THE GENERAL JUDGMENT.
PRE-MILLENNIALISTS hold that the righteous, so far as they are judged, are judged as well as raised from the dead at the introduction of the millennium; but that the wicked dead are not judged until after its close. They interject, therefore, the period represented by the one thousand years and the last struggle with evil of Rev. 20:4-10, between the judgment of the righteous and the wicked. They also separate the second coming of the Lord from the judgment of the wicked by the same lengthy period, and deny a general judgment of the just and the unjust, in the same way as they deny a general resurrection of both classes of the dead. Post-millennialists affirm that there is a single judgment of the righteous and of the wicked, and that the wicked as well as the righteous are judged at Christ’s coming, and not a long period after.
It must also be borne in mind that as both Pre- and Post-millennialists agree that the judgment of both righteous and wicked takes place in immediate connection with their resurrection from the dead, the evidence as to a general resurrection and that as to a general judgment must agree, and mutually supplement and strengthen each other.
What, then, is the teaching of Scripture on the question of a general judgment of righteous and wicked?
First, let the reader turn to Matt. 25:31-49, and read it attentively. All agree that this coming of the Son of man in His glory, accompanied by the angelic hosts, is His second personal coming. Neither is there any dispute as to the time when the judgment described takes place. It is “then,” “when the Son of man shall come,” etc., that the nations shall be gathered, and the separation and judgment shall occur. There is also an agreement that it is but a single judgment. “All the nations” shall be gathered before Him as He sits on “the throne of his glory” (vs. 31, 32). After they are all so gathered the separation takes place (v. 33). “Then” (v. 34), while He still remains seated upon His throne, as soon as they are separated, He addresses those on His right hand in words weighted with infinite blessing, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and proceeds to give the grounds of His judgment (vs. 35-40). “Then,” as soon as the judgment of the righteous is completed, and while He still remains seated on the throne, He proceeds to pass the terrible sentence on those upon his left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” etc. (v. 41). If words can make anything plain, this is a single judgment in two successive acts, not two separate judgments, sundered by an immense period of supreme moment. So plain is this teaching of a single judgment here, that Pre-millennialists prefer to attempt to explain the passage in some other way, to save their theory, rather than venture to deny that this is its meaning.
Meyer would have us believe that this is a judgment of two classes of believers, and Olshausen, that it is a judgment of two classes of unbelievers. But our Lord has promised that all who believe shall be saved, and all who do not believe shall be condemned. We have here, then, in the very judgment which is to vindicate Christ’s faithfulness, cursing with the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels a portion of those He had pledged His word to save, or the receiving of those He promised to condemn to everlasting blessedness. This is a strange faithfulness, surely!
Most Pre-millennialists now, however, quietly assume this to be a judgment of the nations which are alive at our Lord’s second coming. This is done with such calm assurance that we are convinced the insuperable difficulties involved in this view cannot have been weighed.
Some hold it to be a judgment of the non-Christian, and others of the Christian, nations. But Pre-millennialists believe, as do all, that all the saved who are alive when Christ comes are to be changed and take on their resurrection bodies, in connection with the resurrection which is then to take place. This is made too evident to be questioned by 1 Cor. 15:50-52, 1 Thess. 4:16-18, etc. They also believe with Post-millennialists that this change is to occur before the judgment here described. It is hard to understand how any of the non-Christian nations could in any case be fittingly addressed, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This surely means that they were saved, and as they are “non-Christian” it means that they have been saved either without the Gospel or while rejecting it, a doctrine we are sure few Pre-millennialists will care to accept. But allow that they are of the Christian nations, and are saved and worthy of this salvation, then we may well inquire, why were they not changed and caught up to meet the Lord in the air with the rest of the righteous? Why do only a part of the saved who are alive at His coming receive this full equipment for the resurrection life? There is no hint in Scripture of any such distinction among the saved. The passages just referred to declare that all the living righteous shall be changed. In brief, those to whom our Lord addresses His gracious words, if they are not a class of the wicked, which is absurd, must have shared in the general change of the righteous into the resurrection body. This attempted interpretation, which is assumed with as great confidence as want of discrimination, breaks down at every point.
The other view most commonly held by Pre-millennialists is that this is a judgment of two classes of living nations, and not a judgment of individuals.
