First, that definitive and final judgment is entirely committed to the Son.
“The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son; that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father.” (John 5:22, 23.) The Father “hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is Son of man.” (Ver. 27.)
As regards our sojourning in this world, the Father does judge (1 Pet. 1:17): “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear; forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ.” This judgment is carried into effect in the holiness of His nature against evil, and in His fatherly care of us in holiness: as it is written, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name,” &c. (John 17:11.) And so we have to judge ourselves; and if we do not, we are judged of the Lord. There is His government in this respect. (1 Cor. 10:31, 32.) It is chastening. Compare Job 33 and 36.
Christ judges the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. Now is not the time of Christ’s judgment, save as Lord over His people for their good, as we have seen. It is the time of grace to the world. That the Jews as a nation are rejected is, as to God’s dealings, the reconciling of the world, the accepted time, the day of salvation. Of course God can interfere in judgment, supremely if He pleases, as He once did in the flood, not a sparrow falling to the ground without Him. But this time is the time of grace to the world. When He appears and establishes the kingdom, it will be the time of judgment. As it is expressed in the Psalms; “judgment shall return unto righteousness and all the upright in heart shall follow it.” (Ps. 94:15.) In the cross, though infinitely deeper things were wrought by it, and divine righteousness established through it, yet righteousness was not made good in this world, but the contrary. Righteousness was found in the person of Christ; judgment in the hands of Pilate, or the chiefs of the Jews. When Christ appears for His kingdom, judgment and righteousness will go together in the earth. As it is written (Ps. 94), “Jehovah, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud. Jehovah! how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph ? “Christ comes to judge the quick: “He cometh, he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness.” (Ps. 96:13.) “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world [habitable earth] in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts 17:31.)
When the Lord judges the dead, He does not come at all. “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened.” (Rev. 20:11,12.) Here there is no coming to the earth or coming again in any way. One sits on a great white throne, and heaven and earth flee away. At the judgment of the dead there is no coming of Christ. His kingdom is given up after it is executed, but not till then. (Compare 1 Cor. 15:24.) … But there is another judgment, that of the quick or living (a judgment of this world), for which Christ comes; which will be like the days of Noah and Lot: there will be eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building, marrying, and giving in marriage, and the day will come upon them like a thief in the night. It is clear this is a different scene from the great white throne. There is no buying and selling there, in the midst- of which they are caught.
Yet, when Christ comes to judgment, there will then be those who are “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” (2 Thess. 1:9, 10.) At this judgment of the quick, Christ comes, He appears. The holy angels come with Hun, as in the passage just quoted from verse 7,” The Son of man… shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26.) I might cite other passagesj but these are clear.
But He brings His saints with Him too: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4.) “Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (1 Thess. 4:14.36) Chapter 5 shews that this is the time of the judgment of the careless on the earth. And this truth of the saints coming with Christ, when He appears to judge the quick, is largely and fully taught in scripture. Even in the Old Testament we read (in Zech. 14:5), “And Jehovah my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” That is the day when “Jehovah shall be king over all the earth.” (Ver. 9.) So in Jude: “The Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgment upon all.” (Ver. 14,15.) Nor is it the angels alone who are spoken of, as in some of these passages it might be alleged, though groundlessly. They will come; but Colossians 3:4 cannot apply to them: nor 1 Thessalonians 4; nor Revelation 17:
14, “They that are with him are called, and chosen and faithful:” nor again, in the chapter where it is fully brought out—Revelation 19, where the clean linen is the righteousness of the saints; when the Lord comes “as King of kings” to judge and destroy the beast and his armies, and Satan is bound, and the saints are seated on thrones, and judgment is given unto them; for the saints shall judge the world and even angels. (1 Cor. 6:2, 3.) In Isaiah 66:15, 16, we find this judgment also of the quick, with the solemn declaration: “It shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations,” &c, where we see that in this judgment of the quick some will escape. This will be seen, as to the Jews in Zechariah 13; as to the ten tribes, in Ezekiel 20; as to Gog, in Ezekiel 39. It may not be amiss to quote another passage relating to this judgment of the living: “Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Jehovah. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle; for the harvest is ripe; come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of Jehovah is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. Jehovah also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but Jehovah will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.” And the abiding blessing of Jerusalem is then spoken of (Joel 3:11, and following).
