January 10, 1993

JUDGMENT DAY

“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” (Revelation 20:12).

How would you feel if you knew someone was keeping a file on you that contained an exact record of every moment of your life?  Everything you’ve ever done, recorded by a hidden video camera.  Every word you’ve ever spoken, or whispered, or even muttered, picked up by a hidden microphone and recorded with perfect clarity on an audiocassette.  Every thought, every mood, every secret desire, picked up by some sort of mind reader attached to you 24 hours a day–almost like a lie detector, except that (unlike a polygraph) this mind reader would be 100% accurate, and it would keep an exact written transcript of every last thing that passed through your mind.

Now imagine that all of this information would be brought into the open and made public.  Not a comfortable feeling, is it?  It’s never fun to watch a replay of your own awkward moments and silly mistakes, but your problem would go beyond mere embarrassment if your secrets were recorded and exposed.  Your most sordid and sinful and despicable actions, every rotten thing you’ve ever done, would part of a permanent and undeniable record.  You’d suddenly find yourself unable to cover up or lie or make excuses.  The facts would be indisputable.

It would be like Richard Nixon and his aids trying to cover up what they knew about Watergate, only to have the White House tapes made public.  Or like John Gotti, always getting off the hook in various trials for his Mafia activities, until at his last trial the prosecution played tapes of actual conversations between Gotti and his fellow mobsters.  Or like the former mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Berry, giving speeches about dealing with the drug problem, only to be caught on video trying to solicit sex and buy cocaine from an undercover agent.  Or like Bill Clinton, finding out that Gennifer Flowers had taped some of their phone conversations.

Sometimes we’re grateful for the kinds of technology that show other people for what they are, that get beyond the pretenses and show us the truth, but put yourself in that position for a moment.  When you imagine a scenario where every last action, every last word, and even every last thought is recorded with perfect accuracy and then laid bare for scrutiny, it’s more than a little unsettling.

But like it or not, it’s reality.  It is an inescapable fact that whatever your secrets might be, they won’t remain secret forever.  Each and every moment of your life is being entered into a comprehensive record, and that record is going to be scrutinized very thoroughly.  Oh, there’s probably no camera or tape recorder following you around, and there’s no secret mind-reading device attached to you.  But something more penetrating and accurate than any of these things is keeping track of you.

The eye of God is on you.  According to the Bible, God knows everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, and he stores every detail in his memory with greater accuracy than any video camera or computer disk.  Nothing escapes his notice, and he forgets nothing.  And the day is coming when you will stand before God, and the complete record of your life will be opened up and examined.  Every detail will be scrutinized and assessed by the standards of divine justice.

On Judgment Day, every action will be examined.  In Ecclesiastes 12:14 the Bible says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  Every action, both good and bad, is on record:  the gentle touch and the brutal blow;  the time you helped your neighbor when he was sick, and the time you cheated on your wife or husband and nobody found out; the check you wrote to help needy children, and the shady business deal that made you a lot of money at someone else’s expense;  the days you worked hard and the nights you got drunk.  It’s all been recorded with greater clarity than any video, and it’s ready to be played back as evidence.  Your best actions, your worst, and everything in between, is part of the record that will be examined on Judgment Day.

Along with all your actions, your words are also part of the record.  Everything you’ve ever said is recorded verbatim in God’s memory.  On Judgment Day Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill won’t be judged by a committee of confused senators who have no way of knowing which person is lying and which is telling the truth.  They will be judged by the God who knows exactly what words passed between those two people so many years ago.  It won’t be her word against his;  there won’t be any need for witnesses or cross-examination.  God already knows the truth, and on Judgment Day it will be brought into the open.

As Jesus put it, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3).

Everything you’ve ever said, whether good or bad, has been recorded word for word:  the hymns as well as the swear words;  the encouraging compliments as well as the angry insults;  the helpful instructions as well as the sexual innuendo;  the promises you kept as well as the promises you broke;  the helpful discussions that encourage mutual understanding, as well as the lies and gossip that ruined relationships.  It’s all on the record, and on Judgment Day you will answer for each word.  Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words, you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

On Judgment Day you will have to give account not just for everything you do, and not just for everything you say, but also for everything you think.  God knows your thoughts and moods better than any polygraph or biofeedback system.  When you act polite on the outside but are full of anger and hatred on the inside, God knows.  When you undress someone in your mind and burn with lust for another person’s body, God knows.  When you go through religious rituals, not because you love God, but because you want to impress others, God knows.  Jesus was very emphatic about this in his great Sermon on the Mount.