As well might it be urged, from Matt. 28:19, “Make disciples of all the nations,” that men are to be discipled by wholesale, and not the individual men and women of all nations. “All nations” here means all men. And how can nations have such a final and glorious or terrible sentence pronounced upon them : It is to be supposed that more and more, as the ages go by, will the righteous and the wicked mingle together among the nations. It must follow, then, that the good in nations predominantly bad, or that have treated the Jews badly, will endure the eternal curse and punishment “prepared for the devil and his angels,” while the wicked in nations predominantly good, or who have favored the Jews, will enter into the eternal blessedness prepared for them forsooth from the foundation of the world. This is a revolution of our ideas of the judgment, surely. It asks us to believe that the judgment, instead of righting all wrong, will but intensify the wrong to many, and make it final and irremediable.
If this is a judgment of nations as nations and not of individuals, the representation of their having a colloquy with the judge, and of their visiting the sick, etc., seems hard to explain. Some would understand it to refer to mere temporal and national rewards and punishments; but this explanation is utterly at variance with the expressions, “Enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and “Depart, ye cursed, unto the everlasting fire,” etc. The judgment is final. If this is a judgment of the nations, therefore, it follows that there is to be a final judgment in which “each one shall” not “give an account of himself to God,” and in which Christ shall not “render to every man according to his deeds;” but in which the destiny of many shall be decided according to the prevailing conduct of millions, or as their government has treated the Jews, all in the flattest contradiction to Rom. 14:12, Matt. 16:27, etc.
Others make vague and confused conjectures.
Dr. Gordon has no settled view of the passage.
The generally accepted pre-millennial explanation of the ground of this judgment is scarcely less objectionable. The “brethren” of the Lord spoken of in v. 40 are regarded as the Jews, and all the living nations are to have their eternal destiny determined by the way they have treated these Jews. Reference is made to Joel 3:11 sq., in proof; but all these nations (see 3:2-8) are the enemies of the Lord’s people, and cannot represent the sheep as well as the goats of Matt. 25:31 sq., even if it has a reference to a final judgment at all. Can we believe that the action of all living nations toward the Jews is what will determine their eternal destiny when our Lord comes?
As all attempts to force this passage into harmony with the pre-millennial view involve such contradictions—may we not almost say absurdities?—we seem to be shut in to the interpretation which almost all exegetes in all ages have adopted as the one lying upon its face, that such a Pre-millennialist as Mr. Birks declares “the Church has universally applied it to the decision of the final state of mankind”—that it is a sublime description of the general judgment of all men at the coming of the Lord. Any obscurity associated with it is imported into its interpretation by exalting the mere setting of the grand scene into essential features; as, for instance, where “my brethren” (v. 40) is made to represent some third distinct and separate class.
Notice also the bearing of this passage on another feature of the pre-millennial theory—that the saints, raised from the dead and changed, have been caught up to meet the Lord, and accompany Him as He descends, and share with Him in this assumed judgment of the quick or living nations. Now v. 31 does not say “when the Son of man shall come in his glory” and all His risen and changed saints with Him, but “all the angels with him.” Is it not significant that the very class Pre-millennialists suppose will have the chief place next to the Judge in this grand transaction are ignored altogether? Could this be, were this pre-millennial conception the true one?
But the prevalent pre-millennial interpretation of this passage as a judgment of all the living nations seems absolutely irreconcilable with other features of their view. It is declared with glowing emphasis that the Gospel is to have its grandest triumphs after our Lord comes, and that it is vain for us to hope for great progress in saving the world until . after He has appeared. The Jews are to be converted, and are then to be the great missionaries through whom marvels of saving power are to be wrought. Now, if the living nations were all judged, and both classes appointed to their eternal destiny, whence come those multitudes of unrighteous people who are to be converted through this agency, after this very judgment which has consigned all the wicked to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels? Does the expression “all the nations,” after all, include only a part of the nations? Or after they are all gathered, do some of them remain unjudged? Our pre-millennial friends hold that the Jews are not included in the nations; but where are the people to come from to whom they are to go when they themselves are brought to Christ: There seems no way of reconciling these contradictory features of pre-millennial interpretation and belief.
