Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
As preparation for reading or discussing this article, read and. study the following texts in their contexts:Daniel 7:10; Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 25:31-46, Acts. 10:42, Acts 17:31,Romans 2:16, Romans 14:10-12, II Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27, I Peter 1:17, Jude 1:14, 15, Revelation 20:12, 13. See also Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 19 and Belgic Confession; Article 37: Perhaps a good exercise would be to write out the shorter ones on a piece of paper, and summarize the longer ones in your own words. Now, with the Word of God at your hand, read what follows.
When we stand before the great white throne and the Lord asks us, “What have you done to Me in your life?” what will we say? When the books (that is, our consciences) are opened, what will be seen? When souls are laid bare, hearts opened, consciences turned inside out, how will we feel? When “every man’s works will be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire,” and when the Lord will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts,” what will the Great Judge, Jesus Christ, find?
The last judgment is the final event before men are taken to their everlasting destiny – the bliss of heaven or the despair of hell. The history of the world will then have run its course. Now the Lord returns to raise the dead and take His elect with Him to glory. “He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”
We must know about the final judgment.
At the second coming of Christ, every man and woman, old person and child, will be judged by Jesus Christ. Not only those who came into contact with Christ while He was on earth, and not only unbelievers, but every single individual will appear before Him (II Cor. 5:10 and Rom. 14:10). Revelation 20 says that the great and small will be assembled there. It is a “great” throne. None will escape the judgment of Christ.
Everyone who died will be raised from the dead for this judgment (Rev. 20:12, 13). How we marvel when we think of it! Some men eaten by lions will be raised from the dead – wherever they are. Some women burned by fire will be raised from their ashes. God will scoop up from the bottom of the ocean the ashes of those cremated, who thought they would avoid Him. None will escape the judgment of Christ!
At the judgment, God makes separation between men. Matthew 25 uses a metaphor to describe this. Just as sheep and goats go out into the pasture during the day for feeding and watering, so the righteous and the wicked live together in this life (see also Matthew 13:24ff.). And just as in the evening the shepherd brings the animals back to the corrals and separates the sheep from the goats, so also at the second coming of Christ the saints and the sinners are separated before Jesus’ throne – the saints on the right hand in the position of honor; the sinners on the left in dishonor and shame, with no rule and no glory at all.
This is not to say that there is no judgment of Godbefore the second coming of Christ. Indeed, there is! If the young person over-drinks or takes drugs, he may become addicted (and ruin his life (in addition to his health). If he rebels against his parents, he will experience a trouble unlike he’s ever known. If he fails to marry “in the Lord” he may be saddled with a miserable spouse. If he fornicates, he may contract some dreadful disease. All these things are the judgments of God. Besides, what you and I don’t see- the judgment of God in a man’s conscience – is a terrible judgment. And, when a person dies he faces a preliminary judgment – in the soul he goes to heaven or to hell.
But there is also a last judgment.
Why? If it is true that there has already been a judgment of God to take some to heaven and send others to hell, isn’t a final judgment a duplication of work? If God already knows who are his sheep and who are the goats, isn’t the judgment unnecessary?
By all means, no! God must have His day in court!
Everyone must see and confess that God’s cause is the righteous cause, and the judgments that He executed in this life were fair judgments. In this life, it does not always appear so. Even though God judges men in their conscience, we cannot see what kind of judgment a man receives at death. Sometimes it even appears that there are no judgments of God on evildoers. Some wicked men prosper (as Asaph complained in Psalm 73), and some of God’s people are struck down with the most dreadful diseases. So it seems that God’s judgment is wrong. In the judgment day, all will be made plain. That’s why the Bible says that all the hidden thoughts, the secret works, will be revealed for what they were.
In that day, God will be justified!! Romans 2:5 speaks of that day as “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God….” Then, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all to the glory of the Father!
What a day that will be! Picture it in your mind: In the middle of the earth stands a great white throne, radiating the brilliant righteousness of God. Seated on the throne is King Jesus, the revelation of the righteousness of God and the standard for judgment. Before Him stands every man and woman and child that ever lived. In His infinite wisdom, this divine Judge judges everyone, declaring the sentence and verdict. And then the verdict is executed: the sheep to glory, the goats to damnation.
