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Why Judgement?

by Tim O'Hearn

“If we are saved if we believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and accept him as our Lord and savior then why do we have to have judgement day?” Someone asked this perceptive question recently, and it deserves a good answer. People generally have misconceptions about judgement in general and “the judgement” in particular. Perhaps a little closer look at the scriptures can shed a little light on this subject.

One common view of the judgement is that (with all eternity to complete it) each of us will stand before God and watch a video of our lives, especially the sins. Then, if our good outweighs the sin we will be allowed into heaven. This is how most children seem to view it. It is also the view of the legalist, who has to ask, “Will I go to hell if.” Of course, this is also wrong. It is similar to the ancient Egyptian view. When one dies, they said, his maat (roughly equivalent to a soul) is weighed against a feather. If it is heavier than the feather, the maat was consumed by the crocodile headed god and the person was obliterated.

Christian scriptures paint a different picture. Our good is not weighed against the bad; none of us can do enough good to counteract one sin. A single sin is enough to make us guilty before God. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (Jas 2:10) That is where Jesus comes in. “But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9:26) His blood removes sin, so that there is no guilt to weigh against anything. But, then why is there a judgement?

Another view of the judgement is that of a criminal court. We are the defendants, standing with our lawyer at our side. If our lawyer is good (that is, if he is Jesus) then he can convince God not to condemn us. If our lawyer is not so good, then we don’t stand a chance. Depending on who is standing beside you, it is a foregone conclusion what the sentence will be. While there may be some validity in this, it again begs the question, then why is there a judgement? If we go into the trial knowing who is innocent and who is guilty, why hold what amounts to a mock trial?

A variation on that view is that the judgement is the sentencing phase, and we were pronounced guilty or innocent at death. This ignores that if we are innocent, there should be no sentencing.

There is another possibility that depends on the meaning of the phrase, to judge. In the Greek, the word is that from which we get the term critic, or criticize. It really means to separate or to distinguish between two things. The forensic meaning of the word is way down on the list of possible interpretations. How does this make a difference?

Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 25. He describes a judgement.

But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:31-34)

This judgement is not judicial. It is not that the judge hears testimony and passes sentence. Rather it is more like the individual in the vegetable packing plant, who watches the produce come down the conveyer and plucks out everything that is rotten or blemished. He is not considering guilt or innocence. He is simply separating the good from the bad.

Taking this view, there has to be a judgement. At the end of all things, God separates the saved from the unsaved. No videos; no testimony. Are you in Christ, or not? Technically, it is not even a condemnation. Saved or unsaved; sheep or goats, ripe or unripe? If there are two possibilities of eternity, heaven and hell, then there must be a separation. That separation is what is meant by judgement.