What Does the Bible Say About
Eternal Judgment?

by Norman S. Edwards

August 2000 (revised title page and table of contents, new appendices added)

Facing the Issue

The idea of facing eternal judgment has never been easy for anyone—even for the bold and powerful. The powerful Roman governor Felix dealt with the problem this way.

As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe (Acts 24:25-26).

Felix reacted in a manner common to human leaders who are over many people. He put the "judgment to come" out of his mind, and then went on to sin—in this case, to seek a bribe (Deut 16:19).

Is "eternal judgment" or the "judgment to come" something we should be concerned about in our daily living? Or is it more of a topic of discussion for learned theologians? How does the Bible classify it? Hebrews 6 records six basic doctrines:

...the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment (Heb 6:1-2).

Nearly all Christian groups teach the first two of these doctrines. Most of them teach the second two doctrines; but not many teach the last two. How much do you know about the resurrection of the dead or eternal judgment? These doctrines go together—if there is no resurrection of the dead, then there is no righteous judgment for all (righteous judgment seldom occurs in this life). On the other hand, why raise people from the dead if there is no hope of changing them from a miserable life that so many have had before they died?

The "Resurrection of the Dead" and "Eternal Judgment" are indeed important doctrines. They tell us about what will happen to us for all eternity, and they tell us that what we do now mattersit matters a lot!

Unfortunately, not all the beliefs that most Christians commonly hold come from the Bible. Much Christian teaching does come from the Bible, so most Christians tend to trust their ministers. But that works against them in the cases where non-Biblical teaching has crept into the churches.

Many people believe that if they are a member of a certain church, or if they believe a certain set of doctrines, then they will automatically be rewarded upon death. Some believe they are going to Heaven. Others believe they will be raised from the dead and immediately enter the Kingdom of God on earth. Still others believe other things.

Pastors and preachers often assure people that they are on the most direct path to eternal life by remaining a member of their group and continuing to give it generous financial support. This "buying your way to Heaven" approach may seem attractive to some, but the Bible simply does not teach it.

The Apostle Paul condemned the forming of factions around certain Bible teachers, even though the teachers were men of God (1Cor 1:11-15; 3:1-8). The Bible never mentions people being rewarded because they were a member of the "right group" or had "the right doctrines". Even when Christ wrote letters to seven church groups (Rev 1:4,11 and chapters 2 & 3), He told each member to listen to each message to each church. Christ promised individual rewards "to him who overcomes" in each group.

Nearly all of the scriptures about judgment show that it is not "who you know" that counts, but "who you are" and "what you do". At your time of judgment, the leader of your church group will not be there to say "he (or she) is in our group, no judgment is needed".

"Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes" (2Chr 19:7).

God is perfectly fair in His judgment. He will not let someone else "get you off the hook" nor condemn you unjustly. "God is love" (1Jn 4:16). He makes a way for us to be forgiven from sin and judged favorably—but we have to do it His way. Let us learn what He says in the Bible. (If you have doubts about the Bible, please ask for our free article, What is Christian Religion?)

Judgment for all Men

A common belief is: "When good people die they go to Heaven, and when bad people die, they go to Hell." But does the Bible say this? If so, which verses? Actually, there is no clear verse that states this. Rather, Hebrews 6, verses 1-2 speak of the fundamental doctrines of the "resurrection of the dead" and of "eternal judgment". Many verses from many parts of the Bible tell us that all people are awaiting a resurrection and judgment. We will look at some of these clear "judgment" verses now, and then examine the Bible teaching on "Heaven" and "Hell" later:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done (Matt 16:27).

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Heb 9:27, NKJV).

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead...(2Tim 4:1).

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl 12:13-14).

The previous verse shows that even hidden things will be judged. Unsolved murders and kidnappings often make big headlines. Many remain unsolved—but God knows about them all. I have had things stolen from me, and you have probably had something stolen from you—not knowing who did it. God knows. We should not become bitter if people are not "brought to justice" at this time, because God will judge them later and their true motives will be uncovered.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1Cor 4:5).

I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is (Gal 5:10, NKJV).

Judgment extends to every aspect of what we say and do:

But I [Christ] tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36).

Doesn’t Jesus Save Christians from All Judgment?

Before anyone stops reading this paper because he/she says "it advocates salvation by works", please finish this section. We are not saved by our works! We are saved by Christ’s works—by His sinless life, death and resurrection, and by His works in us today. We cannot do His work for Him, but we can resist His work in our lives and replace it with our own works. But if we don’t see His works—the fruits of His spirit in our lives—then we need to ask Him to show us where we need to change, and how to let Him do a greater work in our lives.

The basics of salvation are taught extensively by many Evangelical churches: First, all must recognize that they are sinners:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23),

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1Pet 2:25).

Second, all must recognize that Christ came as a sacrifice for the sins of all people, and accept that sacrifice:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree" (Gal 3:13).

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:1).

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:18).

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him (Rom 4:7).

If we read only the verses immediately above, we might conclude that those who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice will not be judged at all. Indeed, His sacrifice is big enough to cover all sin—to deliver us from death and all judgment—but we sometimes get in His way. It further shows how we can reduce the judgment against ourselves now. Notice what Paul says:

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:12).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor 5:10).

Christ made it very clear that He did not come to abolish the law, but to establish the law and make a way for Him to do good works through us.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matt 5:16-17).

The law defines what sin is. "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness" (1Jn 3:4). Christ offers forgiveness from our sins and a removal of the "curse of the law"—the death penalty—but He did not eliminate all laws and penalties. If He did, there would never be a need to judge anybody! Everyone could "accept Jesus" and then simply continue to live however he wanted. All penalties would be gone. When a person repents and asks for Christ’s forgiveness of sin, this only covers his/her past sins. It is not a "blank check" to sin as much as one wants in the future. John, writing to believers, showed them that each must continually confess his or her own sin to receive forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1Jn 1:9).

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin... (Pslm 32:5, NKJV).

The whole purpose of our repentance and Christ’s forgiveness is so that we can live a good life as He lived:

[Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:14).

First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:8).

Christ does make His righteousness available to His followers, but even they do not always accept it. Have you ever seen someone who claims to be a Christian do something that the Bible clearly calls a sin? Have you ever seen Christians offend each other or get in a verbal "fight"? If you have known very many Christians very long, you probably have. Notice that the Apostles Paul and John still believed that even they sinned at times:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Rom 7:18).

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1Jn 1:8).

It takes time for those who believe in Christ to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2Cor 10:5), to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2Pet 3:18), to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). They can sin in weakness as Paul mentioned above, or sin and not even know it.

King David of Israel was "a man after God’s own heart" (Acts 13:22). Would it not be nice if God would say that about you? Or me? Even though King David had the Holy Spirit (Pslm 51:11), he asked God about his "unknown sins". He said, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults" (Pslm 19:12, NKJV). David wanted to be as righteous as possible—he was not interested in trying to do "just enough" to obtain salvation.

At the opposite extreme, it is possible for some who know the truth to deliberately sin and disregard God. They will be judged—severely!

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31).

What happens to a Christian who has some unknown or willful sin? How much is too much? What will God do about it? All of these questions will be solved by Christ’s righteous judgment, either in this life, or after a resurrection in the future.

How Was David Delivered From Sin?

Before we study more scriptures on judgment, we need to understand something about the forgiveness of sin. People can have their sins forgiven without the consequences of their sins being removed. For example, a father may abandon his family, then repent of the sin when he is old—but his children will always remember the difficulties associated with "growing up without a dad". A woman may crash into you with her car and cause great injury and repent before God, but you may not be instantly healed of your injury. Repentant persons can do things to try to make up for their sin, but they cannot "undo" the problem completely—and most of the time, God does not "undo" it either.

David was a man with the Holy Spirit (Pslm 51:11; Mark 12:36). He has been promised eternal life by God (Jer 30:9; Ezk 37:25; Hos 3:5—all of these verses were written after David was dead). He is listed as one of the "faithful" in Hebrews 11 (Heb 11:1-3,32). But David sinned. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband, Uriah, killed (2Sam 11). Such sins deserved the death penalty (Lev 20:10; 24:17). But God "put away David’s sin (see verse 13, below). Please read this important account of David’s forgiveness and judgment. Notice how God sent a prophet to tell David a parable so David could "see himself" and "judge himself".

