After Death The Judgment
Students of the Bible should recognize this phrase from the Epistle to the Hebrews. There, in the Authorized Version we read: "It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment" (9:27). The Revised Standard Version reads much the same way: "It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment."
Most Bible commentators apply these words universally, to all men. They do not insert the word "all" into their translations, but their commentaries indicate that they think that the text would be clearer if it read: "It is appointed unto all men once to die." As for the judgment there referred to--these same commentators claim that numerous scriptures prove that all men shall appear before Christ, who shall judge them after their death.
Now, no sensible man would dispute that all men die sooner or later. We also know that the Bible plainly speaks of a great day of judgment coming upon all the world. These things we hope to discuss in the following pages. Before turning to those subjects let's examine what the text itself says. We think you will then agree that the writer of Hebrews is discussing an altogether different matter than the view so commonly expressed.
Our text is not discussing mankind in general but a very special class of men. A word-for-word translation of the Greek reads: "It awaits the men once to die." Note these words carefully. It awaits, not "all" men, but the men. He refers here to those men he has just mentioned. Which men were they? He had been talking about the High Priests (Aaron and his successors in office). The context of Hebrews 9 is a discussion about the Levitical priesthood. What the chapter treats is those ritual offerings which represented Christ and his "better sacrifices" than those offered by the levitical priests (9:23).
Annually, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Most Holy alone. When he entered, he did so only with sacrificial blood. That animal blood represented himself and the nation as a whole. When he thus entered, he symbolically died. Not until he emerged from the tabernacle to bless the people did they know whether his sacrificial offering met God's acceptance or whether he had been struck down. The benediction he pronounced, expressed in the words Moses instructed him to use, was God's judgment on the matter. Then the national anxiety over atonement dissipated. Then they rejoiced and thankfully prepared for the Feast of Tabernacles immediately following the Day of Atonement.
The context here clears up all uncertainty. This passage is a comparison. Israel was blessed by the High Priest's ministration. Just so, believers are blessed by Christ's sacrifice. The Levitical High Priests (Aaron and his successors) were appointed to die (symbolically) once a year. This they did when the sacrificial blood was presented in the Most Holy, after which God approved their sacrificial offering. Christ, similarly, once offered himself to bear the sins of many. Unto them that look for him, he shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
He comes at his Second Advent, uncontaminated by the sins he bore, no more to repeat the offering for sin. He comes to implement the salvation he guaranteed by his death, offering everlasting life to all who accept it under the provisions of the Millennial kingdom which he will inaugurate.
We have seen how judgment relates to God's appraisal of the sacrificial offering of the high priest. There are both typical and antitypical applications of this idea. Let us now look at the same word "judgment" as it relates to humanity.
The Apostle Paul said this at Mars' Hill in his celebrated speech to the Athenians. Today, these words are inscribed in bronze on the hillside where he uttered them, a lasting testimony to God's foreordained plan of the ages.
Some Christian brethren suggest that we have already entered a day of judgment, if not the Judgment Day of our text. They ask, Has Judgment Day begun?
Before answering this question, let us consider the terms "judgment" and "day." How are they used in the Scriptures?
Judgment means more than rendering a verdict. A verdict results from a trial and the deliberations engaged in during that process. This applies to the English word "judgment" and the Greek word which it translates.
"Day," in Scripture and in common usage, most frequently describes an eight, twelve, or twenty-four hour period. Yet the word really defines any specific period of time. We speak of Noah's day, Luther's day, Washington's day. The Bible names the entire time of creation as a day. "The day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" (Genesis 2:4)--a long, definite time. We read of a forty-year day--"the day of temptation in the wilderness" (Hebrews 3:8,9). The terms "day of Christ," "day of judgment," and "his day" apply to the Millennial Age. During that age, Messiah reigns over, rules, and judges the world righteously. He tries them and renders a sentence.
Consult a complete concordance of the Bible and note the kind and amount of work to be accomplished during that period. You will soon see the impossibility of the common view which applies a twelve- or twenty-four hour definition to that period. Its scope demands a definition of wider significance--just as the Bible uses in other instances.
The Bible mentions various judgments. Two of these relate to man. Between them, several others occur.
In Eden, man first came under judgment. The entire race was judged (representatively) in Adam its head. Some persons resent this judgment, insisting that Adam misrepresented rather than represented them. God, whose wisdom is infinite, states the contrary to be true.
The world's second and final judgment day is still future. Then God will judge each individual.
When God judges the world, individually, Jesus Christ will serve as his appointed judge. God honored him in this way because he obeyed God, even unto death--for our redemption. God exalted him as a prince and a savior and gave him a life like his own. So empowered, he is able to bring men back from death and to grant judgment (including trial) to all whom he purchased with his own precious blood.
