The “Terror” of Judgment
By Fred Pruitt
Are you like me and get confused with all the different people’s “complete knowledge” of the sequence of “events” for believers and non-believers in the afterlife?
Honestly, it boils down to me to just one thing Paul said, “Absent from the body and present with the Lord” — that’s great!!! — (but then he throws in the thing about making certain we are accepted of Him, and then the bit about the judgment seat. hmmmm ….)
The “key” in all this that Paul has said, is “that we may be accepted of Him.” To me, once we know His acceptance by faith, the only thing I know after that is “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and, “I go to prepare a place for you …. that I may receive you into Myself,” “No man may pluck you from my hand,” etc.
Let’s take a look at a few passages from the New Testament that speak to this subject, especially about “judgment,” and perhaps sort out the confusion.
I’ll start it out with Jesus’ famous word on the Cross, when he told the thief being crucified next to Him that, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).
That little word of Jesus throws a monkey wrench into most people’s afterlife theology. Why? Because it is immediate. He mentions nothing about “judgment,” but instead right there on the Cross seems to “act” as judge and to “judge” the thief “worthy” of Paradise. When he fell asleep in this life, he woke to spiritual life in Paradise, “that day,” to quote Jesus. No “Great White Throne,” no “trumpet of God,” no “judgment seat of Christ,” no period in eternity when our corruption would be burned off us as if in some sort of purgatory.
Plus, Scripture says and the Church taught for millennia that Jesus first “descended into Hell” to preach to the spirits in prison, after which He was raised by the Father having captured captivity and carrying it with Him when He ascended on High.
Again, however, Jesus word to the thief cuts through all that and declares the redeemed thief will experience the kingdom of God in its fullness “THIS” day.
Next is Jesus’ word to Nicodemus. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NASB).
Next a word from Jesus in one of His dialogues in the Temple. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24 NASB)
The NASB (my 2nd favorite Bible version) uses the word “judgment” for what is often rendered “condemnation” in the KJV, which I use mostly. Both words in this context mean exactly the same thing. To “judge” and/or to “condemn” mean the same thing. Look at what they both say. Boil it down, and Jesus is saying if you believe, you will not be judged. You are excused from judgment, because you have already been “judged” as a Son or Daughter of God, having no father but God. The second passage above, John 5:24, hones in on our meaning. The one who has eternal life does not come into judgment. There is only one passing over, passing from death to life, and in passing out of the kingdom of Darkness and being translated into the kingdom of Light, from Satan’s domain to Christ’s domain, we pass “out of death into life.”
The point at which we cross over that threshold, is the only moment of judgment for Him who believes. Why? Because no one can sneak into the kingdom of heaven. Anyone inside the kingdom can only be part of the kingdom and filled with the Spirit of the kingdom. It’s like going to a big dance. Once you pay your ticket and get hand-stamped (for goings in and out), you’re part of the kingdom. No one questions you again about it.
Then of course there are a couple of passages from Paul’s writings.
“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. … Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is … If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Cor 3:10-14 truncated).
But it’s the “judgment seat of Christ” passage that seems to stir the most dread in believers. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10).
The last one I’ll put in the mix is from Revelation.
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” (Rev 14:13).
Everything we have been speaking of up until now has had to do with believers and salvation, i.e., that is, our spiritual “condition.” Once we settle that, and we know when we are settled in it by the witness of the Spirit in us, it is time to move into the adult realm of “what do I do with my life?”
All three of the above passages have to do with our “works,” not for salvation’s sake, but for understanding and living according to the individual call of God on our lives. Our lives affect others, obviously, and theirs affect ours. All the things we have done in faith, “the Lord building the city,” find their place here.
This does not call us to do or be anything other than what we have all learned and “practiced” through the years, as we have known Christ in us. Whether we do it purposely or accidentally we affect others with Who we are in Christ. Walking in faith, we believe that He as us reaches out and touches others by means of us in ways we may or may not know. He is always doing “above all that we ask or think.” He continually reminds us, especially often reminding me, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6).
“Be anxious for nothing!”
We must see that entering into the maturity of our calling means we are not concerned with our own salvation, righteousness, etc. We are no longer the point. We get “off” ourselves. “Lord, You’ve got me!” That is our faith. Then, knowing that (perfect Love casts out fear), as containers of Him, we see He is going to lead us into the Cross for others. That is the way He is, and the “way” He is in our lives when we realize His formation in us. We are not our own. We are bought with a price. He is now our Life, and everything else!
Therefore anything that happens, anything we get involved in, we no longer see as some “perfecting” of us, (though certainly our consciousness of the riches of Christ in us increases day by day), but that we are now useful as perfectly fitted instruments to express Him in the world. And in that we realize that we are “expendable,” in the sense that we see that we are the Lord’s and available for any intercessory purpose. We are the Lamb for others, simple as that.
And if we know that it is only by His Spirit that these things are enacted in us and through us, we stand on solid ground, on the Real Rock, imperceptible in any other way but by the faith of God which has welled up within us.
To me, in a sense, we are always before the judgment seat of Christ. I wrote recently about “judgment” and said we have our judgment in us. What we are, we are, and we reap whatever the fruit is of what we are. That is our “judgment.”
There is, after all, a cherub at the entrance to Paradise, with a big sword in his hand. The only One Who is “worthy” to enter Paradise, has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. He says there He will receive us into Himself. This One has taken the Cherub’s sword in Himself, and removed by His Cross the offense which we inherited through the first Adam.
By that Cross He has secured an eternal entrance to all who come in Him, and I am certain that even as we know His Cross in our daily living, and have been made partakers of the fellowship of His sufferings, then we are also participants in the power of His resurrection, which is ours as well. I am also certain that as we have willingly participated in the fellowship of His Sufferings, and have taken them into ourselves as His and ours, we do feel them. As all things invisible that shall someday be visible, we also feel the pain of the cut of the Cherub’s sword, because as we know the Redeemer has secured Himself in us, it is also an honor that we might also know the pain of the cut received in Him. And as He “endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before Him,” so do we.
His joy, and ours in Him, is in the “bringing many sons unto glory.” That’s it. Whatever the cost. That sounds “bold,” but it is said in weakness and received in weakness, even as Jesus bore the Cross in weakness, and in that weakness we see the infinite power of God.
Now, all that, “what’s going to happen after death,” that so many people seem to have expert opinions about, including well formulated “theologies” all packed up nice and scriptural, do not interest me. Not our worry. It’s like people speculating how wonderful it’s going be when they win the Lottery. We are not “reward” minded, but Christ-minded.
I’m with Paul, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and also, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Gal 6:14,15)
In Christ this is true of all of us.