1 The Lord sent Nathan [the prophet] to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 "Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him." 5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over [David knew God’s judgments—Ex 22:1], because he did such a thing and had no pity." 7 Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.11 "This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’" 13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan replied, "The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die" (2Sam 12:1-14)

The Bible goes on to record the fourfold judgment (verse 6) against David. David’s life was spared, but the baby born to Bathsheba died. Later, David’s firstborn son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, then was killed by her full brother Absalom (2Sam 13). Later Absalom tried to make himself king, did "lie with his father’s wives" as prophesied above, and was killed by David’s general, Joab (2Sam 15-18). When David was on his deathbed, another son, Adonijah, tried to make himself king and later had to be executed by Solomon, the King whom God chose (1Kngs 1-2).

All of this happened because of a sin that God "took away". David’s punishment is not simply an "Old Testament" response from God. Even in the New Testament, God sometimes forgave sins while leaving a judgment in place. The apostle Paul started out persecuting the Church (Acts 8:1-4; 9:1-2). God spoke to him and told him that he was wrong and must repent and serve Him. God told Ananias to tell Paul, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16). Paul suffered greatly (2Cor 11:23-28). Paul understood it was linked to what he did: "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (1Cor 15:9).

God is love. He is also just. In His infinite wisdom, He knows that He cannot simply ignore all sin, but must clearly show us that sin has consequences.

Is David in Heaven?

There is another lesson we need to learn from David’s life. We already saw several Bible verses showing he was a man of God. But is he in Heaven now?

29 Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’" 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:29-36).

David is not in "Heaven", but in the grave awaiting a resurrection. Even though it is a common Christian belief, the Bible does not teach that people go immediately to Heaven when they die!

Abraham and Moses will also be in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:28). But what does the Bible say happened to Abraham and Moses?

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people (Gen 25:8).

On that same day the Lord told Moses, ... There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people (Deut 32:48,50).

The expression "gathered to his people" refers to the literal Hebrew burial practice: Bodies of the dead were lain in tombs. When the next member of a family died, all that was usually left of the previous member was bones, were which gathered up and placed in a corner with bones of previous ancestors—a literal "gathering to his people".

There is no mention of these great men of the Bible, "going to Heaven", going to "meet their maker" or anything of the sort. All of the "faithful" mentioned in Hebrews 11 "all died in faith, not having received the promises" (v 13). They suffered "so that they might gain a better resurrection" (v 35). This resurrection has not occurred yet, but occurs at the Return of Christ to this earth:

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1Thes 4:13-17).

The Apostles, in their writings frequently compared death to sleep (1Cor 11:30; 15:6,18,51; Eph 5:14; 2Pet 3:4). During sleep, a person still exists, but they are not conscious. Where did they get this idea? Directly from Christ!

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12 His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." ... 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:11-15, 23-24).

Jesus used this analogy on another occasion, and told us a little more about what happens when a person rises from the dead.

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," he said. "Don’t bother the teacher any more." 50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed." 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. "Stop wailing," Jesus said. "She is not dead but asleep." 53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, "My child, get up!" 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:49-55).

The last verse, above, says that "her spirit returned". Our bodies are made of the same stuff as the dust of the ground. "For dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:29). Modern biology confirms this—yet still cannot figure out exactly what makes living things "live".

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7).

The Greek word for "spirit" is pneuma, which means "air" (from which we get our word "pneumatic"). The analogy between breath and spirit is made frequently in the Bible. God added the "breath of life"—a spiritual component—to make Adam a living being. It was that spirit or breath that had to be restored to the little girl so she could live.

But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. (Job 32:8)

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1Cor 2:11).

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7, NKJV).

These verses show that a body with a spirit is required for human life—that the spirit comes from God and returns to him at death. So how does Christ’s analogy of sleep fit in with this? Obviously, a dead body does not sleep—it decays and is "recycled" by other living things. So it must be the spirit that sleeps. Is that what the Bible says?

Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish (Pslm 146:3-4, NASB).

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom (Eccl 9:10).

Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? (Pslm 6:4-5.)

"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."... While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:56,59-60).

Steven was granted miraculous vision into Heaven before he died. But he did not say, "I’ll be there in a minute!" He said his "spirit" would go and that he "fell asleep". Even when Jesus died, did He go immediately to Heaven?

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt 12:40).

Jesus said [to Mary, shortly after His resurrection], "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father... (John 20:17).

Many scriptures show us that Jesus is now in Heaven with the Father and with many other spiritual beings. But does the Bible say that the other apostles and brethren are with him there? Do the expressions "gone to be with the Lord" or "gone to Heaven" appear in the Bible? James the brother of John was killed fairly early in the book of Acts (Acts 12:2), yet there is no reference to him being in Heaven or to any other believer dying and "going to see James". Rather, there are plain biblical statements:

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (John 3:13, NKJV).

For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’" (Acts 2:34-35).

In spite of these many plain statements in the Bible showing that believers who are dead "sleep" until the resurrection, the teaching that "good people go to Heaven when they die" has so inundated us that the same scriptures are assumed to prove this doctrine even though they do not. The most common scriptures misused in this manner are:

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Phlp 1:22-24).

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2Cor 5:8, NKJV).

So is Paul saying that if people die they go immediately to Heaven? No! He is telling the story from his personal perspective? If he were to die, the next thing he would know is being "present with the Lord". As a child, I remember wanting to go to sleep early the night before a family vacation. Why? Because to be asleep is to be awake the next morning—from my perspective. But would my parents, who stayed up packing while I slept, say that I am already on the trip? No. I was simply asleep awaiting the event, just like the dead are awaiting the return of Christ, their resurrection and judgment. Let us continue in 2 Corinthians 5 (quoted above) and read the very next two verses:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2Cor 5:9-10).

Paul clearly knows that he will not be with Christ until he is judged. This paper contains numerous scriptures showing that the judgment occurs just after the resurrection. Is it possible that the resurrection has already happened? According to Paul, that was a false doctrine:

19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Rom 8:19-25).

Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" (2Tim 2:17-19).

There are other scriptures that are sometimes accidentally assumed to support the idea that the dead believers are in Heaven. Most of the common ones are covered in the appendix titled Are There "Go To Heaven" Verses?

What About Hell?

So if the Bible does not teach that we go to Heaven at death, what about the "other place"—Hell? Do some people go there? Does it make sense that the righteous are "asleep" awaiting a resurrection and a judgment, while the evil go immediately to Hell where they can still "keep up" with what is happening on earth—however uncomfortable they might be?

The concept of "Hell" believed by many Christians is based on Dante Alighieri’s work, The Inferno, published in 1314 A.D. He described a place where people were tormented in all kinds of bizarre ways for all eternity. Dante’s Hell had many levels, each progressively worse as one progressed lower and lower—very similar to Dungeons and Dragons and many other mystical or occult games of today. Many of Dante’s ideas were borrowed from Greek mythology and other non-Christian teachings. There is no chapter or set of verses in the Bible that describes anything close to Dante’s eternal torture chambers.

In many places, the Bible clearly states that eternal death is the punishment for those who insist upon being wicked:

1 "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord Almighty (Mal 4:1-3).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

Yet the word "Hell" is in the Bible, along with other words like "lake of fire" and "eternal fire". How do we reconcile these scriptures?

First, it is important to realize that fire is used as a symbol of trial and judgment in the Bible:

This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’" (Zech 13:9).

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you (1Pet 4:12, NKJV).

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work (1Cor 3:11-13).

It should be evident in the above three verses that the fire represents a trial or testing of people. This is something that God frequently does. (See later section The Purpose of God on page *.) If a believer starts a ministry, God does not usually set the believer or the ministries physically on fire just to see what will happen. Nor does He "send believers to Hell" to judge their spiritual work. See the appendix entitled Fire is a Symbol of Judgment for many more scriptures. Even the very last fire mentioned in the Bible is clearly a symbol of "final death"—the second death:

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death (Rev 21:8).

If we see fire as a symbol for judgment (not a representation of Dante’s Inferno), then it is easier to understand the rest of the Bible. Just as we do not find any Bible references to believers who are "already in Heaven" or "who have gone to be with Jesus", we do not find any references to any bad person who has "gone to Hell" or who is "suffering for all eternity". We do find references to those who will suffer in the future.