Were I to enter into details I should multiply passages too much, and perhaps distract the reader from the main point. An earthly judgment was famihar to the Jews; a judgment of the dead little so. To us, one of the dead is familiar; one of the quick far less so. Hence it was needful to quote a greater number of passages. The last passage refers to the time (as indeed all do that speak of the judgment of the quick) when Jehovah shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem; when God will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat;37 and will plead with them there for His people. (Joel 3:1, 2.) Psalms 93 to 100 describe this scene in general, including the precious call to all who have ears to hear—it is reproduced in Revelation 14:6,7: judgments on the earth following also there. The parable of the sheep, goats, and brethren (Matt. 25) describes the judgment of the nations—not exactly the destruction of the beast and his armies and the false prophet. That is executed by Christ as coming from heaven, and as a warlike judgment. “And in righteousness doth he judge and make war” (Rev. 19:11): it is the destruction of those who, animated by Satan, rise up against Him.
But, besides the warrior-judgment, there is a sessional judgment, when, by the destruction of the beast and Antichrist, Christ has taken the throne of Jehovah on the earth at Jerusalem; for Jerusalem is to be called the throne of Jehovah. (Jer. 3:17.)
Let us now examine the passage in Matthew. I do it with more detail because it is the passage which stands in the way of many, and is appealed to as a description of a general judgment (a thing unknown to scripture); whereas it is simply and exclusively (as is stated in the passage itself) the judgment of the Gentiles or nations, not of any dead persons at all. In the end of Matthew 23, the Lord, addressing Jerusalem, declares her house is left desolate to them, and He declares they would not see Him thenceforth till they said, “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The Lord then (in chap. 24:31) gives an account of all that was connected with the testimony among the Jews till He came—when “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” He then exhorts His disciples, and in three parables presents the responsibility of Christians in His absence, shewing that the putting off of His own return would lead the public ministry of the Church to hierarchical oppression and worldliness, as has happened; and that the actual delay would lead even true saints to forget His return and go to sleep as to thus waiting for Him; but what would awaken them was the midnight cry that He was coming; and, lastly, the service of the saints in His absence (namely, the use of the gifts which He had left to them on His going away to receive the kingdom) is judged of in the parable of the talents.
Thus, what concerns the Jewish people having been fully gone into in Matthew 24:1-31; and then, in the parenthetical exhortations and parables, the conduct of Christians and their motives in reference to His return set forth, after that the historical part is resumed in chapter 25:31. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him.” This will not be a transient act like a flash of lightning, but “He shall sit on the throne of his glory and before him shall be gathered all the nations [the Gentiles].” Israel and Christians have been already spoken of. Now the gospel of the kingdom had gone out (chap. 24:14) as a testimony to all nations (all the Gentiles), and then the end was to come. And now the end was come; and the nations were judged—the quick—according as they had received these messengers of the kingdom. It is a mistake to say that there are two classes here. There are three; the sheep, the goats, and the brethren. The goats had despised this final message of the kingdom and were condemned. The sheep had received the messengers and were blessed; their treating the brethren so, was as if they had treated Christ in the same way. There is not a word about the resurrection.38 Thosev judged are the nations (or Gentiles) upon the earth when Christ comes. Christ as King will sit and judge the Gentiles. That is the express statement, and it is an event often spoken of by the prophets.
