The day is now past when the doctrine of a general resurrection and judgment at the last day is universally accepted among Christians. A closer examination of the Word of God, together with increased freedom from mere church tradition, has shown to many how ill-founded these views are, and that Scripture expressly speaks of at least two resurrections and of two judgments.
Before briefly considering these, it will be well to glance back at the great judgment of sin and sins passed upon the Holy One of God in our stead, and also at that resurrection which is the pledge and proof of the perfection of His finished work.
At the cross of Christ, God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, and “laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” numbering our righteous Substitute with the transgressors. It is in virtue of this judgment of sin that God can now freely justify every sinner that believes, and offer to every soul on earth the free forgiveness of all his sins in righteousness. It is in virtue of this death of Christ that the one who believes can say with perfect assurance, He bore my sins in His own body on the tree.
It is here the believer sees that not only what he has done is judged and atoned for, but that he himself, as far as his old nature is concerned, is condemned and crucified with Christ. For the cross is not only the judgment of my deeds, but of myself; not of sins only, but of sin, the root; and I as a man in the flesh am put out of God's sight at the cross of Christ. Resting then in full assurance in the simple fact that all God's judgments have passed on Christ in his stead, the believer understands the full meaning of that wonderful passage in John 5:24 (so obscured by mistranslation), where he is told that he shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life. But not only were all the believer's sins thus judged at the cross of Christ, but in the resurrection of Christ he gets a new and endless life, a life out of death, the life of Christ. We who believe are raised with Him out of darkness, death, and sin, into light, life, and holiness. Thus, through the death and resurrection of the Lord, the believer gets immunity from all coming judgments of sins, and also an eternal, pure and holy life, so that he will never be judged and never perish, but is alive spiritually in resurrection life, risen from his state of death in trespasses and sins.
The next thing we find is that there is a present judgment of God on His children which is going on all through the Christian era, being exercised in the way of discipline or chastisement on those Christians who are not judging themselves but are leading careless and worldly lives, and in some way or other sinning against the light (see Heb.12; 1 Cor.11 to end). This judgment is not exercised on the unsaved because they, not being sons, are without chastisement. For Christians, however, it is an ever-present reality which we do well to remember. The Christian is often astonished to find that he cannot do with impunity what he sees the unbeliever doing every day.
“If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” This is now, in this present time; but the value of this self-judgment is that it not merely saves us from God's present discipline (1 Cor.11:31), but keeps us from walking in such a way that we shall be ashamed when manifested before Him.
The next subject we have to consider is the resurrection of believers, including all “that are Christ's” (1 Cor.15:23), called also the resurrection of life (John 5:29), the first resurrection (Rev.20:5,6), and the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14). This takes place at the coming of the Lord (1 Cor.15:23) into the air (1 Thess.4:16,17), which may take place at any moment (Luke 12:40), and for which we wait (Rev.22:20). At this resurrection none of the wicked dead will be raised (Rev.20:5). Although sleeping in the same tomb, side-by-side, the “sheep” only will hear the Shepherd's voice; the others who heeded it not in life will not then hear it in death, but will lie in their graves for the thousand years of the millennial age. Such then is the resurrection of life, and although in some verses it may seem to be very closely connected with the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29), both being said to take place in the same hour (5:28), yet we find from Revelation 20:5 that this hour extends over at least a thousand years, and that the resurrection at the last day, that we hear Martha speak of (John 11:24), has now been clearly divided into two parts — perfectly distinct in character and time.
This resurrection of life takes place, as we have seen, at the coming of the Lord; but we also find from Revelation 20:4 that it will include those Jews who were slain subsequently at the persecution under antichrist for the witness of Jesus.
We will now briefly consider the manifestation of believers before the judgment seat of Christ, which is spoken of in Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10. So great and solemn a subject, however, demands more than a few passing words, and we hope elsewhere to look at it more fully in its practical bearing on the Christian walk. It seems probable for several reasons that the manifestation of believers will take place after the rapture of the saints, and before the public return of Christ, when every eye shall see Him. In the first place, it cannot be before the rapture, for it evidently takes place in heaven; and Paul distinctly speaks of it as future, and as consisting of a review of all deeds done in the body. Second, inasmuch as it forms the only means of which we read of determining our places in the coming glory, according to our faithfulness down here, it will surely be all over before we are publicly displayed with Christ according to Revelation 19, when He comes in His glory to usher in the kingdom. We cannot, however, go further than this, and positively fix a time which has been left indefinite in Scripture, but can only say we believe that the saints will be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, when they are in heaven after the rapture, and before the Lord's public second coming or appearing in power and glory on the Mount of Olives.