The King James Bible makes the study of "Hell" somewhat difficult because it took three completely separate New Testament Greek words with different meanings and translated all of them "Hell". By reading only the King James Bible, one cannot tell which original word was in a verse and what it really means. The NKJV, RSV, NRSV and most literal translations do a much better job of translating different original Greek words to different English words.

The three words translated "Hell" are hades (the grave or the Greek realm of the dead), Gehenna (a burning garbage dump) and tartarus (a place where fallen angels are confined). The Bible makes no mention of people in tartarus and it is only used one time. Hades is used 11 times and Gehenna is used 12 times. Neither of these two words would have conveyed the meaning of Dante’s Inferno to the Greeks and Jews who read the original New Testament.

Other words in the New Testament describe places or states of punishment: "everlasting fire" (or "age-lasting fire"), "the lake of fire", "outer darkness", "the Abyss", etc. Some verses mention a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth". The common thread of all of these places (except tartarus, which is a current holding place for fallen angels) is that they seem to be used in connection with the future resurrection and judgment. There is never a clear case where people are said to be in such a state now. The Old Testament spells out many different kinds of physical punishments and corrections. Why should we expect that God would work any differently in the resurrection and judgment of the world? Is it possible that there are multiple kinds of correction for sinners after they are raised from the dead?

For a rather lengthy study of the many verses that relate to a place of punishment, see the appendices beginning with Verses Mentioning "Hell". From a personal standpoint, the punishment of wicked people matters little to those who are asking Christ to make them righteous. The Bible may not tell us exactly what will happen to every kind of unrepentant sinner. But we can know that God is just in His judgments and that He takes no delight in the death of the wicked.

And I heard the altar respond: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments" (Rev 16:7).

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live (Ezk 33:11).

We can also be assured that God will eventually eliminate sorrow and death:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21:3-4).

Judgment of All Nations Historically

Before getting into the many Bible verses concerning the resurrections and judgment, we must take a step back and ask: "With whom is God working?" We must never forget that God created all people "in His image"; "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). God cares for all the billions of people who have lived, not just Christians and Israelites. While the majority of the Bible is about the nation of Israel and the followers of Christ, it is very clear that God is concerned about and judges nations that have little to do with either. Notice the following:

5 The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:5-8).

20 Then the Lord said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." 22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26 The Lord said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake" (Gen 18:20-26).

God eventually agreed not to destroy the city if there were 10 righteous men there (Gen 18:32). God was concerned about justice with these sinning people who apparently knew very little about Him. (There were not 10 righteous men, so God destroyed the cities.)

Sometimes God works with other nations over a long period of time. He allowed the nation of the Amorites to go on sinning for hundreds of years before he gave their land to the nation of Israel. Notice:

In the fourth generation your [Abraham’s] descendants will come back here [Israel], for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure (Gen 15:16).

Many years later, this prophecy was fulfilled—the sin of the Amorites was full and they were punished:

And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God" (Josh 24:18).

Another famous example of God judging a nation—and the nation listening—is Jonah and the people of Nineveh. The story of Jonah running away and being swallowed by a great fish is well known. But what did he preach to Nineveh? Did he tell them to come to Israel’s temple to worship? Did he tell them to begin keeping the Sabbath and other Old Testament laws? It seems that there was little argument about what law was to be followed—the problem was that the Ninevites were doing what they of themselves knew to be bad. Notice:

4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:4-10).

God could see that these people were serious about turning from violence and wickedness. There is no record that Jonah preached any significant part of the Old Testament to them. If he had, the Ninevites would have known not to make their animals abstain from food and water—the Bible never teaches this practice.

One final example of God dealing with a non-Israelite nation is found in Jeremiah 35. The Rechabites were not descended from Israel, but were blessed with continuing descendants throughout history:

12 Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, 13 "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?" says the Lord. 14 The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me. 15 I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me. 16 Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me."’ 17 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered.’" 18 And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, 19 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: "Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever"’" (Jer 35:12-19,NKJV).

Finally, when Christ was not being heeded in some of the cities of Israel, He said that the Gentile (non-Israelite) cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom would fare better than these Israelite people who refused to respond to the great miracles of Christ:

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you" (Matt 11:20-24).

There are other examples of God dealing with peoples that are not Israel or His Church. As we shall see, He loves them all and judges them by what they know to be right to do.

Two Resurrections and Judgments

The following four sections of the Bible clearly describe two resurrections. Some give more detail than others, but they are all consistent with each other. You can search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and find no comparably clear or detailed text supporting the idea that the dead go to Heaven or Hell at death.

"But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:14-15, NKJV).

21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. 25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live [1st resurrection]. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice [2nd resurrection], 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. 30 I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:21-30, NASB).

4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done (Rev 20:4-13).

Revelation 20:5 clearly shows that there will be 1000 years between the first and second resurrections. Christ and those in the first resurrection will rule. This thousand years is frequently referred to as "the Millennium" by Bible students, though that word never appears in the Bible. There are many other biblical prophecies that appear to refer to this time, including whole chapters of the Old Testament (Isa 2; 11; 61; Mic 4; etc). It appears that everyone will be offered salvation during this time, and righteously judged by Christ. However, a study of the Millennium exceeds the scope of this paper and only one paragraph will be devoted to it here:

For hundreds of years, Bible students and would-be prophets have predicted the soon-coming return of Christ to the earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom (the Millennium). As God created the earth in six days and rested the seventh, many people have foreseen 6000 years of man’s rule (4000 years before Christ and 2000 after) and a seventh 1000 years of Christ’s rule. If we calculate from Christ’s birth, the time is already past. If we calculate from the beginning of His ministry or from His death, we have 20 to 30 years left. But the Bible does not say this for a certainty. Too many religious groups have placed too much emphasis on the timing of prophecy and the promise to members of the soon return of Christ and being in His Millennial Kingdom. It would have been much better if they had placed more emphasis on their daily actions for all of which they will all be judged. Only a small fraction of all the people who have been born thus far will have a chance to live into Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. They all need to be concerned with their present way of life, and the first and second resurrections.

Before we leave the subject of the two resurrections, we might answer one question that was being raised during Paul’s time:

But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" (1Cor 15:35.)

Since all of those in the first resurrection have already be judged worthy of eternal life (the second death has no power over them), they will be raised with a spiritual body that cannot die:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable... it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body... (1Cor 15:42,44).

But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection (Luke 20:35-36).

The Bible also contains many accounts of individuals who were raised again to physical life (A widow’s son, 1Kngs 17:21;The son of the Shunamite woman, 2Kngs 4:34; A man thrown into Elisha’s tomb, 2Kngs 13:21; A little girl, Mark 5:41; A young man in a coffin, Luke 7:14; Lazarus, John 11:43; Dorcas, Acts 9:40; Eutychus, Acts 20:10). These people continued to live a normal physical life and at some time later, died again. When Christ rose from the dead, a large number of other righteous people rose, too:

The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people (Matt 27:52-53).

The book of Ezekiel contains a very graphic description of the second resurrection. Bones are first reassembled into bodies, then God adds back the breath—symbolizing the spirit—the non-physical component that makes physical things live.

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’" 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’" 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army (Ezk 37:1-10).

A lot of questions can be asked about resurrections: Will people be raised at the same age as when they died? What if they were old and feeble? Will they be made out of the very same molecules that they were originally made from, or will they be different? What happens to people whose molecules were destroyed by a nuclear explosion?

Medical science has shown that people can receive blood, limb or organ transplants and still be "the same person". Of course God can do a perfect job of recreating the exact DNA and cell structure of a person—not like the crude transplants of medical science. Recovering one’s same molecules is unnecessary and impossible. Many people have died and been buried, had a tree’s roots absorb some of their molecules, had those molecules end up in the fruit of the tree and had someone else eat the fruit of the tree. Yes, many people have shared molecules throughout history. If we can accept that God created the universe and created life from dirt, cannot we accept that He can effectively re-create a trillion people so they will "feel like themselves"? If we compare these people to the vastness of the universe, they are less than a speck of dust.

First Resurrection

The Bible uses the term "first resurrection" in Revelation 20, verses 5 and 6:

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev 20:4-6).

