Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Judgment Day

The traditional Christian dogma of human beings having been made with an immortal soul is fraught with all kinds of false beliefs and practices. This includes “praying” to dead relatives, friends or religious leaders. Some people do this thinking that when the “mortal” dies the “immortal” escapes either to heaven or hell. Yet, nowhere in scripture are we taught to either pray to the dead or that when we die, our disembodied, immortal soul has nowhere to go but “up or down”.

Early on in the book of Genesis we learn that one of the reasons for our expulsion from the “Garden of Eden” [apart from the obvious: disobeying God’s commandments] was so that we would not stretch out our hand, “and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever [aka. Become immortal]" [Gen 3.22]. And in the NT we learn that, amongst other things, our Creator God is the only One Who is immortal [1Tim 1.17; 6.16; cp. Ex 3.14; James 1.17].

Apart from these and many other false teachings that come to mind is the way in which this system of belief takes away from the whole idea of a resurrection of the dead. Because, like the Apostle Paul explains to the Corinthians [who might’ve held this concept of an immortal soul], “if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised [also]…and those who have died [believing in Christ and his resurrection] have perished forever [never to be raised up again]” [1Cor 15.16-18]. Paul goes on to explain, in meticulous detail and culminating in one of the longest chapters in the whole of the NT, the how, where, when and why process by which the dead will be raised up according to God’s plan.

So, apart from taking away from the true scheme of things, as the Bible knows it to be, the “immortal soul” belief has totally bypassed the future judgment that awaits all people, the unrighteous and the “righteous”[1], something otherwise ignored by mainstream Christianity. For if we are truly already made immortal, hence no bodily resurrection from the dead, will there even be a judgment?

But, as usual, we have to ask the question, what does the Bible mean by a universal judgment of all people, including the righteous?

“Why do you judge your brother? Why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat [bema] of God [v. Christ[2]].” Rom 14.10 [ESV]

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2Cor 5.10 [ESV]

Mainstream scholars agree that the type of judgment Christians will undergo here is not one of separation from God [life or death] but a tribunal of sorts, where rewards [“crowns”][3] will be distributed amongst Christians according to their service.

“Christ at his coming will judge his people (Mat. 25:14–30, 31–46; Lu 19:12–28; 1 Cor. 3:12–15; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:12f.). Christians will be judged by their Lord in respect of their stewardship of the talents, gifts, opportunities and responsibilities granted to them during the course of their lives. The reference to this judgment in 1 Pet. 1:17 is particularly significant in conveying its character. The divine judgment of the people of God will be a fatherly judgment. It will not be such as to place in peril the Christian’s standing within the family of God; it will have all of a father’s understanding and compassion; and yet it is not therefore to be lightly or carelessly regarded. This fatherly judgment will be exercised by Christ at his coming.”[4]

“Salvation is not the issue here. One’s eternal destiny will not be determined at the judgment seat of Christ. Salvation is by faith (Eph 2.8-9), but deeds issuing from that faith (1 Thess. 1.3) will be evaluated.”[5]

The word commonly translated “judgment seat” in Rom 14.10 and 2Cor 5.10 is the Greek bema. In the NT the word is used for the judgment seat not only of the Roman Emperor (Acts 25:10) but also of the governors: Pilate (Mat 27:19; John 19:13), Gallio (Acts 18:12, 16f), Festus (Acts 25:6, 17). The Roman magistrate and jury were seated together on a raised tribunal or bench [bema], a custom that extended to all the Roman provinces like Palestine. This meant that the bema served more as a tribunal, where the judge or magistrate would determine legal matters (Mat 27:19; John 19:13).

