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Are You Ready For the Judgment of God?
David A. DePra
When we think of the "judgment of God," we often think of punishment, plagues, or hell. But did you know that when the Bible speaks of God's judgment, that it often means it in a positive way? The fact is, the judgment of God is intended to set me free.
God judges us by Jesus Christ. He brings the Light of Truth found in His Son and opens and exposes us. Then, if we will stand in that light, we will be set free of deception, lies, sin, and error.
One of the best illustrations of God’s judgment is found in John 3. It says there:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:16-21)
Light – the Truth about salvation in Jesus Christ – is the primary instrument of God’s judgment. That may sound surprising, because we often think of “judgment” as the final SENTENCE handed down to someone. But in the Bible, God’s judgment entails much more than that. The Greek word bears this out. The word judgment, from the Greek “krisis,” means primarily "a separating," then, "a decision, judgment.” It denotes "the process of investigation, the act of distinguishing and separating."
What we see here is that God judges by EXPOSING. He judges by showing things to be exactly what they are. Is this not what LIGHT does? Light exposes and shows things for what they are. God exposes all things for what they are by applying the Truth to them – the Truth found only in His Son. THEN, having done that, God pronounces His final judgment – or we could say – His final pronouncement – upon what He is judging.
God’s judgment, then, is always perfect and just. That is because there are no details left out, nothing overlooked, and no confusion or misunderstanding. In the light of God ALL THINGS are made manifest. They are exposed and shown for what they really are.
Another way the Bible drives this point home is by telling us that God IS light. Thus, if we are going to have fellowship with God now, and live with Him forever, we are going to have to be exposed to this eternal LIGHT.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:5-8)
The point here is that the closer we get to God, the more things get exposed. And why not? We are getting closer to the Truth Himself! And while, at first, this “light” might be a bit hard to take, might even “hurt” our eyes, the Truth sets us free.
God wants us to know the Truth about Himself. But as we stand in His Light, we also get a lot more in this “package” than we might at first think. You see, light is rather unselective. Where you have light, EVERYTHING gets illuminated. Consequently, if we want to see God, and know the Truth, we have to see and confess the Truth about ourselves.
This is not bad news. It is good news. The way we get free from sin and bondage and deception is by seeing the Truth.
Isn’t it amazing how when we think of the “judgment of God” we think of something negative? We think of condemnation! But according to God, it doesn’t have to be condemnation at all. If we are willing to come into the Light and have ourselves exposed as sinners, and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, THAT IS OUR JUDGMENT. But in that case, it is a judgment FOR us – although against our “old man in Adam.” The result is, yes, death to “our Adam” in the crucified Christ, but we are carried up with Christ to newness of life through the resurrection.
Condemnation IS a “judgment against.” And in John 3 we see what condemnation is the result OF: OF refusing the Light. Condemnation is not the result of being born in Adam. It is the result of staying there once we see that Light has come. For that there is NO excuse.
Imagine living in a dark prison cell your whole life. Then one day, the light goes on in the cell. You see your condition. What you thought was freedom, you now see is captivity. What you thought was normal, you now see is abnormal. Of course, you don’t have all the answers. You don’t necessarily even know what it is like OUTSIDE the cell. How could you? But the light has come on, and now you realized your condition. You now realize that there is more to life than your cell. You realize that there IS life OUTSIDE of it.
You see something else, too. You see that your cell door has been unlocked and swung wide open. Posted on the door is a certificate of full forgiveness, and directions on how to get out of the prison to the outside world.
Now notice: It does not matter whether you go over to the wall and turn off the light – YOU HAVE SEEN. You can argue, rationalize, and try to put it out of your mind. BUT YOU HAVE SEEN. Consequently, if you refuse to confess you are a prisoner, and if you refuse to receive the forgiveness, and refuse to read the directions out of the prison, what excuse is there for you? None. Up to the time the light came on, you were not in prison because of your own choice. But now that the light has come on, and you see the way out, you ARE there only because of your freewill choice.
This is an illustration of our responsibility before God. We may not be responsible for being born in Adam, but we are responsible for what we do once we know that way out into Christ. We may not know theology or be able to describe much about life in Christ. But once God turns on the Light, we do know enough to start walking out of the prison cell.
God tells us exactly WHY people love the darkness, rather than the Light: People’s deeds are evil. In other words, they do not want to be exposed for what they are before God. They would rather keep themselves hiding in the darkness. Behind this, of course, is pride, and the refusal to change. People want their life. And if they persist, God will give it to them.