Even though the words "first resurrection" do not appear elsewhere in the Bible, there are many other passages that talk about a resurrection with characteristics like the "first resurrection" described above:

  1. The people in it were redeemed by Christ.

  2. They have followed Him diligently.

  3. They will reign with Christ on Earth, serving as kings and priests.

  4. They cannot die—will be given Eternal life.

And they sang a new song, saying: "You [Christ] are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us [believers] to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:9-10)

3 Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. 4 He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 "Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice." [Christ’s sacrifice] 6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah (Pslm 50:3-6).

Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection (Luke 20:34).

1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women [probably a symbol for false churches], for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless (Rev 14:1-5).

These 144,000 certainly seem to have the characteristics of those in the first resurrection. It is possible that only 144,000 will be in the first resurrection, but this scripture does not say that—it just says that no others could learn a certain song. Revelation 7 also mentions 144,000 plus a "great multitude". This writer is not sure which of these groups overlap—if any.

(Many modern-day writings on the book of Revelation will claim to tell you exactly who the 144,000 are—but this writer believes it is more important to do what God tells us to do than it is to try to figure out exactly what God is doing. Thousands have tried to figure out who the 144,000 are, and have been wrong. Many who trusted in those prophetic interpretations were devastated. But those who have done good works through the power of Christ will not be disappointed—those works will be remembered in the judgment.)

15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." 16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth." (Rev 11:15-18)

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1Cor 15:42-58).

From these scriptures, the nature of the first resurrection is fairly clear. Compare these and the many other resurrection scriptures to all of the scriptures you can find that might be interpreted as saying "believers go to Heaven when they die". There is no comparison. The Bible teaches that the righteous dead are dead—they are awaiting a resurrection. The few scriptures used to teach that "the righteous go to Heaven" are mostly misunderstood—they do not teach that doctrine idea. The Greek philosopher Plato taught that each person has an "immortal soul" which continues to function after death. Other pagan religions teach that the dead are in a conscious state and still trying to have an effect on the present world (some good, some bad). But the Bible clearly teaches that the hope of the righteous is the first resurrection.

The ways in which believers are judged and whether or not they will be in the first resurrection is covered in detail beginning in the section Judgment for Believers: Both Now and Later. First, let us study the "second resurrection"

Second Resurrection

The term "second resurrection" never actually appears in the Bible, but there clearly is another resurrection after the "first resurrection", so normal mathematical logic would designate the next resurrection as the "second resurrection". If the "second resurrection" occurs in multiple phases or parts, these parts might be called the "second", "third" and "forth" resurrections. However, the Bible does not clearly state that there are more than two resurrections, so I use the terms "first" and "second". Jesus and various other individuals were miraculously raised from the dead before the biblical "first resurrection" (Rev 20:5-6), so these resurrections are not numbered—especially since only a very few people had opportunity to be in them, anyway.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15).

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him" (Jude 1:14-15).

The above verses clearly show that the world will be judged at the second resurrection, and that those who will not follow God will die the second death. These scriptures do not indicate how long this process will take. Keep reading—we will find verses that address that question. A more pressing question might be: "How will God judge people who have never heard about God, Christ or the Bible?"

11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel (Rom 2:11-16).

The above scripture is a direct explanation of how God judges people. It contains an incredible amount of information in a small place. Notice the following points contained in the above:

  1. God is fair. He is not partial to those who have His law or to those who do not.

  2. If people sin, not having His law, they perish. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). But they are not judged by the law, they will be judged by their own conscience—whether or not they did what they knew to be right and whether or not they treated others as they would like to be treated. (Slick, evil people who convince others that they are "good" will not fare well in the judgment.)

  3. To the extent that people do the things that are in God’s law, they benefit. In several times in the Bible that God has destroyed whole cities or nations (men, women and children), it has been because they were totally evil (Gen 6:5-7; Deut 2:24-34 cf. 1Kngs 21:26, etc.). Apparently, God destroys the children with the parents in these situations to terminate the ongoing evil practices that the children would begin to learn at birth. God will work with these children in the resurrection.

  4. Those who know God’s law will be judged by it—they cannot be judged by some other standard when they know His truth.

  5. There is a day coming when God will judge everything—even that which is secret.

Judgment is real! It is not just a "something will happen someday" idea. The apostles frequently wrote about judgment as the solution to day-to-day problems:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (Rom 12:19).

Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works (2Tim 4:14, NKJV).

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1Pet 4:4-5).

Even though the second resurrection and associated judgment will affect nearly everyone who has ever lived, does everyone believe in it? No. Many people do not want to be responsible for their actions in this life—especially ones which they have "gotten away with". But a surprising number of people, who are not believers, are still interested in this topic. Notice what Paul said to a group of Greek philosophers:

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject" (Acts 17:32).

Not every scripture about the second resurrection gives every possible detail. When Christ returns, He begins to rule and judge. That judgment continues for 1000 years and then the second resurrection occurs (Rev 20). In the two Bible quotes, below, there is no distinction made between the judgment in the Millennial Kingdom when Christ returns and that judgment that occurs at the resurrection afterward.

5 Which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed (2Thes 1:5-10).

Verse 8, above, sounds like people will be punished simply for not knowing about God. The Greek word for "know" there is eido and is translated "see" as much as it is translated "know." Everlasting destruction will come upon those who refuse to "see God" in the picture or who do not accept the Gospel of Christ.

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." 37 Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" 40 The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." 41 Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." 44 They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?" 45He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 25:31-46).

We can be sure that the above scripture applies to the Millennial Kingdom and the second resurrection because it says "all the nations will be gathered in verse 32—completely different than the few chosen believers of the first resurrection. Also, the righteous people had no idea that being kind to others was like being kind to Christ—if they had heard the book of Matthew read, they would not have been asking Christ the question that they did here. What is the end result of the second resurrection? Either eternal punishment (no eternal punishing) or eternal life.

Table of Bible Order of Judgments

Right now: people are being judged.

Now is a judgment of this world (John 12:31, YLT).

The First Resurrection for those judged worthy in this present life to receive eternal life.

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them... (Rev 20:6) ...Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection (Heb 11:35).

Millennial rule of Christ and his saints: Judgment of those on Earth.

[continued from above] ...but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev 20:6).

The Second Resurrection of all those who have lived before. Those who will not follow God will undergo the "second death"

(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. ...The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:5,12,14-15).

 

Judgment After Second Resurrection Will Take Many Years

We have covered several scriptures showing that those who follow God will be given eternal life and those who do not will be given eternal punishment. Many people assume that this is a quick decision—that Christ will look each one in the eye, recount the significant events in their life and pronounce a judgment. But none of these scriptures give us detail on how Christ judges! There are many other scriptures that do! Will Christ take people who have never heard about Him and punish them for rejecting Him? What about a Buddhist that heard a missionary ask him to accept Jesus once when he was 22, but rejected this strange teaching that was different than what he had always been taught by his kind and loving parents? Will Christ condemn this Buddhist forever?

We need to turn to other scriptures that tell us specifically how God judges. He told the Pharisees:

...If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin... (John 9:41).

What a person knows is very important to the manner in which they will be judged.. Christ is not eager to condemn the world, but to save it! Notice:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17).

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:1-2).

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2Pet 3:9).

Look at the effort to which God went to show the ancient Israelites their sin and to try to bring them to repentance:

The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (Num 14:18).

18 If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. 20 Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit. 21 If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. 22 I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted. 23 If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. 25 And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. 26 When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied. 27 If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over (Lev 26:18-28).

This scripture goes on to list even more punishments that will occur for those who do not listen to God. However, verses 40-46 of the same chapter show that people could humble themselves at any time, confess their sin, turn to God, and He would hear them. If God was so patient with the nation of Israel to give them His law and send them seven-fold punishments four different times hoping that they would repent and return to it, can we believe that He will condemn others in an instant for disobeying laws that they never knew?

There are many punishments prescribed for various infractions against the law that God gave ancient Israel (Ex 21-24; Lev 20, 24: Num 15; Deut 13; 19-25). Serious crimes were given the death penalty, but the vast majority of sins and mistakes were settled by banishment from Israel, a payment of money or some kind of physical punishment. The purpose of all of these non-death-penalty punishments was to remind people of the consequences of sin and, hopefully, to teach them not to sin in the future.