Although, when standing before this judgment seat, we shall be in the perfect likeness of the One who sits on it (1 John 3:2), and in the full enjoyment of His perfect love that casts out all fear, this manifestation will be a very solemn reality, and should lead now to earnest labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be acceptable to Him (1 Cor.5:9; lit.). Then will be seen the result of our trading down here (Matt.25), of our building (1 Cor. 3), and of our labor generally for the Lord (2 John 8); and not only this, but we are to be manifested, that is, we are to hear God's judgment on all our acts and ways — surely a most intensely solemn thought for each one of us. Then, for the first time, we shall form a true estimate of all; we shall understand the perfection of Christ's grace all through, and see how wrong and mistaken we have been in many ways down here. To limit the judgment seat of Christ to a reward for works is largely to nullify its practical power.
It must be noticed in 2 Corinthians 5 that the judgment seat of Christ is there spoken of in a general way, so as not only to include the presence there of believers, but the fact that all must (at one time or another) be manifested before it. The effect of this on the believer is seen in verse 9. To the unbeliever it is a terror (v.11), being to him nothing less than eternal damnation. To the Apostle this coming review of the believer's walk and work was a very solemn fact, and led him to walk day by day in God's presence, so that he could say, “We are made manifest unto God.” He did not wait for that day to see if he was walking so as to please God or no, but lived daily in self-judgment. What a moment it will be when for the first time we find out God's judgment on our life. How many are first now that will be last then, and how many unknown and unnoticed down here that then will shine as the stars for ever and ever (Dan.12:3). The time is short, beloved reader. Consider then, earnestly, as you read these few lines, what work you are doing really for Christ that will stand the fire, and how far you are really filling to His glory the sphere in which you move. Do not wake up when it is too late.
We must now pass on to the next judgment — that of the quick, spoken of in Matthew 25, and often alluded to elsewhere (see 2 Tim.4:1; 1 Pet.4:5; Acts 10:42). It is often so associated with the judgment of the dead, as to lead a superficial reader to suppose that both were only parts of the same event, taking place at the same time, whereas (as we have already seen with regard to the two resurrections) they are two distinct events, separated by not less than 1,000 years; the judgment of Matthew 25 taking place before the Millennium (Rev.19; Jude 14,15, etc.), while the last judgment does not begin till after the close of the reign of Christ.
This judgment of “the quick” (or, “of all nations”) in Matthew 25, occurs in the presence of the saints who have descended from heaven with the Lord (Rev.19; 1 Cor.6:2), but does not directly concern them. All nations are gathered before the dread tribunal, and are separated by the scrutiny of God's all-seeing eye into the “sheep” and the “goats”; the former consisting of those among the heathen who have received the Jewish messengers who will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Rev.14:7) to all the world (Matt.24:14), and the goats, those who have rejected them. The former will constitute the Gentile inhabitants of the millennial earth, and will inherit “the kingdom,” while the latter will be sent into everlasting punishment. The earth being thus cleared by the judgment of God, the millennial reign of Christ will be ushered in. It must be noticed that this judgment is of living people only, and only of those who have not heard and rejected the present gospel. These will not be brought before this tribunal, but will have been already swept from off the earth at the coming of Christ (2 Thess.1:9).
We now pass on to the closing scene at the end of the millennial age, which consists of the last resurrection, called also the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29), and of the last judgment, also called the second death. The following passages speak of it: Revelation 2:11; Matthew 11:22; Hebrews 9:27; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:17; Jude 6.
After the final judgment of the devil (Rev.20:10), all the wicked dead will be raised, and will stand before the Son (John 5:27), to be judged according to their works. The book of life will also be opened, because however bad a man's works may have been, if he has been washed in the blood of Christ, and his name inscribed in the Lamb's book, he will never be sent to hell. Hence, although all here are judged according to their works, it is expressly said that “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The sole reason why every believer is saved from this fate is clearly not on account of his having never sinned, but because Christ bore the punishment instead, and thus his name is written in the Lamb's book of life. Hence this solemn scripture clearly shows divine grace reconciled with man's responsibility.
Such then is a very brief account of the various judgments and resurrections in their order as revealed in Scripture. To the believer the consideration of them is very blessed and very solemn; blessed, as bringing home to his soul the wonderful value of the work of Christ in delivering him from all terror of the coming judgment of God; solemn, when he considers that rapidly approaching moment when all his life's work will be fully reviewed before God.
To the unbeliever such a theme is surely one of terror, and yet not without hope; for if the last judgment at the great white throne shows him the final, awful fate of every unredeemed soul, the first judgment of sin on the cross in the Person of our blessed Saviour opens a door of mercy to whosoever will. Grace still reigns and judgment waits; and it is for those who know this to seek to persuade every unsaved soul that will hear to flee from the coming wrath to the open door of mercy, ere it be closed forever.
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