What we see here is both a sobering, yet a perfectly JUST, aspect of the judgment of God: God will give us exactly what we choose. And because we have seen LIGHT, there will be no confusion as to what we are choosing, or why we are choosing.
Get that. We are not here talking about confusion. If people make terrible choices, based on ignorance or confusion, God has yet to bring the full Light. Or must bring it on stronger. THAT IS His way of judging us: BY bringing more and more Light. But once God does bring the Light of Truth, then the choices are no longer ambiguous. They are being made in the full Light. And they are going to be ones which have eternal ramifications.
God judges all of us by bringing LIGHT. Then if we hand ourselves over to the Redemption of Jesus Christ, we will find freedom and new life. But if we shrink back into the darkness, there are no other options. Every time we consider turning to God, He will say to us, “Come into the Light.”
What is it like to be judged by the Light of God? WE – every one of us – are going to stand in the Light of Jesus Christ and be shown for exactly who we are. There will be no escape, no hiding, no secrets, and no more games. Every rationalization, argument, and twisted excuse will be opened to the Light.
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judges me is the Lord.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (I Cor. 4:4-5)
Naturally, nothing which goes on here will be news to God. He ALREADY sees things that way. Nothing is hidden from Him. But in the Light of His Son, WE are going to see the Truth about ourselves.
The good news, according to the apostle John, is that if we have already unconditionally surrendered ourselves to God, we are ALREADY being judged. We are already being exposed by the Truth. But because we are surrendered, we are being set free AS we are being exposed. Thus, we have nothing to fear with regard to the final judgment of God.
For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. (I Cor. 11:31)
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. (I John 4:17)
God’s judgment in the Light is something which is supposed to be going on in Christians right now. At salvation, we unconditionally hand ourselves over to God for this judgment. And as we walk forward with God, He brings the Light and starts to use it to specifically judge us, for the purpose of setting us free from deception and darkness. The Truth, the Light – the knowledge of Jesus Christ – sets us free.
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (I Peter 4:17-18)
The “last judgment” is going to be the point at which EVERYTHING is opened and exposed. It will be the point at which every person’s REAL motives and REAL intents are exposed in the light of God. God’s admonition to us is this: Let Me commence with this judgment NOW. Let me set you free. Then, there will be NO judgment later.
Heaven and Hell
Religious tradition has misrepresented heaven and hell as possible eternal destinies. Most people have been taught that if you live a good life, you will go to heaven, but if you live a bad life you will go to hell. They say that heaven is a happy place -- the reward for living that good life. Hell is a bad place, a place where the bad people burn forever. Hell is said to be the punishment of God upon people who have lived a bad life.
Sometimes even the preaching of the gospel bears the scars of these erroneous concepts. We present the gospel as a threat of punishment – as a threat of hell. We say, “Jesus died for you. Believe and receive Him or God is going to send you to hell!”
The suggestion behind such a presentation of the gospel is that man is born into this world ALIVE, and if he does the right things, God will reward him by making that life eternal. If he does not do the right things – especially believe on Jesus – then God will punish him by taking away that life and sending him to an eternal hell.
Of course, this whole thing is wrong. Man is not born into this world alive. He is born dead. Thus, the gospel, rather than a threat of death, is an offer of LIFE. Rather than a threat of the punishment of hell, is an offer of heaven. In short, God does have to threaten to send us to hell if we refuse to believe in Jesus. He tells us that we are already on our way to hell without Jesus. Jesus came to give us LIFE, and the eternal destiny of heaven.
What we see in all of this is that the issue is not so much heaven or hell. The issue is LIFE or DEATH. So any concept of heaven being given to those who “live a good life,” and hell being the place for those who “live a bad life,” is wrong. The reality is, either I am ALIVE, or I am DEAD. Period. Once that issue is settled, then heaven and hell, and everything else, falls into place.
The Bible says, “In Adam all die. In Christ, all are made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) It does not get any more simple than that. If I am still in Adam, I have NO LIFE. But if I am in Christ, I have eternal life.
And how do I get OUT of Adam, and IN Christ? Paul says, “By grace you are saved through faith.” (Eph. 2:8) I repent of refusing Christ – repent of staying in Adam – and embrace Jesus Christ by faith. THAT is how. Not complicated, is it?
Once I do embrace Christ, Jesus Himself told us what happens:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
If I have received Christ, I have ALREADY passed from death to life. I ALREADY have LIFE in me.
Now here is where heaven and hell come in. Heaven and hell are LOCATIONS – somewhere in the eternal realm. But the thing that determines to which I belong is whether I have life or death in me. To put it another way, my CONDITION determines my eternal LOCATION.