God is not as interested in what percentage of righteous things we do in our life as He is in whether or not our life experience has taught us to be righteous. Notice:

12 Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, "The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness." 13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. 14 And if I say to the wicked man, "You will surely die," but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right—15 if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16 None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live (Ezk 33:12-16).

But what about those who have not accepted—even heard of—Christ? There are scriptures that show that people must accept Christ in order to be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 4:12; John 3:36). Let us consider Abraham and other righteous men in the Old Testament. The Bible says that they will be in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:28, Heb 11), yet none of them plainly wrote that they would be saved because they accepted Christ as their Savior. There are hints about accepting Christ in some of the prophetic books, but even Christ’s apostles did not understand how these prophecies applied to Christ—Christ had to explain the prophecies to them. So how then, for example, will Abraham receive eternal life if he never understood about the sacrifice of Christ? Consider these verses:

"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Gen 22:12).

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Heb 11:8).

God knew that Abraham wanted to obey Him—even if it meant sacrificing His own son. God knows that he will accept Christ when he realizes that is necessary for His Eternal life. God wants everyone to have a chance to hear and believe:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14-15).

The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:7-9).

When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob [Christ], and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction (Isa 29:23-24).

The fact that Christians have not taken the Gospel to most of the world does not mean that God cannot save most of the world—it means that Christians have not done their job. Isaiah 11, above, describes the Millennial Kingdom and afterward—where Christ will make sure that His ways are known. Many scriptures show us that God, in his infinite wisdom, will judge the earth in His time. Here are a few:

Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve (Pslm 94:2).

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well (2Thes 1:6-7).

When I choose the proper time, I will judge uprightly (Pslm 75:2, NKJV).

O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing (Jer 10:24, KJV).

But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind (Jer 11:20).

What of those who hear the Gospel and do not decide to do anything about it? Are they automatically condemned in this life? They will stay "in darkness" and certainly not have a chance to be in the first resurrection, but they will have to face that issue in the resurrection at the last day:

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day (John 12:46-48).

Are there any scriptures that clearly show that the judgment will take a long time for people to be judged? Yes. They show that some will go into the kingdom before others, and that some will have a "more bearable" judgment than others will. If the only possible sentences are "instant eternal life" or "instant second death", how can judgment for some be "more tolerable" for some than others? Notice these scriptures which show that much will occur during the judgment:

...Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him (Matt 21:31-32, NKJV).

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matt 10:14-15).

21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." 25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children" (Matt 11:21-25).

[Beware of the scribes] who are devouring the widows’ houses, and for a pretence are making long prayers; these shall receive more abundant judgment (Mark 12:40, YLT).

31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:31-32).

Nothing in the Bible says that the Queen of the South or the men of Nineveh have already been granted Eternal life. It is not clear that they worshipped God in any significant way. But they will participate in the judgment—they will condemn people who understood God much better, but did not do what He said. In other cases, the Bible promises judgments that take a long time.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book (Rev 22:18).

If you have a Bible that shows the variant readings of the different Greek manuscripts of the book of Revelation, you will see that somebody has added a few words here and there. (The NKJV footnotes show 122 discrepancies) I do not believe that Christ is just making a threat here, but that he really will add the plagues to someone who deliberately added words in the manuscript. Many of the plagues in the Book of Revelation are months or years in duration. How can a person have these plagues added to him unless he has some time to suffer with them—and hopefully repent?

9 "As I looked, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. 11 "Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) (Dan 7:9-12).

Whether the beasts in Daniel’s dream represent individuals or whole groups of individuals, it shows that one was killed right away and the others lost their authority, but were allowed to live "for a period of time". The description of being destroyed in the lake of fire clearly matches the "second death" description in Revelation 21:8 (quoted earlier). The others were clearly allowed to live for a period of time—a time of judgment and correction.

After reading these scriptures, many Christians will ask the question: Why should anyone want to be a Christian now if they have a chance to repent and receive Eternal life later? Why do we simply not enjoy the pleasures of sin, now?

23 Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate [1st resurrection], for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 "When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ 26 "then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 "But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ 28 "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 "They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 "And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last" (Luke 13:23-30, NKJV).

Each Individual Judged by What They Individually Know

Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains" (John 9:41).

If I [Christ] had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin (John 15:22).

Jesus held these Jewish leaders accountable because they knew the Scriptures. But if they really were blind, then they would have "no sin." People cannot be judged by "every word of God" because most have not known it or understood it. Throughout all history, most people have had no Bible teaching and very, very few had thorough, true Bible teaching. Some people have owned a Bible; some have not. Some have owned many translations; some owned one. Some have had access to many good Bible teachers; some have had access to few—or to poor teachers. While teachers do not create truth, they are very important. Even among staunch Bible-believing Christians, much of what they believe they learned through a teacher—not just by reading the scriptures themselves.

Suppose someone offered to pay you for 10 years to search and find as much Bible truth as you could. You could do your own study, read others books or travel to hear Bible teachers. You would certainly pray and ask God to show you truth. At the end of 10 years, you could either write the most important teachings of the Bible yourself or designate the teachers that you had found to have the best understanding of the Scriptures. However you determine this body of Bible truth, and whatever you believe it to be, do you think that most of the world throughout most of history has had any way to learn that truth? Certainly not! God simply has not provided equal access to His Truth.

But God has declared that the more truth a person has, the more he is responsible for:

[Jesus said:] 13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. 14 Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’" (Matt 25:12-30).

Verse 29, above, is not saying that some people have nothing because they were given nothing. The English verb "to have" is totally passive—a person who "has" something need not be doing anything to "have it". The Greek verb, (echo) is a little more active in meaning than the English—possibly closer to "possessing". Young’s literal translation tries to convey that:

for to every one having shall be given, and he shall have overabundance, and from him who is not having, even that which he hath shall be taken from him (Matt 25:29, YLT);

It is the one who "is not having"—is not doing anything to have spiritual truth—that loses whatever little spiritual truth he has.

The first three chapters of the book of Romans deal with the sins of all people and how God views them. Notice what Paul says about each person in chapter two

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life [1st resurrection]. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger [2nd resurrection]. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good [even in the 2nd resurrection]: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Rom 2:5-10).

Verses 11-16 continue this theme—they have been covered on page *. Every action we take in our life is important—whether we know a lot of God’s way or very little.

Many of the judgments rendered in the Bible were from the words of the people being judged. If, for example, a person steals from you and you condemn the action as "wrong", those words may be quoted back to you if you are judged for stealing from another. Notice Christ’s teaching:

20 Then another servant came and said, "Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow." 22 His master replied, "I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?" (Luke 19:20-23).

This servant complained that the master was sinning by getting more than what was rightfully his, yet the servant committed the exact same sin by refusing to give the master what is rightfully his—his money with interest. We have already discussed how David was judged by his own judgment that he pronounced on the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb (page *). Later, Solomon used a similar approach to judge Shimei, a man who had cursed David when he was fleeing from his rebellious son.

"And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood" (1Kngs 2:8-9).

David did not believe that Shimei was repentant for his sin. His wise son Solomon devised a plan where Shimei could be his own judge:

26 Then the king sent for Shimei and said to him, "Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there, but do not go anywhere else. 37 The day you leave and cross the Kidron Valley, you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head." 38  Shimei answered the king, "What you say is good. Your servant will do as my lord the king has said." And Shimei stayed in Jerusalem for a long time. 39 But three years later, two of Shimei’s slaves ran off to Achish son of Maacah, king of Gath, and Shimei was told, "Your slaves are in Gath." 40 At this, he saddled his donkey and went to Achish at Gath in search of his slaves. So Shimei went away and brought the slaves back from Gath. 41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had returned, 42 the king summoned Shimei and said to him, "Did I not make you swear by the Lord and warn you, ‘On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die’? At that time you said to me, ‘What you say is good. I will obey.’ 43 Why then did you not keep your oath to the Lord and obey the command I gave you?" 44 The king also said to Shimei, "You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. 45 But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord forever." 46 Then the king gave the order to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck Shimei down and killed him. The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands (1Kngs 2:36-46).

Shimei was initially glad to accept Solomon’s punishment. If Shimei had no immediate plans to take a trip out of Jerusalem, it was almost like no punishment at all. He had escaped punishment during the entire reign of David and it looked like he could escape punishment even longer now. If Shimei believed that he was wrong for cursing David and was truly sorry about it, he would have taken Solomon’s words very seriously. But when he was faced with the economic loss of a couple of slaves, he put his own financial interests above Solomon’s decree—and lost his life.

