This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
For many people, including Christians, the final judgment of God might appear to be incongruent with the God of grace, forgiveness, and love which we have seen so powerfully in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. We often downplay the Scriptures about God’s judgment or relegate the topic to the God of the Old Testament. However, this is not how the Bible portrays the theme of God’s judgment. Rather, the judgment of God is the final vindication of God’s righteousness. It is a good and glorious thing, for final judgment is the time when God will set all things right. Jesus himself spoke of it quite often right in the pages of the New Testament. This final vindication involves two main things.
First, Judgment Day will reveal and make known all sins. The secrets of everyone’s heart will be revealed. Romans 2:16 says, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets.” Every thought, every idle word, every deed—even deeds done in absolute secrecy—will be made known and laid bare. Jesus said in Luke 12:2–3 “there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Crimes which people thought they had “gotten away with” will suddenly be known. All sins will be revealed and publicly exposed.
This is actually good news, because it means that everything will be “set right.” We all know that the courts of human justice have severe limitations. There are crimes which never go punished, and there are crimes for which no human punishment seems fully adequate. This is why it does not make sense to say that God “would never judge anyone, he only forgives.” Crucial to the biblical doctrine of God’s love is that all things will eventually be made right. God’s love for those who have been wronged, and God’s love for righteousness and truth, are one and the same with his determination to set everything right in the end, which is what judgment is. A New Creation where wickedness was still allowed to flourish would not be a place in which we long to dwell. Love without justice is mere sentimentality.
Judgment at the end of time must be seen and understood in the larger context that God has taken upon himself, through Christ, the just sentence of judgment which sinners deserved. Jesus bore our sins on the cross. He accepted the full weight of the guilty verdict. Now, through the gospel, the entire world is invited to receive that gift of grace. Jesus has already borne the judgment of the entire world, and that is where the forgiveness and grace of God are made manifest. However, for those who do not accept Jesus Christ, they must stand before the bar of God’s justice and render a full account of their own lives, receiving the due penalty for every thought or deed.
Second, Judgment Day will vindicate the faith of the church. Praise God that the record of sins is not the only book in heaven. There is another book which has a record of all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. For the believer, Judgment Day is transformed from a day of fear and trial into a day of vindication and joy. The Scripture says that the name of that other book is known as the Lamb’s Book of Life. That book will reveal the names of those people whose sins have already been paid for because we have trusted in the provision offered through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The church will be vindicated, not because we are without sin, but because of our perseverance in faith. This is the truth celebrated in the song which says, “he paid a debt, he did not owe; I owed a debt, I could not pay; Christ Jesus came and washed my sins away!” The people of God will be rewarded for their faithfulness and it will be a day of great joy and celebration. In the Scriptures we do not see the people of God dreading the Day of Judgment. Rather, we see them praying for that day to come, and longing for the time when God will finally set all things right.
1 Corinthians 3:11–15
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
2 Thessalonians 1:5–10
2 Timothy 4:1