The Final Judgment

The Final Judgment

Written by Gregory K. Beale |
Thursday, December 15, 2022

Christ’s justifying penal substitutionary death is the price paid “once for all” (Heb. 9:12; see 9:26–28), and the good works done within the context of Christian faith become the inevitable evidence of such faith at the final judicial evaluation, when the believer is openly acknowledged and acquitted before all. Christ’s work (both His death and His perfect obedience) is the “necessary causal condition” for justification, and the believer’s works are a “necessary (but not ultimately causal) condition’” for “acquittal” before other men.

The Bible features multiple references to the final judgment. Matthew 25 is probably the longest such passage in all of Scripture. In verses 31–46, Christ “separates the sheep from the goats,” with the former rewarded with a kingdom inheritance and the latter told to “depart . . . into the eternal fire.” Other extended discussions of the end-time judgment include Luke 19:12–27; Romans 2:5–16; Hebrews 10:26–30; 2 Peter 3:7–14; and Jude 6, 14–15, 24.

The book of Revelation has more extended presentations of the last judgment than any other biblical book. These passages either make no explicit mention of the basis of the judgment (Rev. 6:12–17; 16:17–21) or mention idolatry, sin, or works as a basis of judgment (Rev. 14:6–11, 14–20; 18:4–24; 19:11–21; 20:11–15)Revelation 20:11–15 is perhaps the most explicit text about people’s receiving final judgment based on their deeds. God judges the dead “by what was written in the books, according to what they had done . . . , and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 13:8; 21:27) are not judged, since the slain Lamb’s blood is the penal satisfaction for their sinful works. The Lamb suffered their judgment on their behalf. They enjoy their justification (God’s declaration that they are righteous) in Him.

The question needs to be posed about how the believer’s justification in Christ is related to (1) God’s final judgment and (2) the requirement that believers must show their good works to pass through the judgment. Then we need to look at (3) how the final judgment relates to non-Christians.

First, when a person believes that Christ died on his behalf, Romans 3:24–25 says that the person is “justified” by Christ’s “blood,” which means that He took the final judgment and wrath of God that we deserved for our sin. Consequently, believers are “redeemed” from that final penalty (see also Romans 5:9).

But if this is the case, we need to ask why the New Testament can say elsewhere that “works” are necessary for passing unscathed through the final judgment. For example, Romans 2:13 says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified [or, better, “vindicated”].” There will be a judicial evaluation of the works of all people. God “will render to each one according to his works” at the time of the judgment (Rom. 2:6). Some who do good, though not perfect, will obtain “eternal life” (Rom. 1:7). On the other hand, others will be found wanting and undergo judgment.

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