by A.E. Knoch

WHEN is the judgment of the unbeliever? It is at the great white throne in the interval between the resurrection and the second death (Rev.20:11-15). Simple as this statement seems, and supported by the Scriptures as it is, no one accepts it as it stands. The result is the amazing confusion among students of the Bible. Some insist that the sinner suffers before the judgment session in the first death. Others postpone the penalty to the second death.

It must be borne in mind that we are not considering partial or temporary judgments, such as that of the nations at the beginning of the day of the Lord, but the personal individual judgment of mankind. We are dealing with the great mass of mankind, not the exceptional cases, as the Slanderer, the two wild beasts, and the worshipers of the wild beast. These will come before us in dealing with "Eternal Torment."

There is no judgment in death. This may be established by a direct statement of Scripture as well as by many unanswerable lines of reasoning based on the nature of judgment and resurrection. Our first appeal will be to the plain assertion of the great Judge.

In the terse, pregnant language of the text we are told that "the dead were judged" (Rev.20:12). All that this usually conveys to our minds is that they were tried and sentenced. We leave the execution of the sentence for another occasion. Here is where we go astray, for the usage of the word "judge" always includes the execution as well as the passing of the sentence.

No Judgment in Death

The indignation and fury, affliction and distress which is to come on every human soul which is effecting evil (Rom.2-9) is visited on the unbeliever at the great white throne, not before it or after it. We do not need to appeal to Greek lexicons to establish this point. The constant usage of the word judgment in previous parts of the Unveiling is sufficient to put it beyond question. The souls under the altar (6:10) were not praying for the conviction of those who had shed their blood, but for the actual execution of their just deserts. Hence they pray "Till Thou not judging..." No mere sentence will satisfy their cry for vengeance.

This is even more evident when the messenger of the waters, speaking of the inflictions under the third bowl (Rev.16:4) when the rivers and springs became blood, says that "Thou judgest..." The judgment consisted in giving them blood to drink because they shed the blood of saints and prophets. What the souls under the altar requested is thus fulfilled.

Of Babylon we read "Strong is the Lord God Who is judging her" (Rev.18:8). This judging consisted of paying as she pays, doubling her doubles, giving her torment and mourning, and her calamities, the famine and the conflagration. It was the actual infliction of God's sentence against her.

When the Rider on the White Horse treads the wine trough of the furious indignation of God (Rev.19:15) He is said to be judging the nations. So, throughout this Unveiling, the actual infliction of God's fury is intended by this term. Since this cannot be denied, why should we give it a different force in its final occurrences? To all who are subject to the word of God, this will be conclusive. The dead receive their due deserts at the great white throne. They do not receive it before or after. This is the simple solution of the many problems which have arisen to perplex and baffle the earnest student.

The Unbeliever is Judged
at the Great White Throne

Besides this plain passage, which appeals to our faith, there are at least three major lines of argument which confirm this truth. These are based on the time of the judgment, its character, and the resurrection of the unjust. Briefly stated they are as follows: As a sentence cannot be carried out until after it has been passed, the sinner cannot suffer for his sins until he appears before the Judge. As his sentence is in accord with his acts it cannot be fulfilled until its measure and manner have been determined. As the dead are raised before the judgment, life is necessary for its execution. There is no judgment in death. As the sinner is dead both before and after the great white throne, it is confined to that era.

The "orthodox" position that the execution of the sentence of the sinner begins at death and continues for at least a thousand years before he is brought before the Judge is as unreasonable and unrighteous as it is unscriptural. No one with the slightest sense of justice would commend such a course. Even human laws are so trained that those who have not been pronounced guilty, or whose trial has not yet taken place, may suffer as little as possible. Let us suppose that one of the fierce governments of earth should enact a law that its judiciary shall have its sessions every fifty years, and that all suspects or offenders shall be put to hard labor until the time of trial. That would be mild compared with a millennium of anguish waiting to appear before the great Judge. No such law could be passed, for the voice of mankind, notwithstanding its degradation and injustice and ungodliness, would rise in protest.

It is useless to speak of God's righteous character and cling to such a travesty on justice. Whatever may be the condition of the sinner previous to the judgment, it is not the execution of his sentence. That can only occur after his case has been tried and the degree of guilt determined and the just sentence pronounced.

It is of the essence of God's judgments that they accord with the acts which they are intended to correct. Adam was doomed to toil and death because he had taken the word of the serpent and must taste the fruit of his self chosen path, so that, through it, God might effect a higher purpose than was possible without his sufferings. The scene in Eden at the beginning of human history is a miniature of the judgment of mankind near its close. Adam, during his life, learned the bitterness of disobedience and estrangement, and this prepared him for reconciliation. So the sinner will face the Judge, and each will receive a suitable sentence, adjusted to meet and mend the special sins and offenses of which he is guilty.

