What is meant by the term “eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:2)? The word “judgment” in Greek is krima. In this context, it refers to the action or function of a judge (see Bauer’s Lexicon, p. 450d). Unlike man’s judgments, God’s judgmental decisions are valid eternally. Ultimately, all who have lived will come under divine judgment. There will a final reckoning. This was a significant theme in Paul’s writings, and indeed throughout the Bible.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, likely written by Solomon, we find a wonderful, yet deliciously cynical, view of life. Over and over again Solomon reminds us that much of what we do in life comes to nothing. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” he cries, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Each generation of mankind is merely repeating the patterns of the past: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
It’s the same old stuff, generation after generation. We have the good guys vs. the bad guys, but no one is truly good: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). People of wealth build great monuments to themselves, yet future generations see them crumble to dust. No matter what we accomplish in the material realm, it all disintegrates. So what if someone builds a bigger pyramid than someone else? Does it really matter how many books someone writes, or how many speeches he gives, or how much material wealth a woman accumulates? When we die, we leave it all behind. In a few years, most people will have forgotten that we were ever around, or that we accomplished anything during our lifetimes.
God expects us to enjoy the material blessings he gives us. He fully approves that we enjoy food and drink and material things: “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy n the his work – this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).
Life is short; then we die. After this comes divine judgment.
While we are here, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too I see is from the hand of God…” (Ecclesiastes 2:24). I enjoy my work: writing and painting pictures. But I realize that if I paint one more painting, it won’t matter to the world. The satisfaction is in doing it, not in storing or selling it. No matter how many paintings I paint, and no matter how good they are, they could all end up in a garage sale, a scrapheap, or being trashed by some invading barbarian.
I could write a jillion articles and a myriad of books, and all might end up on the rubbish heap of literary history. What matters to me is that I wrote them, and that I sought God’s inspiration in doing so. Whether they bear fruit is not up to me but to God.
Consider what you do for a living, or as an avocation, and ask, “Does this really matter to anyone else but me?” You can work for a company, a church, a school, or a government all of your life, and wind up being discarded in a moment. The rule of thumb is: what have you done for me today? If people remember anything about you, it is more likely to be your sins rather than your good works.
Sooner or later, everything any of us does comes to nothing. In all the generations from Adam to the present, we still haven’t learned how to live godly lives. We continue to murder, bomb and destroy. Hate is the fuel that instigates war after war. No religion has yet demonstrated that it can bring peace to the world. For the most part, religions have brought only war and suffering to the world.
Proctologist’s View of Life
If you watch television news, you’ll soon realize that, as Dennis Prager often says, it’s a “proctologist’s view” of life. It focuses mainly and the bad things bad people are doing to each other. What aspect of life do you know of that does not include at least a degree of corruption, sin and destructiveness? Politics? The arts? Big Business? Professional sports? Education? The military?
Sin is a universal phenomenon. None of us escapes it. Though most of us could not be characterized as wicked, no one is wholly righteous. We have all incurred the divine death penalty as the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). Solomon knew that no one would escape divine judgment in the end: “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 3:17b). Sooner or later we will have to account to God for how we used the life that he gave us.
What is important is that we learn to use all that God has given us to His glory. If we have been blessed with wealth, do we share it with those less blessed? If we have an abundance of food, do we distribute our surplus to the poor? Do we live selfish lives, or do we seek to bless others and help make their lives better?
There’s nothing wrong with wealth, food, drink, or sex – so long as we use them the way God intended. God has given us instructions (Torah) that enable us to elevate the expression of our appetites to the level of the holy. After explaining all this to his readers, Solomon concludes with a note of judgment to come: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The apostle Paul also wrote of a time when even our most secret acts would be judged: “…on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Romans 2:16).
Jesus as Judge
At his first coming, Jesus did not come to judge the world. He said, “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very work which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:47-48). He then went on to explain that he came with a message from God the Father. He preached it faithfully and accurately. Anyone who chooses to ignore it will be accountable to the Father (John 12:49-50).
When it is the Father’s time, God will send Jesus back to the earth for a different purpose. John the Baptist explained it: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12).
The word “baptize” means immerse, as we learned earlier in this series. To be immersed in the Holy Spirit is not the same as being immersed in fire. The latter refers to the time when God will burn up the human chaff in the Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14-15).
Both Jesus and Paul referred often to this final judgment – a divine decision that will last for eternity.
Jesus & Judgment
On one occasion, Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. Some of the leaders of the Jews viewed this as a violation of the Sabbath, though, of course, it was not. Then Jesus, referring to God, said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working” (John 5:16, 17). In calling God his “Father,” the Jews saw Jesus as “making himself equal with God” (verse 18b). In response, Jesus then spoke of his relationship with the Father, and of judgment to come:
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:21-22). In other words, God will judge the world, but he will do it through Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus elaborated on this coming judgment: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).
The apostle Paul was well aware of the coming judgment, and of Jesus’ role in it: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10).
For those who die “in Christ,” the resurrection will be good news. For those who reject him and persist in sin, it will not. The author of Hebrews wrote: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).
