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.
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