It has been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. But there's one more thing we can be sure of the judgment. The idea that somehow we are accountable to God for what we do in this life is fervently believed by some, intuitively felt by others and disregarded by most. Perhaps our many jokes about it reveal that most people don't take seriously the idea of the judgment of God.
But judgment is something we ought to take seriously. Felix trembled when Paul detailed for him "the judgment to come" (Acts 24:25). The Bible also tells us that eternal judgment is one of the basic principles of Christ (Hebrews 6:1-2).
What is this judgment?
Perhaps the most familiar picture of the judgment is our arrival at the "pearly gates" immediately after we die and then our receiving either our reward or punishment. Another popular idea is that all humanity will appear at one time on Judgment Day, at which time rewards will be handed out or sentencing will take place. There are, of course, also many variations of these ideas.
The Bible shows, however, that God's judgment is not what most people assume.
"It is appointed for men to die once, but after this [comes] the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Since judgment is something we all must face, shouldn't we try to understand what it is?
Revealed in the Holy Days
Does the judgment of God mean condemnation, or does it mean hope for you and your loved ones? If a person doesn't live up to God's standards in this life, is he or she lost forever? Is God's judgment on humans harsh and final? There are answers to these questions, but few know what they are. Most lack this understanding, not realizing that judgment as described in the Bible is a series of events rather than a one-time occurrence.
The events surrounding the judgment of man are revealed in the Bible as occurring in a precise order. God helps us better understand these events through His seven annual Holy Days, which are listed in Leviticus 23. Many Jewish people still follow the instructions listed here to determine the times of their observance (see also Exodus 12:2; Exodus 13:4).
In the seventh month of this calendar, God instructs His people to observe four Holy Days: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day (see Leviticus 23:24; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:36). The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-8) occur earlier in the year, in the first month, and reveal what each person must do to receive salvation.
The next festival, Pentecost, or the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15-17; Leviticus 23:21), pictures the calling of the first harvest of people in God's plan of salvation-His "firstfruits." The firstfruits are the first ones to whom God is offering salvation in His great plan before offering it to everyone.
The last four festivals explain in their meaning God's plan for the rest of mankind. The time they picture is yet future, when the judgment of God will be complete. Let's see how the events of the final judgment unfold in the revealed meaning of these four festivals.
The judgment of man's world
The Feast of Trumpets. God told the Israelites that this day is "a memorial of blowing of trumpets" (verse 24). We are not told here why the day was to be celebrated with trumpet blasts. However, in other passages in the Bible, the blowing of trumpets carries the special significance of warning people of approaching danger. "Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand" (Joel 2:1).
The blowing of trumpets in the Bible is associated with the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a time yet future when God will intervene in man's affairs. Most people don't realize that God is not the god of this world. After Adam and Eve rejected God's revealed knowledge in the Garden of Eden, God allowed man an age during which to form his own governments and civilizations. The Bible speaks of this time as "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). Jesus spoke of His coming and "the end of the age" (Matthew 24:3).
The end of this age of man is marked by a period known as the Day of the Lord. As this present time is man's day, the future is the Lord's day-the time during which He will dramatically make His presence and power known to the world. Revelation 8 and 9 describe the blowing of six prophetic trumpets, each of which introduces massive upheavals in society and the world that signal the end of the age and the beginning of another. These events culminate in Revelation 11:15-18, which depicts the time of the seventh trumpet and "the kingdoms of this world [becoming] the kingdoms of our Lord."
Revelation 6:16-17 tells of the judgment that takes place on the Day of the Lord, when people will want to hide from God's wrath: "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"
Paul speaks of this time in Romans 2:5. "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." On this Day of the Lord, God says, "I will also gather all nations, . . . and I will enter into judgment with them . . ." (Joel 3:2). Isaiah 66:16 adds, "For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many."
The entire era of man's rule of the earth will be brought into judgment by the One who is worthy to judge (Revelation 19:2; Revelation 19:11). Revelation 19 describes the final battle between Christ and the nations that will violently oppose His return to His rightful place as ruler of the world. The wrath of God is His judgment on the age of man. Man has rejected his Creator and chosen his own ways. God has permitted man his own allotted time to rule himself and write the tragic lesson throughout history that human rule, apart from God, brings suffering, destruction and death.
Jesus Christ, while returning in wrathful judgment of man's deeds, will in reality save mankind from the destruction that man is about to bring on himself. Prophesying of this very time, He said, "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive" (Matthew 24:22, New English Bible).
At the same trumpet that signals Christ's return to earth, those who have been judged faithful to Him in this life will be resurrected to immortal life, receiving salvation. "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). This event is called "the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5-6).