2 Thess. 1:6-10, “If so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be marvelled at in all them that believed.”
Notice first, that “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus”—His second coming—not only will those that are suffering persecution be rewarded with “rest,” but the persecutors will be punished with “affliction.” The apostle repeats this thought and makes both the rewarding and the punishing general. “Eternal destruction” is to fall on “them that know not God,” and “them that obey not the gospel,” “when he shall come to be glorified in his saints,” etc. Both classes, the unrighteous and the righteous, are said to be rewarded, when Christ comes again. But are the dead to be included in those who are here dealt with, or are they but classes of those who are to be alive at Christ’s coming? They must be of the dead: for they are to include the persecuted Thessalonian believers and their persecutors, who have been nearly two thousand years in their graves. But is this judgment to be of all the dead? While in the first part of the passage Paul refers only to the persecuted saints at Thessalonica and their persecutors in the latter portion of it, he shows that these but share in a general distribution of rewards and punishments: for “them that know not God” and “them that obey not the gospel” include all the wicked, and “his saints” all His people. Neither is this judgment upon the wicked a temporary and temporal one: but is an “eternal destruction” which must be final. Neither can there be any doubt that the reward of the righteous is equally final and everlasting. As the wicked who are judged include the dead persecutors of the saints at Thessalonica, and as none believe that the unrighteous receive their final judgment in sections, but all agree that they are all judged together, this, as it includes some of the wicked dead, must include them all. This is a fair and unforced interpretation, and is concurred in by exegetes generally. It as definitely excludes the idea of two judgments, separated by the grand millennial era, and that of the last uprising of evil as does Matt. 25:31 sq. With equal decisiveness does it rule out the interpretation of the passage as a judgment upon those who are alive when our Lord comes, as a judgment of a part of the wicked, or as referring to merely temporal inflictions.
But accepting this as a general judgment, inclusive of the wicked dead, but not excluding those who are alive when He comes, then, as all agree that this class is not judged until after the millennium, Christ’s second coming, with which this judgment is immediately associated, must also be post-millennial. This passage is thus in complete harmony with Matt. 25:31 sq.
The teaching of Rev. 20:11-15, as we have seen, is just as strong for a single judgment of all the dead as for a single resurrection of righteous and wicked.
Rom. 2:5-16, “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: who will render to every man according to his works; to them that by patience in well doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life; but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law : and as many as have sinned under law shall be judged by law; for not the hearers of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified; for when Gentiles, which have no law, do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them: in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.”
This is to happen at “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” v. 5, “in that day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.” It is then “he will render to every man according to his deeds,” v. 6, not to the righteous according to their good works only; but to the wicked also according to their deeds. It is not a judgment of a part of either class; for it is “upon every soul of man that doeth evil” and “every man that worketh good,” and it is when God shall judge the secrets of men—all men. It is not spoken of those only who shall be alive when that time comes; for it was to include those Paul was addressing, as well as all who were to come after. Let the reader give this passage careful consideration, noting especially how the apostle includes both good and bad in one common judgment, referring back and forth from righteous to wicked and wicked to righteous; and he will find it more than difficult to believe that in thus going back and forth from one class to the other he has two separate judgments in mind, and is each time passing back and forth across the grandest period of the Church’s history without the faintest intimation of its existence.
Nor is this all. We have this same expression of Rom. 2:6: “Render to every man according to his deeds”; in Matt. 16:27: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then shall he render to every man according to his deeds.” Just as in Rom. 2:6, so here “every man” refers to all men universally and of both classes, as the connection makes evident. This judgment—this distribution of destiny according to deeds—all of it, and for both classes, is to take place “then " when the Son of man shall come, etc. Can we believe that our Lord intended the event described in this succinct statement to be rent into two perfectly distinct transactions, separated by the great millennial period? How can we venture to declare that this “then” covers all this stretch of years, and that “he shall render to every man,” etc., describes more than a single transaction?
