What We Know About the Afterlife
Part V: Jesus and Divine Judgment

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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"And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." (Peter, Acts 10:42).

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . ." (Paul, II Corinthians 5:10).

"For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man" (Jesus, John 5:26-27).

There is no clearer teaching of Scripture than the certainty of a coming Divine judgment. It is the clear teaching of both Jesus and His apostles, and is consistent with Old Testament Scripture. Just as clear in the New Testament is that this Judgment is associated with Jesus Christ.

The association of a final judgment with Jesus Christ is crucial to our viewing the last Judgment from the correct perspective. The One who has been chosen Judge is not only our Creator (John 1:1ff., Colossians 1:16-17), He is the One who died on the cross and rose from the dead for our salvation.

The cross of Jesus stands as a silent witness to the reality of coming Judgment, for it proclaims the serious intention of God to deal decisively with sin. To think otherwise is to fail to see the significance of the crucifixion of the Author of all life (Galatians 3:13). It is also the cross that reveals the need of all people for redemption through Jesus Christ, for the crucifixion of Jesus revealed the extreme wickedness of human sin. If it is true that many of those who took part in the crucifixion acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17, I Timothy 1:13), it is all the more significant that the ignorance of human beings leads to this kind of result. We can conceive of better things -- human beings do not have to be this way, but we are. The cross of Jesus Christ, along with His resurrection, is a joyful testimony to God's desire to provide saving grace to every human being (II Peter 3:9, I Timothy 1:15, 2:3-5). At the same time, it is a solemn testimony to the determination of God to deal, once for all, with the wickedness that afflicts His creation. What remains, and what brings any delay in judgment, is the need for more time for God to work out His gracious, merciful, and redemptive purposes (II Peter 3:1-9, Romans 5:6-11).

Each one of us, then, must look forward to coming before Jesus Christ as our Judge. Because He has been tempted as we are, we can be certain that He understands what it is like to live life as a human being, and, therefore, we can be certain of His understanding and compassion (Hebrews 4:12-16). Because His wounds give evidence to His death at Calvary on our behalf, we can be certain that He will take advantage of any opportunity to provide the fullest saving grace to all those who look to Him as Savior (Hebrews 9:24-28). At the same time, those who would accuse God of being harsh will have the evidence before them, in the crucified and risen Christ, of the great goodwill, mercy, and compassion of the God who bled that they might be offered a chance for life; those who contend they had no way will be confronted with the Way they refused; and those who brazenly opposed the risen Christ will be confronted with His power and glory (Romans 1:1-4). Those who accuse God of expecting them to achieve a standard that is impossible for any human being will be confronted by the Jesus who was tempted just as they were, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15, John 8:46). Perhaps most pathetic of all, those who sought to fantasize a way of "salvation" they considered to be more comfortable will be confronted with the fact of their rejection of God's chosen way, Jesus Christ (John 14:6), and will find that their excuses and phantom redeemers are not present to rescue them (Galatians 1:8, Matthew 7:13-29).

There is only one choice for all mankind (Acts 17:30-32). We will gain eternal life by the cross (Romans 8;1) or we will find the cross witnessing against us. We can accept God's chosen Way, through His chosen Christ, or we will have no way (Acts 4:8-12, John 14:6). We can find Him a friend in our greatest time of need, or we can find Him revealing the worst in us without a Redeemer -- which will deny us a place in His fellowship forever (John 3:18-21). We might decry the fact that there are not many ways, but we should rejoice that, by the mercy of God and the shed blood of Jesus Christ, there is a way! God has not left us to "stew in our own juice," He has graciously stooped to help us in our need (Hebrews 10:1-25, 12:22-24).

A comparison of much contemporary preaching with the preaching of Jesus and His disciples shows a great lack of Scriptural teaching today regarding sin and Divine judgment. We agree that this is not a subject to be spoken of carelessly or lightly - Peter spoke of the preaching of this part of the Gospel as a "solemn testimony" (Acts 10:42) -- the apostle Paul warned with tears in his eyes (Acts 20:26-31) -- when Jesus thought of the judgment that was coming upon Jerusalem, He wept (Luke 19:41-42).

Nevertheless, one must seriously question whether it is possible to avoid these matters and still be faithful to the clear teachings of Holy Scripture. To those who would avoid these subjects we must ask: Has sin ceased to afflict human beings? Has sin become more genteel today - amenable, in our time, to more gentle solutions like education, empowerment, and wealth? Is it only those who lived in ancient times who deserve judgment or who have need of a Judge? Is holiness merely "nice-ness" or merely being "authentically human?" Is it true that because the cross used to hang our Lord rotted and decayed many centuries ago that it no longer provides a testimony to what Jesus did there and to what that means? Or isn't it true that sin is still the greatest affliction of the human race, that only God can give us the righteousness and holiness through Jesus Christ by which we have any hope of eternity, and that if the cross rotted long ago the risen Christ stands as High Priest with the ability to provide saving grace to all who truly seek Him as their Lord and Savior because of that cross. Have you thought about how you will respond when confronted, in His presence, by the souls that you have led astray in these matters?

The contemporary reluctance to preach concerning sin and judgment is neither honest nor faithful nor kind to those who may face eternity under the delusion that there is no judgment which requires a Savior. It is just as wicked as preaching "judgment" in a manner that takes pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11, Proverbs 24:17).