I have dwelt more fully on this passage because it is that which, from old traditional teaching, hinders people receiving the plain and positive testimonies of the word of God. It is simply and expressly the judgment of the Gentiles upon the earth: for when Christ comes and appears in glory, He comes to earth; and He must judge the quick as well as the dead; and as regards the quick (as the very word itself means, those living on the earth), when they will be eating and drinking, buying and selling, saying Peace and safety, “as a snare shall it come upon them that dwell upon the face of the whole earth.”
Many details might be gone into; the judgment of the Jewish people and Jerusalem, the judgment of the beast, of Gog in Idumea, which vary in details and character so as to distinguish even the Jews (who having rejected Christ receive Antichrist) and the ten tribes (who do neither); but this would lead me too far from my object. Suffice it to say that Matthew 25 describes the sessional judgment of the nations by the Son of man when He is come. It has nothing to do with the dead.
Let us now enquire how far, and how, does judgment apply to us—to the [heavenly] saints? First, from the judgment of the quick and the dead (which is to take place at His appearing and His kingdom) they are clearly wholly exempt: for when He appears, they shall appear with Him in glory; they come with Him when He comes to execute judgment. (Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4; Rev. 19.) This is confirmed by the striking scene in Revelation 4, where the throne (not of grace, but) of judgment, of thunderings, lightnings, and voices, is set in heaven. There are twenty-four elders, the kings and priests, are sitting on twenty-four thrones around. I need not recall the many passages already cited which speak of their coming with Him. But there are other scriptures which refer to the subject.
But first let us recognize that we are all subject to condemnation, and liable in ourselves to judgment as responsible to God. That is a great foundation truth which is at the basis of salvation as well as of wrath. Nothing must be allowed to weaken that, and further, that “every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12.) We shall all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body. (2 Cor. 5:10.) “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” (Rom. 14:10.) But the Christian has, through grace, anticipated this. He has recognized by divine teaching that condemnation is his own portion; he knows that in him, that is in the flesh, dwells no good thing; he has said in spirit, “enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.”
In a word, the sentence of the day of judgment has passed upon his soul by faith. He knows that he that believes not is condemned already; and he has applied to himself the sentence: “there is none righteous, no not one;” he has gone farther—if really clear as to his state—and learned that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” In a word, he has recognized, by a divine work in his own soul, what sin is before God as the judgment-seat will shew it. The feeling may have been deeper or less deep, but if one is a Christian at all, it has been truthful in this respect. But then he has recognized that He who is to judge the quick and the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, has also (anticipating that day) stepped in, in grace, as a Saviour before He becomes a judge, and has borne his sins in His own body on the tree, and, in blessed obedience and love, drunk the cup of wrath. The sins, for which himself would have had to be judged, and certainly and justly condemned, have been borne already by another, and that other the One who is to judge; and that, if this were not so, he is condemned. He owns it to be a perfect work; perfect in every respect, perfect to glorify God, and perfect as regards all his sins; and he owns that if Christ has not completed that work in dying once for all, it never can be completed, nor God glorified about sin; and that, if all his sins were not put away then, they never can be, because Christ cannot die over again; but that indeed, having by Himself purged our sins, He has sat down for ever on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, having by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified; so that there is now no more offering for sin. He may feel them, though gone, more deeply (it is most right he should); he may see more deeply what they are (and the nearer he draws to God, the more deeply will he see the horror and baseness of them); but the work which has put them away is done and cannot be repeated. And when he is manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, he is before Him who Himself put them all away. Christ must deny Himself if He imputes them to him.
But, further, in what state does the Christian appear before the Lord? He is raised in glory. No judgment can apply to him which can affect his being in glory, for he is in it already when he appears there. And to what extent does this go? Judgment begins when Christ appears. “He shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;” but, “when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2.) We are “conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29.) We have borne the image of the earthy, and we shall bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Cor. 15:49.) What is judgment, if we are completely like the judge, and He Himself our righteousness? And the knowledge of this is applied to our present happiness in this world. “Herein is love made perfect39 with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17.) The truth is, though we may all pass through it as an experience, hope for the day of judgment is an imperfect and ill-founded feeling which cannot be justified. If I am judged, I shall certainly be condemned; if justified, there is no judgment for me. Hope, though very natural, is here the result of human reasoning, not the simplicity of divinely wrought faith. But the more we reflect on what scripture teaches, the more shall we see the truth on which I am dwelling.
