Section 9: The End Times
Week 3: The Final Judgment
Day 1: The Necessity of a Final Judgment
When Christ returns, he will sit in judgment over the world (Acts 10:42, 2 Tim. 4:1). As we discussed in the Digging Deeper section, theologians debate exactly when the final judgment will happen in relation to Christ’s return. However, there is no doubt that God will judge the world. The book of Revelation paints the picture this way:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).
When we earlier looked at God’s character, we noted that he is perfectly holy and that his perfect holiness demands he punish sin. As terrible as the images of the final judgment can be, we ought to be thankful that God cannot and will not ignore sin. Think about a horrendous crime you’ve heard about recently (unfortunately there are many you could choose from). Maybe it was a mass shooting. Maybe it involved a young child who was abused. Whatever it was, how did you react when you heard about it? Likely you were horrified and angered. In light of your reaction, how would you feel if God just shrugged his shoulders and treated it as though it were no big deal? Would we truly consider God good if he didn’t see such crimes as evil and deserving of punishment?
Too often in our world, though, people seem to get away with evil. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous often suffer. That can cause us to question whether God is truly just. The reality of a final judgment, however, restores our confidence in God’s justice. We know that no matter how things look right now, one day the wicked will be called to account.
And it’s our confidence in God’s justice that frees us to forgive others. When somebody wrongs us, we often have a hard time forgiving them unless we’ve taken our pound of flesh (or more depending on how badly we’ve been hurt). But, handing out punishment like that isn’t our job (Rom. 12:19). To a certain extent, God has given government the job of punishing various wrongs in order to restrain evil (Rom. 13:1-5), but that doesn’t mean he wants us to take that role on in our individual lives. Instead, we are to follow Christ’s example.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21, 23).
The key to forgiving then is entrusting ourselves to God’s justice. The reality of the final judgment allows us to “give into God’s hands any desire to harm or pay back the person who has wronged us, knowing that every wrong in the universe will ultimately be paid for – either it will turn out to have been paid for by Christ when he died on the cross (if the wrongdoer becomes a Christian), or it will be paid for at the final judgment (for those who do not trust in Christ for salvation).”[i]
List a handful of things that happened recently that you consider evil.
Would God be just if there were no final judgment? Does knowing there will be one help you to forgive others? Why/Why not?
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House (1994), 1147.