3.4 The Process of Judgment
"Every tongue shall confess"
There is good reason to think that our meeting of the Lord will not be just to receive a yes/no decision. The picture of the storm beating on the house to see if it collapses implies a purpose and process of the judgment (Mt. 7:27). If it were only a yes / no decision, the language of tribunal, judgment and appeal which occurs in passages concerning the judgment seat would appear to be out of place. Both sheep and goats register their surprise at their Lord's comments on various specific actions of theirs which he discusses with them- "When saw we thee...?" (Mt. 25:44). The thought that at least some of our deeds will be discussed with us at the judgment should surely make some impact on our present behaviour. Lk. 19:23 implies not only that there will be a discussion with our judge, but that Jesus will point out to the rejected what they should have done to be accepted: "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee...wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank?". The rejected are to be cut in two, shown as the two faced hypocrites which they were. But the idea of cutting in two was immediately associated in the Jewish mind with making a covenant. When Abraham placed the sacrifices in two parts and the Lord passed between them, the idea was really that God would cut in two the man who broke the covenant. Hence the Jews spoke of 'cutting a covenant'. Those who have made the covenant with God but not kept it will be cut in two, as they initially agreed. God will keep His side of the covenant.
This leads on to the question of whether there will be a specific 'going through' of many (all?) our deeds. God even now judges and analyses even those in the world (1 Cor. 5:13; 15:3); and His attention is surely focused on us even more. Because “for all these things God will bring thee into judgment”, we should therefore remove every “provocation” to sin from our lives, motivated by knowing that all sin will in some form be judged (Ecc. 11:9,10 RVmg.). However, the following passages would indicate that there will be a consideration of many (all?) the bad aspects of the rejected, and a similar mentioning of all the good points of the accepted, seeing that their sins have been totally obliterated through being in Christ.
- "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked (at the second coming): for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work...for God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or bad" (Ecc. 3:17; 12:14). Note the emphasis on "every". Even what we have spoken in the ear will be shouted out (Lk. 12:3) -implying others will somehow observe our judgment, cp. Mt. 12:41. If the judgment is merely a yes/no statement which has been worked out taking our whole life into consideration, then this emphasis on every work having a time for consideration and judgment "there" is pointless. However, these verses must be considered in conjunction with those which speak of God's 'forgetting' of bad deeds on account of how people later chose to live. However, this need not mean that they are erased from God's infinite knowledge; all too often we perceive God's memory as a vast memory bank which can have our sins erased from it. But His knowledge knows no such bounds of human perception; yet He is willing not to hold those things against us, and to therefore count us as having never committed them.
- Having spoken of how there is a time "to plant...pluck up...kill...heal" etc., we are then told that "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked (at the second coming): for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work" (Ecc. 3:1-8,17). Thus our actions in every department of life will be examined at "the place of judgment" (Ecc. 3:16).
- If we do not warn the wicked of their way, "his blood will I require at thine hand" (Ez. 33:8). Some will have to give an account of their specific lack of witness. Yet we can live day after day, saying nothing to our fellows, as if it doesn't really matter, because nobody notices…
- "Whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph. 6:8)- at judgment day. Not in this life, when the righteous often suffer for their goodness. Every good deed will then have its recognition.
- Our actions in this life will be "required" by God (Dt. 18:19; 23:21; Josh. 22:23; 1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Chron. 24:22; Ez. 3:20; 33:6,8)- at judgment day, when an explanation for our behaviour will be "required". As an example, God will "require" the flock at the hand of the pastors (Ez. 34:10), or, as the NT puts it, the ecclesial elders must give an account at judgment day for their flock. The Hebrew word translated "require" in the above passages has the sense of to search / enquire- which suggests a process of discussion during the judgment process.
- Paul prayed that the fact the brethren in Rome hadn't stood with him in his court case "may not be laid to their charge" (2 Tim. 4:16). This sounds as if he expected their behaviour in this specific matter to be something which could be brought up with them in the last day and possibly be the cause of their rejection.
- Every past day of judgment reveals something of the future. Edom's day of judgment is described as: "How are the things [RV mg. "men"] of Esau searched out! How are his hidden things sought up!" (Obadiah 6). This may be alluded to by Paul when he speaks of how the hidden things of all the responsible will be revealed in that day.
- "If the wicked (wicked responsible, in the Israel context) will turn from all his sins...all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in (as a result of) his righteousness (good deeds) that he hath done he shall live (eternally)" (Ez. 18:21,22). This implies that there will be a mentioning (the Hebrew word means just that) of the man's sins to him at judgment, unless he repents. The rest of Ez. 18 and Ez. 33 show that the reverse is also true- if a man turns away from God, then all his previous good deeds which would have been mentioned to him at judgment will be 'forgotten'.
- "I will never forget any of their works" (Am. 8:7) was the Lord's judgment against the wicked in Israel. Their works would be mentioned to them again at judgment day.
- For those who suffer persecution, prison etc. for the Lord's sake, "it shall turn to you for a testimony" (Lk. 21:13). When? How? Surely in that these things will be 'gone through' with them at judgment as a testimony to their faithfulness.
- At judgment God "shall bring forth thy righteousness (good deeds) as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day" (Ps. 37:6). The sins of the rejected and the good deeds of the righteous will be publicly declared at the judgment, even if they are concealed from men in this life (1 Tim. 5:24,25). This is how men will receive "praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:7; Rom. 2:29). The wicked will see the generous deeds of the righteous rehearsed before them; and will gnash their teeth and melt away into condemnation (Ps. 112:9,10).
