The Final Judgment of the Elect
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma and published in the April 15, 1982 issue of the Standard Bearer.
After that great and notable day of the Lord when Jesus shall appear to gather his elect people from the four winds there will take place one final wonder of grace—the final judgment of this world. Paul speaks of that Judgment in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” This final wonder stands intimately related to that great resurrection from the dead. With the coming of Christ all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and come forth. They then shall stand before Christ and be judged; they that have done good will be given life and they that have done evil damnation. Just as all shall be raised from the dead, so also all shall stand before the great white throne of Christ and be judged. No one will escape judgment, including the very elect people of God.
Many today, in opposition to this, are quite surprised and even irritated when this truth is declared. The children of God standing before God and the world and having their sins exposed for all to look upon? God would not put his people through such shame! God’s children standing before a vengeful God who is filled with anger toward the sinner? How frightening! Indeed, that crushes all comfort and hope in the heart of a child of God! That simply is not true, they would contend; the elect will not be judged in the judgment day. Jesus has died upon the cross and shed his blood as a covering for our sin. That sin is, as it were, hidden from God’s eyes and we are no longer held accountable for it. Why then would God require of us to give an account of our sin in the judgment day? In that day we will be presented before all as having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing. To stand before God in judgment would be senseless.
Those who reason this way, however, do not really understand the purpose of that final day of judgment. When they read such passages as Matthew 24:30 which says, “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,” or Joel 2:2 which also speaks of that day as “a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness,” they draw a horrible picture of the judgment day in their minds. Christ is pictured as one who comes only to gain vengeance upon the sinner. He is a dreadful King who in his anger delights in casting sinners into the deep abyss of hell. In fear of that men often react with this denial that the saints will be judged.
In a certain sense, we can understand such a reaction too. During the Middle Ages the judgment day was used as a threat to keep the lives of the people holy. The Romish Church kept its laity living in constant terror that if they strayed in the least sense from the traditions of the church, in the judgment day they would be punished severely by an angry Judge. Terror of the judgment became the motive for performing good works. Such a conception of the judgment day is still to be found in some churches today. However, if that is the conception of the judgment it is no wonder that the reaction would be one of going to the opposite extreme and denying altogether the judgment of the elect. The child of God must not live in terror of that day. The fear of hell is not what must motivate the child of God to do good works. One will never gain heavenly glory merely because he is afraid of condemnation in the final judgment. Besides, the child of God must never go through life filled with terror and gloom. He above all people must be filled with comfort and the joy of his salvation. Certainly this picture of the judgment is twisted and at best incomplete.
On the other hand, however, neither may we deny that God’s elect will stand in judgment. The passage which was quoted earlier in 2 Corinthians 5:10 plainly states, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Surely, we cannot deny the plain testimony of scripture. Paul writes in Romans 14:10, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” The elect shall be judged; and their sins—every one of them—shall be exposed. Their judgment is public. When Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that all must “appear” he speaks of all “being manifested or exposed” before the judgment seat of Christ. All the blackness and sin of our hearts shall be brought out into the open; or, in the words of Jesus, “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” In that day God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16). In this respect the judgment of the elect is no different from that of the ungodly.
Yet, all of this does not discourage or frighten the child of God. This judgment does not overshadow the joy which he experiences in this life. Let us not misunderstand, those who are rebellious and hardened in their sin indeed tremble at the knowledge of the judgment. And they ought to tremble also! Scripture is clear in Romans 2:3-5, “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? . . . But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds.” Nevertheless, the repentant child of God who serves God with reverence and godly fear will never tremble before this “revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” He will not because he understands that this is the very purpose of that judgment day: the revelation of God’s righteousness. In that glorious day all the works and ways of God, especially his dealings with the moral deeds of men, will in the consciousness of every man be justified. How often we wonder why God has done certain things in our life and in the history of this world! We know that all things are directed by him to glorify his own name and also unto the salvation of his people. At the same time, however, many things remain hidden, especially God’s actions with respect to the works of his rational, moral creatures. In the day of judgment all will, be revealed to us as well as to the wicked. Even the wicked man will have to admit that all of God’s dealings with men were just and good.
Included in this glorious revelation of God’s justice and righteousness will be the public justification of Christ and his cause. It is exactly in this that the judgment day becomes for the child of God a day of triumph and victory. There is no doubt that each of God’s saints will bow before the great white throne of Christ and will see his sin as he never did before. It is true too that his sin will be revealed publicly to all. Yet as all look upon those sins they will see each one covered in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ! All men will have to acknowledge that the work of Christ in his death and resurrection was worthy and sufficient to save his people from sin and death and make them rightful heirs of eternal glory! And in that public justification of Christ and his work all who belong to Christ from eternity will share. In that day the righteousness which has been freely given us by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of our Lord will be seen by all. The wicked shall have to acknowledge that though our sins were many, in Christ we are made worthy recipients of heavenly glory! Surely that day will not be one of gloom and darkness for God’s children. It will be a day of glorious victory! We will triumph over our foes—those who mocked us and persecuted us for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The judgment day is not a day at the thought of which we tremble in fear. It is a day to which we should look forward in joy and anticipation. Not only will our righteousness in Christ be completed in that day but we will also hear Christ say to us, “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We will receive our eternal reward and our hope will be fulfilled. That is the comfort of God’s saints, a comfort found not in avoiding their own judgment but receiving it.