Why have I spent so much of my time writing on the judgment to come? It’s a fair question. Here’s my answer.
I’ve heard of people who read the Bible through the lens of “Jesus loves me. Because He loves me He would never hurt me.” Many have interpreted any passages on negative judgment as falling upon the unbeliever. Thus, passages that would help them to prepare for Christ’s return are ignored.
For instance, in Matt. 25:14-30, a master returns after his long absence to judge his servants. Two servants give a good account of their works and are rewarded. The third servants account is that of hiding his money in the ground, and he is rebuked with, “you wicked, lazy servant.”
Normally, one would consider the first two servants saved and the third servant unsaved. But this position has problems. All three servants were considered as belonging to the same master. Unbelievers cannot possibly be considered servants of God.
The last servant made a wicked choice. Christians are not sinless. We make regrettable choices. We can be lazy when responsibility calls. In those times we act more like unregenerate sons of Adam than Spirit-filled children of God. But through confession and repentance, we can recover the life of faith that Christ won for us. The “wicked” denotation can apply to the believer as well as the unbeliever. We need to study the passage carefully to determine to whom Jesus was addressing.
The last servant was cast into outer darkness to weep and gnash his teeth (Matt. 25:30). Most Christians do not believe in Purgatory because of the unbiblical teaching of the Catholic church. Casting this servant into outer darkness surely does not validate the whole of Purgatory, does it? Shall we cut out this verse because it seems to support Purgatory? No. We should study the verses on their own merit, as the Word of God, and accept their instruction as we do any other Scripture. Such passages teach us that the rebukes and chastisements to come are to be avoided at all costs. These are not passages to stimulate the unbeliever to work harder. That idea is foolish, for unbelievers need the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ by God’s grace, not works for salvation. This chastisement is for those who should have known better.
This judgment occurred after the master returned. We have it in our heads that Christ rebukes and chastens us from love now (Rev. 3:19), but when He comes, judgment will be past. Therefore these acts of judgment must be against unbelievers. However, such passages on judgment teach us that Christ will not arbitrarily limit His rebukes or chastisements to this age. He is free to continue them after He returns, though their extent is only for a while, not eternally.
This idea of temporary judgments brings me to my last point. We think such severe judgments are perfectly deserving of the unregenerate for all their sins, and their punishments will last forever. Therefore when we read of such punishments as fire, cutting in two, torturing until full payment is made, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and so on, we think of eternal punishments. But the child of God will not be punished for eternity. The Christian will experience severe judgments if the Lord finds such judgment well-deserved, but they will be only for a season. Some writers believe that because the carnal Christian does not inherit or enter the thousand-year kingdom to come (when this present kingdom becomes fully realized), that the punishments will be inflicted over a period up to a thousand years as they wait until the millennium kingdom is over. Whether that is true or not will depend on your own study of the Word. I focus on individual passages. Someone else will have to put them together for me.
I focus on the judgment passages because I find in them a key to the fear of God, which is missing in the Church today. Through the fear of God (that I will face a holy Judge to give an account of my life and choices) I have become more sensitive to sin and diligent in my responsibilities. If I want the fate of the first two servants, then I must act like them and apply myself to be deserving of His praise (because I will be rewarded according to my works, not just my faith). If I neglect these truths on the judgment to come, I may resent the Lord’s commands to work and to be conformed to His image of holiness and love, and procrastinate like the lazy servant of Matthew chapter twenty-five. I may not move in fear, knowing that my actions have severe consequences. The lazy servant knew the master was harsh, and so justified his laziness. He rather should have considered that his master had full rights over him to do as the master wished, and “reward” him severely, though temporarily, for his fruits of laziness.
Jesus loved us and showed it by painfully laying down His life to rescue us from sin. Therefore what will we do about sin? Jesus will reward those who make the effort to apply His scriptural truths to get victories over their sins. He will not take kindly those who treat sin casually when He suffered such torture to show us the awfulness of sin. He has given us His grace, power, Spirit, Word, the Cross, prayer, fellowship of the saints, and other means for us to appear before Him in joyous confidence that comes of a good conscience. Let us apply them.
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).