Judgment Day—A Time of Hope!
IF THE idea of judgment day frightens you, why not examine what the Bible says about it? For example, is it true that when God executes judgment on sinners, they are cast into hellfire?
Well, the first recorded instance of divine judgment was right at the beginning of human history. Adam and Eve had the opportunity of living forever on a paradise earth. (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7-9, 15-25) They sinned, however, and came under God’s adverse judgment. The result? God withdrew the gift of life. In other words, they died. God told them: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:16-19.
This was a severe judgment, but it was just. And it certainly did not involve hellfire. When Adam and Eve died, they returned to the dust. They ceased to exist. The Bible nowhere suggests that a part of Adam or of any other human survived death to be tormented somewhere for all eternity. Rather, we read: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5.
Did you know that the Bible says this? Did you know, too, that the Bible never uses the expression “immortal soul”? Instead, it says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, King James Version) This is fully in harmony with the Bible principle: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23, KJ) This rule affects all of us. All of us are descendants of sinful Adam, so all of us sin and receive the wages of sin, death. As the Bible says: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12, KJ) The Day of Judgment is a key part of God’s arrangement to save us from this situation.
The Basis for Judgment Day
According to the Bible, it was almost 2,000 years ago that God laid the basis for what will happen on Judgment Day. This was when Jesus came to earth and offered his perfect human life in our behalf. Jesus himself explained: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
If we exercise faith in Jesus, we benefit from his sacrifice even now in a spiritual way. God forgives our sins and allows us to approach him. (John 14:6; 1 John 2:1, 2) But we are still imperfect, sinners, and as such, we still get physically sick and eventually die. We do not yet have the everlasting life that Jesus promised. This will come as a result of Judgment Day.
The Day of Judgment
The apostle John saw a vision of Judgment Day, and he described it as follows: “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”—Revelation 20:11, 12, KJ.
Yes, according to John’s vision, Judgment Day will be presided over by God himself. But someone else is involved. The apostle Paul explained: “[God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts 17:31, KJ) Who was that man? Jesus, who himself said: “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22, KJ) So Jesus will be God’s appointed Judge on Judgment Day.
This is good news for humans. The Gospels reveal Jesus to be a person of great compassion. He is not haughty or demanding but “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29; 14:14; 20:34) We are happy to be in the hands of such a judge.
When Will It Be?
When, though, is the Day of Judgment? Revelation says it will be when “the earth and the heaven [have] fled away.” This reminds us of the apostle Peter’s words: “The heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:7) Is the literal earth to be burned up? No, the Bible is clear on this point. The literal earth will never be destroyed. “The earth . . . [will] not be removed for ever.” (Psalm 104:5, KJ) The context of Peter’s words shows that it is the present ungodly world system of things that is to be destroyed. Ungodly men, not the planet Earth, will perish.—John 12:31; 14:30; 1 John 5:19.
These ungodly men will be destroyed at what the Bible calls the battle of Armageddon—which, as this magazine has often shown, will take place soon. (Revelation 16:14, 16) Afterward, Satan himself will be abyssed and prevented from interfering with humanity for a thousand years, and this thousand years is the actual duration of Judgment Day. (Revelation 19:17–20:3) What happens to the faithful when the ungodly men perish at Armageddon? They survive right into Judgment Day. We read: “The blameless are the ones that will be left over in [the earth]. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth.”—Proverbs 2:21, 22.
In support of this, the Bible tells of “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” that would appear on earth before Armageddon. These “come out of the great tribulation”; in other words, they survive the end of this ungodly world just as Noah survived the end of the world of his day. (Revelation 7:9-17; 2 Peter 2:5) Did you know that this international great crowd of active Christians exists even now? These hope to survive the great tribulation and live forever on earth. Their existence is a sure evidence of the nearness of Judgment Day.
Who Will Be Judged?
This great crowd will be judged on Judgment Day. But they will not be alone. John’s account continues: “The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” (Revelation 20:13, KJ) Here is further proof that people do not suffer forever in hell. If hell gives up those dead in it, how can anyone be there for all eternity? In fact, the Bible hell is the common grave of mankind, where the dead remain unconscious awaiting a resurrection. On Judgment Day, hell is to be completely emptied of its dead.—Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Who will be resurrected from the dead on Judgment Day? The apostle Paul said: “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” (Acts 24:15, KJ) Hence, faithful servants of God, “the just,” will be resurrected. But so will countless others, “the unjust.” Evidently, the resurrection will embrace all those who have died and are still in the grave—with the exception of any whose sins were so serious that God has already judged them totally unworthy of life.—Matthew 12:31.
What, though, happens to the great crowd of survivors and the resurrected ones on Judgment Day? The Bible says: “The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” This is a time of scrutiny. All who are willing to act according to ‘those things written in the books’—evidently God’s requirements for mankind at that time—will be written up in “the book of life.” (Revelation 20:12, KJ) They will be on the way to gaining everlasting life!
Then, at last, Christ’s sacrificial death will bring physical benefits! Those listed in the book of life at that time will no longer sink into sickness and death. Rather, they will gradually be restored to human perfection, with the everlasting life promised to those who exercise faith in Jesus. What a remarkable prospect! Nevertheless, some will evidently refuse to obey ‘those things written in the books.’ What happens to them? They do not gain eternal life. Instead, the scripture says: “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”—Revelation 20:15, KJ.
Is this the hellfire Christendom speaks about? No, for in the preceding verse, we read: “Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14, KJ) If hell is cast into the lake of fire, the lake cannot itself be hellfire. Moreover, death is not something concrete that can be picked up and hurled somewhere. So the lake of fire must be symbolic. Of what? The Bible says: “This is the second death.” When death and Hades are hurled into the lake of fire, they “die,” cease to exist. Similarly, rebellious humans who end up there die, or cease to exist. This, though, is the second death, without hope of a resurrection.
Judgment Day—A Time of Hope
So when we think of Judgment Day, we should not be terrified or disgusted. Judgment Day is a time of hope, a time to restore to mankind the everlasting life that Adam lost. Listen to the blessings it will bring to those judged faithful: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:3, 4.
By the end of the thousand-year Judgment Day, faithful humans from all parts of the earth will finally be perfect. They will have “come to life” in the fullest sense, and Judgment Day will have achieved its purpose. (Revelation 20:5) Then, the Bible says, Satan will be allowed access to mankind for one last time. (Revelation 20:3, 7-10) Those who resist him this final time will enjoy the complete fulfillment of the Bible’s promise: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.
What a wonderful provision Judgment Day is! And how remarkable that we can prepare for it even now, by studying the Bible, learning God’s will, and applying this divine will in our lives! No wonder the psalmist expressed joy at the thought of God’s judgment when he wrote: “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be joyful. Let the sea thunder and that which fills it. Let the open field exult and all that is in it. At the same time let all the trees of the forest break out joyfully before Jehovah. For he has come; for he has come to judge the earth.”—Psalm 96:11-13.