Similarly, God tells us now that there are consequences for evil. But because these consequences do not always have an immediate effect, people more often seek to escape the consequences of sin a little longer, rather than trying to stop the sin. God hopes that people will see sin as He does and turn from it on their own. But if they do not, then He often gives them one last "do or die" time of judgment. If they do not obey this time, it is over. Shimei did not obey and he died. The people of Nineveh (see story on page *) were given a final forty days, but they listened, repented and lived. Shimei died, not because of an obscure law that he did not quite understand, but for disobeying a judgment he had clearly agreed to!

Another excellent example of this kind of judgment was given to King Ahab when he made a treaty with an enemy king, Ben-Hadad, rather than killing him as God commanded. A prophet gave the king a fictitious story, the king gave his judgment, and the prophet showed the king that the judgment applied to the king, himself.

38 Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king [Ahab]. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. 39 As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, "Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared." "That is your sentence," the king of Israel said. "You have pronounced it yourself." 41 Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 He said to the king, "This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people’" (1Kngs 20:38-42).

Some people may think that God was unfair to expect ancient Israel to obey so many laws. But His law is tiny compared to the complex legal codes of modern western nations. The entire Bible can be read in a few weeks of concentrated effort. But the total number of code sections affecting a person living in the United States probably cannot be read and understood in his or her lifetime. By contrast, in ancient Israel, the people heard all of God’s law, they agreed to do it, and it was written on stones where everyone could read it.

"These are the laws you are to set before them (Ex 21:1):

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the Lord has said we will do" (Ex 24:3).

And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up" (Deut 27:8).

God held the Israelites responsible for the physical laws He gave them. When one of the Jewish leaders commanded someone to hit Paul at a trial, he let him know that he was doing what he should have known not to do:

Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" (Acts 23:3).

But we must remember that ancient Israel existed in some form for about 1500 years before Christ came. They could be held accountable for the physical law they had, but not for the spiritual teachings of Christ and His Apostles. Christ clearly stated that if His miracles had been performed even in Gentile cities, they would have listened and repented. But the millions of ancient Israelites and Gentiles who never heard Christ’s teaching simply are not responsible for it:

12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 13 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you (Luke 10:12-14).

At the opposite extreme, Christ will give a much more stringent judgment to those who do have spiritual knowledge:

...From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48).

Those who need to fear the judgment of Christ are those who know they are doing much evil or those who convince themselves that their evil is good. They will not be able to fool Christ!

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [King David’s father, an ancestor of Christ]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (Isa 11:1-4).

Judgment for Believers: Both Now and Later

This specific subject seems to be misunderstood by nearly all religious groups. The Bible clearly teaches that Christians are being judged now—and, that they will be judged later. Some, by their current way of life, will be judged worthy to be in the first resurrection. Even those will still receive a kind of judgment when Christ returns—primarily related to the rewards that they will receive. Other things will happen to other believers. Let us read the verses that explain this in clear detail. The background is Christ explaining what people should be doing while waiting for Christ to return:

35 "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." 41 Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" (Luke 12:35-41).

Peter asked a good question. He wanted to know who should be getting ready to meet the master. Christ did not say that his statement applied only to apostles, ministers or some humanly-observable group of people. He said that the blessing applied to whoever was doing certain things. Christ went on to give four categories of people and what would happen to them.

Category 1: Faithful & Wise Stewards:

And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has" (Luke 12:42-44).

These faithful and wise stewards are promised rulership when Christ returns. This is clearly the first resurrection. They are those through whom Christ is living—those who do the many things that Christ said His servants would do.

Category 2, Unfaithful servants:

But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers (Luke 12:45-46).

First note that these are servants of the Master (Christ); they are not strangers or foreigners. But these unfaithful servants have three problems: 1) They are not doing the things that Christ said they should do. 2) They are fighting with their fellow servants—making life difficult for other believers. 3) They have severe personal sins. History is full of cases where various Christian groups fought against each other—trying to gain members, money or preeminence over each other. Christ will certainly judge them for this. People in this category will not be in the first resurrection and will be no better off than unbelievers in the second resurrection.

Category 3, Lazy Servants:

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows (Luke 12:47).

These servants knew what Christ told them to do, but did not do it. I believe that many Christians are in this category, today. The Bible and many Bible helps are available, but not enough believers read it and do what it says. These believers are not promised rulership (the first resurrection), but they are promised correction. A "beating" is a corrective punishment so that a person will change. It makes no sense to "beat" a person, then give him or her eternal life. What would the beating accomplish? Nor does it make sense to beat a person, then give them the second death. It makes a lot of sense to correct people after the second resurrection and give them time to improve. These "blows" may be literal blows or symbolic of other corrective punishments, but it is the corrective concept that is important. Many "believers" think they are guaranteed a place in the first resurrection, but Christ is here addressing the very issue of what will happen to His servants, and He is saying that some will need to be corrected when the Master comes.

Category 4, Unknowing Servants:

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48).

Christ will not expect as much from the many believers who did not have Bibles to study—or who were deceived by false teaching that they thought to be of God. These people are not promised a place in the first resurrection, but their correction will be much lighter in the second.

These four categories, as well as the various categories of unbelievers are summarized on the table on page *. It should not be our purpose to judge others and assign them to a category. We should assign ourselves to a category—and change if necessary. There are times when we may need to decide to stay away from someone who claims to be a believer—because they are an unacceptable influence on us or an unacceptable example to others. (For more on this see the appendix titled Situations Where We Must Judge.) It is important to make a distinction between believers who are making mistakes, and those claiming to be believers when they are not.

These are some of the scriptures that describe believers who are making mistakes:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ (1Cor 3:1, NKJV).

For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.... If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions (1Cor 11:29-30,34).

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge (1Tim 5:11-12).

These are some of the scriptures that describe people who claim to be believers, but who are not:

Many will say to me on that day, "‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matt 7:22-23).

God they profess to know, and in the works they deny {Him}, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work disapproved (Titus 1:16, YLT).

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 1:4).

There are indeed very many scriptures that show that believers are now being judged both to determine which resurrection and also to determine their reward:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1Pet 2:11-12).

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear (1Pet 1:17).

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (Jms 3:1).

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator (1Pet 4:12-19, NKJV).

8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Phlp 3:8-16).

The above is obviously the first resurrection that Paul is attempting to attain, though he does not specifically use the term. The same is true for the verses below:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.... 13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers (1Pet 1:3-8,13-18).

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1Cor 3:11-15).

The verse above clearly shows that a reward is separate from salvation. People can lose their reward, but still be "saved".

35 But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead (1Cor 15:35-42).

The references to the diversity of creation indicate that the spirit world may be similarly diverse. There are literally millions of different kinds of plant and animal species on the earth. Is it possible that God may reward people with thousands or millions of different kinds of spiritual bodies? Before anyone answers "God wouldn’t do that", we need to answer why He made nearly a million different species of bugs. Are bugs more important than spiritual bodies? This author does not have the answer to these questions, but he knows that we should not limit God.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1Cor 13:12).

Table Summarizing Various Classes of People in Judgment
Unbelievers:

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1Pet 4:3).

Those not claiming to be believers...

Who were not kind to their neighbors:

...Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me (Matt 25:41-43)

Who loved their neighbors:

They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"...but the righteous [will go] to eternal life (Matt 25:44,46)

Those who thought they are believers but were not:

"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" (Matt 7:21-23.)

Those who were once believers, but deliberately sinned and rejected Christ:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Heb 10:26-27).

Believers:

...For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: "‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:10-12).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor 5:10).

Those who did not help feed or serve the other believers:

Bad servants of Christ are treated like unbelievers (Luke 12:45-46; Matt 24:48-51).

"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt 18:6).

Those who will help Him reign in the first resurrection:

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Heb 9:28). (See also Luke 12:42-44; Matt 24:45-47.)

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him" (Jude 1:14-15).

Servants of Christ who were not ready to rule with their master:

The end of Matthew 24 parallels Luke 12, but the parallel to Luke 12:47-48 seems to be the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins story (Matt 25:1-13).

Those who knew better and did wrong anyway:

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.... From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48).

