By David Feddes
How would you feel if you knew someone was keeping an exact record of every moment in your life? Everything you’ve ever done, recorded by a video camera. Every word you’ve ever spoken, picked up by a microphone. Every thought, every mood, every secret desire that passed through your mind, picked up by some sort of mind reader. Even worse, imagine all this information being brought into the open and made public.
Sometimes we’re glad when the rotten behavior of certain people has been recorded and brought into the open. A politician tries to cover up a scandal, only to have clear records of his crimes uncovered, proving his guilt. A drug kingpin counts on high-powered lawyers to keep him out of prison, only to be confronted with a recording that shows him in the act. Most of us are glad when these people have to face up to their crimes; but how would you like it if your entire life was placed on record and then laid bare for inspection and judgment?
Well, like it or not, it’s reality. Whatever your secrets might be, they won’t remain secret forever. Every moment of your life is being entered into a complete record, and that record is going to be evaluated publicly. Oh, there’s no camera or tape recorder following you around and 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. God knows everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, and he stores every detail in his memory with perfect accuracy. Nothing escapes his notice, and he forgets nothing. The day is coming when you will stand before God, and every detail of your life will be examined and judged by the standards of divine justice.
Actions, Words, Thoughts
At the final judgment, all your actions will be examined. 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, whether good or 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 richer at someone else’s expense; the days you worked hard and the nights you got drunk. God has a complete record of your best actions, your worst, and everything in between.
Along with all your actions, all your words are part of God’s record. Everything you’ve ever said is recorded word for word in God’s memory. 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, good or bad, has been recorded word for word: the hymns and the swear words; the encouraging compliments and the angry insults; the helpful instructions and the racist slurs; the promises you kept and the promises you broke; the helpful discussions and the cruel gossip. It’s all on record, and at the final judgment 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).
At the final judgment you will have to give account not only for all your actions and words but also for all your thoughts. 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 act religious, not because you love God, but because you want to impress others, God knows. 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” (Jeremiah 17:10) Scripture 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.” God can read your mind, and he judges the thoughts he finds there.
At the final judgment, there won’t be any need for DNA evidence or expert testimony or eyewitnesses—God knows it all and will bring it all into the open. There won’t be any lawyers or loopholes or appeals—the judgment will be fair and final. The Judge will issue his verdict and announce your destiny.
The Appointed Judge
The Judge presiding on judgment day will be Jesus. In many nations, the supreme court is a panel of judges offering different opinions based on laws, precedents, and sometimes on political calculations and personal preferences. But the ultimate supreme court on judgment day has only one judge, Jesus. His rulings are not based on opinion or precedent or politics but on truth.
Sometimes the appointment of judges involves political wrangling and quarreling. Judges have a lot of power, so parties and people struggle to get their kind of judge appointed and to prevent the appointment of a judge who doesn’t suit them. But the most important court appointment has already been made. It’s not up for grabs. Nobody can prevent or undo the appointment of Jesus as judge. The Bible says, “God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Maybe you’ve never connected Jesus’ resurrection on Easter with his appointment as judge, but the Bible often makes that connection. Jesus said, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:21-22). After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter declared, “God raised him from the dead… he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:40-42). God hasn’t left us wondering who will be the supreme judge. In raising Jesus from the dead, the heavenly Father showed his approval of his Son’s perfect justice and his qualifications to preside as judge.
Jesus’ appointment can’t be blocked by political delays, mudslinging, or filibusters, and Jesus’ decisions on judgment day can’t be influenced by payoffs, bribery, or expensive lawyers. Jesus is one with the Lord whom the Bible describes as “the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes (Deuteronomy 10:17). Some corrupt politicians and judges base their decisions on who pays them the biggest bribes or donates to their campaign fund, but bribery won’t work on judgment day. Jesus already owns the universe; he doesn’t need anyone’s money. Money won’t buy Jesus off, and lack of money won’t matter. He will judge rich and poor alike according to his justice, not according to their wealth or influence.
