10 Things You Should Know about the Final Judgment

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

A Central Message

The final judgment may seem to be bad news or even cruel, but when we think about it more deeply we discover it is central to the message we preach, that the gospel shines with clarity in light of the final judgment. Ten truths about the final judgment—ten reasons why it is so important—are sketched here.

1. The final judgment is good news.

Why? Because life doesn’t make sense if there is no judgment, if there are no standards, if anything goes, if there is no accountability for what we do. Imagine a world where there are no consequences for what we do. It would be a world like The Lord of the Flies, where kids run wild and oppress and mistreat those who are weak. A world without judgment is a world of anarchy, a world in which those who terrorize others sin with impunity.

2. The final judgment reminds us that God is good, that he is holy, and that he can’t tolerate evil.

Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 that God judges the world because he is just. Some people think that the final judgment calls into question God’s goodness, but it is just the opposite. The final judgment verifies that God is just and righteous, that he is the Holy One of Israel. Because of his holiness, he cannot tolerate sin.

The Justice and Goodness of God

Thomas R. Schreiner

Thomas Schreiner offers a comprehensive analysis of eternal destruction, examining themes of sin, death, and redemption repeated throughout the New Testament and other passages of Scripture.

3. The final judgment teaches us that evil won’t triumph.

When we see the horrendous evils perpetrated in our world, we may question if those who pursue evil will finally win. Will the wicked perpetually rage and the world continue to be a place of sorrow and war? Scripture proclaims that hose who murder, rape, and terrorize others and who never turn away from evil will not get away with their wickedness forever. Goodness will finally win; justice is the last word.

4. The gospel doesn’t make any sense if there isn’t a final judgment.

As Christians, we proclaim that Jesus saves, that when we trust in him we will be spared from the wrath to come. But the message of salvation in Jesus is pointless if there is no judgment. Many unbelievers today are sure of one thing: at death all will be well. Everyone after death will be fine. Nothing bad will happen to any of us. But if they are right, the call to believe in Jesus for salvation is robbed of significance. We may proclaim “Jesus saves,” but what does he save us from if there is no final reckoning? One reason the gospel falls on deaf ears is because unbelievers are convinced that their response to the gospel doesn’t make any difference.

5. God announces that there is a final judgment because he loves us.

He warns us about the cataclysm that is coming so that we will turn to him and live. The Lord declares in Ezekiel 18:31–32, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” Satan wants to cast a spell over us so that we believe that there will not be a judgment. He wants us to be like the sons-in-law of Lot when the latter told them about the impending destruction of Sodom. They dismissed his words as humorous, believing that Lot was jesting (Gen. 18:14). The Lord urgently warns us: the final judgment is real. It is not a myth. Warning about an impending disaster is the voice of love.

6. The final judgment isn’t only addressed to unbelievers.

The Lord also warns believers about the judgment to come (2 Thess. 1:5–10; 1 Pet. 4:1–6; Rev. 14:9–12). The prospect of final judgment motivates believers to persevere when we are persecuted and face troubles because we are Christians. The intention isn’t to paralyze believers with fear so that we are filled with terror. Instead, suffering believers are reminded of the fate of unbelievers, and thus they are encouraged to continue in the faith. We are tempted to think when we suffer that it isn’t worth it to follow Jesus if we are suffering. We need to know that it matters whether or not we continue to follow Jesus. Believers are reminded that persevering in faith matters, that those who don’t align with Jesus will face the wrath of God.

Because of his holiness, he cannot tolerate sin.

7. Salvation shines brighter when placed on the canvas of the final judgment.

If you are in a harrowing car wreck and you come out unharmed and safe, you feel a keen sense of relief and gratefulness that you escaped uninjured. The final judgment shows us what we deserved, what we, as sinners and as those who refused God’s ways, should experience. When we see and feel the glory of God’s merciful love in Jesus, we give thanks for our rescue, just as we are all the more thankful for our health after a ravaging case of the flu. Our escape from judgment should not provoke us to think we are better than unbelievers. Instead, we feel that we are blessed ten-fold in that the Lord has rescued us from his righteous wrath.

8. The Scriptures make it clear that the final judgment is forever.

We are not annihilated at death, but there is eternal conscious punishment forever (Rev. 14:9–11). The choices we make in life matter, and they have eternal consequences. God is infinitely holy, and thus those who despise his person will face a punishment that will never end. If you step on an insect, there is no punishment. But if you murder a fellow human being, you will certainly be punished. And if you try to kill the president or prime minister of your country, the punishment will be greater since you tried to put to death a person with dignity and honor. God has infinite dignity and honor, and thus those who sin against his person will face the consequences of their decisions forever. As theologians have often said: since God is infinitely holy, sinning against him has infinite consequences.

9. We didn’t invent the final judgment to frighten people.

It is clearly taught in the Scriptures and represents the teaching of the church throughout history. The day in which we live tends to minimize the consequences of our actions, and we are prone to emphasize God’s love over his holiness. But God is holy love, and this is the testimony of the Bible and of the church throughout the ages. The final judgment wasn’t invented by us but captures the faithful teaching of the church through the ages.

10. The final judgment motivates us to witness and proclaim the gospel to the lost.

We are all tempted to fear people and to think that others don’t want to hear the message. We need to think carefully, of course, about how to share with the lost. We don’t get anywhere if we are rude and annoying. But we are called upon to be bold and courageous. We know that a great day of reckoning is coming, that heaven and hell are at stake, and thus we call upon all people everywhere to repent. We don’t proclaim the judgment out of anger but from a heart of love. We long for people to be saved from the final and great catastrophe. We want to be faithful watchmen in our generation.

Thomas R. Schreiner is the author of The Justice and Goodness of God: A Biblical Case for the Final Judgment.

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