Judgement when Jesus returns
There are many passages in the Bible indicating a judgement when Jesus returns to the earth as king. It is also mentioned that the judgement will be of the living and the dead.
A specific “judgement seat” (in Greek, bema) such as Pilate sat upon when he brought Jesus out and “sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha” is mentioned in John 19:13. A judgement seat where which Christ will judge is mentioned twice by Paul:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; (Romans 14:10 ESV)
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)
Let Mount Zion be glad! Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments! (Psalm 48:11)Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O Lord. (Psalm 97:8)And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.” (Amos 1:2)It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. (Psalm 133:3)
Judgment seat, location of
The traditional view that the resurrectional judgment will be at Sinai has been summarized by a number of writers. But the results are still far from conclusive. Only three passages, so far as I can determine, have ever been seriously advanced as “proof” of Sinai as the site of judgment: Deu 33:2,3; Psa 68:17; and Hab 3:3. Significantly, all three are in the Old Testament. Of course, we should interpret the Old by the New Testament, and by no means should Old Testament passages be ruled out in any study. But the resurrectional judgment, it must be admitted, is very much a New Testament doctrine otherwise — alluded to in the law and the prophets, but stated with clarity in all its particulars only in the New Testament. Then is it not a little strange that all the “evidence” for Sinai comes in the Old Testament?
First, a look at the three traditional “proofs”:
Deuteronomy 33:2,3: To Moses, Sinai was the place of God’s revelation to His people; he knew no other. The deliverance from Egypt and the wilderness trek were the focal points of his life. Therefore, when he speaks his final blessing upon the people, it is certainly fitting that “the Lord came from Sinai… with ten thousands of saints (certainly angels and not saints in this context! cp Psa 68:17)… and (with) a fiery law.” This same thing Yahweh had done before (Exo 19:16-19, etc)! So it would appear there are two reasonable interpretations of Deu 33:2,3: either (a) Moses is remembering what has already happened, or (b) the last revelation of God to Moses follows the patterns of the previous ones: ie, God coming out of the great fiery cloud atop Sinai.
Let us grant for a moment that, as some say, “the context calls for this to be a future blessing” — meaning, I take it, the distant future (from Moses’ day) of Christ’s return. (I would say this is possible, but not absolutely essential.) Then, since the words are addressed to the twelve tribes (just as Deuteronomy 28; 29, etc), is not the last-days fulfillment (if there is one) most likely to be a re-enactment of the Exodus and the giving of the Law for the remnant of the nation of Israel, imprisoned again in Egypt? To this Isaiah 11:11,15; 19:1,18-20; 63:11-19; and Micah 7:15 may well refer.
The other two passages quoted may be approached in the same way. Furthermore, as to Psalm 68:17: The context of the whole psalm is altogether concerning Zion! It was almost certainly written on the occasion of David’s bringing the ark of God to Zion at last (Psalm 24 is another with the same context). This was the culmination of an important phase in the Divine purpose which began with Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, proceeded to the giving of the Law at Sinai, and languished for several generations while the ark rested uneasily at a number of temporary locations. Now it was at last coming to its foreordained permanent dwelling place. With this background we now read Psalm 68:15-17:
* The “hill of God” is Zion (v 15), “… the hill which God desires to dwell in… forever” (v 16). These three verses contain two comparisons, ie:
* Zion is now (in David’s eye, and — prophetically — in the kingdom age) like the hills of Bashan (v 15), meaning majestic and towering and invincible. This is another way of saying that, when God dwells in Zion and His king (David or Christ) reigns there, Zion will be “lifted up”, first to rival and then to surpass the “mountains” (ie, kingdoms) of the Gentiles (Isa 2:2; Psa 48:2). This “lifting up” will be physical when Christ returns (Zec 14:4,8,10; Psa 48:2 again), but in David’s day the “lifting up” was just as real to him in the sense of Zion’s spiritual exaltation to the favor of God.
* Secondly, God is among the angels and the chariots (cherubim) there in Zion, like He was previously in Sinai (v 17). Zion is now (David’s day, and again of course with prophetic implications) like Sinai was — the scene of God’s glorious fiery manifestation.
With this understanding, v 17 may now be read, as it stands in the AV, with no need for modification: “The Lord is among them (the cherubim and angels), as (He had been) in Sinai, (but now) in the holy place (mount Zion!).” That this is the proper interpretation is borne out by such verses as 24 (“sanctuary” would be Zion) and 29 (temple at Jerusalem) and — as I have said — the whole of the psalm. So, if Psalm 68:17 proves anything in the matter of the location of the judgment seat, it proves that Zion and not Sinai will be the site!
Habbakuk 3:3 may be prophetic, but again the effect of the mention of Sinai must be to draw an analogy between the mighty deeds of Yahweh in Moses’ day and the wonderful deliverance expected and prayed for by the prophet. However, where in all the chapter is the resurrectional judgment referred to — or even implied? It is not. We must make a far-reaching inference to use this passage as “proof” of the Sinai location. We must set up a dogmatic sequence of events, a sequence which may appear plausible, but about which we simply cannot be positive. It would be far more reasonable to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and surmise that the Sinaitic (and Egyptian) revelations of God in the last days will be for the purpose of saving the Jews out of Egypt (as the historical allusions imply), not for the judgment of the responsible out of all nations (see references in “1” above).