Those who did not know what to do:

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows (Luke 12:48).

 

Effect of Various Christian "Eternal-Destiny" Doctrines If They Were True
Various Explanations of Who Will Receive Eternal Life
If the doctrine at left were true, it would have this affect on believers (people who believe the doctrine):
If the doctrine at left were true, it would have this affect on unbelievers (people who do not believe it):

Predestination: God determines whether a person will be saved or not when he or she is born (or even before). Some groups tie those predestined to be saved to specific races and nationalities, others simply say that people are chosen according to some method known only to God. The effect of the belief is the same.

There is no need to do good or avoid sin because those predestined for eternal life will have it even if they sin, and those not so predestined cannot get it no matter what good they do. People who believe this spend a lifetime worrying about what God has decided for them. Evangelism is unimportant because it is not possible to change anyone’s eternal destiny.

People can live their lives any way they want. Those not predestined for eternal life might as well take as much as they can from others as long as they don’t "get caught". If this doctrine were true, people would be better off not knowing it—it is better to believe one’s life is meaningful. God would be responsible for the suffering of the billions whose existence is pointless.

Churchism: Those "in good standing" with a human church organization will be given eternal life. While most organizations theoretically teach that God is the final judge, their day-to-day actions tells the members that the best thing they can do to receive eternal life is to follow the doctrines of their denomination and obey their leaders. The Catholic Church, some Protestant churches and many cult-like groups are in this category.

To the extent that the Church teaches sound Biblical principles, this approach is helpful. People will attempt to do those things that are taught as helpful to receiving eternal life. However, if the church organization becomes corrupt and begins to teach that "some evil is acceptable as long as it benefits the church organization", then members do evil things thinking that they are doing good.

Those who are not members of church organizations that God accepts are "forever lost". This leads people in those "true Church" organizations to think that anything they do to get these "forever lost" people into their church organization is acceptable. This leads to the breakup of friends and families, and to persecution and forced conversion—as in the Catholic inquisition. To unbelievers, this makes Christianity appear as a hypocritical political organization, not the purveyor of truth and love that Christ taught.

Once Saved Always Saved: Any person who claims Jesus as his or her savior will have eternal life no matter what they do afterward. This is taught by some Evangelical groups and other small groups.

This is almost like a self-elected predestination. Once a person is saved, there is little need for continued study and teaching of the Bible—they are saved. Unlike predestination, there is a great need for evangelism—to get people to "accept Christ"—whether He changes their present life or not.

This doctrine makes God seem to be incredibly unfair to those who never hear about Christ. According to it, a lifelong criminal who "accepted Christ" when he was 18 (or maybe even 8) will still receive eternal life, but a kind-hearted Indian farmer who never heard of Christ but freely fed hundreds of hungry people will have the same fate as the wicked.

Any of the Above Doctrines Combined with Judgment for Unbelievers: Some teach the above doctrines, but that those who were never reached with the Gospel can be saved if they do good works now.

This modification does not affect a believer’s salvation, but does affect his approach to gospel preaching. If a person who never heard of Christ can be saved by his deeds, preaching Christ to every person is no longer a matter of eternal life and death.

This modification means that what the unbeliever does is important. It also means that he needs an additional reason to come to Christianity other than just "being saved".

Any of the Above Doctrines Combined with Judgment for the Believer: Some teach that salvation comes by one of the above methods, but that even if the "chosen" do not show Godly fruits, they can be lost.

The effect of this modification makes this doctrine essentially the same as the next one. Anyone who considers him or herself saved must still judge his or her own life and be sure that it is producing fruit.

This doctrinal modification motivates the "chosen" to do something with their life, but makes little difference for unbelievers. If nobody reaches them with the truth, they are forever lost.

All People Will Be Judged and Must Be Saved Through Christ—but Can Be Saved After a Resurrection.

People strive to be like Christ because they will be judged more stringently than those without the truth. Life is more joyful and meaningful when its purpose is known.

No matter how little or how much Bible truth one knows, the more good they do now, the better their life will be—now, and in the resurrection to judgment.

 

Minimizing Our Own Judgment—Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves

There are many scriptures that directly tell us how we can cause ourselves to either avoid judgment or be judged more leniently. It seems that we can classify them into two general categories—the two great commandments given by Christ:

37 Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt 22:37-40).

We will start with the second category first because those principles are easily understood by everybody, whether they know God or not. "Love God with all your heart" will be covered in the next section.

The "love your neighbor as yourself" principle was first given in the Old Testament: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord (Lev 19:18). It is repeated in the New Testament seven times (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jms 2:8). Please read these scriptures that show how we can affect our own judgment. Afterward, I will summarize their general principles.

31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world (1Cor 11:31).

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1Jn 1:8-10).

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death (Rev 2:11).

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matt 7:1-2).

1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Rom 2:1-4).

2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: "‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’" 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way (Rom 14:2-13).

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord (2Pet 2:4-11).

Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (Jms 5:9).

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phlp 4:8-9).

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (Jms 4:10-12.)

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:36-38).

Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (Jms 2:13).

If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure (Prv 29:14).

"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." (John 7:24).

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever (Dan 12:2-3).

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Rev 22:18-19).

We can summarize the general principles of minimizing our own judgment based on our relationship with others:

  1. Judge ourselves—confess our sins as we find them and seek forgiveness. Overcome them through Christ.

  2. Judge others the way we would want to be judged—in love and mercy. Don’t judge others at all, unless they are affecting us in a way that we must judge. (There are times when we need to make judgments about others. We sometimes must judge our children, those who work for us, and others for whom we may be responsible. We also must judge whom we will keep as friends and whom we will regard as spiritual teachers. See the Appendix titled Situations Where We Must Judge for more information.)

  3. Judge with righteous judgment. Really seek to understand the spiritual truth of a matter, whether we are judging ourselves or others.

  4. Do not grumble or complain about others—be a "nice person to be with".

  5. Help others live righteously.

Minimizing Our Own Judgment—Loving God with All Our Heart

The biggest difficulty with people is that their religion has become a clearly defined "part" of their life: So much time at church meetings, so much time at church activities, so much money sent to a good cause and so much prayer and study. None of these things are bad in themselves. When people think about completely dedicating their life to God, they think about extreme things such as selling everything they own, giving it to the poor, then walking down the street with a Bible to talk about God to whomever will listen.

If God clearly shows you to do the latter, then you should do it. God sometimes gives unusual missions (Ezk 4-5; Hos 2), but if He does, it will have a purpose. On the other hand, if God has not given you an unusual mission and you invent one of your own, you will probably make many people think that the God you worship is "weird" because you changed from an effective citizen to an ineffective preacher who now has to rely on handouts from others.

Earning a living and raising a family are tasks that God has given most of us. In the process of doing them, we learn a lot and we can teach a lot to others. Recreational, artistic, educational, and social endeavors are also an important part of life where we can learn and help others. Most people have found that life does not work well if they try to do only one—only work, only play, etc. Some people live for one and fit the others in as necessary. For example, some people love their job and find just enough time for recreation and social events to hold their health and family together. Others may love their recreation or artistry, and work primarily to support themselves and "the love of their life".

We all have our ways of deciding what we will do: At times, we decide that we will work more, play more, take a new job, move somewhere else, take a vacation, join a group of some kind, start a new hobby, entertain ourselves more or whatever. We can look at our past life and see how we have made important decisions.

God does not want us to dedicate just "some percentage of our time or money" to Him, but He wants to be at the top of our priority list when we make our life decisions. He wants us to choose our mate, jobs, friends, hobbies, and recreation in a way that will most please and be of service to Him. If we ask, He will often show us what is best. Other times, He lets us decide. We should not ask, "What is the least we have to do to be in the first resurrection?" We should ask, "What do we have to do to live like Christ?"

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Col 3:23-24).

"If you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).

Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

Sometimes, following Christ can bring us into very difficult times. Nevertheless, it is His strength that enables us to go through those difficult times: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phlp 4:13). We should know that those difficult times may come and that they are for our good:

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Rev 20:4).

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.... 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Heb 11:32-35,39-40).

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Heb 12:1-15).

While the above scriptures sound quite grim, the Bible does not teach that every believer will experience great physical suffering and die a miserable death. There are many scriptures that indicate God sometimes protects his people from great trouble. Here are a few:

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Rev 3:10).

Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness (Ezk 34:12).

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger (Zeph 2:3).

Christ clearly explained the Christian life is a combination of persecution now, with some blessings now and then eternal life in the future:

So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, "who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Mark 10:29-31).

Is it fair that some believers are persecuted greatly and others live a long, relatively peaceful life? Christ answered that question:

18 "I [Jesus] tell you the truth, when you [Peter] were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" 22 Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:18-22).

We do not need to worry much about Christ’s plans for others. We need to seek His plan for our own life and to live it boldly. If we ask Christ for His perfect love, we will not fear:

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother (1Jn 4:15-21).

The “Unpardonable Sin”

Sometimes people who have made a commitment to follow God and live by His Word have so much difficulty that they think they are beyond hope. They wonder if they have committed what theologians often call the "unpardonable sin". There are scriptures that seem to indicate that this is possible. But if a person is still concerned about repenting, changing and obeying God, there is almost certainly still hope. Please read the scriptures, then the comments at the end.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that (1Jn 5:16).

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Heb 10:26-27).

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Heb 6:4-6).

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud" (2Pet 2:20-22).

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. 30 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt 12:22-32).

1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. 4 I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 8 I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say" (Luke 12:1-12).

It seems that God does not forgive those who continually, willfully sin after they have accepted Christ’s sacrifice, and those who knowingly attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. It is hypocritical people who know much about God and still sin who are in danger of committing the "unpardonable sin", not those who are weak or know little about God. The only people specifically mentioned as being in danger of the "unpardonable sin" in the Bible are the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. These leaders were not agonizing over the sins they had committed wondering if they could possibly be made worthy some day—they thought they were righteous! A person who recognizes that he or she is sinning and need to repent has half the battle won. The rest of the battle is realizing they must then not fail to go to God (again!), in humility, and ask for mercy and forgiveness:

10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [who considered himself righteous] and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." 14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).

The Purpose of God

It is probably only natural for people to ask: "Why is God doing what He is doing?" Why has He put man on the earth, given Him the ability to reproduce and make billions of people, yet allowed most of them to live out their entire lives with little or no understanding of God? Why does He allow some people to make other people suffer greatly? Why does He give his truth to a few people and expect them to live righteous lives amid a largely sinful world? Why did a perfect God create sin-prone human beings in the first place?

A thorough study of that subject in the Bible could fill a book by itself. But we can see the basic answer in just two short passages:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1Jn 3:1-3).

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Rev 21:3).

God wants children to live with Him! Why do human couples, who have a nice house and a comfortable income, decide to have children? Children are a lot of work. They cost a lot of money and may mess up a nice house! But rearing children is in many ways the ultimate creative act. They are somewhat like their parents, yet different—a similar, yet separately existing entity. Parents hope their children will like and honor them; they hope they will do something worthwhile with their lives.

So it is with God and His children (us). But God has something even more important to deal with than human parents do. God gives eternal life to His children. God does not want to create a child that will be miserable and make others miserable forever. He uses this physical (capable of dying) existence to test us so He can know what we are like and what we will do in many different situations:

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied (Gen 22:1).

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands (Deut 8:2).

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 13:1-3).

Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Pslm 26:2).

Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, But establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds (Pslm 7:9, NKJV).

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the Lord tests the hearts (Prv 17:3, NKJV).

"I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve" (Jer 17:10).

But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause (Jer 11:20).

O Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause (Jer 20:12).

This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David. Hezekiah prospered in all his works. 31 However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart (2Chr 32:30-31, NKJV).

Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance (Jms 1:3).

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1Pet 1:7, KJV).

I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds (Rev 2:23).

Before writing this paper, I was unaware that there were so many verses explaining that God tests us. It seems that people fit somewhere into one of four general categories:

  • People who cannot or will not live a righteous life in any environment.

  • People who can live a righteous life if others around them are righteous.

  • People who can live a righteous life even though others around them are openly sinning.

  • People who not only live a righteous life while others around them are sinning, but can take abuse from evil people and still love them, serve them and encourage them to live righteously.

  • Christ was the ultimate example of "category 4". He lived a perfect life, taught truth, and continually helped others even though He was resisted by Satan, the government of His day and even His own followers. Obviously, there are people who may fit between categories 2 and 3—some may be able to remain righteous in the face of some kinds of sins, but not others. Similarly, some people will fit between categories 3 and 4—some can handle more abuse than others, and some can be of more service than others.

    In general, it seems that God wants category 4 (and maybe some 3) people in the first resurrection so they can help to judge and teach the others during the Millennial Kingdom and final judgment. The rest of category 3 and 2 people can be given eternal life in the second resurrection. Category 1 people, sadly, can only be given eternal destruction.

    (You may also wish to read the Appendix, Why Does God Allow People to Believe So Many Different Things?)

    God Provides the Strength We Need

    Much of this paper speaks of what God expects believers to do—indeed, much of the New Testament speaks about what a believer should do. As we stated at the beginning, this paper is not teaching "salvation by our own works", but salvation by letting Christ do His works through us.

    For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:19-20).

    Nevertheless, it falls our lot to judge ourselves—to look for those works in ourselves and to ask Christ to put them in us.

    I [the apostle Paul] know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phlp 4:12-13).

    And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phlp 4:19).

    Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (1Jn 3:21-23).

    Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Heb 13:5-6)

    For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2Tim 1:7).

    Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (Jms 5:16).

    I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:18-20).

    We all go through stages in our lives when we either begin a new sin or we see an old sin clearly for the first time. The sin may overcome us for a while, before we begin to seek God to overcome the sin. After the sin is overcome by the power of God, there may be good times—when we feel good and a lot is accomplished. Then a new trial or sin comes along and the cycle repeats. The important thing is that we have cycles of overcoming, not cycles of defeat. The formula is the same, whether we are first accepting Christ’s forgiveness, or have done so long ago:

  • See our sin. "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness" (1Jn 3:4). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).

  • Repent, be baptized and receive the holy spirit. "Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’" (Acts 2:38).

  • Continually learn God’s way. "...Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4).

  • Live our life for God. "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" (James 2:17-18).

  • Stay in contact with God. "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1Thes 5:16-18).

  • Stay in contact with other believers. "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb 10:25).

  • Endure till the end. "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor 1:8).

  • Summary

    There is a tendency for people to want to believe that God is reserving a "special place" for them because they "claim Jesus", because they are a member of the "right" church group or because they believe the "true" doctrines. Romans 2:11-16 shows that it is better to believe the right doctrine than false doctrine, but just knowing the truth is not enough. "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous" (Rom 2:13).

    For scripture references, please see the appropriate sections of the paper. To summarize as briefly as possible:

  • The traditional idea that "people go to either Heaven or Hell when they die" is not in the Bible. Everyone who has died is awaiting a resurrection from the dead and a judgment at that time.

  • Those that have done much evil will be judged and punished more severely than those who have done little—whether they are defying the laws of the Bible or simply their own understanding of right and wrong.

  • Those who know they are doing evil will be judged more severely than those who did it in ignorance.

  • Those that have judged others harshly will be harshly judged.

  • Those who have done good works will be rewarded for them, whether they know about God or not.

  • Christ offers forgiveness for all sins, and grants it for sins that we repent of. But those who believe in Him may die not knowing all of their sins or not having repented of them. Believers who have not learned enough, or have not done what Christ wanted them to do will receive additional correction in the Millennial Kingdom or after the second resurrection. They may receive eternal life at that time.

  • Those judged more righteous will be in the first resurrection and cannot die the second death. To be in the first resurrection, we must dedicate our entire life to God now, and learn to judge ourselves with God’s righteous judgment.

  • Christ wants to save everyone. He will do His good works through us if we ask Him and let Him. He will not cast away anyone who comes to Him, but He will not force anyone to obey him. Those who insist on rejecting Him will ultimately die the second death—be destroyed forever.

  • Exactly what will happen to each person in regard to judgment, correction, punishment and reward is not completely spelled out in the Bible. God is clearly not pleased with people who try to do as little as possible in this life, but "just enough" to escape the second death.

  • The purpose of God is to test and to know the hearts of people while they are physical—before giving them Eternal life.

  • He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Mic 6:8).

    The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (Eccl 12:13-14, NRSV).

    After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments... (Rev 19:1-2).


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