When people are abused or mistreated, they cry out for justice. But true justice in this world rarely comes quickly. Sometimes it never comes at all, and the abuser may actually prosper. Even if justice does come, it is often not adequate. Worse still, sometimes those who experience injustice then turn around and mete it out to others. This world is terribly unjust, and so many people long for something better.
There will be something better. When Christ returns, He will come to judge (Matt. 25:31–46; Acts 10:42). He will do so with perfect justice (Isa. 11:3–5; Rom. 2:11–12; Rev. 19:1–2), and nothing will escape His purview. It is a reality to inspire both hope and dread—depending on one’s relationship with the Judge (2 Thess. 1:5–10).
Who will be judged? Christ will judge all unbelievers (Rev. 20:11–15). No one will have any legitimate defense against His righteous judgments, and so all will be condemned (Rom. 3:19) to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13–15). Nevertheless, there will be degrees of punishment meted out based on how unbelievers have lived (Matt. 11:22, 24; Luke 20:47; Matt. 12:36). In addition, Christ will judge fallen angels, including Satan (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:10). This too will result in just, eternal condemnation. Remarkably, Scripture indicates that believers will participate with Him in some of this judgment (1 Cor. 6:2–3; Rev. 20:4), although it is not clear how—and in any case, we only do so by virtue of our union with Christ.
“When Christ returns, He will come to judge.”
Christ will also judge believers (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10, 12). This judgment is sometimes called the bema judgment (or the judgment seat of Christ; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). In the Roman world, the bema was a raised platform from which a judge decided a case or officials issued athletic rewards. Notably, this judgment does not threaten our eternal life at all, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1; John 3:16–18; 5:24). Instead, it will evaluate believers’ works (1 Cor. 3:12–15), including their faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1–2) and hidden motives (1 Cor. 4:5). This judgment results in different degrees of reward for the believer (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:15; Luke 19:11–27).
As with the resurrection, the various eschatological views may differ on the timing of the judgment. Most of the views maintain that all judgment takes place right before the eternal states (cf. Rev. 20:11–15). However, many dispensationalists maintain that there are several phases of judgment: (1) the bema judgment of believers after the rapture; (2) a judgment of the nations after the tribulation and before the millennium, to determine who can enter the millennial kingdom; and (3) the great white throne judgment at the end of the millennium, resulting in the final judgment of all unbelievers. But whether in phases or a single event, all agree that Christ will indeed come as perfect Judge over all. This gives believers ample reason to faithfully serve Him, share the gospel with those facing condemnation, and trust Him to make all things right in the end.
by J. Brian Tucker and David Finkbeiner
Theology can be intimidating, full of big words and lofty ideas. Yet theological terms aren’t just for professors to argue about in...
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