The judgment of Satan
The Day of Atonement. The judgment of God continues with the fulfillment of the events depicted by the next Holy Day, the Day of Atonement. This day pictures the next event of Jesus Christ's direct intervention in this world's affairs-the removal of Satan from his position of influence over humankind. Satan is "laid hold of" and "bound . . . for a thousand years . . . so that he should deceive the nations no more" (Revelation 20:1-3).
Jude tells us in Jude 1:6 of his epistle that "the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day."
Although the Day of Trumpets signifies a day of judgment upon man, the Day of Atonement depicts God's judgment of Satan and the fallen angels. They are banished to a place from which they can no longer continue to influence humanity.
Judgment is Christ's righteous rule
The Feast of Tabernacles. Judgment continues with the millennial reign of Christ's rule of the earth. Christ and His resurrected saints will rule those who have lived through the cataclysmic period at the end of man's age and they will continue His rule over their descendants for 1,000 years. Notice Revelation 20:4: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them . . . And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."
Paul confirms that those who are faithful to Christ will play a part during this judgment period. He says to the Church, "Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2).
The judgment to take place during the Millennium is not to be confused with the wrath of God at the end of man's age. The judgment of the Day of the Lord will forcefully reveal the true God and deal wrathfully with man's wrongs and the evil world he has built. The judgment by Christ and His saints during the 1,000 years, however, is a judgment of loving rule.
This righteous millennial rule of Christ is described in Isaiah 11:3-4: Jesus "shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth."
During this time God will judge people for the purpose of salvation. Just as judgment in this sense is upon the Church of God now, in this age (1 Peter 4:17), so will people who live in the Millennium be accountable for making a decision as to whether they will come under Christ's physical and spiritual rule. With Christ Himself ruling the earth, all its inhabitants will be judged for salvation.
At that time "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). With Satan and his demons bound, as depicted by the Day of Atonement, humankind will not be deceived and influenced by the devil to sin.
All will have the opportunity to learn God's way of life. "Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.'" Many will be judged and given salvation during this time.
Judgment of the dead
The Eighth Day (also called the Last Great Day). This final Holy Day of the year pictures the time of the judgment of those who had died. Revelation 20:11-12 speaks of all the dead who lived in man's age but were never judged according to God's Word. They are pictured as standing before a great white throne, symbolic of their judgment. These dead are the "rest of the dead" who were not in the first resurrection ( Revelation 20:5).
This judgment is not a time of sentencing, but a period for these newly resurrected to be considered "according to their works" (Revelation 20:12). Those in this resurrection had no previous opportunity to be called by God; thus they were never eternally accountable for their actions.
Remember, in the previous evil age God called only the firstfruits for His Kingdom. The vast majority of people have been deceived by the devil (Revelation 12:9) and never knew the truth of God, so they are not eternally accountable until God's truth is revealed to them in this resurrection, which is their time of salvation. They will be resurrected to physical, human life, and only then will they be given the truth of God and evaluated according to their works.
The festival period of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day (Last Great Day) (John 7:37) pictures the latter harvest of people who will be given the opportunity to be saved during the millennial period as well as the time of this second resurrection after the Millennium. God's judgment of man is just. He will judge all humans for their reward of eternal life only after they have received a full and fair opportunity to know the true God. The meaning of the Bible will be opened to people, and they will be judged according to their works by what is written in the Bible (Revelation 20:12).
How will we be judged?
Their judgment in the sense of reward or sentencing will come only after they have a chance to know and live by the Word of God. God makes it clear that every person will be judged by the same standard: the Word of God. Judgment in this case is not a sentencing, but a time period over which a person is judged according to his works after having received the knowledge of God.
Only after each person has had a full opportunity to know and obey God will he or she be judged. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Those who experience their opportunity for salvation in this present age will receive their reward at the first resurrection and Christ's return to this earth. Those who gain their opportunity for salvation in the Millennium, as well as those resurrected to the judgment after the 1,000 years, will receive their reward later.
Will some fail?
There is a final sad, but necessary, chapter to the judgment of God. Revelation 20:14-15 speaks of a final resurrection, sometimes called a third resurrection, after which some will be cast into the lake of fire and burned up. That this "second death" can occur implies that these people enjoyed a full and fair opportunity to receive the salvation of God in a previous life. The final punishment described here is an eternal death from which no one can be resurrected. The reality of this second death contradicts the commonly held belief that people who prove to be incorrigible will exist forever in the torment of an ever-burning hell.
Thus the judgment of God on every human being will end. All will have experienced a legitimate, equitable and even favorable time in which to be judged, and all will receive their due reward or the consequences of their failure to repent.
These Holy Days indeed hold the key of the knowledge of the judgment of God upon man. Those who observe these days as God commanded rejoice each year in God's great plan for man's salvation.