Is this trial something to fear? No. Scripture plainly declares that "God has committed all judgment unto the Son," and has given him "all power in heaven and in earth." Rejoice, therefore! The judge's character guarantees a just and merciful judgment, with due consideration for everyone's weaknesses.
All of the willing and obedient will be brought back to that perfection which was lost in Eden. With this conclusion, all the prophetic declarations agree. "With righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity" (Psalm 89:9).
The coming judgment will be on the same principles as the first. The law of obedience will be presented with the same reward of life and the same penalty of death as at the first judgment. As the first trial had a beginning, progressed, and culminated in a verdict and sentence, so the second will follow a process. Its sentence will be life to the righteous and death the unrighteous.
The second trial will be more favorable than the first. Each human is now gaining experience with evil. We learn through our failures what the cost of doing evil truly is. In that Millennial Kingdom, each human will experience the benefits of good.
Furthermore, people will be tried for their failures--not someone else's failures. None will die for Adam's sin or because of inherited imperfection. No one will say then, "The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:29). "But . . . every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge" (31:30). "The soul that sinneth, it [not its children] shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
Christ will gradually train and educate all men until they return to atonement with God. Thus brought to harmony with God and fully able to obey him, God will require absolute obedience. Then, God will cut off any who fail to obey, being judged unworthy of life. God demanded obedience from Adam. Adam was created able to obey God. All he needed was a lasting decision for obedience. God will require the same of humankind when the work of restoration is complete. No one will live forever who refuses full obedience. To sin then will be to willfully reject full light in the face of perfect ability.
We do not say that the world bears no responsibility now. Every man possesses some light, whether much or little. We are accountable to God for what we know, and our test is composed of what we do because of what we know. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3). "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Just recompense will be made for the good deeds and the evil deeds we do in this life. That recompense may occur now or in the hereafter. The choice is God's. "Some men's sins are open beforehand . . . and some they follow after" (1 Tim. 5:24). No others than the Lord's favored "little flock" have as yet sufficient light to incur the final penalty, the second death. We here merely raise the subject of the world's present accountability, leaving its fuller discussion for another occasion.
About six thousand years intervene between these two judgments. During this time, God has been selecting two special classes from among humanity. These he tests and trains in special ways. Those who pass this calling and its rigorous routine will be honored instruments during the second of the two great judgment days.
The Hebrews' writer calls these groups by special names: the "house of sons" and the "house of servants" (3:1-6). The first live during the Christian dispensation (the Gospel Age). The latter lived before the Christian dispensation. Both groups are faithful and both groups overcome in the strength of God. Those who successfully pass their trial for either of these two groups will not be judged again along with the world. They will enter into a reward already prepared for them because of their past faithfulness. This will occur when the world is entering its judgment. The faithful of these two periods become God's agents in blessing the world; in giving men instruction and training necessary for their final testing and judgment. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world" (1 Corinthians 6:2)?
Humanity's second judgment is preceded by the judgment of earth's nations, as national entities. Their judgment will be on three grounds: political, ecclesiastical, and social. Many scriptures make this clear, as we will see. Even though these grounds for judgment exist, it is important to distinguish between national judgment and individual judgment.
Individuals make up the nations, and individuals are largely responsible for the course the nations have taken (they must and do suffer in the calamities which befall their countries). Nevertheless, the judgment of humanity will be distinct from the judgment of the nations. The day of individual judgment will be the Millennial Age, as already noted. Then, under the favorable conditions of the New Covenant, a clear knowledge of the truth will be enjoyed. Every possible assistance and incentive to righteousness will exist, for all men individually (not collectively as nations) will be on trial for eternal life.
As said, the national judgment will precede this. Here, men will be judged for their collective capacities. The civil institutions of the world--social, financial, political, religious--have had a long lease of power. As the "Times of the Gentiles" close (Luke 21:24), they must surrender their accounts. The Lord told us what he knows to be the result of this judgment. Not even one lease will be found worthy of renewal. God decreed that dominion will be taken from them and that "he whose right it is" shall take the kingdom. All the nations will be given to him for an inheritance (Ezekiel 21:27; Daniel 7:27; Psalm 2:8; Revelation 2:26,27).
Listen to a few passages from other Prophets which bear on this subject:
We do not call attention to this subject out of sensationalism or to gratify idle curiosity. We cannot hope to effect such repentance as would change the present social, political, or religious institutions and avert calamity. The causes which produce this trouble (and powerful ones they are at that) have long been at work; no human power is able to arrest their operation or their progress toward their certain end. No hand but the hand of the Lord could stay the progress of current events. His hand will not do so until the bitter experiences of this conflict shall have taught mankind a lesson that will last all eternity.
