As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
The first three festivals of the year, Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost, can be seen clearly enough in both Jewish and Christian history. But now the scene begins to change. Of all these appointed festivals of God, the one with the least obvious connection to Christianity is the day the Jews call Rosh Hashana,i the Jewish New Year:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:23-25).
This is the Feast of Trumpets. Like any religious holiday, you take a day off from work and you go to church (a holy convocation is an occasion for assembling before God). That part is simple enough, but after that it becomes a little more complicated. Of all the holidays, this one is least attested to in Scripture as to meaning, for either Christians or Jews.
For example, the day is called a memorial. But a memorial of what? The Scripture doesn’t say. And you may have noticed that this is the first day of the seventh month, not the first day of the first month. How then can it be the new year? This is especially curious when you realize that Passover falls in the month that God calls “The beginning of months.”ii As it happens, that is six months earlier. I went to the Virtual Jerusalem website and this is what I found:
Five thousand seven hundred and sixty years ago the world experienced the very first Rosh Hashanah. According to Rabbi Eliezer, it was on this day that Adam was created. God’s creation was complete. Our sages tell us that on this very day, Adam violated the commandment that God gave him – the prohibition to eat from the tree of life [sic]. On this day God said to Adam “As you were judged before me this day and emerged forgiven, so will your children be judged before me on this day and emerge forgiven.” Thus, from the beginning of our history, Rosh Hashanah has been marked with judgment and forgiveness. On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of the world, we mark the Kingship of God, and we stand in judgment as His humble servants.
So in Jewish tradition (not to be confused with Scripture), this day is a memorial of creation. And it is also a day of judgment. Christian tradition also expects a day of judgment. Jesus spoke of this to his disciples as he sent them out to preach around Judea:
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:14).
Jesus seems to speak of a day of judgment yet in the future. It is a little chilling to contemplate. On a speaking tour through the cities, Jesus rebuked town after town. They had seen so many of the miracles he had done, and yet they couldn’t believe. “Woe to you,” he said. “If I had done these works in Sodom, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” He concluded by warning: “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 10:24).
In a way, this is a shocking thing to consider. Not merely that there is a day of judgment, but that Sodom and Gomorrah will be there and find a measure of tolerance. Not only that, but wicked Sodom, had she seen the works that Jesus did, would have repented. This last is among the more shocking things that Jesus ever said.
Jesus was a judge, even while he was here, and he could be very tough on occasion. In one instance, after the Pharisees had alleged that he cast out demons by the power of the devil, he had this to say in reply:
Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:34-37).
So the day of judgment is a day when we render an account for the things we have done and said. I think as Christians we lose sight of this. We may think we are saved, and then forget that we are held responsible for the things we continue to do. The Jews are reminded of it every year at the memorial of blowing of trumpets. Christians would do well to remind themselves of it as well. Some do, on the day they call “The Feast of Trumpets.” This day of judgment loomed large in Jesus’ teaching.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (vv. 38-41).
This presents an image of a judgment day sometime in the future, in which the men of Nineveh will stand right alongside the generation of Pharisees who heard Jesus and saw his works. They will be able to say, “Look, we repented at the preaching of Jonah. You heard the Lord himself and didn’t repent.”
The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:42).
It must have seemed incredible to the Jews on that day for Jesus to claim to be greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon, but as Christians, we know that indeed he was. There is a lot we don’t know about the judgment day, but we keep getting little snippets of information that should give us pause. Some might well cause us to break out in a cold sweat.
One notable item is the implication that there is a resurrection connected with this judgment day. Probably some theologians think Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, but that is a little too convenient for me. Even a metaphor stands for something, and what if he is not speaking metaphorically? What if there is a real judgment day? When Jesus speaks of it, it doesn’t sound like a metaphor. It sounds all too real.
On an occasion when the Jewish religious establishment were trying to have Jesus killed, he had this to say to them:
Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:19-22 NKJV).
Once again, resurrection and judgment are connected. And the one who is going to be doing the judging is none other than Jesus himself. He continues to develop this theme in the verses following.
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; 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 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, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:25-29 NKJV).
Again and again, we encounter two things at the same time. Resurrection and judgment. And who is the Judge? None other than Jesus. I don’t know why the translators switched words here, because the word here translated “condemnation” is everywhere else translated “judgment.” It is the Greek word, krisis, from which we derive “crisis,” and I suspect it will represent a very real crisis for the people who find themselves there.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me (v. 30).
His judgment will be just, but it still sends a little shiver down the spine when we think about it. This theme continues throughout the New Testament. For example, when Paul wrote to the Romans:
For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:9-12 NKJV).
Paul is addressing the nasty Christian habit of sitting in judgment of one another. If everyone doesn’t live his life exactly as we think he should, we have an opinion about it, a judgment, even a condemnation for it. Paul wants to know why they are doing this. We shall all, he said, stand before the judgment seat of Christ. That really ought to be enough. When we all stand together before the judgment seat of Christ, there will not be an awful lot of difference between us.
When we stand in judgment before Christ, we will not be there to render an account for our brother. It will be for ourselves. You don’t have to explain to God where your brother went wrong and why he did it. The one you are going to have to explain is yourself. We really do have to give an account of ourselves to God.
Now I know I have been forgiven. I know I have God’s mercy. But this last verse still has to be dealt with. It is disappointing how carelessly a lot of Christian people live their lives. They trust in the blood of Christ to cover their sins and that is good. But does that mean we will not be in any way held responsible for what we do and don’t do? Frankly, when we read the Bible, it would certainly seem that we will be.
This issue becomes rather more serious when we come to the book of Hebrews. Here Paul urges us to hold fast our profession of faith and to stay faithful to one another. Then he deals with what is commonly called the unpardonable sin. This becomes all the more urgent, he says, as we see “the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (vv. 26-27).
This is a hard saying, and it is frightening to consider that there is a sin for which the sacrifice of Christ can no longer atone. And this is all the more true for one who has received the knowledge of the truth, not so much for the person who doesn’t know any better. At the end of the road lies a day of judgment.
Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (vv. 28-29).
It doesn’t seem possible that one who had been sanctified by the blood of Christ should turn and sin willfully. But if it is not possible, why is it here?
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (vv. 30-31).
Yes, I should think so. So now we know that there is a judgment day. When does it come? Where does it fit into all this? If this is a yet future thing, we might expect to find it in the book of Revelation. And in fact, we do. When the seventh angel sounds the seventh trumpet, great voices in heaven announce that “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail (Revelation 11:16-19 NKJV).
So Judgment Day comes at the last trump, at the same moment as the resurrection of the dead.
i. In Hebrew, “the head of the year.”
ii. Exodus 12:2.