God’s Judgment Events – The Judgment at Death

There are several judgment events promised in Scripture:

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, ESV)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:31-33, ESV)

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)

The first judgment we must face is when we die (Hebrews 9:27).  Jesus depicts one such experience for two men, Lazarus and the rich man he begged from (Luke 16).

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)

It appears from this passage and others that when we die there is a separation made.  Those who know the Lord and trust in Him are assigned a place of rest and peace.  Our bodies are dead (“asleep” in Christian parlance), but our spirits are now with Jesus (see, Are My Husband and Father in Heaven Yet?).  Before Jesus took Paradise to heaven, this is where Lazarus was carried by the angels (see, Did Jesus not go to heaven immediately upon death on the cross? and, Did Jesus visit Hell?).  The rich man, on the other hand, went to a place of torment called Hades.  This is the Greek term equivalent to the Old Testament term Sheol.  It is a holding place for those who do not know the Lord until the final judgment (Revelation 20).

Do we actually make an appearance before God to receive our placement orders upon death?  We are not told.  But there is a judgment that has occurred that has determined that we either did indeed trust in Christ for our rescue or did not.  Hebrews 9:27, quoted above, seems to indicate that there are no exceptions.  No one’s ghost hangs around waiting for resolution of some earthly issue.  No one gets to come back and have a do-over.  If you did not embrace Christ in this life you have no chance to do so in the life to come.

For further reading:

What is Purgatory?

Jesus the Teacher (Part 2)

I pride myself on being a teacher, but when I compare myself to Jesus I’m not even in the ballpark.  There are several reasons for this.  One, he is the Son of God.  Two, he has no internal sin issues that mire up relationships or hinder him from saying something that needs to be said.  He is always free to say what you or I need.  Three, he knows the Bible better than I do.  Four, he is a master at using teaching techniques.

Now I know that this last aspect could seem to make Jesus out to be a manipulator, but in reality it makes him out to be the most loving of teachers.  If I only teach the content and don’t consider how to package that content for you, I am ignoring what you need to learn.  If I really love you I will take the responsibility to teach you the way you need to be taught.  Jesus always does that.

Consequently, Jesus was a master at asking questions.  Recently there have been a series of Bible study books published that are centered around the questions Jesus used.  He asked stuff like, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil?” (Mark 3:4), or “How can Satan drive out Satan?” (Mark 3:23), or “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33) in order to grab attention and build anticipation as to what the answer might be.  In response to such questions, as a learner, I am invested in finding out the answer.  Now I become an active participant in the learning process.

Jesus also told incredible stories and parables.  He held you in rapt attention as he described a son who selfishly took his father’s inheritance before his father died and wasted it all, only to come back home and find a tearful welcome (Luke 15).  He told a story about a man who died and went to Hades (Luke 16), and one about a woman who bugged a judge so much that he answered her prayer (Luke 18).  He drew you in and left you with a picture in your head that taught you for months and years to come.

Jesus also got personal.  A great example is the expert in the law who comes and asks Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10).  Jesus turns and asks him a question, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  When the expert answers correctly Jesus acknowledges it, then tells a story about the good Samaritan.  But rather than just leave it at that, Jesus gets personal.  He asks the man, “Which of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  And when the expert answers, “The one who had mercy on him,” Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

We all have opportunities to teach, even if it is not our formal responsibility.  We can learn from Jesus the ways to help people learn.  We can love people enough, the way Jesus did, to tailor our words to their needs so that they can learn to live out what they are taught.

The After Life — The After Life of the Unbeliever

What happens to an individual when he dies?  As James says, “the body without the spirit is dead” (2:26).  When we die our spirits are separated from our bodies.  What happens to our spirits is determined by our relationship to God.  For the person who has not trusted in Christ and His sacrifice, God’s only provision for eternal life, there is only separation from God.

This is highlighted in Jesus’ account of the death of Lazarus and the rich man at whose gate Lazarus would sit and beg (Luke 16:19-31).  Whereas Lazarus, a believer in God’s promise, went to Abraham’s bosom (King James version) or side (New International Version, NIV), a place of comfort (v.25), elsewhere termed “Paradise” (Luke 23:43; see 2 Corinthians 12:4), the rich man ended up in “hell” (NIV).  The Greek term is “Hades,” which was conceived of as a shadowy place under the surface of the earth where the spirits of human beings were held until the last judgment.

In a conversation with Abraham, the rich man, who is described as being in torment, begs Abraham to send Lazarus with just a drop of water to cool his “tongue” because of the agony of the fire. But since this is his spirit and not his body it must have been a psychological sensation only, a representation of how he felt in his soul.  Literal fire needs physical fuel to continue burning.  Abraham, in response to the rich man’s request, reminds the rich man that such a bridging of the gulf between them is impossible, so Lazarus cannot go to him.

Hebrews 9:27 teaches us that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”  There are no second chances.  Revelation 20:11-15 reveals that after the millennial kingdom of Christ, just before the establishing of the eternal form of the kingdom, “death and Hades” will give up the dead to be judged at Jesus’ great white throne judgment.  They will be judged out of the books that apparently hold accounts of their lives, and out of the Book of Life.  Because their names are not written in the Book of Life they are cast into the Lake of Fire, what is more properly termed “Hell.”  Presumably, the level of punishment they experience in the Lake of Fire is determined by their deeds in life as recorded in the “books” (v.12).

Jesus taught degrees of punishment in Hell.  He told the towns of Korazin and Bethsaida (Jewish towns) that it would be “more bearable for Tyre and Sidon [Gentile towns] at the judgment” than for them (Luke 10:14).  This strongly suggests that one’s response to the truth, one’s rejection of the light of God’s revelation, brings a heavier judgment than others might experience.  Those who have turned away more from the path God has prescribed for us will experience more torment in hell than the rest.  A Hitler will suffer more than a Gandhi, though neither, presumably, ever put his trust in Christ.

The death of an unbeliever results in separation of his spirit from his body and from God.  Only trust in Jesus as savior will rescue us from this double separation.