When we depart or are absent from the body, we are with Christ, present with the Lord (as we speak) in heaven. Could Paul or Stephen be taken out of heaven to be judged as to whether he should have a place there? This is not what scripture teaches. It teaches an accomplished salvation, in virtue of which being justified we have peace with God, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God; in which we say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?” But, further, how is it that we believers arrive before the judgment seat of Christ? “Let not your heart be troubled” (says the Lord, John 14:1) … “I go to prepare a place for you: and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” That is, the way I come up before Christ is that He so loves me that He comes Himself to fetch me, that I may be with Himself. And so the apostle teaches us (i Thess. 4:16,17): “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout… and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain [to the coming of the Lord] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” That is a blessed way of going before the judgment seat. And so in Philippians 3:20, “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.”
In a word, we go up before the judgment-seat of Christ, in that Christ (who has loved us, and given Himself for us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood; who comes Himself to fetch us, and changes our vile body into the likeness of His glorious body) raises us, or changes us into glory, and takes us, made like Himself, to be with Himself for ever, who in His own resurrection was the firstfruits of the saints that slept. Such is the scriptural account of the way we go up before, and the state in which we are manifested before, the judgment-seat of Christ.
And scripture is yet more precise as to the question of our being judged. In John 5 this question is directly treated of. Two means are stated by which the glory of the Son is secured. In one He works in common with the Father; in the other, alone. The two are life-giving and executing judgment: one, that by which we are brought to enjoy communion with the Father and the Son; the other, that by which the Son’s glory is secured in the case of the wicked who reject Him. These two are not confounded. He does not bring into question the truth of the life He has communicated by calling the quickened into judgment. In which (the question naturally arises) is my part? The Lord answers (in ver. 24), “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life” (he is quickened), “and shall not come into judgment,40 but is passed from death unto life.” He is not to be tried, as on the footing of his own conduct, to know if he can be received. He was dead in sins, but has been brought out of that totally lost state into a new one by the quickening power of the Son of God. So in the resurrection; there is a resurrection of the just to life, and a resurrection of the wicked to judgment. Those who have everlasting life do not come into judgment. (Ver. 29.)
This contrast of the natural portion of man in judgment, and the value of the cross of Christ—as come to deliver and redeem— is strikingly shewn in the end of Hebrews 9. “As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation.” He appeared the first time to be made sin for sin, but to put it away by the sacrifice of Himself. This He accomplished for us, and He who was ever sinless Himself, having put it away for us the first time He came, appears unto those who look for Him the second time, not having to say to it at all, to take us into the full salvation of glory. Man’s portion as such is death and judgment. The believer’s portion is Christ’s bearing and putting away his sins; and then coming to bring him to glory. Hence, when the throne of judgment is set, the kings and priests are seen sitting on four and twenty thrones around it, and come back in glory with Christ when He executes it on the earth.
A striking instance of the effect of the thought of judgment according to scripture will be found in 2 Corinthians 5. The apostle first looks at the proper portion of the saint, not as death and judgment, or even death and happiness. It is mortality being swallowed up of life, the mortal body being changed into glory, without death’s necessarily intervening at all. But death and judgment are fallen man’s portion; and if death did thus intervene, confidence remained unmoved, for he had divine life, and, if he were absent from the body, he would be present with the Lord. Then he considers judgment, calls it the terror of the Lord, looks it fully in the face, knows it, states we shall all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ; and then, what— trembles or thinks of himself? In no wise; he persuades men. Its terror produces no effect of terror at all on his own mind. It was a judgment which, as such, affected others. It had however a powerful influence on his heart and conscience. Others were not free as he was. And the thought of that day stirs up the love of Christ constrainingly, and he persuades men who were not ready for it; but then, secondly, it brings him into God’s judgment as a present thing in a sanctifying way. We are, says he (not shall be), manifested to God. And this is a most important effect; nothing more, practically, than bringing us into the presence of God to judge ourselves, and to do so as to good and evil, as it will be judged of in that day. Such then was the effect on Paul: no terror for him in that day of terror, but a stimulus to his seeking unconverted sinners, and keeping his soul in the presence and fear of God.
