The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-16, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

The Final Judgment

The above passage describes the judgment before the white throne judgment which will take place between the millennium and the eternal state. The book that I’ve been using as a guide in my posts on systematic theology, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), takes the position that all final judgment will take place there. He presents evidence that both unbelievers and believers will be judged in it, unbelievers to receive punishment and believers to receive rewards; that angels will be judged in it; and that we will help in the work of judgment. Among the numerous passages that he quotes are the above passage to show that unbelievers will be judged; 2 Corinthians 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, quoted below, to show that believers will be judged; and 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, quoted below, to show that angels will be judged and that we will help in the work of judgment.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)

However pretribulationists (see The Time of the Great Tribulation) hold that instead of being judged at the white throne judgment believers will be judged between their being raptured before the tribulation and their returning after it to rule on earth during the millennium. They claim that 2 Corinthians 5:10, quoted above, refers to this judgment and that it will be a judgment for rewards as described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-1, quoted above.

Some also hold that the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) describes yet another judgment, one between the tribulation and the millennium that will judge people on how they treated believers (or the Jewish people, depending on who “my brothers” refers to) during the tribulation and will decide who will enter the millennium. However the final state, not the millennium, seems to be in view in the parable. Thus Jesus may have put the judgment seat of Christ (judgment of believers) and the white throne judgment (judgment of unbelievers) in one picture without distinguishing between them. (This suggestion by James Oliver Buswell is referred to by Stanley M. Horton in his Our Destiny, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1996, page 225.)

The final judgment is not intended for God to determine the state of our lives, which He will know already, but to demonstrate to us (and the angels) His justice. After pointing out this, Grudem notes these positive moral influences of it on us:

– it “satisfies our inward sense of a need for justice in the world”
– it “enables us to forgive others”
– it “provides a motive for righteous living”
– it “provides a motive for evangelism”
(Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 1147-48)

Eternal Punishment

We call the lake of fire referred to in Revelation 20:11-15, quoted above, “hell.” Grudem defines it as “a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1149. Several passages in the Bible refer to it. Here are a few more:

41 …”Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”… 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41,46; the Son of Man is speaking to and then about the unrighteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats)

43 …the unquenchable fire… 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43,49; Jesus is describing hell)

22 …The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:22-24; this is from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus)

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

Various individuals throughout church history have denied that there is a hell, many of them advocating “annihilationism,” the teaching that after the wicked have suffered the wrath of God against their sin He will annihilate them so that they no longer exist. Grudem presents and responds to four arguments advanced in favour of annihilationism. He concludes, “Though annihilationism can be countered by theological arguments, it is ultimately the clarity and forcefulness of the passages themselves [passages such as the ones just quoted] that convince us that annihilationism is incorrect and that Scripture does indeed teach the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1152).

The existence of hell is a hard doctrine. Even God doesn’t like it, His declaring, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Thus even though we know that it is necessary to satisfy God’s justice, we should sorrow over it and “should also long that even those people who most severely persecute the church should come to faith in Christ and thus escape eternal condemnation” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1153).


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