Every person will stand before the Living God in judgment — twice.
The reason we will stand in judgment twice is not because of the inadequacy of the first one, but because of the difference in purpose between them. They differ on what they are judging. And they differ on when they occur.
Before explaining these judgments, I want to explain how we conclude that there are two. The Scriptures do not explicitly state there are two judgments.
So why do I believe this is biblical?
Because the Scripture passages that deal with judgment imply two distinct types and times for judgments. And the harmonizing — resolving apparent conflicts in the text to show they form a consistent teaching — of those passages leads to a conclusion of two separate judgments.
So before you reject this argument, read the passages cited in this article (even the one’s only referenced) and let the force of Scripture’s clarity be more determinative in your convictions than your previous notions.
Sampling of Scriptures on Judgment
2 Corinthians 5:10 — For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Revelation 20:11-15 — Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Acts 17:31 — because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Matthew 7:21-23 — “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 25:31-33 — “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Hebrews 9:27 — And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
Philippians 1:21,23 — For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Luke 23:43 — And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
2 Corinthians 5:8 — Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Harmonizing these Passages
There are important points that need emphasizing from these passages. Multiple Scriptures show that immediately after death is judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Following this judgment, we will either go to Heaven or Hell. We know those who die in Christ will be with Him in Heaven without delay (Philippians 1:21,23). Absent from the body, present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). In paradise with Him upon death (Luke 23:43).
However, we know there will be a judgment that follows the return of Jesus (Matthew 25:31-33, 7:21-23; Acts 17:31). This judgment repeatedly takes our words, deeds, and lives into account (Revelation 20:11-15). Every person on that Day (as the Bible describes it) will have their works and what they have done in the flesh judged.
Will believers need to fear this day, as if God will render a different verdict than after their death?
Believers are secure in their salvation through faith in Christ. But this judgment is real and every person’s works will be tested with fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). The outcome of this judgment determines our eternal rewards (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-28; 3:21). The deeds of unbelievers condemn them because they were self-righteousness (Isaiah 64:6) and not done in faith (Romans 14:23).
These passages teach an immediate judgment after our death, and a second judgment upon Christ’s return. We know the first judgment determines whether we are in Heaven or Hell, and the second judgment will not overthrow the first one. The first examines our faith. The second tests our works. The way theologians describe these two different judgments are 1. the Judgment of Faith and 2. the Judgment of Works.
So What Can We Take From This?
1. Faith alone in Christ alone is what makes us acceptable to God.
The judgment of faith is about one thing: were your sins atoned for at the cross of Christ and received as a gift through faith? When we die and face the judgment that immediately follows (Hebrews 9:27), the determining factor of our eternal state will be faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Our works do not save us when we stand before Jesus. They have no more power to save us than our arms have power to make us fly. No matter how hard we flap, or how many works we accumulate, there is no power to make us acceptable before God. Only Jesus’ finished work at the cross and resurrection, received by faith, can save us. The first judgment is about faith in Jesus. Did you trust Christ during your life or not? That determines your eternal destiny.
2. Our works don’t save us, but they follow us into eternity.
While our works don’t save us, they follow us. And they matter. Our works bear witness that we belong to Christ. They are the fruit of our salvation. But they are also the basis of our eternal reward. In the New Heavens and New Earth, we will live for eternity in God’s redeemed and restored creation.
Future posts will outline this in more detail, but our lives in Heaven will include jobs, roles and responsibilities, and positions of influence. What will determine those? Our earthly works. The works we do in this life will determine our status and roles in the one to come (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:14-30; Romans 2:5-6; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Proverbs 24:12). In those referenced passages, the recurring theme is God rendering reward based on each person’s deeds.
3. Jesus encourages us to seek rewards.
Somebody read that sentence and had a visceral reaction. Your inner-lawyer rose up and shouted, “You don’t serve God for rewards!” That sounds spiritual, but it’s not biblical. In fact, it directly conflicts with Jesus’ own words.
Matthew 6:3-4 — But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Luke 14:13-14 — But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Notice the emphasis in both passages is the promise of reward. Jesus motivates our service and works in this life by promising us rewards in the next life. He doesn’t appeal to duty or altruistic motivations. He promises rewards. Therefore, serve the Lord with all your heart, and let His promise of rewards motivate you. Yes, we perform works because we love God, but Jesus also promises reward as a motivator for our service.
Future posts will address more details of the judgment of works that occurs at Jesus’ return. But the emphasis of this post is to clarify the reality of two judgments. And when we grasp the difference between the two, we simultaneously gain a better understanding of the role of faith and works in our lives. We are saved by faith, not works. But our works serve the glory of God, and as the basis for our eternal reward.
The question for each person reading this is: what verdicts will you receive when you stand before the two judgments that await you?