The Bible paints a very clear picture of judgment taking place in heaven. Peter McGowan explores who is judged, who is judging and what the outcome will be.
One of the 20th century’s greatest musicians was Ignasi Paderewski, Polish pianist, composer and statesman. He was taught music early in the traditional method: learned notes, where they could be found on the piano, practised scales and numerous finger exercises, and so on.
He also advocated a similar method for students: play the music set before you.
By contrast, Shinichi Suzuki, Japanese violinist, developed another method of teaching music by having the student play an instrument by ear after listening to recordings of each piece. This method is widely used and is gaining popularity over the more traditional methods in some circles.
These two methods of teaching music each have their advantages, but are incompatible with each other. With time, both have developed vocal and passionate proponents. Both camps argue that “scientific studies” have proved the superiority of their respective system. No resolution of this dilemma is in sight.
Now, let us suppose Paderewski and Suzuki could actually meet (as far as is known, they never met each other).
Further, let us imagine that at this imaginary meeting is also a gathering of their most passionate disciples. Human nature being what it is, the dinner discussion naturally turns to teaching methods with two camps rapidly staking out their respective territory.
Let us further suppose the discussion becomes so heated that they propose a test to finally decide this didactic dilemma. Choose 200 untrained music students; randomly divide them into two groups and instruct one group in the traditional Paderewski method and the other group of 100 in the newer Suzuki method; teach them for three years and then have them all sit a standard music examination to see how they have progressed.
In this scenario, at this final music examination, who is on trial? Answer: Paderewski and Suzuki (and their respective teaching methods), with the results of the students’ examinations used as evidence.
Anciently, there was a perfect angel, a guarding cherub in heaven, the one closest to the throne of God, of whom it is written: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you.…You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you’” (Ezekiel 28:12-15).
Sin took root in the mind of this once great angel and another idea was born: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-15).
Thus, Lucifer issued a direct challenge to the authority of God that could not be ignored. To do so would have left doubts in the minds of all other heavenly intelligences that might also breed foment. The problem had to be confronted in such a way as to resolve this challenge.
Again the question arises: Who is on trial? Let there be no doubt because the Scripture tells us explicitly: “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That you may be justified in your words, and may overcome when you are judged‘” (Romans 3:4, NKJV).
Thus, God is on trial while this challenge to His authority is resolved. In Revelation 12:7-9, we read about the protagonists in heaven and the great controversy between Christ (Michael) and Satan (the dragon): “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Thus, the earth became a cosmic laboratory in which Satan’s delusions of self-proclaimed deity could be tested.
Paul also teaches a similar theme: “We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9b).
Thus, our lives are the evidence in the cosmic trial of God and His purposes.
This is quite sobering: What do each of us demonstrate to others about the character of God? Is He loving and caring, or capricious and vindictive? We cannot tell most observers about God’s character; we must show them.
How the challenge will be resolved
In the same way that the imagined music dilemma was solved, there must be an examination, or trial, with evidence taken from the results of the lives of those involved with the cosmic experiment— us! Let us examine this examination, which the Bible calls a judgment.
“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Thus, all people will be involved with this judgment and vindication of God and His character.
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; see also Matthew 10:26). No evidence will be concealed; all will be revealed. There is no point trying to hide anything in this life.
Here is an important point: The purpose of the judgment is to reveal to all other intelligences who is lost and saved, and why. God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.
Indeed, Paul is quite explicit on this matter. God does not need to have a judgment so He can discover who is saved—He already knows: “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Timothy 2:19).
The reason for this wonderful truth is simple: the saved select themselves by choosing Jesus as their Saviour. Jesus stated (as recorded by John): “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 write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13). In Jesus’ direct words, He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
Thus, we may have the assurance of salvation, here and now. Our salvation depends only on our continued relationship with Jesus, and our acceptance of that salvation. He saved us and there is nothing any of us can contribute to that perfect provision, which has already been made for us. The only matter to reveal in the judgment is whether we have accepted that salvation and shown evidence of it in our lives.
The Three-phase Judgment
The challenge to God’s authority must be resolved in an open and transparent manner. For this reason, He has chosen a process involving a three-phase judgment of His dealings with sin and Lucifer’s challenge.
