One Judgment or Two?

Everyone, both believer and unbeliever, will appear at the final judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10; 1 Peter 4:17a; Matthew 12:36). However, some argue that there are two judgments; one for believers and one for unbelievers. I think the premise of the following chapters can still be true for those who hold to that view. But usually those who hold to that view teach that God is rewarding believers with many rewards and special honors.

Those who say there are two judgments make a distinction between the judgment seat of Christ and the final judgment. They say Christians will appear at the judgment seat of Christ to collect their rewards, and unbelievers will appear at the final judgment to get their eternal sentence.

However, Scripture never makes this distinction. Although there’s mention of the judgment seat of Christ, believers and unbelievers are always in view. The final judgment and the judgment seat of Christ are the same event. Understanding this is important, because the final judgment is black and white. If you’re saved, then you’re rewarded the same as others who are saved. And if you are lost, then you’re condemned the same as others who are lost.

Paul mentions the judgment seat of Christ in two places—Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. In Romans 14:10, he says that “we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Notice that he says “all” will stand before the judgment seat, not just believers. He identifies the “all” of verse 10 in the next verse:

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11)

It seems clear—based on the context of Romans 14—that everyone will appear before the judgment seat.

The next and only other mention of the judgment seat is in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Paul says:
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.

Once again, he says all, not just believers. If this was just talking about believers, how could believers receive evil if Jesus has taken away all the evil? As we see in context, Paul says this to “persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11), and for the goal of seeing unbelievers become reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Further, he says in verse 21 that Jesus has become our sin so that we might become His righteousness. Clearly then, 2 Corinthians 5:10 is simply revealing that all will appear before God. Believers and unbelievers will receive what is due them—eternal life or eternal separation from God.

In summary, a single judgment is the clear picture in the entire New Testament. In Revelation 20‑21, the great white throne judgment speaks of both unbelievers and believers appearing (Revelation 20:11‑15; 21:6‑8). In Matthew 25:31‑46, Jesus reveals that at the final judgment, He will separate the goats (unbelievers) from the sheep (believers). There is no mention of believers appearing at a different time; instead, all will appear at the same time. And as we’ll see, all will be rewarded the same.

We shouldn’t get caught up or be worried about what will happen in the end times. When you read the book of Revelation, know that it’s a symbolic book revealing to us who God is and His victory over sin, death, and the enemy. The book of Revelation is meant to give us hope that no matter what our circumstances look like, we win!

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