Weekend Broadcast

The Final Judgment

A Message by R.C. Sproul

When we stop to think about all that we have said and done in our lives and how God will judge us, it is sobering to say the least. For all those who are not in Christ, the thought of judgment is overwhelming. But for those who are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, how should they view the final judgment? Will Christians be judged according to what they do? Will there be rewards? Examining these questions, Dr. Sproul discusses the final judgement awaiting all of mankind.

From the series: Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Inevitability of Judgment

  2. devotional

    The Great Separation

  3. article

    Final Judgment

The Inevitability of Judgment

Having pointed out that God's character is manifested as wrath against the wickedness of humanity, Paul in Romans 1:24–32 explains that God punishes sin by allowing men to commit more sin. They rejected Him and created idols in their own image, committing spiritual adultery, so God gave them over to sexual distortions that matched their spiritual harlotry. Such social aberrations led to every kind of depravity and violence. Men were glad to do such things, for in doing so they sought to block God's righteousness out of their minds, and they were active in soliciting others to join with them in their depravity.

Yet, people don't like it when they are on the receiving end of violence and betrayal. They condemn others for doing such things, cloaking themselves in self-righteousness. Paul points out that by passing such judgments, men admit that judgment must be passed. When others hurt us and we condemn them, we admit that there are standards of right and wrong, and that evil actions should be repaid. But now we are caught, says Paul, because we have admitted that there must be a judgment of all human deeds, and this will include our deeds as well. We'd better get right with God or own up to the fact that we also will be judged.

God's judgment will not be based on mere appearance but on truth (Romans 2:2). God's judgment will also take into account our knowledge and privilege. The Jew of Paul's day, having more knowledge and greater access to the truth, will be judged by the stricter standard of the revealed law. The Gentiles will be judged according to their inner knowledge of God, a knowledge all men possess, as we have seen. The same is true today. Americans have great access to the Gospel. Those who reject it will be judged accordingly.

Since all men do evil, all men are under the condemnation of God. Being a Jew and having the law avails nothing if you do not keep it in an attitude of faithfulness. Paul indicts the Jews for their hypocrisy, for they study and glory in the law, but blatantly disobey it (Romans 2:17–24). By doing this, they show that their circumcision means nothing, because circumcision is a sign of covenant with God, yet they are not being loyal to Him (Romans 2:25–29).

The Great Separation

Our passage for today’s study is Matthew 25:31–46, wherein Jesus describes the final judgment. When the Savior returns, He will separate the sheep (those who trust Christ and obey Him) from the goats (non-believers). As verse 46 tells us, the destiny of the sheep is eternal life, but the goats will endure eternal punishment.

Notably, the Greek word for judgment is the same word from which we derive the English term crisis. All of the crises we experience in this life pale before the ultimate crisis — the weighing of our hearts and works by the perfect judge of the universe.

Perhaps many people deny hell because all men know what their response would have to be if an omnipotent, omniscient, and righteous judge were to hold them accountable. When Jesus the judge confronts the goats with their lack of service toward Him, they will not be able to defend themselves, because they have failed to honor Him and serve “the least of these” (Matt. 25:41–46). There is no point in trying to deny any wrongdoing, for He will know right away that they are lying. Sinful men will not be able to weasel out of their predicament; the only response they will give is silence. Romans 3:19 makes it clear that everyone who is confronted with God’s perfect law has his tongue stopped because his evident guilt makes any other answer impossible.

All men know their transgressions render them unable to deny the omniscient Lord’s verdict. Ultimately, all people know how much they deserve hell, and so they must deny its existence or believe God will overlook sin in order to continue living a life opposed to the Almighty’s will. Though Scripture is clear on God’s unwillingness to compromise His wrath (Zeph. 1:14–18; Rev. 6:17), hardened sinners must deny hell and embrace a false deity who cares nothing about righteousness if they are to continue living life by their rules.

Christians know it is not an option to deny the righteousness of God’s wrath (see Rom. 3:5–6). Ignoring it does not help us escape it. Instead, all we can do is acknowledge our sins and trust in Jesus, the only One who can save us from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9).

Final Judgment

John Sartelle

“It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Evangelical Christians have a proclivity to pronounce judgment on all things pertaining to our Lord’s church. We treat this as a right and an obligation. It begins most Sundays over lunch, or in the car on the way home, or perhaps in the church foyer after the service. We pronounce commendations and condemnations on the music, Sunday school teachers, sermons, choirs, ministers, elders, and deacons. Sometimes that judgment renders a commendation that lifts individuals to a completed sanctification or a condemnation that exiles others to a region in the vicinity of purgatory.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1–5, Paul warns us of the danger of declaring such verdicts. He reminds us that Jesus is the judge of anything associated with His church. Thus, we are usurping His position when we deliver these rulings. Let’s imagine for a moment that we have been transported to the final judgment. The world has already received that justice that cannot be appealed. The sentence from which there is no parole has been executed. The holy, catholic, apostolic church stands before her Lord and Judge to receive commendations and scathing reviews that will burn away the worthless wood, hay, and stubble of our trivial endeavors (3:12–15). At that moment, who would step forth to correct or otherwise amend His evaluations? Who would suggest: “Jesus, You need to step aside and let me sit on the throne. I think I am better able to assess these matters”? Who would raise his hand and demand to be a counselor to the Judge? That is what we do when we pronounce other Christians holy or unholy. We put ourselves in the place of the Lord of heaven and earth.

In the church, we are servants of Christ (4:1). In serving Him, we are to serve each other, even washing the dirty feet of our brothers and sisters. Paul reminds us that Christ alone is the Master. We, however, as servants hand out acclamation or defamation to other servants as if ours is the approval or disapproval that matters. As a minister, I am guilty of courting the praise of others more than the approbation of Christ. If given space, this inclination will grow into a habit, and I will make decisions in order to please the crowd instead of Christ. At the final judgment, the applause of people, the acclaim we so avidly sought, will seem trifling and detrimental. Likewise, the one given to judging fellow saints will unwittingly encourage his “judges” to seek his approval more than Christ’s.

Who among us is able to perceive the motives and purposes of the deepest recesses of the heart? The minister or elder who worked tirelessly may have been chief ly motivated by a desire to rise to a place of power. The one who seemed so humble may have been totally motivated by a raging fire of pride in his inner being. The pastor whom we thought should have been more of an extrovert and more visible in the community may have been the quiet priest who spent hours on his knees daily for his city and flock. That is why Paul said, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (v. 5). He, alone, is omniscient and just.

How do we live our daily lives waiting patiently and compassionately in anticipation of His judgment? We can live moment by moment through the day thinking that the Lord may return in the next hour. We can live through details of the week knowing that judgment will certainly come. In the darkness of this world, we can live anticipating the light of His judgment. Such thoughts are not morbid but are filled with wisdom. We will be prompted not to live and die for the approval of those whose opinions are neither healthy nor absolute. We will be reminded to refrain from judgment as we are neither sovereign nor omniscient. We will be fearful of assuming the judgment seat that belongs to Him alone.

We have a taste of that final judgment now as His Word cuts into the depths of our being: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12– 13). Sometimes His Word exposes our innermost sins and, by the power of His Spirit, cleans out the dirt. At other times, His Word commends and encourages as we reflect His glory in the darkness of this world. One day a final accounting will be given. His Word will surgically remove all vestiges of our sin nature, and we will hear Him acclaim the battle-worn warriors to His Father. That is the day we should ever keep in mind, and we should live, even now, in its light. Certainly, it will be a fearful time. Yet that day will be more sweet than any previous, for there will be no more sin as we live in communion with Him in a restored creation that has been set free from decay and bondage.

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