God can read your mind completely, and he judges what he finds there.  This is taught all through the Bible.  In Jeremiah 17:10 God says, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “God will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5).  Hebrews 4:12-13 puts it this way:  “The word of God… judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

So, although there’s no camera watching you, no tape recorder listening to you, no polygraph measuring your every thought and mood, there is indeed Someone who knows every thought, every word, every deed–every moment of your life–and he is making a record of it all for future reference.  On Judgment Day, the entire record will be opened.

In Revelation 20, the Bible reveals a stunning vision of what that day will be like.  The apostle John says:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.  Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  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.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Friend, that vision of Judgment Day isn’t just a dream.  It’s reality.  When Jesus Christ returns in all his glory, every knee will bow before his overwhelming power and his blazing majesty.  Every last person who ever lived will be physically resurrected and will appear before the great white throne of divine judgment.  Those who died at sea will be there;  those who died on land will be there.  The important people will be there;  the little people will be there.  You’ll be there, and so will I.  It’s a moment no one can avoid.

In that moment we’ll find that God has been keeping a complete and accurate record of every moment of our lives.  He has stored it all in the books of his perfect memory, and on Judgment Day those books will be opened and all the facts will be right there.  Not one item will be missing.

It may be hard to understand how God can know and remember every last thing about billions and billions of people, but don’t forget:  he has no limits.  With God all things are possible.  That’s why he’s God.  Besides, if even humans can devise computers that store mind-boggling amounts of information, surely the one who created and controls the entire universe won’t have any trouble keeping track of the facts.

When God opens the books, he will display the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about your entire life.  Then he will declare his judgment about you, and the outcome will be final and irreversible:  the Lord will either welcome you to live forever in his splendid new creation, or he will banish you to suffer torment without end in the fires of hell.  Judgment Day will confirm your destiny in one of these two places.

The Bible repeatedly teaches that every person will be raised from the dead and that God’s judgment of each person results either in everlasting blessing or everlasting damnation.  The prophet Daniel was told, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).  Jesus himself said:  “… a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

On Judgment day people will be divided into two basic groups:  those whose names are written in the book of life, and those who are not in the book of life.  We’ve been talking about some other books, the ones that contain detailed records of your entire life, and those books will play an important role at Judgment Day.  But the decisive book, the one that determines whether you go to heaven or hell, is the one the Bible calls “the Lamb’s book of life.”  The Lamb, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the book of life is the record of all who belong to him by faith, who have been saved by his blood.

The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that all whose names are in this book will be saved, but it’s also clear that some people are not listed in the book of life, and that all these people will go to hell.  They are missing from the book of life for one simple reason:  they don’t belong to Jesus.  They have never personally put their trust in him.  They have never invited him to live in their hearts.  They have not submitted to his control over their lives.

If your name doesn’t appear in the book of life, there’s nothing that can save you on Judgment Day.  The other books that record the various details about your life certainly won’t.  They will only heap up more evidence against you.  Even the good things on your record are corrupted by impure motives, and they are outweighed by the evil things you’ve done.  You’ll be judged and punished for every selfish action, every swear word, every impure thought that is part of God’s detailed record of your life.

When you turn away from Jesus, you show that you don’t want a place in the book of life, and you add to all your other sins the terrible sin of spitting in God’s face.  God sent his only begotten Son to open the way to heaven, and when you refuse God’s dear Son, you are insulting God himself.  You ignore God’s revelation, you refuse his love, you reject his beloved Son Jesus, and for that, there is hell to pay.

The prophet Isaiah writes, “See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind;  he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire” (Isaiah 66:15).  Jesus himself declares,  “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).  And the apostle Paul, inspired by God, says that the Lord Jesus will be

revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

I know that some people, even if they believe in heaven, don’t like to believe that hell is real.  Well, if you think that way, it may be your opinion, but it’s not what the Bible says.  And unless you have some source of information about Judgment Day that’s more reliable than the Bible–and you don’t–you’d better take God’s Word for it that hell is real.  Wishful thinking won’t make hell go away, and it won’t keep you from going there.

People sometimes chuckle about so-called “fire and brimstone” preachers who seem lurid and sensationalistic, who try to make you feel the heat and smell the smoke of hell.  But the fact remains that the Bible’s most frequent picture of hell is of a lake of fire, where God’s enemies endure torment and remorse, and where there is no escape.  There will be the unending torment of physical agony, coupled with the mental anguish of complete despair and hopelessness.

Hell will be dreadful for everyone who goes there, but the Bible shows that it will be worse for some than for others.  There will be degrees of punishment.  The more you sin, the more intense the suffering you are earning for yourself.  This is where the books we talked about earlier, the detailed records of each person’s life, come into the picture.  Those books record the amount of evil that each person is guilty of, and each person will receive the appropriate degree of punishment.

