Wednesday, May 26, 2010

General Judgment Theory or Various End-Time Judgments?

This article is an example of the danger discussed in the previous article concerning the potential misuse of cross-referencing and the parallel passage approach.

Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology (Volume Three, Eerdmans, 1975, pp.844-850), advocates what has been called "the general judgment theory", that is to say that there is one general end-time judgment at which everything that must be determined is determined. Hodge's approach is built on the notion of a "general resurrection" (p.847), a topic which I will not deal with here except to say that the same danger of forcing resurrection passages to all be parallel is involved with Hodge's assumption. In the pages cited, Hodge lists many Bible verses that contain the word "judgment" or some form of it. His assumption is that any verse that contains this word (and is not already completed historically) must be a parallel referring to one single event. His presentation does not prove his point, it merely presupposes it. The same approach would apply to his treatment of the concept of resurrection. I am only citing Hodge because his approach is illustrative of that of many, if not most, preachers and theologians who in turn influence many people with this teaching.

But, if we look at the Bible itself and allow each passage to make its own contribution before we start trying to systematize, we see a different picture. Please note, I am not saying that we should not systematize, I am saying that Bible passages should not be systematized until we have allowed them to speak for themselves in context according to authorial intent.

For example, the "Great White Throne Judgment" of Revelation 20:11-15 is presented as taking place after the 1,000 reign of Christ and the throwing of Satan into the Lake of Fire (v.1-10). The judgment of Satan, therefore, is a distinct event from the Great White Throne. The location of the Great White Throne Judgment is only specified as being at "a great white throne", but other than that it does not say where this happens. It will not be on earth or in the first heaven, for they have passed away (v.11, and 21:1). We might assume this will only leave the second and third heavens as possible locations, and the third heaven is not likely because only unsaved people are being judged at the Great White Throne and they will not enter in to the third heaven. This leaves outer space or some dimension currently unknown to us for whatever reason/s. The purpose of this judgment is to assess the works of the unsaved dead whose names are not written in the book of life (v.12,15). Their works do not determine their lostness, which of course was already determined in that they did not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 3:36). Rather their works determine the measure of their experience of torment in the Lake of Fire forever, as illustrated in Luke 12:47-48.

The "Judgment Seat of Christ" is a judgment for believers in Christ (Second Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10-12). Some have even suggested that the "judgment seat of Christ" in Second Corinthians 5:10 is a different judgment than the "judgment seat of God" in Romans 14:10, even though I would actually see these two as valid parallels proving the deity of Christ. The basis of this judgment is the works of the believer, and the purpose is that the believer will receive reward or loss of reward (First Corinthians 3:9-15) in heaven and the coming Kingdom. This judgment must take place by Revelation chapter four, because reward crowns (Revelation 2:10) already appear on the heads of believers in heaven by Revelation 4:4 and beyond. While much more can and should be said about this judgment, this data suffices to show that the Judgment Seat of Christ does not occur at the same time, place, or for the same purpose as the Great White Throne Judgment, so they cannot be the same event.

Revelation 20:4-5 and Daniel 12:1-2 describe a different resurrection and judgment that take place after "the time of distress" for Israel (Dan.12:2) and before the start of the 1,000 year Kingdom (Rev.20:4). This is a reward judgment of believers also, but a different one from the Judgment Seat of Christ as that takes place by Revelation chapter four and this does not take place until chapter twenty.

Other judgments could be mentioned. Alva J. McLain included a listing of eleven different end time judgments in his class notes. Others have observed even more. But these are sufficient to show that "the general judgment theory" cannot be true because it has yielded to the temptation of forcing Bible passages to be parallel when they are not. The danger in this is that it robs the church of greater precision in preaching that in turn robs individual believers of insight, joy, assurance, and motivation for sanctification.