lord and Savior. Some persons are not “in Christ” either because they have never known of Him or because they prefer to stand on the record of their own moral and religious merits. So, what does the day of judgment mean for those persons who are not in Christ?
Presbyterians believe that we cannot say what the last judgment means to those who are not in Christ. We can only say what that judgment means for those of us who are in Christ. We believe that we who are in Christ ought not to take sadistic pleasure in the condemnation of anyone. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God does not hate sinners. God loves them and wills their reconciliation and salvation. God commands us also to love them, not to look gleefully forward to the time when we can enjoy seeing them “get what they have coming to them.”
Indeed, if we realize that, while we too were weak, ungodly sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-11), then we would do all that we can in attitude, word, and action, to let other sinners and enemies know that the same good news is for them as well.
No! We cannot say what the day of judgment means for those who are not in Christ. But, we can say what it means for us who are. We believe that the day of judgment means that we must hope for sinners rather than hope against them.
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