“The word is used as a platform for a public speaker and, in legal contexts, it denotes the place where litigants stood for trial….The word is used frequently in the NT of the platform or dais on which was placed a seat for an official…as well as the place where civil officials held session to hear certain legal cases and render judgment in such cases.”[6]

This distinction becomes important when assessing the nature both resurrection judgments will have, as described in the book of Rev 5.4-6, 11-15:

“…I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power… Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it…And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged [krino] by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged [krino], each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

It is clear from the context of this passage that the dead “in Christ” will be resurrected first and reign with Christ for a thousand years over the rest of humanity. It’s also understood that “the rest of the dead”, who were not “raptured” with Christ in the first resurrection at his parousia [cp. 1Cor 15.51-57; 1Thess 4.15-17], will be raised in the second resurrection [Rev 21]. The word translated “judged” here is the Greek accusative krino, which means to determine or decree, highlighting the fact that this particular judgment will be a “life or death” affair.

This is the judgment of the great day of God[7], where He will judge the world through His Son (John 5:22; 8:50; Acts 17:31; Rom 3:6; “the secret things”, Rom 2:16; cp. 1Co 5:13; Jam 2:12; 1Pe 1:17; 2:23; Rev 11:18; 20:12-13; of Jesus as the Messiah and Judge, John 5:30; 2Ti 4:1; of Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead, 1Pe 4:5; Rev 19:11)[8].

In classical Greek literature, the verb krino (“to judge”) and the nouns krima and krisis (“judgment”) have the basic meaning “to separate, sift” which in turn acquired other meanings, including “to judge, pronounce judgment”. In the NT, these words are used with the same complex meanings as in Greek literature and in the Septuagint. The Greek words can mean a judicial condemnation if the context so indicates. There is no linguistic reason to think the NT’s different language brings a different view of judgment.[9]

“The judgment involves a division between two kinds of people—“sons of the kingdom” and “sons of the evil one” (Mt 13:38), “wise” and “foolish” (Mt 7:24–27), “sheep” and “goats” (Mt 25:31–46), those who “enter into life” and those who are “thrown into hell” (Mk 9:42–48). This reflects the radical distinction between “the righteous” and “the wicked” found in much apocalyptic literature and in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”[10]

This final condemnation judgment [krino] of the wicked, which includes the idea of punishment as a certain consequence [where God shall enact His vengeance, Deu 32.35; Psa 94.1; Rom 12.19; Heb 10.30][11] is in stark contrast to the judgment seat [bema] the first resurrection people shall undergo.

By: Carlos Xavier

[1] These are those who have died “in Christ” with the “hope in faith" [Heb 11.1] of attaining the aforementioned promise of “conditional immortality”, eternal life, freely given by the only immortal being, God [Col 3.3-4].

[2] The variant reading of “judgment seat of Christ”, attested by a number of early witnesses, can be attributed to the sense in which the Greek oftentimes has God or man as subject and the word represented either by a Roman official or the magistrate himself. Throughout the NT God and Christ are said to serve as judge, where the One is the Supreme Judge seated on a white throne [Rev 20-22] and the other His divinely appointed agent, through whom God will judge the secrets of all men [Rom 2.16].

This is in reference to Ehrman’s comments that “scribes have done far more than effect a harmonization to another Pauline epistle…Now there is little ambiguity: Christ himself is God” [The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p 90-91, Oxford Press, 1993].

[3] The various crowns are described in 2 Tim 2:5; 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pe 5:4; Rev 2:10.

[4] Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (633). InterVarsity Press.

[5] A Biblical Theology of the Church, Mal Couch, Thomas Figart, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Thomas Ice, Russell L. Penney, Kregel, p 148, 1999.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Described throughout scripture as the “day of wrath, the Lord, God” or “Christ” [Joel 1.15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Isa 13:6; 13:9; Jer 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Amos 5:18; Obadiah 1:15; Zeph 1.7 etc.].

[8] Figuratively of the Apostles and saints (Mat 19:28; Lu 22:30; 1Co 6:2, "And if the world shall be judged by you").

[9] W. Scneider, “Judgment” (Krima), in Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:362-67.

[10] Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (409). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[11] Spoken of God as judge (Acts 7:7 quoted from Gen 15:14; Rom 2:12; 2Th 2:12; Heb 13:4; Rev 6:10; 18:8, 20; 19:2); of Jesus (John 3:17-18; 12:47-48; Jam 5:9; Sept.: Isa 66:16; Eze 38:22).

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