I am either in a spiritual condition which is able to live forever with God, or I am not. I am in that condition if I have Christ in me. But if I do not have Christ in me, I am not able to live with God in heaven.
Now note: This is not a matter of God “deciding” whether to let me into heaven or hell, based on my works. It is a matter of whether I am able to live there, based on whether I have LIFE in me. To put it plainly, I can only live IN heaven if there is heaven IN ME. There is ONLY LIFE in heaven. If you don’t have life, you can’t live there. It is impossible.
The Bible actually never says, not even once, that anyone “goes to heaven.” Instead, it talks about “entering the kingdom of God” through the new birth. The kingdom of God is the realm or reign of God. The kingdom of God is described in many ways throughout the gospels by Jesus Christ. But never say the kingdom of God or heaven is limited to THE heaven of God’s throne. No. Certainly the kingdom OF God is ruled by God FROM that throne. But Jesus said that “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 21:17) So there is much more to the kingdom of God than just heaven itself.
And don’t think of salvation as “going to heaven.” Salvation is LIFE. Salvation is being “in Christ.” Of course, if you have LIFE and are “in Christ,” heaven comes with the package. But rather than focus on heaven as a destiny, focus on Jesus Christ the Person. He is the one you and I will live with throughout the ages.
As noted, heaven is God’s throne. All we know about it is what God tells us in picture lessons, such as a few in the book of revelation. We need to believe and receive these in the spirit intended – as representations of a spiritual realm in picture lessons we can grasp in the physical realm. We should not press them beyond that. We will someday find out all about heaven.
What is Hell?
What Jesus called “hell fire” is often portrayed as a place of eternal torment where people are burning with a fire that cannot be quenched, and which never actually consumes those it burns – almost the same way in which the “burning bush” of Moses appeared. But actually, the Bible never says that those in this “hell fire” are not consumed. It simply says that the FIRE ITSELF cannot be quenched. The FIRE ITSELF is everlasting.
Furthermore, we are again talking about an eternal realm, not a physical realm. So how could this be a physical fire, which burns – or does not consume -- physical bodies? It could not be. Clearly, when Jesus taught about “hell fire” He was once again using picture lessons. He was talking about something in another realm for which we have little frame of reference. So He gave us pictures for which we DO have a frame of reference.
Some of the traditions and assumptions about the nature of hell fall to the ground if we just read a few of the scriptures which describe it.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28)
Here Jesus talks about a “hell” in which both the body and soul can be DESTROYED. This doesn’t sound like the “hell” most people have been taught about – the one where nothing is destroyed, but only tortured.
The reality is, God would have no use whatsoever for the kind of hell where people simply suffer -- unto no end. There is nothing about the true God which would make room for such a place. But nevertheless, there IS a place of eternal separation from God. We need to find out what this place is.
Jesus used the word “Gehenna” – which is translated “hell fire.” What did that word mean in His day and age? Finding that out will answer much of the question. Jesus also spoke of “outer darkness” as being the place of eternal punishment.
Right away, we see WHY these things must be picture lessons. How can a place where there is fire also be a place which is dark? It can't be. Again, we are using physical terms to describe spiritual realities.
The gospels record three times where Jesus referred to this place of "outer darkness:"
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 8:12)
And cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 22:13)
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:30)
Each time this term is used, someone is CAST there -- from God's presence. And each time, Jesus says that in that outer darkness will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Not a pretty picture. But obviously, Jesus did not tell these parables, nor paint such a sobering picture, for no reason. He told these parables to correct us, and help us avoid the fate described.
What is "the outer darkness?" Most of us would probably say, "It is eternal hell." Of course, we have no clue as to how to reconcile outer darkness with hell fire -- if we think hell consists of fire – but many of us would say it anyways. We think that when Jesus says that someone is to be cast into outer darkness that He is talking about God throwing someone into hell.
Actually, the Bible never speaks of eternal damnation as being literal fire. Not even in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. "Gehenna" is the word used for "hell fire" which is everlasting. And that place "gehenna" was an actual place during Jesus' time. It was the garbage heap outside the wall of Jerusalem, located in the Kidron valley. This place was also a location where Israel had sunk to their lowest moral ebb, sacrificing children to false Gods. This was the valley of Hinnom.
Note that the "gehenna fire" was ALWAYS burning. That's because there was always garbage from a city like Jerusalem Thus, that is why it was everlasting fire -- figuratively speaking. But the real picture is that of a fire which is there to burn garbage, in this case, spiritual garbage in US. And if we resist God, it never is able to burn it. So it is a fire which always burns, but never consumes -- but only "torments" because we are resisting God in favor of our own will. There is both a temporal and eternal application to this.
