The Apostle Paul outlines, in his letter to the Hebrews, the doctrines or principles of the
teachings of Christ and he concludes the list with the doctrine of eternal judgment
(Hebrews 6: 1-2).
One of the most astounding truths revealed in the Bible, though not widely understood, is that God is not trying to save the whole world now. However, the Bible also shows us that all of mankind will have a chance for salvation. But if God is not trying to save the world now, how can all of humanity have a chance for salvation? The answer to this seeming dilemma is in the doctrine of eternal judgment.
Eternal judgment, for much of mainstream Christianity and other religions, has come to mean that if, upon your death, you are judged to be a good person you will automatically go to heaven but if you have been an evil or bad person, you will go to hell where you will be tortured for all eternity. But that’s not what God inspired Paul to write concerning judgment in his second letter to Timothy. He said that Christ would judge both the living and the dead at his appearing and in his kingdom. The time setting for this is the Feast of Trumpets, which pictures Christ coming with the Father’s full authority to begin carrying judgment out. God’s word, as we will see, shows us that the truth about eternal judgment is not what mainstream Christianity teaches. We find, in defining the Hebrew and Greek words for judgment, that they have the same meaning. Judgment in it simplest form means a decision for or against. What we need to see though, is that God’s word shows that judgment is a decision that God makes over time.
God wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and to be saved (I Timothy 2: 4).
He wants everyone to enter His family. That requires that each must come, over time, to understand and practice the way they should live so that they can ultimately come into harmony with God and with everyone else who will enter God’s family. It’s impossible, however, to gain entry into God’s family with a last minute “death bed” repentance. Absorbing right knowledge and practicing right living requires time. One of the best ways to understand that God’s judgment is a decision that He makes over a period of time is to study His involvement with the children of Israel.
God selected the children of Israel to be His chosen people. And just as God calls individuals out of this world and out of bondage to sin, Israel was called out of bondage in Egypt to be His chosen people. Israel’s release from bondage was not just a one-time event when they crossed the Red Sea and were symbolically baptized. How many times did they rebel or complain to Moses that they wanted to go back to Egypt? And how difficult was it for them to give up their old ways and their pagan Gods? Separating oneself from this world and its ways requires time and repeated effort.
God chose Israel to be His model nation and revealed Himself to them as the only true God. He gave them His laws and statutes, which constituted the basis by which they were judged. These were given so that they could come to understand and then practice the way that they should live their daily lives. God continued to judge them, based on His law, through the years that they wandered in the wilderness. We see from Israel’s example that God gave them the time that they needed to learn to live by His laws. He worked with them day and night for forty long years. But it must have been forty very frustrating years from God’s perspective. The apostle Paul speaks to that frustration and resulting judgment on Israel in his letter to the Hebrews. “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:16-19).
The Israelites, over the span of forty years, proved themselves unworthy to enter the Promise Land through their lack of faith. However, we can see by their example that God was working with them through a process.
• He called or separated Israel out of their world of sin.
• He gave them His laws and principles of living.
• He made them aware of His presence, day and night.
• He gave them sufficient time to learn and apply what He taught them.
God, in fact, uses this same process with us. He will, just as He did with the Israelites over a span of time, judge whether or not we will be granted entry into His family. He wants all of humanity to have the opportunity to go through this same process.
Now when we look at God’s plan of salvation, part of which is rehearsed during the Feast of Trumpets, we see that there are actually three separate and specific periods of time or periods of judgment outlined in God’s word. The apostle Peter speaks of one of those periods of judgment in his first letter to God’s elect, where he said: “For it is time for Judgment to begin with the Family of God and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners? So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (I Peter 4:17-19). Peter is in essence spurring on the church of or family of God to commit themselves fully to their God and His way of life while today is today.
This judgment period includes all those individuals God has called and worked with, mentioned throughout the Old Testament, that we are told make up the foundation of the New Testament church. Notice that this judgment is now on the house of God, the Church of God, and no one else is being judged during this period of time but the church. We also see that this judgment is not a mere sentencing, but a process of evaluation made by God over a long period of time. Ultimately, that period of judgment will include God’s final decision about our spiritual state, and even the reward of eternal life and a position in His Kingdom if we qualify or the death sentence if we don’t. However, calling eternal judgment merely a single moment of decision by God is a false premise and consequently, a false doctrine. It’s important to understand this because this period of judgment ends for God’s church when the Feast of Trumpets is fulfilled and Jesus Christ returns to usher in 1000 years of God’s government on this earth.
That will begin another specific period of judgment for all those who will be alive physically throughout that thousand-year millennium. All those who were judged worthy to receive eternal life when Christ returns, will then serve Him in that process of judging those who live during the millennium. “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28). What we see pictured here is the start of that process that will expand throughout the millennium to encompass all of humanity. And so every physical human being alive during the millennium will have an opportunity to go through the process of coming to the knowledge of the truth.
Now, at the end of the millennium we are told there is a third judgment period. It is a time specifically for the multiple billions of people from the time of Adam and Eve up to the time of Christ’s return who have never had their minds opened to understand God’s truth. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:11-12). This is describing the Great White Throne Judgment. It is the time of the second resurrection, when all the dead from all time will be resurrected to another physical existence. But this time the Bible will be opened to their understanding and they will be able to live out their life span with a chance to know God and the truth of his salvation.
God’s word shows us that there are three specific periods of judgment that God is using to bring people into His family. He wants everyone to be saved. And we can see that God’s judgment as to whether or not we will enter His family is one that is made over an extended period of time. He graciously makes that opportunity available to everyone through the same process. The truth of the doctrine of eternal judgment illustrates God’s boundless love and fairness. All people everywhere will receive an equal chance at salvation.
You and I are being given our chance now, to absorb knowledge and practice right living. The Feast of Trumpets pictures the return of Jesus Christ. When He does return, our judgment period will be over. How well are we doing?
By John Hinds