Now it is manifest that such a special imposition is impossible before the trial and sentence. If judgment is previous to trial, then all must be treated alike or without discrimination. How such a course would affect the millions upon millions of human beings involved is a staggering thought, but it is nothing compared to the effect it must have on the estimate His creatures have of God. We appeal to all who are zealous for His great name. There is no Scripture for judgment before trial. Why, then, blacken God's character with a charge which is recognized by all as an act of gross injustice?

Why are the dead raised before the judgment? Why not judge them in the death state? Only one answer is possible: There can be no judgment in death. The resurrection of the unjust is no mere incident or accident. To raise a single man from the tomb involves the mighty power of God. What will it mean to raise millions upon millions to stand before Him in the judgment? If judgment could possibly proceed without resurrection the dead would assuredly answer for their sins in the death state. The resurrection of the unjust is proof positive that there can be no judgment before the sinner has been restored to life.

Why are they cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death? If resurrection was necessary to judgment, a return into death is the end of judgment. Just as we have no Scripture to show that judgment precedes resurrection, so we have none to show that it follows the second death. The special cases of the Slanderer and the two wild beasts only confirm this position, as we shall see when we take up the question of torment. As the sinner, then, returns into death after the judgment, we need only inquire into the function of the first death to understand the second. The first death was God's means of detaining sinners until the judgment. It is an absolutely just and impartial method of holding over the unjust until the time of trial. It is as though the prisoners were arrested at night and slept until court was in session, then paid the penalty, and slept once more until the day of their liberation.

from the Second Death

So with the second death. The unjust can have no part in the blessings of the eonian times: That is reserved for the just, who have been saved through the faith of Christ. What shall be done with them until the judgment? Death is the answer. During the long millennial reign they wait in its confines for the judgment day. After judgment is passed, and still another eon remains of the eonian times, in which only those who belong to Christ by faith can have a part, what shall be done with them until the consummation? Once more, death is the answer. Just as they were held for the judgment by the first death, so now, they enter the second to wait until the abolition of death at the consummation. It is the function of death to hold its victims until God's appointed time to deal with them either in judgment or in grace. Even believers enter the confines of death to await His coming.

One of the most flagrant and unwarranted additions to this scroll is the oft repeated phrase saddled on the second death- -"from which there is no resurrection." Thank God, the curses reserved for those who add to this scroll cannot operate in this day of grace. Not only is it unscriptural, but it is unreasonable. If there was a resurrection from the first death, the logical deduction is that resurrection is possible from the second death. As this is only a repetition of the first (or it would not be called the second) resurrection or its equivalent is possible from it also. As the Unveiling is concerned with judgment, it is obvious that such a resurrection is outside its scope, both as to subject and time. It deals with the divine judgments during the eons of the eons. The only legitimate inference from its silence as to the fate of those who enter the second death is that, during the eons of the eons, they suffer no further inflictions. To discover what is their position after the eons of the eons, we must look elsewhere.

Often have we been asked, "Where is there a scripture to prove that there is a resurrection from the second death?" Speaking accurately, there is none. But there is vivification, which includes resurrection, and infinitely surpasses it. The resurrection from the first death does not bring them into a state of deathlessness, immortality. They die again. Not so with the vivification at the consummation. The God Who raises the dead and vivifies them makes them alive beyond death's jurisdiction. Indeed, the resurrection (if we choose to misname it so) at the consummation must be a vivification, for it follows the abolition of the death state.

Paul, in the fifteenth of first Corinthians, carries us to the very verge of the last eon brought before us in the scroll of the Unveiling, and tells us what occurs after it has been fulfilled. John tells of the reign of Christ. Paul tells of His abdication. John tells of the sway of the second death. Paul tells of its abolition. It is not as at the beginning of the last eon, that there should be no more death. For the whole of that eon death has had no more victims. It is now a question of God's enemies. He has commissioned His Christ to rid the universe of all enmity. This is accomplished gradually.

Death continues to the very consummation. It is the last enemy. The first death will have long since passed by. Only the second death will remain. Its abolition marks the final scene in the drama of the eons. The dead have been judged at the great white throne. The eons awarded to the saints have passed by. Nothing remains for Christ to do to complete the work of reconciling the universe but the vivification of all.

This done, the whole creation will witness that grand climax of His career, which can be compared only with Calvary. There He went down to the deepest depths of infamy, to save and reconcile a universe. Now He descends once more, His work accomplished, and not one is lost for whom He died, but all are in harmonious accord with the heart of God.

God's Strange Work

We conclude, then, that judgment, God's strange work, is swift and salutary in its execution. God is love. He is not justice, though love must be just. He lingers in dispensing grace and in displaying glory. But He hastens in inflicting pain. For centuries He has been giving out His grace. The era of His indignation will be brief. He sends His storms, but they hurry by. He does not follow a brief life of sin by an eternity of woe, but by a judgment swift and sharp and suited to His glorious purpose and their good. Such a God we can love and reverence and worship. To Him be glory and wisdom and might for the eons of the eons!

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