Still further, in Mark 8:38, a part of the same discourse as Matt. 16:27, we read: “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” This evidently refers to the judgment of the wicked, just as the same expression in Matt. 10:32, 33 refers to the reward of the righteous. This judgment of the wicked, then, is said by our Lord to take place at His second coming. It also includes the judgment of the wicked dead, for those who were ashamed of Him, in the generation living when He was upon earth, were to share in it. If our Lord’s coming, then, is to be pre-millennial, so must the judgment of the wicked dead be as well as that of the righteous. Could our Lord have thus spoken were the wicked not to be judged “when” He was to come in the glory of His Father, but ages after that glorious event? When, therefore, we read, Matt. 7:22, 23: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” “In that day” refers to the day when our Lord “cometh in the glory of his Father,” etc., mentioned in Matt. 16:27 and Mark 8:38, and describes scenes in the judgment of the wicked at His coming, not centuries after. So also Matt. 10:32, 33: “Every one, therefore, who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven: but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven,” is to be fulfilled at the same time “when he cometh,” etc. Then “every one,” “whosoever,” not those merely who are alive when He appears, shall be welcomed or rejected. For Mark 8:38 specifies the time when the wicked are rejected, and here we find that the righteous receive their welcome when the wicked are rejected—at our Lord’s second coming. Thus all these passages are in beautiful harmony with each other and with Matt. 25:31 sq., 2 Thess. 1:6-10, Rev. 20:11 sq., Rom. 2:5-16, and unite their testimony in support of a single judgment of the righteous and the wicked, not of two distinct judgments separated by the millennial period.
Acts 17:31: “Inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness.” “The world” can mean nothing less than all mankind. This is to be judged on “a day” appointed by God. This day, then, be it a long or a short period, must, at least, be an unbroken and continuous period of judgment, and not two periods separated by the millennium, which is the very antipodes of a time of judgment.
The same teaching is found in a number of the parables. Take the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12-27), and that of the talents (Matt. 25:14 sq.). Even if we restrict these to the professed servants of Christ, the faithful and the unfaithful, the good and the wicked, they are judged at the same time, and receive their reward and condemnation together, in the course of a single, unbroken judgment. Notice also the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:30, 38.43). This parable refers to the continued relation between the righteous and the wicked from the introduction of evil unto the “end of the world.” If anything is here plainly taught, it is that the evil and the good shall exist together until the “end of the world,” and that then, and only then, shall there be a separation as complete as it is final; as the wicked meet their doom and the righteous receive their reward. All agree that this time when Christ is to send forth His angels—this end of the world—is at our Lord’s second coming. Pre-millennialists assume that this parable describes what takes place before the millennium, and urge it in favor of another feature of their belief which will be considered later on. But how can it be held that this final and complete separation takes place then? Most Pre-millennialists hold that the greatest triumphs of salvation are to happen after our Lord comes. Now if all the tares (the wicked) are separated forever from the righteous, as declared in this parable, at a pre-millennial coming of our Lord, there are no wicked people left on the earth to be saved. If the language used by our Lord means anything, it seems to show that, at the period referred to, grace is past and judgment begun. Besides, on any pre-millennial theory, the difficulty remains that the evil and the righteous are not finally and completely separated until after the millennium: for, at its close, there is an uprising of wickedness which shows that it had never been completely eradicated. The final and complete separation does take place after the close of the thousand years. If, therefore, it is at our Lord’s second coming that this final and utter separation takes place, His coming is post-millennial, in connection with a judgment of both righteous and wicked.
We have, in this chapter, sought to give the most natural interpretation of the most explicit passages referring to the judgment of the two great classes of mankind, as in the previous one we considered the passages bearing most directly upon the resurrection. Just as in that chapter we found taught a single resurrection, including both righteous and wicked, so, in this chapter, we find a single judgment of all men at the coming of the Lord plainly and repeatedly declared. Whether this judgment be short or long, it is a single, unbroken, stupendous event. Let our pre-millennial brethren regard the judgment of the righteous as declaring their comparative rewards, according to their works and not their destiny, if they will. All the same, if this judgment, whatever it be, is but a part of the general judgment, including the wicked as well, it is fatal to their theory. The coming of the Lord and the judgment of the righteous are in connection with the judgment of the wicked, which all admit is after the millennium and at the end of the world.
 Brookes, “Maranatha,” p. 488; Blackstone, “Jesus is Coming,” p. 68.
 “Ecce Venit,” p. 269.
 “Lent. Lect. for 1843,” No. vii.