Before we begin any sort of inquiry into the nature and process of judgment in the afterlife, there are a few things that we need to understand. Things that, without which, will cause a bit of confusion. So even though this present blog wont necessarily be addressing judgment in the afterlife, it will set the stage for it.
That being said, we must understand firstly that the judgment of all men will take place in the next life – obviously that is why we call it the “afterlife.” That means that those who endure such judgment have already lived on earth, died and are being raised back to life in order to undergo judgment.
Resurrection of the Wicked
B/c of our misunderstanding of hell, we assume that as soon as an unbelieving person dies they go straight to hell. But we have already looked at what happens when we die in the previous series (see the blogs on Sheol and Hades here). B/c of this misunderstanding we tend to forget that the unbelievers are also raised from the dead. Jesus Himself declared this when He said,
“an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29)
Paul and Daniel also mention this,
“having a hope in God…that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15)
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting (olam; age-long) life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting (olam; age-long) contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
We overlook this fact b/c it doesn’t make logical sense in the context of the modern view of hell. The idea that a soul should suffer in hell after death but then at some point they are taken out of it given a new body and then once again thrown back into hell seems ridiculous. And for good reason.
First of all, we need to realize that the judgment in the afterlife begins after the resurrection of the wicked. You can find the whole scene in Revelation 20 where it deals with both the 1st and 2nd resurrections. The 2nd resurrection takes place 1000 years after the 1st resurrection (which exclusively raised followers of Christ). After this 2nd resurrection, the dead are judged according to their deeds in life. This is the Great White Throne Judgment that both Daniel and John describe. Those who are judged as wicked are then thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Every Tongue Will Confess Jesus Christ as Lord
But here is where we need to understand something, which happens to be the whole purpose of this specific blog: – namely that it is at the Great White Throne Judgment that all men will be saved. For when all the dead are raised (both good and bad) the Scriptures will be fulfilled that say,
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:22,23)
“God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus ‘every knee will bow,’ of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
You have probably heard this statement many times, probably with an image of rebellious people spitting the words out in spite, being forced to bow and finally admit that God is God – before being cast away forever. Or perhaps you’ve imagined something more along the lines of these words being spoken by people who now know the truth and are full of regret, but its far too late for them. Their endless fate has been sealed, so they utter the words in stunned shock and resignation as they are carted off to their unending doom.
However, that is not the picture being painted here. They are not just finally admitting that God exists, they are uttering the words of salvation. For,
“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9,10)
and couple verses later Paul concludes his remarks on salvation saying,
“…the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
You see, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord produces salvation, no matter when and no matter what kind of person you were. This is b/c,
“no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
So at the Great White Throne Judgment, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, they are all saved and baptized into His Spirit.
This is the background to the judgment of the Lake of Fire. This is crucial to understanding what the Lake of Fire is and why it is necessary.
3 Stages of Salvation
In conjunction with that, we must also understand the Salvation process. Salvation is not what many think it is. Most have fallen prey to the assumption that salvation means to be rescued from an afterlife spent in the fires of hell. Or to put it positively – a ticket to heaven. But those who wrote the New Testament understood it to mean SO much more than that.
What most don’t know…is that salvation is a 3 stage process, which is accomplished through 2 works of Christ. I know that might sound confusing, but just bear with me a moment.
The 2 works of Christ are His Death and His Life. The fulfillment of both the Old and the New Covenant. Law and Grace. He accomplished a death work on the Cross, and He will accomplish a life work at His Return (with the Resurrection from the dead). For though He rose from the dead Himself, He has yet to accomplish this same life work in us (for we are still mortal and are going to die). It’s also interesting to notice how the New Testament always refers to the living half of Christ’s Work as a promise to be fulfilled sometime in the future. For instance,
“If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” (Romans 6:8)
“It is a trustworthy statement: for if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;” (2 Timothy 2:11).
Paul states the first as a fact, and the second as a hope. For more verses just like these; see Romans 5:9,10, 6:5; 2 Corinthians 4:10,11; 2 Tim. 2:11; 1 John 2:25, etc….
So these 2 works of Christ accomplish for us our entire salvation. But that salvation is worked out within us in 3 stages. For like God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Creation (Time, Space, Matter) we are also a triune being – we have a spirit, soul and body. And each aspect of our being needs to be saved. That is why Paul speaks of a salvation of our entire being.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
This is what Paul means when he declares elsewhere,
“Therefore [Christ] is able to save to the uttermost.” (Hebrews 7:25)
Corresponding to this, the Bible refers to being “saved” in both past, present and future tenses.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Ephesians 2:8)
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Romans 8:24)
See also 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 3:5
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;” (2 Corinthians 2:15)
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:9)
“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)
“But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
“[we] are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 3:20)
“For now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)
These 3 salvations correspond to the spirit, soul and body. Our SPIRIT is saved when we believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord (see Romans 10:9). This is by grace through faith and not by works. This is called “Justification” which is the Greek word that is also translated into “made righteous” or “righteousness.” We are justified/made righteous by faith. It is a legal standing, not an actual state of being. (I realize this is all very crude, volumes could be written on this aspect alone, but that is not our purpose.)
Next we begin the process whereby our SOUL is saved, which is a present work. This will span our entire earthly life. This is called “Sanctification” and it is also entirely by grace, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
This sanctification is through our baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). It is the Spirit who refines us and purifies us in the fires of affliction, trials and tribulations. It is the Spirit who writes the law upon our hearts. God’s law opposes our selfish nature and thus it feels like a fire as it consumes our flesh. For God Himself is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), and His law and His word are both described as a fire (Deuteronomy 33:2; Jeremiah 23:29).
When I was disciplined as a child my behind would always feel like fire after a spanking! This is what discipline feels like and it is the process by which we are sanctified, whereby the old man is put to death and the new man grows more alive (2 Corinthians 4:16). For,
“Foolishness (rebellious/sinful nature) is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
But I am getting ahead of myself here. We will look in detail at the refining process in a later blog.
And lastly our BODY will be saved in the future where Christ raises us from the dead into a state of incorruption; or immortality,
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. … For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:50,53,54)
In the future we will receive transfigured bodies that will never die. This is called glorification. When our bodies shine forth the glory of God, which is the image of Christ.
“who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:21)
“when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:10)
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16,17)
“and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
It is also referred to as the redemption of the body.
“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23)
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness (salvation of spirit) and sanctification (salvation of soul), and redemption (salvation of body),” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Therefore, there is no theological inconsistency when the Scriptures speaks of all men being saved yet also enduring judgment (1 Corinthians 3:15 has both in one verse). For they will all be saved in their spirits when “every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ as Lord.” But then they begin their process of sanctification by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire – the Lake of fire (a.k.a – hell). This will ultimately end with their restoration and the transfiguration of their bodies, whereby they reflect the glory of God in the image of Christ.
This is all necessary to understand if we are to truly understand the judgment process in the next life. For it is the sanctification process for all those who did not undergo it in this life. That sanctification process is what we will be looking at. It is the Lake of Fire where all who were wicked in this life will be disciplined in the next life. But first we must have a proper understanding of God’s Righteousness, which is the basis of all Judgment/Justice. And that will be the subject of the next blog. 🙂