“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.”—Acts 17:31
Christ Jesus will descend in a most magnificent manner from heaven with all the holy angels. The man Christ Jesus is now in the heaven of heavens, or as the Apostle expresses it, “far above all heavens” (Eph 4:10). There He hath been ever since His ascension, being there enthroned in glory in the midst of millions of angels and blessed spirits. But when the time appointed for the Day of Judgment shall have come, notice of it will be given in those happy regions. Christ will descend to the earth, attended with all those heav-enly hosts, in a most solemn, awful, and glorious manner. Christ will come with divine majesty: He will come in the glory of the Father, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels” (Mat 16:27).
We can now conceive but little of the holy and awful magnificence in which Christ will appear, as He shall come in the clouds of heaven, or of the glory of His retinue. How mean and despicable, in comparison with it, is the most splendid appearance that earthly princes can make! A glorious, visible light will shine round about Him, and the earth with all nature will tremble at His presence. How vast and innumerable will that host be that will appear with Him…Christ will make this appearance suddenly and to the great surprise of the inhabitants of the earth! It is therefore compared to a cry at midnight by which men are wakened in a great surprise.
At the sound of the last trumpet, the dead shall rise and the living shall be changed. As soon as Christ is descended, the last trumpet shall sound as a notification to all mankind to appear. At [this] mighty sound shall the dead be immediately raised and the living changed: “For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1Co 15:52)…Upon this, all the dead shall rise from their graves: all both small and great, who shall have lived upon earth since the foundation of the world…Of this vast multitude, some shall rise to life and others to condemnation (Joh 5:28-29).
When the bodies are prepared, the departed souls shall again enter into their bodies and be reunited to them, never more to be separated. The souls of the wicked shall be brought up out of hell, though not out of misery, and shall very unwillingly enter into their bodies, which will be but eternal prisons to them…The souls of the righteous shall descend from heaven together with Christ and His angels: “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1Th 4:14). They also shall be reunited to their bodies that they may be glorified with them. They shall receive their bodies prepared by God to be mansions of pleasure to all eternity. They shall be every way fitted for the uses, the exercises, and delights of perfectly holy and glorified souls. They shall be clothed with a superlative beauty, similar to that of Christ’s glorious body. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phi 3:21). Their bod-ies shall rise incorruptible—no more liable to pain or disease—and with an extraordinary vigor and vivacity like that of those spirits that are as a flame of fire. “It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1Co 15:43-44). With what joy will the souls and bodies of the saints meet! With what joy will they lift up their heads out of their graves to behold the glorious sight of the appearing of Christ! It will be a glorious sight to see those saints arising out of their graves, putting off their corruption, and putting on incorruption and glory!
At the same time, those that shall then be alive upon the earth shall be changed. Their bodies shall pass through a great change, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” (1Co 15:51-52).
THEY SHALL ALL BE BROUGHT TO APPEAR BEFORE CHRIST—the godly being placed on the right hand, the wicked on the left (Mat 25:31-33). The wicked, however unwilling, however full of fear and horror, shall be brought or driven before the Judgment Seat. However they may try to hide themselves—and for this purpose creep into dens and caves of the mountains and cry to the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb—yet there shall not one escape. To the Judge they must come and stand on the left hand with devils. On the contrary, the righteous will be joyfully conducted to Jesus Christ, probably by the angels. Their joy will give them wings, as it were, to carry them thither. They will with ecstasies and raptures of delight meet their Friend and Savior, come into His presence and stand at His right hand…What a vast congregation will there be of all the men, women, and children that shall have lived upon earth from the beginning to the end of the world!
THE NEXT THING WILL BE THAT THE BOOKS SHALL BE OPENED: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened” (Rev 20:12). Which books seem to be these two: the Book of God’s remembrance and the Book of Scripture: the former as the evidence of their deeds that are to be judged, the latter as the rule of judgment. The works, both of the righteous and of the wicked, will be brought forth that they may be judged according to them. Those works will be tried according to the appointed and written rule.