Briefly, then, these are the scriptural reasons for the judgment seat of Christ being at Zion:
* Isaiah 25:7,8 states clearly that the glorification of the saints will take place in Jerusalem/Zion. (“This mountain” can only be Zion: see 24:23). If the righteous will be given eternal life there, what is more reasonable than to conclude that the site of their judgment will be there also?
* But this is not all: Christ speaks repeatedly of “Gehenna” as the scene of punishment for the responsible wicked (there are many references). Christadelphians have always been quick to show believers in “hell-torments” that “Gehenna” is a known locality, adjacent to Jerusalem, where the bodies of criminals, animal carcasses, and other garbage were burned. Is it fair to take “Gehenna” as literal when convenient, and figurative at other times, only to suit our preconceived notions? If “Gehenna” is indeed the literal place where the responsible wicked will be destroyed after judgment by Christ, what does this tell us about the location of that judgment? Are we really prepared to argue that Gehenna is in the Sinai desert? Note also that twice in Christ’s earthly ministry, the temple area was the scene of his cleansing judgment against hypocritical professors of the Truth. And the fig tree which he cursed was also adjacent to Jerusalem!
* Other passages favor Zion as the location of judgment, because it will be the scene of the saints’ reward: Psalm 133:3 for one: “There (Mount Zion) the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
* Psalm 87:5: The Lord’s people are counted as having been born in Zion, because all their hopes and aspirations are centered upon that place. By a similar figure, their “mother” is Jerusalem (Gal 4:26; Isa 54:1,11-13; Rev 21:2). What more beautiful than the completion of the process of “rebirth” in Zion? If the saints are “born” at baptism to be prospective children of Zion, then why not “born” after judgment in the glory of immortal bodies, again at Zion? Common sense tells us that “children” cannot be “born” hundreds of miles away from their “mother”!
* Matthew 25:31-34: A careful reading indicates that the separation of the “sheep” and the “goats” takes place at the same place as Christ’s “throne of glory”. Again, Christadelphians argue eloquently against those of other persuasions that the throne of Christ and David can only be in Jerusalem, and not in heaven or even elsewhere on the earth (Salt Lake City, Utah?). If that is so for purposes of first principle arguments about the nature of the coming kingdom, then let us not shrink from the implication of such a passage as this in regard to the location of Judgment. Are we really prepared to argue that Christ’s “throne of glory”, where he will sit as a King (v 34), will be set up for a time on Mount Sinai?
* Other New Testament passages seem to call for the same interpretation — among them (a) Heb 12:18-24 (the context is certainly judgment: “Much more shall not we escape” — v 25); (b) Gal 4:24-28 (two covenants; Moses’ covenant at Sinai had to do with length of mortal days in the land, but Christ’s covenant at Jerusalem has to do with eternal life); and (c) Rev 5:6-10; 7:9-14; 14:1-5; and 19:1-9 (the scene of the saints’ reward is invariably the royal throne of Christ and Mount Zion).
One final point: We make a mistake if we elevate the location of the judgment to the status of a “first principle”, no matter which way we believe. In the first place, it was never intended so to be by our “pioneer brethren”.
[It might be well to note the following comment: “Where will (Christ) set (the judgment seat) up? Will it be in Palestine, or in Egypt, or in the Arabian peninsula, in the solitudes of Sinai? We cannot be sure… An uncertain detail must not be made a basis of fellowship. We must not insist upon a man believing the judgment seat will be set up at Sinai or any particular place so long as he believes that ‘Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.’ ” — Robert Roberts, “True Principles and Uncertain Details”, The Christadelphian 35:185.]
And in the second place, there are no Scripture passages absolutely conclusive on the matter. We may think we know the exact order of future events, and exactly how and where each one will be fulfilled. But the true purpose of Bible prophecy is not to enable us to “bat 1,000” in our predictions, but to prepare us personally and as a body for the coming of Christ. Names and numbers and places and facts have a place in the study of prophecy, but they are only the framework. The heart of the matter is the love we hold for the Bridegroom and his appearing. But before he will be the Bridegroom, he must first be the Judge. It is not nearly as important where we will stand literally when he comes, as where we will stand spiritually in his eyes. “Depart from me” or “Come, ye blessed”? This we all know in theory, but it bears repeating, often and forcefully.
A scarcely-explored thread runs through the whole of the Bible, which provides a further rationale for the basic premise of this article. This suggestion is certainly worth an entire study by itself, but we must be content here with the suggestion alone. There are some strong reasons for supposing that the garden of Eden was located at present-day Jerusalem. If this were so, then all sorts of Biblical allusions fall into place, many “loose ends” are surprisingly harmonized, portions of Genesis and Revelation fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and the coming judgment of the responsible — “where it all began” — appears the most reasonable thing in the whole world!