Jesus said: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him –the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The question is: Did Jesus mean that this judgment “in the last day” will also be the last Day of Judgment? Or will there be an extension of that Judgment Day?
The remark of Christ here has its background in His previous declaration, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God [Christ Himself] and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and He has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life [everlasting], and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:25-30).
I have raised the above question in light of the belief of those who espouse the doctrine of the universal salvation of all men [“universalism”], that God will save all and every single human being who has ever lived, because that is His express desire. For more details about this, see: The Universalism (“All Saved”) Issue and More on the “All Saved” Issue.]
In a word, proponents of universal salvation believe and teach that Jesus’ judgment in the “Last Day” is not really the last judgment, but that God will somehow extend that Day, in order to give the worst of sinners yet another chance to be saved, in order that – as they understand it – all human beings will ultimately be saved, not a single one lost, as God desires and purposes.
The first and last
The apostle Peter, under inspiration by God’s Spirit, wrote: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1Peter 4:17)?
Peter referred to the Christians who were members of God’s “house” or church, to whom he wrote this letter. As he began this letter, he addressed it: “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion [Greek, diaspora], elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1).
The New Testament refers abundantly to the Church of God as God’s “elect” in this present age. [See: “The Next Chapter of History,” Where Is God’s Church Today? and The Value of the “Firstborn.”] In contrast to those not elected, they are the ones who have “obeyed the gospel of God.”
In our finite human language, when we speak of a “first” or a “beginning,” we intimate or suggest a second, third, etc. to follow – and, finally, the last. Jesus Christ called Himself “the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13) – “the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Alpha is the first letter and Omega the last letter in the Greek alphabet.
As the “Alpha,” Jesus began or created all that there is in the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2; Colossians 1:15-16; John 1:1-3). As the “Omega,” He will also end all things and “make all things new” (2 Peter 3: 10-13; Revelation 21:4-5).
Three judgment periods
As the apostle Peter wrote, Christ’s judgment on all of humanity has begun – first on those who are now called to become a part of the “house of God” – the Church of God ( 1 Peter 4:17). They are being judged as to their faith and works in Christ, and will receive their just reward at His return. [See: “I Never Knew You!” Being and Doing, and Saved for Good Works.] We might well call this the “first” judgment period.
The rest of mankind who remain wicked and “unsaved” at Christ’s return will either: 1) be destroyed at Christ’s “appearance” (Isaiah 66:14-16; Revelation 11:17-18); or, 2) as Isaiah 6:13, however, indicates, a “tenth” of humanity will remain alive as mortal beings, like a tree cut down but its stump remaining, to grow back again into a new tree.
Thus, granting that today’s world population is about eight billion, some 800 million people will survive the ravages of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21) and the plagues of God’s wrath upon the wicked (Revelation 6-19).
These sizeable human survivors will become the subjects of God’s kingdom, which Jesus will establish on earth upon His return. These human beings will have families, will multiply and will become the nations whom Jesus will judge (Isaiah 2:1-4). This will continue all through the 1,000 years [“millennium”] of Christ’s initial reign with His glorified saints (Revelation 20:6).
Those who will remain righteous and are judged by Christ to be ready for spiritual “harvest” will be changed from mortal to immortal, just like Christians who remain alive at His return (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Those who prove to be wicked and rebellious will be swiftly destroyed (Ezekiel 38-39). Hopefully they will have a future chance to be taught God’s way, repent, and be saved also. We might well call this the “second” judgment period.
Revelation 20:5 reveals that all the rest of the dead who have not been “saved” – from the time of Adam and Eve, right up to the return of Christ and during His millennial reign – will be resurrected, and will have their fair chance to be judged like the rest of humanity. Verses 11-12 describe this judgment period. We might well call this the “third” – and the last – judgment period: “Judgment in the last day” (John 12:48).
At the end of that period, all those whose names are “not found written in The Book of Life [were] cast into the lake of fire” (Verse 15). These are those who are judged to be unrepentant wicked people who, not being included in God’s Book of Life, will not inherit everlasting life in God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). They will suffer the “second death” (Revelation 21:8), from which there is no more hope of further life; whereas, the righteous—those who obey God’s commandments – will “have the right to [partake of] the tree of life [live forever (Genesis 3:22)] and may enter through the gates into the city [the ‘New Jerusalem’]” (Revelation 22:14).
Why “judgment in the last day” will be the last
At the risk of repeating myself, it must be told that those wicked who will perish in the “lake of fire,” or “the second death” will be like a tree that is burned by fire, leaving neither root nor branch (Malachi 4:1), to become mere “ashes under the soles” of the feet of those who fear God’s name [the righteous] (Verses 2-3). That means complete destruction!
As a practical horticulture exercise, a tree that has been cut down, with its stump and roots intact, will grow new branches, will flourish and become a new tree. So also the branch of some trees, like the fig or mulberry tree, can be stuck into soil and, with proper care, will take root, grow new branches and become a new tree.
But not so, the wicked! As the apostle Peter describes it, the judgment of intense fire [“fervent heat”] that will dissolve the elements of the heavens and the earth will also completely burn up wicked or “ungodly” men (2 Peter 3:7, 10-12).
Daniel 9:27 speaks about the “consummation” [from the Hebrew kalah, meaning “destruction altogether, utterly, riddance”], to be poured upon that which becomes desolate because of abominations or wickedness. Consummation is the complete fulfillment of a thing, such as God’s judgment on the wicked. It is the termination, the end, of the judgment – the last!
One last “straw”
A proponent of universal salvation grasped at Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3 as the “last straw” to try to prove that there is yet a time which God will give to wicked people who will be destroyed in the “lake of fire” or the “second death.” This passage says: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…A time to kill, and a time to heal.”
Since it is God’s express purpose to save all of mankind (1 Timothy 2:3-4; etc.), this proponent says that God will yet give time for all wicked men to repent, even if God will have destroyed them in the “lake of fire.” God will supposedly “heal” them to give them that time. This is an example of stretching Scripture to try to fit it into one’s idea or belief!
However, as I have explained here, God will give every single person his or her fair chance to receive God’s grace, repent, be forgiven and live a righteous life – if they would, or so choose. Jesus will “heal” all those who have been “killed” by calling the dead from their graves at the time He has judged (John 5:28-29). [See: What Is This Thing Called “Will?” Predestination, and This Is not the Only Day of Salvation.] After that last judgment period closes, then will Ecclesiastes 3:6 also take effect– “A time to keep [to save the righteous], and a time to throw away [to cast the unrepentant wicked into the ‘lake of fire’].” All in God’s own time!
What to do, then?
Ecclesiastes 12:13 concludes: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Matthew 10:28 – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Romans 11:20-22 – “Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [Israel], He may not spare you [Gentile converts] either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness, Otherwise you will also be cut off.”
2 Corinthians 7:1 – “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Ephesians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Hebrews 12: 28 -29 — “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For God is a consuming fire.”
1 Peter 1:15-17 –“ But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘Be Holy for I Am Holy.’ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.” [See: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]
2 Peter 3:11, 14 – “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”
Revelation 14:6-7 — “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the eternal gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” [See: True Worship.]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.