I believe that the term "Judgement" is misunderstood by most people.
This is a big topic, and I am not trying to give a comprehensive analysis of teaching on the subject, but rather to try and share something of the peace and confidence I find in this whole topic. There are quite a few references in Scripture that illuminate this whole area for me.
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 1 and 2, Scripture records "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." What is particularly interesting to me is that the order of these basic doctrines as listed in these two verses matches exactly the order in which they were restored to the Christian Church following the Dark Ages.
The first is the "foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God", which I think was significantly restored during the Reformation. Likewise, "instruction about baptisms" was restored to the Church with movements that reinstituted water baptism. It could be said that "the laying on of hands" was restored at the start of the 20th century with the Pentecostal Movement, leaving "the resurrection of the dead", and "eternal judgment."
To me, this is exciting, because if you take the above historical sequence to be significant in terms of the verses in Hebrews (and this is only conjecture, really) then the next spiritual principles to be restored to the Christian Church could be truths and experiences to do with resurrection from the dead and judgement - in all aspects, especially as judgement relates to eternal issues.
I think it would be fair to suggest that these truths have yet to truly be restored. Until they are, then exactly what these truths comprise may yet surprise us - both how simple and yet how powerful they are. I do not claim to have any exclusive view of truth, but want to share with others the following concepts concerning judgement.
Some people say, "What goes around comes around." Some refer to "Karma". It is written in the Bible (see the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians, chapter 6, verse 7), "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."
Scripture makes reference to a final Judgement. (The “great white throne” described by the apostle John in the book of Revelation in chapter 20 and verses 11 to 13.) For each of us still living, this is some time in the future, that is if you accept this teaching at all. I personally do believe in this final Judgement – and I look forward to it. I don't believe that this will be the “terrible” experience that some would suggest.
In Psalm 96, verse 13 it is written, “they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”
This sounds pretty joyful to me. How can this be, if this is so dreadful? There are some principles that might help us to understand better;
1. Do not judge others
Luke’s gospel, chapter 6 and verse 37 records that Jesus said, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
I think this is pretty obvious, although not always easy. If cultivated, it can become a way of life. This does not mean becoming a doormat for others to walk all over, but rather accepting the way others are without becoming a “victim”.
2. Settle quickly
Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verse 25 records that Jesus advised "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.”
Settle matters as quickly as you can. Don’t allow the poor behaviour of others to adversely affect your attitude or your altitude. (Your emotions.) If you can do this, you may discover that the offence others feel they have against you has some foundation, and this too can be settled. If anyone reading this has been hurt by me at any time for any reason, right now, I ask your forgiveness.
3. Be spiritually aware
The apostle Paul advised the Corinthians, “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment” in his first letter to them, chapter 2, verse 15.
Be aware that we are spiritual beings, living in a physical body, having a soul. If we have a true awareness of who we are, we can judge other issues correctly, especially regarding ourselves. The trouble is, too often, we don't have a true appreciation (both good and bad) of who we are, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Most often we will have a poor self-image. This is not humility. True humility is seeing ourselves, and judging ourselves rightly.
4. Judge ourselves
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 31 to 32, he states “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”
I believe this to be a key. This is not advising that we should think badly of ourselves, having a poor self image. In fact it is rather the reverse. Judging ourselves is a matter of seeing who we really are – as we are – having a true appreciation of our own faults, yes, but also our strengths, talents and purpose. I believe that if we can judge ourselves, seeing ourselves as God sees us, then we have nothing to fear from the “Great Judgement”, as we will already have been judged.
In the book of Revelation chapter 20 and verses 11 to 13, the apostle John described, “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. 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 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.”
I truly look forward to this time. I fully expect it to be a time of celebration – a sort of homecoming.
I have struggled most of my life with a deep feeling of injustice as a result of being misunderstood. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that one day, when the books are opened, I will be seen as I really am and have been, and my motives will be seen for what they were. I'm not perfect by any means, and there will be much that I know could be painful for me at that time, but to the extent that I have accepted judgement here and now, I know that the judgement in that day will be less.
I would go further, in fact, and suggest that God will be seen as the Righteous Judge of all. The way that I see this is that when we see ourselves as we really are – for the first time ever – the judgement will actually be rendered by us on ourselves. This is what I referred to above as “pain”. We will see how our actions have offended and affected others negatively, or where opportunities to serve others have been missed. I don’t see “judgement” as being to then sentence us to some punishment, but rather that in seeing things as they really were during our lifetime, we will receive judgment according to truth. No more, no less!
I see God as a loving Father of all. In fact the Scripture reassures me that at that time, He will be on my side, and all will be forgiven. If we are cast out from His presence as some Scriptures could indicate, then this will be as a result of our own decision, whether we choose at that time to spend eternity in His presence of not. It is our choice now, and I believe that it will be our choice still on that Great Day. I have made my choice.
The "Pain" of Judgement
When discussing this with someone recently, they suggested that it could be painful to be judged through seeing ourselves and our actions as they really were. I am confident in my reply, which was that the pain we feel now in reviewing our past is simply because we don’t actually see us or others as we really are. Once we see ourselves as we really are, the "pain" I referred to above is quite different from that which we experience and can imagine now. It simply cannot be comprehended in our present temporal state. It needs to be experienced in the light of eternity!
(Take a look at my thoughts on Being Ourselves as there is a connection.)
All Scriptural references quoted are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.