But then there is "outer darkness." What is that? Well, actually, it is somewhat the same picture. There was so much smoke from that ever-burning fire in gehenna, that it made everything in that valley DARK. And because that valley was OUTSIDE the city walls, this place could be called the "outer darkness."
Note the geographical relationship. We have Jerusalem, which would be the INNER -- and this stands for the presence of God. But then we have the OUTER darkness, which is outside the city walls.
Those who are cast out of God's presence are cast into this outer darkness. But then we have even yet a third place: Into the fire itself.
Removal from the presence of God, outer darkness, and then eternal gehenna fire -- these are the three locations with which we are dealing. And generally, they are refer to the SAME spiritual condition, resulting in the SAME eternal fate.
Outer -- from What?
In Jesus' time, the "outer darkness" referred to a place OUTSIDE of the city of Jerusalem, but not necessarily IN the gehenna fire itself. The term "outer darkness" suggests much.
First of all, take the word "outer." Once you use that word, you have to have what? An "inner." Sure. Do you see that? If you have an "outer darkness," you have to have a location which is INNER, so that, relatively speaking, there can be an OUTER. There is no "outer" anything unless you have an "inner" to which it is being contrasted.
The parables provide us with the identity of the "inner." In each case, someone is being cast into "outer darkness" FROM the presence of Jesus, or from a position God gave them. So the word "outer" is speaking in relation to God. He is the center, or the inner. His presence likened to Jerusalem itself.
The spiritual picture, however, carries even more meaning. In Jesus there is all life, light, and Truth. God IS light. So spiritually speaking, the closer you get to God, the more light there is. The farther away you get, the darker it is. Thus, the "outer darkness" is not close to God. It is away from Him.
But in the parables, do not simply limit the meaning of being cast into the outer darkness to something geographical. No. It is much more than that. It is more importantly, the SPIRITUAL CONDITION of the person being "cast" there.
Jesus is describing individuals who were saved, but who have spent their lives DISTANCING themselves from God. They were apparently saved because they are shown to be given the opportunity to do right, be faithful, and stay in the inner light. Those who are not saved never have that opportunity in the first place. These individuals all had a certain amount of light, but nevertheless chose to DISTANCE themselves from that light.
Remember what we saw earlier about the JUDGMENT of God? He brings the Light of Jesus and exposes us. He calls us what we are -- so that we might turn and be set free. But if we instead love darkness, and choose to hide there, God will allow us. Consequently, at the end of the age, we will receive exactly what we have chosen: Darkness.
In this we see that the "darkness" is a picture of where those who reject the Light shall dwell. Because they have darkness within them, they are assigned to a LOCATION which corresponds to their spiritual CONDITION.
Quite a sobering thought: They chose to distance themselves from the light. So what is the judgment against them? To be cast into outer darkness. In other words, the final judgment upon them is exactly what they had chosen all along: Distance from God. Outer darkness.
Never think the event of death will change you. It will not. Rather, it will seal and confirm what you have become. If you have spent your life -- even as a professing Christian -- distancing yourself from God -- then THAT is what you will receive. Exactly as you have chosen. Perfect justice. You will simply be cast into the outer darkness which you already have within you by choice.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt. 5:22-23)
The "eye" is the motivation and goal for living. Our choices are two: God or ourselves. God's will or MY will.. The place where we determine whether we will dwell in light or darkness is NOW. How? Quite simple. We are right now living in either the Light or darkness. By our faith or unbelief. Right now. What we are becoming in Christ right now is going to determine what will happen to us then.
But what of those who reject Christ altogether? Who never were Christians? Well, in order to REJECT the Light of Jesus, you must have been presented with it. Thus, the darkness here will be great. For they have received NO light. So the darkness – in relationship to the Light of God – will be total. Now, THAT IS HELL.
What we see in all of this is what we said before: Heaven and hell as eternal destinations correspond to the SPIRITUAL CONDITION of those who go to each. God is just. He gives us what we choose in the Light of Truth, and never makes a mistake.
Why must there be a hell? Because there is a heaven. Because there is right and wrong. Again, we are going to live with God forever. If someone has spent their life distancing themselves from God, what is God going to do, drag them kicking and screaming into heaven?
The Truth is, if I cannot live with God now, I will
not be able to live with Him then. Death
will not change this fact. Death
will, in fact, seal who I am in relationship to Jesus Christ forever.
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