If you’re guilty, no high-powered lawyer will be able to help you. If you’re innocent, lack of a lawyer won’t hurt you. On judgment day, Jesus will judge based on perfect justice and complete information. For some people, this will be the happiest of all moments, and for others, the most horrible. When the Lord Jesus comes in triumph to carry out the final judgment, every eye will see him. In that moment, some will be deeply wailing, while others will be gazing at Jesus with rapture and joy.
Opening the Books
In Revelation 20, the Bible reveals a stunning vision of judgment day. The apostle John says:
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.
That’s not just a vision or dream; that’s a glimpse of the future. When Jesus returns in blazing majesty, every last person who ever lived will be resurrected and will appear before the great white throne of God’s 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 exact record of every moment of our lives. He has stored it all in the books of his perfect memory, and at the final judgment those books will be opened. All the facts will be right there. Not one item will be missing.
It may be hard to understand how God can keep track of every last thing about billions and billions of people, but remember: God 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. The final judgment will confirm one of these two destinies for you.
The Bible teaches over and over that every person will rise from the dead and that God’s judgment of each person results in either everlasting blessing or everlasting damnation. Scripture says, “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).
The Book of Life
At the final judgment 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. The book of life differs from the other books we’ve been talking about. Those books contain detailed records of your entire life, but the book that determines whether you go to heaven or hell is the one the Bible calls “the Lamb’s book of life.” The Lamb 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 clear that all whose names are in this book will be saved, but Scripture also says that some 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 welcomed him to live in their hearts. They have not submitted to his rule over them.
If your name doesn’t appear in the book of life, nothing can save you at the final judgment. The other books that record the various details about your life certainly won’t save you. 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 wicked word, every impure thought that is part of God’s detailed record.
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 Son, Jesus, to open the way to heaven, so 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.
In the Bible, 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).
Maybe you’re a person who likes to believe in life after death, but you don’t believe that hell is real. However, that’s not what the Bible says. So unless you have a source of information about the final judgment 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.
You may laugh about “fire and brimstone” preachers who shout about judgment and hell and try to make you feel the heat and smell the smoke. Well, maybe some preachers do get carried away with detailed descriptions of hell, but the fact remains that the Bible and Jesus speak of hell as a lake of fire, where God’s enemies endure torment and remorse, and where there is no escape. Hell means unending physical torment and the utter mental anguish of despair and complete 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 total ignorance—since God’s eternal power and divine nature are displayed in the creation around us (Romans 1:20), and every one of us has a conscience to remind us of right and wrong (Romans 2:15). Still, though all of us are responsible to some degree, some have much greater opportunities than others. 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 wicked and deserving of hell, but Jesus said that even 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). Sodom hadn’t heard about Jesus, 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 reading this means that you know about Jesus, and you know about the judgment to come. If, after knowing all this, you still turn away from Jesus, the judgment will be even more unbearable. So if you haven’t yet yielded your life to Jesus, change your ways before it’s too late.
Flee from the wrath to come. Turn your life over to Jesus. Depend on him to put your name in his book of life, and commit yourself to living in such a way that when the details of your life are exposed on judgment day the evidence will show that you belong to the Lord. When your name is in the book of life, you don’t have to live in terror of the final judgment.
In fact, the judgment 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. In Revelation 21 the apostle John describes it this way,
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)
The final judgment will confirm this wonderful destiny for all God’s people, and they will rejoice in God forever.
But, you might wonder, what about those books with all that detailed information about believers? Well, some of the record will be good, evidence confirming that Jesus really did make a difference in the lives of his people. 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 secret, and nobody seems to notice. But God notices. He’ll bring it all into the open on judgment day.
However, the books will also reveal your darker side. The fact that you’re a Christian, forgiven and accepted by God, doesn’t mean that you won’t be faced at the judgment 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. Professor Anthony Hoekema explained it like this:
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.
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 paid for all those sins.
The Bible also teaches that the books will be important for another reason: there will be different 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 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’ll have a lesser reward than those who served the Lord more faithfully and spoke his Word more truthfully. If you’re a Christian, the thought of the judgment shouldn’t terrorize you, but it should move you 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? Is your name in the book of life? Are you living in the awareness that you will answer to God for every thought, word, and deed? Are you ready for the judgment day?
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.