We ought to look forward to that day. The God who saved us, the God who gave His only Son to die for our redemption, will be justified! The Son who shed His blood so that we might live, will be brought to the pinnacle of His exaltation! No more lies about Him. No more denials of His Name. No more dishonor. No more scorn heaped on Him and His church. Christ is the righteousness of God!
“But is this fair?” you ask. “The sheep are the elect; the goats are the reprobate; the judge must be partial and biased.” Not true. By no means will God take some to heaven regardless of their evil works, or send others to hell regardless of their good works. God judges according to the works that we have performed.
Men do not go to heaven because of their good works. We go to heaven because God elected us in eternity and because Christ died for us in time. Never forget that! But the same God that chose us, the same God that redeemed us, also sanctifiesus by His Spirit so that we perform good works. And judgment, now, is rendered according to the workswe perform (just read a few passages, like Rom. 2:6, II Cor. 5:10, Rev. 20:12). Those that have done good works are rewarded according to those good works, and those that have done evil works are rewarded according to those evil works.
Did you ever have someone object to the doctrine of election because it involves reprobation? He thinks that if reprobation is true, men must go to hell because they were reprobate and that God is to blame for their damnation. This is a slander against sovereign predestination that is older than you may realize. But it’s not true. Men don’t go to hell because they are reprobate. They go to hell because they have lived an unbelieving, ungodly, rebellious life. They refused to worship God when He showed Himself to them, refused to believe His Son when He was proclaimed to them, refused to repent of their evil deeds when they knew they were evil. And now they are justly assigned to a place in hell. They go to hell because they deserve hell. Show the objector the texts listed above; read with them Matthew 25.
Did you ever have someone object to the doctrine of election because he thinks it makes men careless with regard to good works? Then show him the passages that speak of a reward according to works. And point him to this truth: if a man or a woman is elect, he will not be careless. And tell them that if a man is careless with regard to works, he probably is not elect. The sheep that go to the Father’s right hand have worked.
When the judgment day comes, there will be an inquiry regarding works, especially works of mercy.
We probably think sometimes about how hot hell must be for the ungodly who lived during Jesus’ life on earth, how horrible it was that they rejected Jesus, didn’t wash His feet, didn’t give Him a place to sleep or food to eat, and finally did away with Him, hanging Him naked on the ugly cross, which dripped with His precious blood. And we probably think, “If anyone deserves hell, they do; they rejected Jesus Christ.”
But Jesus will not allow us to distance ourselves from Him like that. In Matthew 25 He leans forward, as it were, and comes very close to each of us and says, “Today you have opportunity to be merciful to Me, by being merciful to my people. Today you reject and refuse and ignore me when you do so to my people, to the least of my people.”
Will you serve Jesus with works of mercy? Find the family that has a difficult time paying their school tuition, and write a check. Will you bless the Lord Jesus Himself? Then bless the infants of the congregation and see to it that they are “brought to Jesus.” Would you visit Christ? Go down to the county jail and visit the church member who’s been arrested for drugs or shoplifting or who knows what. Do good to Christ? Have you no handicapped in the congregation? Have you no old people languishing in the nursing home, or restricted by their age or health to their home? How long has it been since you have been merciful to Jesus’ ‘least brothers”? With the love of Christ in our hearts, we will have an earnest desire to do these things.
When the books are opened, it will be a revealing day, won’t it?
The sheep will have been merciful to Jesus’ people. It is very simple. They are not rewarded because of that; they are rewarded because of God’s grace and mercy. But those who go to heaven will have been merciful to Jesus’ people. Think about it.
It will not be enough in the judgment day to say, “But I haven’t put anyone in jail, haven’t stolen from them to make them poor, haven’t done this or haven’t done that.” The important question will be, “What have you done?” And, ‘What have you done to the least of these my brethren?”
Knowing, therefore, the terror of God, we persuade men.
But God’s people are not fearful of the coming judgment.
They look forward to the day when God will be justified. They eagerly anticipate the day when the works they have done by the grace of God will be rewarded by grace. They do not even fear the revelation of their sins, because also then they will be united to Jesus Christ, and will be able to look to Him in faith and say, “He is my righteousness. All my good works were done because He empowered me to do them by His Spirit. All my shortcomings and failures are covered by His blood. No boast have I in myself. I love my God who chose me, who redeemed me with His own blood, and sanctified me to do these works. All praise is His. Forever.”