Another expression in this passage calls for remark—“to receive the things done in the body.” The expression, “judgment,” is carefully avoided, even when in a certain sense there is such. Man would soon turn it into a question of the acceptance of the person. As regards the wicked, I need not dwell on it. They will receive the things done in the body, it will be their condemnation; but as regards the saints, they will also. As regards acceptance, we are in Christ, all accepted alike—all to be conformed to the image of the Son—all having Christ for our righ-teousness. Paul cannot have one more perfect or a higher glory. But, besides this, saints have the privilege of service, of being the vessels of God’s love to others. In the work of the Holy Ghost by us there is a difference. And while all is pre-ordered of God, and to sit on Christ’s right hand and on His left is for those for whom it is prepared of the Father, yet we do receive through grace the reward of labour, and every man his own reward according to his own labour. Scripture speaks of receiving a full reward. The Thessalonians will be Paul’s joy and crown of rejoicing, not ours, as the fruit of our labours. If we have built with wood, hay, and stubble, all will be lost, though we are saved. In a word righteousness is in Christ, the same for all; service is rewarded.
Another point remains. We shall be in glory, we shall not even have the nature, the flesh in which we sinned; but we shall know as we are known, and give an account of ourselves to God, re-pass our whole life and all God’s blessed ways with us, see it all as God sees it, and wonder at the all-perfect grace which has led us onward from our birth. Now when I look back, I adore God’s grace. Then I shall know as I am known, and see the thousand instances of how His eye has watched over me to bless me. We are manifested thus now, even in thinking of it. We shall give an account then, in fact; but it is when we are glorified, and brought to be with Christ by Himself for ever. As to judgment there is no such thing for the saint, understood as pronouncing on his state. He is already in glory when he stands before Christ. On that scripture leaves no doubt, no ambiguity.
There is then a judgment of the quick when Christ comes; a judgment of the dead afterwards before the great white throne. There is a continuing judgment when Christ returns, in a more general sense, of power associated with righteousness governing the earth, of which prophecy specially treats:—a subject full of interest, but too long to be entered on here. For the saints is no judgment at all: Christ comes to receive them to Himself, and raises them in glory to have them with Him. But they do give an account of themselves to God when in glory, and receive the reward of service, though it be grace that has wrought it in them. Such is the scriptural instruction on this subject.
[end of doctrinal—vol. 3.]
36 If carefully examined, verses 15-18 (of 1 Thess. 4) will be found to be a parenthesis, in which a special revelation is given, in which the apostle shews how the saints will be with Him, in order to being so brought.
37 Jehoshaphat means, the rod or judgment of Jehovah.
38 Note also that the sole ground of judgment is the way the messengers of Christ have been treated, so that it cannot apply to the mass of the heathen world, in a word, to the vast majority of mankind.
39 See margin of English Bible. This alone is the true translation. You have love towards us as sinners (1 John 4:9, 10) for life and propitiation; love in us (ver. 12) for joy and communion; and love perfect with us for the day of judgment. (Ver. 17.)
40 I am of course aware, that it is condemnation in the English text, but it is in the original the same word as in verse 22 and 27, and so it is in verse 29. Condemnation is a different word in Greek. Here the change destroys the whole force of the passage, though condemned they would be. The translators tell us in their original preface that, where the same word occurred several times in a passage, they give a different one if they can. Much as we have to be thankful for the English translation, this was a very false principle. They have done so here.