One Judgment or Two?

The Final Judgment
Revelation 20:11-15 depicts the final judgment at the end of the Millennium, " Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire". (NET)

Judgment at the Second Coming
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus describes the judgment that occurs at his second coming, "31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46 And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (NET)

Both of these are judgments of individuals, in which their eternal destiny is decided, according to what they have done. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil".

From a Premillennial perspective, these are two separate judgments, with a 1,000 year gap between them. From an Amillennial or Postmillennial perspective, the two judgments are one and the same.

If the judgment at Christ's second coming is a general judgment of the whole world and all of humanity, then an ensuing Millennial age that ends with another final judgment becomes impossible, for several reasons. If all unbelievers are cast into eternal fire at the second coming, no-one will be left to populate Millennial Earth except the resurrected and glorified Christians who rule over it. They would rule the Earth, but have no subjects to rule over. In their glorified state they can no longer die (Luke 20:36; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). The Old Testament's portrayal of the age to come in Isaiah 65:20, becomes impossible, because according to Isaiah people will still die, "Never again will one of her infants live just a few days or an old man die before his time. Indeed, no one will die before the age of one hundred; anyone who fails to reach the age of one hundred will be considered cursed". And then the rebellion at the end of the Millennium as portrayed in Revelation 20:7-10 implies that glorified humanity succumbs to a second fall into sin and rebellion. It is not as though you can argue that the rebels are the offspring of resurrected Christians, since Jesus clearly stated in Luke 20:34-36, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection".

On this issue of judgment, Amillennialism is certainly the easier and more attractive option. Either Premillennialism falls over this issue, or it must be that the second coming judgment is limited in scope.

Judgment of the Church
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

Jesus is clearly describing a judgment of the Church in these verses, and he differentiates between genuine Christians and those who appear to be Christians but actually are not.

He then illustrates this teaching about judgment of the Church with a parable. In verses 24-27 he continues, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because its foundation had been laid on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed—it was utterly destroyed!”

This parable of the houses built upon the rock and upon the sand is a favourite of children's Sunday-school teachers. The house on the rock is commonly depicted as a sturdy, well-built house, located in an elevated position upon a sturdy rock. The house on the sand is shown as poorly built and located near the beach. In reality, I believe Jesus would have us picture two houses, side-by-side, that outwardly appear very similar. The difference is in the foundations, but is not necessarily at all obvious after the house has been built. One builder dug deep down to the underlying rock and laid a firm foundation before erecting the walls. The other pressed ahead and built the walls without bothering with a proper foundation. Under normal circumstances, both houses will be fine. The difference only becomes apparent when a storm causes flooding. One withstands the flood, but the other collapses. The two houses represent two types of Christians. Genuine Christians listen to what Jesus says and act upon it. The Church also contains many who hear the word of God but don't actually act upon it. They appear to be Christians, but the day of judgment at Christ's coming will reveal whether they have a foundation or not.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells various parables to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like and who will enter it as it transitions through the day of judgment and into the age to come. The kingdom is seen both as a present reality and as a future reality. In its present state we may enter it now, but it is an imperfect mixture of those who truly belong, and of those who may appear to belong but actually do not. As such, I equate the 'kingdom of heaven' in these parables with the Church as it exists in this present age. The Parable of the Sower portrays the Church as a mixture of 'good soil', together with 'rocky soil' and 'thorny soil'. The Parable of the Weeds portrays it as a mixture of wheat and weeds. The Parable of the Net portrays it as a mixture of good fish and bad fish. In each case, judgment is deferred until the end of the age (the second coming), when the wheat and weeds are harvested and separated, and the net is pulled in and the good fish are separated from the bad fish. Interpreting the parable of the weeds, Jesus equates the field with 'the world' (v.38), but I understand the world in this context to be the stage upon which the Church drama is played out. I don't believe it necessarily refers to all of humanity. Similarly, in the Sheep and Goat judgment, all nations are gathered before Jesus and his throne (Matthew 25:32). By this time, we know that the Gospel will have been preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14). So is this a gathering of the Church from all nations, or a gathering of all humanity?

Judgment of the Dead
Hebrews 9:27 also speaks of judgment that occurs when a person dies, "And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment…". So how many judgments are there? Is a person's eternal destiny determined when they die, or after they have been resurrected?