Equally important, the books also record the opportunities that God gives each person to respond to him.  Some people have had much greater opportunities than others, and they will be judged accordingly.  Everybody is responsible to at least some degree for displeasing the Lord–nobody can plead ignorance on Judgment Day–since God’s eternal power and divine nature are displayed in the creation around us (Romans 1:20), and every one of us also has a conscience to remind us of right and wrong (Romans 2:15).  Still, though all of us are responsible to at least some degree, some have encountered a much fuller revelation than others, and the more you know, says the Bible, the greater your punishment if you reject what you know.  If you’ve had access to the teachings of the Bible and you’ve been called to put your faith in Jesus and you still turn away, your punishment will be more severe than those who’ve never seen a Bible or heard the name of Jesus.

The Old Testament city of Sodom was very wicked and deserving of hell, but Jesus said that even wicked Sodom would be better off on the day of judgment than the towns where his gospel was preached openly and people still refused to repent and believe (Matthew 10:15) because Sodom hadn’t heard about him, while these people had.  The more you know, the more responsible you are, and the more severely you will be judged.  Jesus said,

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded;  and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48).

The fact that you’re listening to me means that you know about Jesus, and you know about the judgment to come.  If, after knowing all this, you still turn away, the judgment will be even more unbearable.  So if you haven’t yet yielded your life to Jesus, I pray that you’ll change your ways before it’s too late.

Flee from the wrath to come.  Turn your life over to Jesus Christ.  Depend on him to put your name in his book of life, and commit yourself to living in such a way that when the various details of your life are exposed on the day of judgment, the evidence will show that your life was devoted to honoring the Lord.  If your name is in the book of life, you don’t have to live in terror of Judgment Day.

Judgment Day will be a glorious time for the children of God.  Everybody who belongs to Christ, all those whose names are written in his book of life, will receive beautiful and immortal resurrection bodies, and they will be guaranteed a permanent place in God’s new creation and in its magnificent capital city, the new Jerusalem.  As the vision of Revelation 21 describes it,

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away. (v.3-4)

Judgment Day will confirm a share in God’s eternal kingdom for all God’s people.  They will all have a part in the joy and celebration.

But what, you might wonder, happened to those books containing all that detailed information?  Well, those facts will indeed be available on Judgment Day, even when it comes to Christians.

Some of the records will be good, evidence that confirms that Jesus really did make a difference in the lives of his people.  Judgment Day will bring it all into the open.  You may have times that you do something kind, or when you work hard for a good cause, or when you pray to God in secrecy, and nobody seems to notice.  Well, God notices, and on Judgment Day, he’ll bring all of it to light.

The books will also depict the darker side of your behavior.  The fact that if you’re a Christian, you’re forgiven and accepted by God, doesn’t mean that you won’t be faced on Judgment Day with the reality of your many sins.   According to the Bible, God will show each of us the full record of our lives, including the wrong we’ve done.  As Dr. Anthony Hoekema wrote,

The failures and shortcomings of believers will enter into the picture on the Day of Judgment.  But–and this is the important point–the sins and shortcomings of believers will be revealed in the judgment as forgiven sins, whose guilt has been totally covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.

On Judgment Day you’ll see the complete record of all the sins that God has forgiven you, and you’ll be even more astonished and grateful at the forgiving and saving power of Jesus Christ.  You’ll realize just how much Jesus did for you when he carried the burden of all those sins.

The Bible also teaches that the books will be important for another reason:  there will be degrees of reward in heaven.  If you have Jesus Christ as the foundation of your life, you can be assured of eternal life, but you still must be very careful how you build on that foundation once you’ve become a Christian.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the Bible emphasizes this, and says that on Judgment Day, every person’s work will be tested by the fire of God’s purity.  “If what he has built survives,” says the Bible, “he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss;  he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (v. 14-15).  In other words, if you belong to Jesus but seldom build on eternal values, you’ll make it to heaven, but barely, as it were, and you won’t enjoy the same degree of reward as those who served the Lord more faithfully and spoke his Word more truthfully.  If you’re a Christian, the thought of Judgment Day shouldn’t terrorize you, but it is a powerful incentive to make the most of every moment of life that God gives you.

So how about it?  Are you ready to stand before the great white throne as the books are opened?  Have you received Jesus as your Savior?  Are you sure that your name is in the book of life?  And are you living right now in the awareness that you will answer to God for every thought, word, and deed?  Are you ready for Judgment Day?

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.