- "Every tongue shall confess to God (in Christ)...every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:11,12). "Account" is the Greek 'logos'- we will 'logos' ourselves in the sense that we will verbally confess ("every tongue") the innermost essence of our spiritual lives. This will lead us to confess with our tongue that Christ is really our Lord (Phil. 2:11). Confessing our sinfulness will lead us to show our appreciation of His Lordship. That which has been spoken or thought in darkness will then be heard in the light- in that day "there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed" (Lk. 12:2,3). He will confess our righteous acts, and we will confess our sins (Is. 45:23-25 cp. Phil. 2:10; Rom. 14:11). For the wicked, it will be the opposite. They confess their righteous acts, He tells them their sins. And in this way the good and bad deeds of all the responsible will come to the light.
- "We must all appear before the judgment seat" (2 Cor. 5:10) doesn't just mean we'll put in an appearance. The Greek means to be exposed utterly. We shall have "our lives laid open" (NEB). Then, the unshareable self will be revealed; that essence of personality which is unknown even to us.
- The sins of the wicked are written down against them, to be discussed with them at the judgment (Acts 7:60 Diaglott).
- Psalm 50 is an Old Testament prophecy of the judgment seat of Christ: "Our God shall come (in Christ)...He shall call to the heavens...that he may judge his people (cp. the call to judgment). Gather my saints together unto me (cp. Mt. 25:30-32)...for God is judge himself" describes how the specific words and actions of God's people will then be considered: "When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him (actions)...thou gavest thy mouth to evil (words)...these things hast thou done, and I kept silence (in this life)...but I will (now) reprove thee (at judgment day), and set them in order before thine eyes".
- Without in any way seeking to teach justification by works, it is also true that there are Bible passages which imply that there will be a reckoning up of a man’s good works at the last day. The rich fool should have been “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21); he should have hoarded up spiritual wealth and fruit against his last day rather than material things. Yet this of course will not have been consciously done; yet the judgment process will reveal the good works of the righteous to them and others.
- Every word will be judged (Mt. 12:36), and in some cases by words we will justified and by our speech we will be condemned. So we must speak as those who will be judged for what we speak (James 2:12). The man who says to his brother 'Raca' or 'Thou fool' is in real danger of hell fire (Mt. 5:22). The tongue has the power to cast a man into hell fire (James 3:5,6)- some may be condemned for what they have said, perhaps connecting with how the beast is thrown into the fire of destruction because of his words (Dan. 7:11,12). Thus there is a link between the judgment of the unworthy and that of the world. The process of condemnation will remind the wicked of all their hard words and hard deeds (Jude 15). Yet now, we can speak words all too easily. Yet we talk and speak as those whose words will be taken into account at the last day. This little selection of passages is powerful- or ought to be.
- “Charge them not with this sin” (Acts 7:60) certainly sounds as if Stephen expected that individual actions of human sin will be raised with them at the day of judgment. And yet the wonder of it all, is that our prayers now for our enemies can result in their not being charged with those sins. We are in that sense called to do the work of the advocate, to reflect the saving mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus in our prayer life right now. Our prayers for others really can have an effect upon what will be raised with them at the judgment- for that’s what Stephen prayed for in his time of dying. And are we to think that his wonderful prayer went unanswered?
There is one interesting practical outcome of there being a going through of all our deeds. Paul says that he wants to "seal" the fruit of good works from his converts (Rom. 15:28), as if he wants to give them the opportunity to do good deeds, knowing they will be considered in some form at the judgment. The simple fact is that we simply have to believe that the thousand hard an easy choices we make each ay all somehow count in the ultimate, final analysis
- “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work...for God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or bad” (Ecc. 3:17; 12:4).
- “If the wicked will turn from his sins...all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in (as a result of) his righteousness that he hath done shall he live” (Ez. 18:21,22)
- All sin and righteousness will be publicly declared even if hidden now (1 Tim. 5:24,25)
- God “shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day” (Ps. 37:6)
- “Every tongue shall confess...every one of shall give account (logos) of himself to God” (Rom. 14:11,12)
- “We must all appear [‘be laid open’ NEB] before the judgment seat” (2 Cor. 5:10)
- Every word will be judged (Mt. 12:36)
- “Gather my saints together...God is judge...when thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him (actions)...thou gavest thy mouth to evil (words)...these things has thou done, and I kept silence...but I will reprove thee [at judgment] and set them in order before thine eyes” (Ps. 50).
It is fairly certain that time will be compressed at the judgment seat; there will therefore be no problem in such an individual discussion between each of the responsible and Christ . All the above passages suggest a going through of works ; and yet we know that the basis of acceptability with God is not works but rather faith. The 'going through' of works is therefore for our benefit, to teach us- not as a basis upon which the Lord decides worthiness. Salvation itself is not on the basis of our works (Rom. 11:6; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5); indeed, the free gift of salvation by pure grace is contrasted with the wages paid by sin (Rom. 4:4; 6:23). And yet at the judgment, the preacher receives wages for what he did (Jn. 4:36), the labourers receive hire (s.w. wages) for their work in the vineyard (Mt. 20:8; 1 Cor. 3:8). There is a reward (s.w. wages) for those who rise to the level of loving the totally unresponsive (Mt. 5:46), or preaching in situations quite against their natural inclination (1 Cor. 9:18). Salvation itself isn't given on this basis of works; but the judgment is of works in order to teach us self-knowledge. And this is why there will be a 'going through' of our deeds. In this life, we see ourselves in a dark mirror; but only when the Lord appears will we clearly see ourselves face to face. This coming to true self-knowledge will only be possible through the judgment process.