We will observe at each phase of this triple judgment, there is involved a judgment throne or seat at which God and Jesus expose their actions to universal scrutiny. It is God’s desire to be as open to question and comment as possible in His every process and action. We are able to review every action and ponder every decision.
Phase 1—Pre-millennial Judgment
“As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat… . His throne was flaming with fire… . Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9, 10). The context of this scene is the judgment of the little horn before the second coming of Jesus. Thus, Jesus deals with this demonic power, but does so in a way that vindicates His character. Thus, the judgment scene depicts the angels sitting in judgment on God’s decisions.
This phase of judgment is also described in Revelation in a message that goes out to the world: “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water‘” (Revelation 14:7).
Now, it is obvious that this pre-advent judgment does not reveal anything to mortal humans living on earth because we are not involved. Its primary function is evidently for the heavenly intelligences.
“Even angels long to look into these things,” wrote Peter (1 Peter 1:12). Some scholars call this phase the “investigative judgment” in recognition of the fact that the angels have the opportunity to investigate such matters.
And Paul refers to his readers’ actions as evidence in this trial: “Your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring … is evidence that God’s judgment is right” (2 Thessalonians 1:4, 5).
At the conclusion of this first phase, the Bible depicts Jesus sitting on His throne in heavenly glory carrying out the results of this first phase: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31, 32). This is the first of the judgment seats.
Phase 2—Millennial Judgment
Paul predicts a time when humans would judge angels (see 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3). This apparently arrives during the 1000 years—known as “the millennium”— after Jesus’ second coming.
John describes it in this way: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.… This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6). Thus, unlike the pre-advent judgment, the millennial judgment is primarily for the benefit of the recently immortalised saints.
What an opportunity this will be to review God’s dealings with His universe and satisfy all our questions! We should pause to note that this second phase also involves judgment thrones or seats as clearly stated in the above passage. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is the second of the three judgment seats in the three-phase judgment of God.
Phase 3—Post-millennial Judgment
The first two phases of judgment have satisfied the heavenly beings and the saved of the earth. This leaves only one group—the wicked. It is during the third phase that they are both satisfied with God’s decisions and character, and then destroyed.
“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Revelation 20:7-9).
This might sound brutal, but all minds will be fully satisfied that God is righteous and the challenge to His divine authority has been successfully met. Only then can it be said, “Trouble will not come a second time” (Nahum 1:9).
Again, there is a celestial judgment seat involved with this final phase of executive judgment: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it… . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done… . If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
The Judgment Records
No trial of any kind, cosmic or otherwise, can proceed without accurate and complete records; and celestial records are faithfully kept of all our deeds (see Revelation 20:12). This raises a difficult question for some: If accurate records of all my deeds are kept in heaven, then will I have to answer for my sins again before God? Definitely not! Notice the clear testimony of Scripture: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
Paul adds, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24). Notice that all have sinned and are freely forgiven! Jesus Himself gave us a wonderful example when being crucified, before His captors had even asked or realised their sin, Jesus asked, “Father, forgive them.” And throughout the Bible, God assures us that He “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; see also Hebrews 10:17). Jesus has forgiven all sin ever committed! This point cannot be emphasised too much. We may be absolutely assured of our salvation because it does not depend on us but on Jesus and His already accomplished work. Therefore, the righteous do not need to answer in the judgment for their forgiven sins—the righteous inspect the records to judge the character of God. Our lives and their records are used as evidence in God’s trial. Further, the outcome of that trial of God is certain—we will find Him faithful and true (Revelation 19:11, 12).
If the above description appears too celestial and remote, not involving us, then it has failed. Just as the music exam involved the students, using their results as evidence to justify the maestros, so too this cosmic experiment resolving the great controversy between Christ and Satan will involve the lives of each of us.
We are the evidence that will be used to vindicate God’s character.
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:15- 17). Paul explains, “Your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring … is evidence that God’s judgment is right” (2 Thessalonians 1:4, 5).
The amazing thing to realise is that our choices and our actions have cosmic and eternal significance. Therefore, let us walk as Jesus walked so that God may be proved right when He is judged (see Romans 3:4).