(1) The works of both righteous and wicked will be rehearsed. The book of God’s remembrance will be first opened. The various works of the children of men are written, as it were, by God in a Book of remembrance. “A book of remembrance was written before him” (Mal 3:16). However ready ungodly men may be to make light of their own sins and to forget them, God never forgetteth any of them. Neither doth God forget any of the good works of the saints. If they give but a cup of cold water with a spirit of charity, God remembers it (Mat 10:42).
The evil works of the wicked shall then be brought forth to light. They must then hear of all their profaneness, their impenitence, their obstinate unbelief, their abuse of ordinances, and various other sins. The various aggravations of their sins will also be brought to view, as how this man sinned after such and such warnings, [and] that after the receipt of such and such mercies; one after being so and so favored with outward light, another after having been the subject of inward conviction, excited by the immediate agency of God. Concerning these sins, they shall be called to account to see what answer they can make for themselves: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mat 12:36). “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12).
The good works of the saints will also be brought forth as evidences of their sincerity and of their interest in the righteousness of Christ. As to their evil works…the account of them will appear to have been cancelled before that time. The account that will be found in God’s book will not be of debt, but of credit. God cancels their debts, sets down their good works, and is pleased, as it were, to make Himself a debtor for them by His own gracious act.
Both good and bad will be judged according to their works: “And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev 20:12). And verse 13, “And they were judged every man according to their works.” Though the right-eous are justified by
faith and not by their works, yet they shall be judged according to their works. Works shall be brought forth as the evidence of their faith. Their faith on that Great Day shall be tried by its fruits…But by works, we are to understand all voluntary exercises of the faculties of the soul. For instance, the words and conversation of men, as well as what is done with their hands: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Mat 12:37). Nor are we to understand only outward acts or the thoughts outwardly expressed, but also the thoughts themselves and all the inward workings of the heart. Man judgeth according to the outward appearance, but God judgeth the heart: “I am he which search-eth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Rev 2:23). Nor will only positive sins be brought into judgment, but also omissions of duty, as is manifest by “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink” (Mat 25:42-45).
On that Day, secret and hidden wickedness will be brought to light. All the uncleanness, injustice, and violence of which men have been guilty in secret shall be manifest both to angels and to men. Then it will be made to appear how this and that man have indulged themselves in wicked imaginations, in lascivious, covetous, malicious, or impious desires and wishes; and how others have harbored in their hearts enmity against God and His Law; also impenitency and unbelief, notwithstanding all the means used with them and motives set before them to induce them to repent, return, and live.
The good works of the saints also, which were done in secret, shall then be made public, and even the pious and benevolent affections and designs of their hearts; so that the real and secret characters of both saints and sinners shall then be most clearly and publicly displayed.
(2) The book of Scripture will be opened, and the works of men will be tried by that touchstone. Their works will be compared with the Word of God. That which God gave men for the rule of their action while in this life shall then be made the rule of their judgment. God hath told us beforehand what will be the rule of judgment. We are told in the Scriptures upon what terms we shall be justified and upon what terms we shall be condemned. That which God hath given us to be our rule in our lives, He will make His own rule in judgment.
The rule of judgment will be twofold. The primary rule of judgment will be the Law. The Law ever hath stood and ever will stand in force as a rule of judgment for those to whom the Law was given: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass
from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat 5:18). The Law will so far be made the rule of judgment that not one person at that day shall by any means be justified or condemned in a way inconsistent with that which is established by the Law. As to the wicked, the Law will be so far the rule of judgment respecting them that the sentence denounced against them will be the sentence of the Law. The righteous will be so far judged by the Law. Although their sentence will not be the sentence of the Law, yet it will by no means be such a sentence as shall be inconsistent with the Law, but such as it allows; for it will be by the righteousness of the Law that they shall be justified.
It will be inquired concerning every one, both righteous and wicked, whether the Law stands against him or whether he hath a fulfillment of the Law to show. As to the righteous, they will have fulfillment to show: they will have it to plead that the Judge Himself hath fulfilled the Law for them; that He hath both satisfied for their sins and fulfilled the righteousness of the Law for them: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). But as to the wicked, when it shall be found by the Book of God’s remembrance that they have broken the Law and have no fulfillment of it to plead, the sentence of the Law shall be pronounced upon them.