End-Time Outpourings of Wrath
It is important to differentiate between judgment(s) that determine people's eternal destinies, and judgments that are outpourings of God's wrath. Revelation 6:12-17 describes the outpouring of wrath at the sixth seal, "Then I looked when the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and a huge earthquake took place; the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the full moon became blood red; and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

In addition to the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of Revelation, the bible gives us many different descriptions of God's wrath being poured out upon the ungodly at the end of the age. For example, in Revelation 19:11-21 we see Jesus going to war against unbelieving nations at the battle of Armageddon, and stomping the winepress of the furious wrath of God. The outcome is portrayed as a great massacre, with the carrion birds being invited to come and feast upon the corpses of the slain. The fact that he arrives for this battle with his clothes already splattered in blood suggests that by this point he has already stomped the winepress in Edom, as prophesied in Isaiah 63:1-6, and in Habakkuk 3:1-15. This also fits with his outpourings of wrath at the sixth seal. The Armageddon massacre also fits with Psalm 110:5-6, " O Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes his anger. He executes judgment against the nations. He fills the valleys with corpses; he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield".

Zechariah 14:12-15 gives us additional details about this Armageddon massacre, "But this will be the nature of the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that have fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will decay while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot away in their sockets, and their tongues will dissolve in their mouths. On that day there will be great confusion from the Lord among them; they will seize each other and attack one another violently. Moreover, Judah will fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered up—gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance. This is the kind of plague that will devastate horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in those camps".

Verses 16-19 that follow Zechariah's description are very significant, "Then all who survive from all the nations that came to attack Jerusalem will go up annually to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to observe the Feast of Shelters. But if any of the nations anywhere on earth refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, they will get no rain. If the Egyptians will not do so, they will get no rain—instead there will be the kind of plague that the Lord inflicts on any nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Shelters. This will be the punishment of Egypt and of all nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Shelters".

This prophecy is significant because it describes survivors of Christ's end time judgments. Although Armageddon is a great massacre, there will still be many survivors from the nations that attack Jerusalem. These are the survivors who will populate the Earth during the Millennial age. Their submission to him will be a process, and they will sometimes need to be disciplined. Zechariah's prophecy has never been fulfilled in the past. Unless you believe that Old Testament prophecies can be 'abrogated' by the New Testament, then it surely has a future fulfilment in the Millennial age. On several occasions, Jesus insisted that Old Testament prophecies had to be fulfilled (Matthew 26:54, Luke 22:37; 24:44). It this was true for prophecies about his first coming, it must also be true for prophecies about his second coming.

As Jesus wars against enemy nations at the Battle of Armageddon, Revelation 19:15 reminds us that "He will rule them with a rod of iron". This is a quotation from Psalm 2, in which verses 8-12 say, "Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property. You will break them with an iron scepter; you will smash them like a potter’s jar. So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction. Serve the Lord in fear. Repent in terror. Give sincere homage. Otherwise he will be angry, and you will die because of your behaviour, when his anger quickly ignites. How blessed are all who take shelter in him!" Kings are also warned in Psalm 110:5-6, "O Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes his anger. He executes judgment against the nations. He fills the valleys with corpses; he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield".

I believe that at his second coming, Jesus will gather and judge the Church, separating true believers from those who are false (Matthew 7:21-23, Mathew 13, Matthew 25:31-46). He will also execute judgment by pouring out God's wrath against the nations that attack Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:12-19, Revelation 19:11-21). These outpourings of judgment will also be limited in scope. Many will survive (Zechariah 14:16-19) and will populate Earth during the Millennium. During this time, they will be ruled by Christ (e.g. Psalm 2, Psalm 110), and by Christians who have been deemed worthy to rule with him (Luke 20:35, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Earth's mortal inhabitants will live long lives during the Millennium, but eventually they will die (Isaiah 65:20). By the end of the Millennium, Earth will be populated by their descendants. When Satan is released, many of them will be deceived and take part in a final rebellion, but fire will fall from heaven and consume them, and Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10). Then the rest of humanity, who were not part of the Church and judged at his second coming, together with Earth's Millennial population, will be resurrected and judged in the final judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

So there are separate judgments at the end of this age, and at the end of the Millennium.