Our object is to warn, to forearm, to comfort, and to encourage the "household of faith so that they may not be dismayed." That is what the Gospel is, God's Good News to men. These, looking beyond God's chastening discipline in the world, will see (by faith) the glorious outcome. In a day not far in the future, mankind will reap the fruits of righteousness and enduring peace.
Look at the world! Note the trouble, the collapse of human institutions, the failure of people in power to do what needs be done. If you have investigated biblical time-prophecies, you will note that these things are occurring in conjunction with biblically predicted events. In the light of such things, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion but that the nations of this world are being judged! As you are reading these words the governments are demonstrating their failures: poverty, distribution of wealth, crime, drugs, immorality. They have, truly, been laid in the balances and found wanting (Daniel 5:27). Even the average man can recognize this. For years it has been said that the gathering of the kingdoms has been in progress, preparatory to God's pouring out upon them his indignation, "even all his fierce anger" (Zephaniah 3:8,9). Men have even adopted the use of the biblical term "Armageddon" to describe what increasingly is foreseen as the likely eventuality of today's societal problems.
Modern discovery and inventions make the remotest ends of the earth neighbors to each other. Travel, mail, telephone, television, satellite uplinks: these bring the world into a community of thought inconceivable a few years ago. Truly, the nations are "assembled" in a manner not expected. Yet, they are assembled in the only manner in which they could be assembled; namely, in common interest and activity. It is unfortunate that they could not be assembled in brotherly love--because selfishness marks every step of this assembly.
The spirit of enterprise (of which selfishness is the motive power) prompts the construction of railways, supertankers, communications networks, computer and super-computers. Selfishness pervades commerce and international relations until every enterprise has been colored by it. Even the Gospel has been partly discredited because notable preachers have lost their credibility when falling prey to their own peccadilloes. Yes, selfishness has gathered the nations and it has prepared them for the predicted, approaching retribution so graphically described by the prophet as "the fire of God's jealousy." His anger is about to utterly consume the present social order of earth.
All we have said so far is looking at things from man's standpoint. From the prophet's view, this gathering of the nations is ascribed to God, not to man. Both views are correct. Man exercises his free will while God's overruling providence shapes human affairs to accomplish God's purposes. While men and their works are agencies of God, God is the great commander who gathers and assembles the nations, preparatory to transferring earth's dominion to him "whose right it is"--Immanuel.
One prophet tells us why the Lord is gathering the nations. "That I may . . . pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger" (Zephaniah 3:8). This message would bring us sorrow and anguish only, were it not for the assurance that good shall result to the world. Christ's millennial kingdom will overthrow selfishness. He will reign in righteousness. "Then I will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent" (vs. 9). Their communications will no longer be selfish but pure, truthful, and loving.
The clouds of trouble deepen. Thunder tones of judgment call the earth "from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof" (Psalm 50:1)--from the East to the West. The lightning flashes bolts of truth and examples of righteousness across the faces of all men. Observe how the earth shakes. It is so severe a shaking that it will overthrow all institutions, systems, and governments. Present events speak in trumpet tones. "A sound of battle is in the land, and of great destruction" (Jeremiah 50:22).
How shall we regard these things? Surely, my brethren in Christ who have been bought by the same precious blood as myself, it will be with thoughtful and reverent hearts! In this eventful era everything that is shakable will be shaken, and only truth and righteousness will remain unshaken (Hebrews 12:25-29). Every one called to share in Christ's kingdom must love righteousness and exercise a loyally courageous influence for righteousness, justice, mercy, and peace. All others shall be removed. In the end, only the true will remain. Seeing that we look forward for such things, let us be diligent so that he may find us inwardly peaceful, without spots, and blameless, as the Apostle exhorts (2 Peter 3:14).
When our Lord walked this earth in flesh, Jerusalem's destruction and Palestine's ruin were at hand. In those days, our Savior warned his disciples not to lay up treasures for themselves on earth. His counsel to them was to lay up treasures in heaven where in the end they would find them. The Lord's people today occupy a similar position. The day of symbolic "burning" is near. Christendom is about to be destroyed. In this conflagration, earthly possessions will be valueless. The opportunities to lay up treasure in heaven will soon evaporate. Heed the master's words, dedicating or rededicating your earthly life and fortune on his altar. Seek for yourself time to spend in the service of him who called you out of darkness to light. Use your talent and ability in his service who will at last welcome the faithful into the Father's house of many mansions. There we shall find heavenly treasures that can never fade, never tarnish, never rust. Those are treasures whose glory and luster will abide throughout all time.
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