A secondary rule of judgment will be the Gospel, or the covenant of grace. It is said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mar 16:16). “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom 2:16). By the Gospel, or covenant of grace, eternal blessedness will be adjudged to believers. When it shall be found that the Law hinders not, and that the curse and condemnation of the Law stands not against them, the reward of eternal life shall be given them according to the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
THE SENTENCE WILL BE PRONOUNCED. Christ will say to the wicked on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat 25:41). How dreadful will these words of the Judge be to the poor, miserable, despairing wretches on the left hand! How amazing will every syllable of them be! How they will pierce them to the soul! These words show the greatest wrath and abhorrence. Christ will bid them depart. He will send them away from His presence, will remove them forever far out of His sight into an everlasting separation from God, as being most loathsome and unfit to dwell in His presence and enjoy communion with Him.
Christ will call them cursed: “Depart, ye cursed, to whom everlasting wrath and ruin belong; who are by your own wickedness prepared for nothing else, but to be firebrands of hell; who are the fit objects and vessels of the vengeance and fury of the Almighty.” Into fire: He will not send them away
merely into a loathsome prison, the receptacle of the filth and rubbish of the universe, but into a furnace of fire. That must be their dwelling place. There they must be tormented with the most racking pain and anguish. It is everlasting fire. There is eternity in the sentence, which infinitely aggravates the doom and will make every word of it immensely more dreadful, sinking, and amazing to the souls that receive it. Prepared for the devil and his angels: This sets forth the greatness and intenseness of the torments, as the preceding part of the sentence does the duration. It shows the dreadfulness of that fire to which they shall be condemned: it is the same that is prepared for the devils—those foul spirits and great enemies of God! Their condition will be the same as that of the devils in many respects, particularly as they must burn in the fire forever.
This sentence will doubtless be pronounced in such an awful manner as shall be a terrible manifestation of the wrath of the Judge. There will be divine, holy, and almighty wrath manifested in the countenance and voice of the Judge. We know not what other manifes-tations of anger will accompany the sentence. Perhaps it will be accompanied with thunders and lightnings, far more dreadful than were on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law. Correspondent to these exhibitions of divine wrath will be the appearances of terror and most horrible amazement in the condemned. How pale will all their faces look! Death will sit upon their countenances when those words shall be heard! What dolorous cries, shrieks, and groans! What trembling, wringing of hands, and gnashing of teeth will there then be!
But with the most benign aspect, in the most endearing manner, and with the sweetest expressions of love, Christ will invite His saints on His right hand to glory, saying, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mat 25:34). He will not bid them to go from Him, but to come with Him to go where He goes, to dwell where He dwells, to enjoy Him, and to partake with Him. He will call them blessed—blessed of His Father, blessed by Him whose blessing is infinitely the most desirable, namely, God. Inherit the kingdom: they are not only invited to go with Christ and to dwell with Him, but to inherit a kingdom with Him, to sit down with Him on His throne and to receive the honor and happiness of a heavenly kingdom. “Prepared for you from the foundation of the world”: this denotes the sovereign and eternal love of God as the source of their blessedness. He puts them in mind that God was pleased to set His love upon them long before they had a being, even from eternity; that therefore God made heaven on purpose for them and fitted it for their delight and happiness…The righteous…shall enter with Christ into that glorious and blessed world, which had for the time been empty of its creature inhabitants.
Christ, having given His Church that perfect beauty and crowned it with that glory, honor, and happiness, which were stipulated in the covenant of redemption before the world was and which He died to procure for them, having made it a truly glorious Church, every way complete, will present it before the Father without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Thus shall the saints be instated in everlasting glory to dwell there with Christ, Who shall feed them and lead them to living fountains of water, to the full enjoyment of God, and to an eternity of the most holy, glorious, and joyful employments.
From “The Final Judgment,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2,