For those who resist the coming Divine judgment, would you prefer that sin would go on without end? Would you like to repeat the suffering of this world forever? Look over the terrible killing and inhumanity demonstrated in the 20th century, and ask yourself, shall we do this again and again? Would you prefer a short-sighted solution rather than an eternal one so that men could increase in wisdom and skill for millions of years and then begin to demonstrate their sinfulness in more deceitful and destructive ways than we have ever seen in this world? Isn't the evil we see here bad enough and isn't it better limited by the death of sinners - both to limit the damage they do to others and to limit their culpability when they come before their Creator and Judge? Would you prefer that the injustices of this world are never recompensed - that evildoers never suffer to the degree their crimes merit and that victims are never compensated for the suffering inflicted upon them by others? Without a last judgment, there is no just recompense for the wicked nor is there true justice for any victim.

Our beliefs about a last judgment have to do, ultimately, with our conception of God, and whether we trust Him to be truly righteous. We might like to define the future for all people, including ourselves. In truth, God is the only One Holy enough, loving enough, knowledgeable enough, powerful enough, and impartial enough to straighten out all that is awry in our universe. For those who stubbornly and foolishly choose their own way, God is an enemy. But to everyone who looks to Jesus Christ, crucified but risen, eager to bless, the last Judgment is the great hope of the human race that what He brings us to will be truly better than what we have now (II Corinthians 5:16).

There are, of course, misconceptions that we will put aside if we will read the Scriptures with an open mind and allow God to speak to us through them. While it is true, in a sense, that people bring "heaven or hell" upon themselves in this life by their actions, this does not mean that there will not be a final judgment before our Creator, nor that there will not be separate eternal abodes for the righteous and unrighteous. While God often brings corrective judgments upon mankind, as happened again and again in the history of ancient Israel, corrective judgments will end when we leave this life and at Jesus' bodily return, and do not preclude a greater, final judgment. While there are many caricatures of hell, we should not believe that exclusion from God's presence will be a pleasant experience. Nor will there be a "second chance" after death for those who have chosen another way when alive - they would simply choose the way they have already chosen. Neither the wicked, nor the righteous in Christ, will cease to exist, but will be resurrected to spend eternity as they have chosen. God will not condemn those who have not chosen sin because they died while very young or they did not have the mental capacity to choose sin, nor will He hold anyone to standards they cannot attain (Romans 2:1-16). And we, as Christians, must never forget that "salvation" is more than salvation from hell, it is salvation from the corruption of sin and to holiness and the service of Christ (II Corinthians 3:2-3, 18).

While we have not answered here all the questions you might have about the last Judgment, I hope we have shown enough to encourage you to prepare for it (Galatians 6:7-8). Jesus died for you to be blessed forever (Ephesians 1). The Spirit of God and the Christian church call you to His saving fellowship (Revelation 22:16-17). Will you trust and serve Jesus Christ now that you may come before Christ joyfully and enjoy His fellowship forever? If so, I invite you to tell Jesus now in prayer, join a local congregation, and begin to live for Him (I Peter 4:17-18).

Portions from John Wesley Sermon Thirty-one
"Upon Our Lord's Sermon On The Mount: Discourse Eleven"

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in threat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Matthew 7:13, 14.

II. 3. For, "narrow is the way that leadeth unto life;" the way of universal holiness. Narrow indeed is the way of poverty of spirit; the way of holy mourning; the way of meekness; and that of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Narrow is the way of mercifulness; of love unfeigned; the way of purity of heart; of doing good unto all men; and of gladly suffering evil, all manner of evil, for righteousness' sake.

6. What heightens the difficulty still more is, that they are not the rude and senseless part of mankind, at least not these alone, who set us the example, who throng the downward way, but the polite, the well-bred, the genteel, the wise, the men who understand the world, the men of knowledge, of deep and various learning, the rational, the eloquent! These are all, or nearly all, against us. And how shall we stand against these? Do not their tongues drop manna; and have they not learned all the arts of soft persuasion? -- And of reasoning too; for these are versed in all controversies, and strife of words. It is therefore a small thing with them to prove, that the way is right, because it is broad; that he who follows a multitude cannot do evil, but only he who will not follow them; that your way must be wrong, because it is narrow, and because there are so few that find it. These will make it clear to a demonstration, that evil is good, and good is evil; that the way of holiness is the way of destruction, and the way of the world the only way to heaven.

7. O how can unlearned and ignorant men maintain their cause against such opponents! And yet these are not all with whom they must contend, however unequal to the task: For there are many mighty, and noble, and powerful men, as well as wise, in the road that leadeth to destruction; and these have a shorter way of confuting, than that of reason and argument. They usually apply, not to the understanding, but to the fears, of any that oppose them; -- a method that seldom fails of success, even where argument profits nothing, as lying level to the capacities of all men; for all can fear, whether they can reason or no. And all who have not a firm trust in God, a sure reliance both on his power and love, cannot but fear to give any disgust to those who have the power of the world in their hands. What wonder, therefore, if the example of these is a law to all who know not God?

III. 4. Therefore strive ye now, in this your day, to "enter in at the strait gate." And in order thereto, settle it in your heart, and let it be ever uppermost in your thoughts, that if you are in a broad way, you are in the way that leadeth to destruction. If many go with you, as sure as God is true, both they and you are going to hell! If you are walking as the generality of men walk, you are walking to the bottomless pit! Are many wise, many rich, many mighty, or noble travelling with you in the same way? By this token, without going any farther, you know it does not lead to life. Here is a short, a plain, an infallible rule, before you enter into particulars. In whatever profession you are engaged, you must be singular, or be damned! The way to hell has nothing singular in it; but the way to heaven is singularity all over. If you move but one step towards God, you are not as other men are. But regard not this. It is far better to stand alone, than to fall into the pit. Run, then, with patience the race which is set before thee, though thy companions therein are but few. They will not always be so. Yet a little while, and thou wilt "come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."

(For the full text of this sermon at the Wesley Center visit: http://wesley.nnu.edu/sermons/031.htm)

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 10, October 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.