In our previous post we began asking the question, “What should Christians expect at the final judgment?” My main burden was to warn against simple answers, and to encourage us to work hard to say yes to all that the Bible teaches. In this post, I’d like to unpack answer #1:
What should Christians expect at the final judgment?
Answer #1: We should expect to be saved, and that should make us confident.
Saved, not damned.
Justified, not condemned.
There may be some some thorny aspects to this question, but this isn’t one of them. This is basic Christianity. As believers in Jesus Christ you need fear no condemnation on that day—for the simple reason that in Christ your sin has already been condemned. That’s what happened at the cross. And what happened at the cross has judgment day effects. Paul says it this way:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34)
Christ died. And Christ was raised. In his death he was condemned, and in his resurrection he was justified. The question for you is, Do you trust him? Is he your only comfort in life and in death? Are you in Christ through faith? Because if you are, here’s what that means: it means that God’s end-time, judgment day verdict has already been passed upon you. We call it justification.
That’s what justification is—it’s God’s final judgment reaching back from then to now and saying, “Through your union with Christ in his death, you have already passed through the only condemnation you will ever experience. There’s none left for you now.”
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… (Romans 8:1–3)
For those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation now, and there will be no condemnation then. Romans 8:30 forges an unbreakable chain with the words “Those whom he justified, he also glorified.” None fall out in between.
We see this same unbreakable logic in Romans 5:8-9. As you read it, notice how Paul reasons from the present to the future. He says basically ‘If this is true in the present, how much more will that be true in the future?’
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood [that’s what’s true in the present], much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God [that’s what’ll be true in the future]. (Romans 5:8–9 ESV)
If you’re justified by his blood now, then you should expect to be saved from the wrath of God then. The Bible says that “Jesus…delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It says that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thess. 5:9)
What should we expect at the final judgment? Whatever else we should expect, we should not expect God’s wrath.
1 John 4 Revisited
Let’s go back to a passage we looked at in our previous post.
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:17–18)
John says that as we abide in God and his love is perfected with us, two things happen simultaneously. First, we begin to have confidence for the day of judgment. And second, the kind of fear that has to do with punishment begins to be cast out. If we ask what kind of punishment he’s referring to, it’s instructive that this Greek word occurs in only one other place in the NT: Matthew 25:46—where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats at the final judgment. In that passage, the unrighteous are said to “go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
In short, the punishment Jesus and John are talking about is hell. Confidence for the day of judgment means not fearing that punishment. Perfect love casts out the fear of that punishment. And the more we’re gripped with fear of that punishment, the less we will long for Jesus to return.
Loving his Apprearing
So my point so far is this: the dominating emotion that we ought to feel when we think of the final judgment is confidence. Hope. Longing.
Because remember—the final judgment is not simply an isolated event—it’s part of Jesus’s appearing. And according to Scripture, his appearing is something that we ought to love. Just listen to Paul:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8)
Do you love his appearing? If you’re like me, the answer is “Yes, but I could stand to love it more.” Well one way to love it more is to get our expectations straight. To expect to be saved when he appears. Just listen to Hebrews:
…Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
Are you eagerly waiting for him? If you’re like me, the answer is “Kind of. But I could stand to be a lot more eager.” Well one way to get more eager is to get our expectations straight. What is it you expect to happen? Are you expecting him to save you? If not, then no wonder you’re not waiting eagerly—who waits eagerly for hell and damnation?
If you’re in Christ, if Christ is your treasure, if you’re abiding in him, then don’t live in terror of the judgment. He’s coming to save you. To finish what he started; not to abandon you at the last minute.
And if you need any more encouragement not to dread the judgment, let me close with two additional points,.
Appearing in a Redeemed Body
Remember what the Bible says about the resurrection of believers, and then remember that the final judgment will be preceded by the resurrection.
The Bible teaches that the resurrection of believers is a “resurrection to life,” not a “resurrection to judgment” (John 5:29; cf. Dan. 12:2). That doesn’t mean that we won’t be judged in any sense, as we’ll see in our next post. But it does mean our judgment will be different from that of the unrighteous. The Bible teaches that the resurrection of believers is connected organically to the resurrection of Christ. His resurrection and ours are joined together inseparably as part of the same crop. His is the firstfruits, ours is the full harvest.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor. 15:20–23)
This isn’t true of those who don’t belong to Christ. Though all will be raised, the resurrection of believers will be qualitatively different from that of unbelievers. For believers, the resurrection of the body is not simply the preparation for judgment, it’s the completion of our redemption—the day when we will finally be conformed to Christ fully with a body like his glorious body (Rom. 8:29-30; 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:20-21).
Scripture also indicates that our resurrection will immediately precede the final judgment. Think about what that means. It means is that when you stand before Christ at the judgment, you’ll be standing there in a freshly redeemed body. Your redemption will have just been completed. He will have already transformed your lowly body to be like his glorious body! So whatever else happens on that day—whatever other reward you receive or don’t receive—know this: you will not be standing there wondering if you’re about to be condemned. The basic outcome will not be in doubt. You will be able to look at your own glorified body and know, “Whatever else is about to happen, I can handle it. Because I belong to him.”
Appearing Before our Savior
Finally, remember who the judge is going to be. Scriptures teaches that the one before whom all nations are going to stand is none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man (Matt. 25:31-32; John 5:22; Acts 10:42, 17:31). And that should be a comfort. So I close with the words of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q: What comfort is it to you that Christ “shall come to judge the living and the dead”?
A: That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head, I look for the very One who before offered Himself for me to the judgment of God, and removed all curse from me, to come as Judge from heaven…
What should we expect at the final judgment? We should expect to be saved, and that should fill us with confidence.
In our third and final post, we’ll deal with the second answer: We should expect to be examined, and that should make us diligent.