Jesus Christ is the key to the future of mankind. If man is to have a future, it will because of him. He will grant life to whom he is pleased to grant it. He will also condemn those who are unworthy of it. The grace of God, as we all experience it, will be distributed through the person of the glorified Jesus Christ.
Because of his sacrifice, Jesus bought each one of us (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Our lives are no longer our own; they belong to Christ. We are his “bond slaves.” We are here to serve his purposes and to do his will. Paul wrote: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to” (I Corinthians 7:23).
If we have been called to Christ, and if we have accepted that call, been forgiven, justified and redeemed, been baptized, received the Holy Spirit, then we are the servants of Christ. We are responsible to God, not to any human master (Acts 5:29). Our lives are tied in a bundle with the life of Christ and we will not be condemned with the wicked in judgment.
If we abandon our calling, and slip back into the “world” with its sins, then we have forfeited eternal life. In Hebrews we read: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Of course these verses are not talking about the fact that we all sin out of weakness, even after conversion. The apostle Paul wrestled daily with sin (Romans 7). Anyone who says he doesn’t sin is probably a self-deluded liar (I John 1:8, 10). The point of the verse in Hebrews is to say that if we have been offered salvation through Christ, and we refuse it and persist in the old sinful way of life, there is no other solution to our sinfulness. We are yet “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1). When it comes to salvation, Jesus Christ is the only game in town (Acts 4:12). How God applies the sacrifice of Christ to any given individual is his business. The point is: we are all accountable to God for how we spend our brief lives. In the end, he will call us to account for what we did, or failed to do, in this fleshly existence. As we live out our life cycles, we, like Jesus, must be “about our Father’s business.” As the bond slaves of Christ, we must seek to advance his cause anywhere, and any way, we can. We are not here to do our own will, but God’s (Matthew 6:10). We are here to advance the Kingdom (same verse). In an increasingly dangerous, anti-Christian world, that effort may eventually cost us our lives (II Timothy 3:12; John 16:1-2).
Paul said, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8).
If we tie up our lives with Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for our sins, then we will have eternal life. John wrote: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I John 5:11-12). For those who are in Christ, there is no fear of judgment to come.
Now is our day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2). Spiritually speaking, it is our time to “clean up our acts.” In correcting the Corinthian congregation for the inappropriate way in which they were observing the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul wrote: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (I Corinthians 11:31-32).
The writer of Hebrews also spoke of this time of training and discipline: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son’” (Hebrews 12:4-6, quoting Proverbs 3:11,12).
Boot Camp for Eternity
This present life, for Christians, is “Boot Camp for eternity.” We are under discipline. Judgment has begun at the Church which is the “house of God.” Peter wrote: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family[household – KJV] of God, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome 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 sinner?’ 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).
God does not want any one of his precious children to perish. He wants all of us to “lay hold on” eternal life (II Peter 3:9). The path to life runs through repentance. For each of us, there will come a time of judgment. How we fare in that judgment depends upon how seriously we take our high calling in Christ. As we close this series the words of the apostle Peter seem appropriate: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (I Peter 1:17-22).
It is not important to know the precise mechanics of the resurrection or the timing of God’s judgments. In the sleep of death, there is no consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5). The next thing we who are in Christ shall hear is the sound of a divine shofar (ram’s horn) signaling the resurrection (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Pray that you are called to the resurrection of life. Live as though your life depended on it – it does. In the last chapter of the New Testament, Jesus, speaking in the first person, tells us: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:13-15).
Then Jesus says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (verse 16).
As the next verse shows, those of us who are influenced by the Spirit of God will welcome the return of Jesus with great enthusiasm: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
The “bride” is the Church. The Church, which is the body of Christ, longs for the return of Christ. We regularly pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” In the meantime, while we are waiting for our Lord to return, we preach the life-giving Gospel into a spiritually dead world. We disseminate hope into an otherwise hopeless culture (cf. Ephesians 2:12). We strive to overcome our own flesh, the noxious influence of the world around us, and the malevolent tempting of the devil. We accept the discipline of God’s “Boot Camp.” We strive to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord with whom we’ll spend eternity. We wrestle against spiritual forces of darkness which seek to destroy us and thereby thwart the divine redemptive plan (Ephesians 6:12). We resist all that Jesus resisted in his human lifetime, and though our flesh is weak, in him we have the victory.
Now you understand the “elementary teaching” about Christ and what it means to be a Christian. You have learned that the wages of sin is death, and that all of us have sinned. You have seen the need for repentance from “dead works.” You know that our trust, faith and confidence must be in, and toward, God. It is through faith and God’s grace that we are saved, not through our own efforts.
You know that baptism represents a burial of the old, carnal, self. We arise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life. When those who have God’s Spirit lay hands on us, we too receive of that Spirit which is the empowering aspect of Deity (Acts 1:8).
We have learned that this life is a time of judgment, discipline, learning, growing and overcoming for all believers in Jesus the Messiah. Our hope is in Christ, not in any man or woman, denomination, ideology, government or earthly power. Our citizenship is registered in heaven and we are children of the Kingdom. Though all of us are destined to die at least once, we live in hope of the resurrection, without which our faith would be in vain.
We know also that there is coming a time of judgment during which all of us will have to account to God for how we spent the lives he gave us.
With these basics in place, we can now “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).