Last Judgment

Day of the Lord, General Judgment

General Information

The concept of a final judgment on humankind at the end of history is found in Judaism and Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. It holds an important place in Judaic tradition, in which God's judgment is regarded as operative both within history and at its end. The consummation of history is called the Day of the Lord, which is a day of judgment upon all who are unfaithful to God.

Christian Eschatology owes much to this Hebrew tradition. The New Testament freely employs the language and imagery of Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. It affirms the expectation that (in the language of the historic creeds) Christ "will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead." Many different interpretations of the meaning of this affirmation have been offered and, in particular, of the symbolic language employed in the New Testament to describe the indescribable. But there is little doubt that the apostolic writers believed in the Second Coming of Christ and the Great Judgment Day as a manifestation of Christ's eternal victory.

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Final Judgment

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Final Judgment is the sentence that will be passed on our actions at the last day (Matt. 25; Rom. 14:10, 11; 2 Cor. 5: 10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). The judge is Jesus Christ, as mediator. All judgment is committed to him (Acts 17:31; John 5:22, 27; Rev. 1:7). "It pertains to him as mediator to complete and publicly manifest the salvation of his people and the overthrow of his enemies, together with the glorious righteousness of his work in both respects." The persons to be judged are, (1) the whole race of Adam without a single exception (Matt. 25:31-46; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; Rev. 20:11-15); and (2) the fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).

The rule of judgment is the standard of God's law as revealed to men, the heathen by the law as written on their hearts (Luke 12:47, 48; Rom. 2:12-16); the Jew who "sinned in the law shall be judged by the law" (Rom. 2:12); the Christian enjoying the light of revelation, by the will of God as made known to him (Matt. 11:20-24; John 3:19). Then the secrets of all hearts will be brought to light (1 Cor. 4:5; Luke 8:17; 12:2, 3) to vindicate the justice of the sentence pronounced. The time of the judgment will be after the resurrection (Heb. 9:27; Acts 17: 31). As the Scriptures represent the final judgment "as certain [Eccl. 11:9], universal [2 Cor. 5:10], righteous [Rom. 2:5], decisive [1 Cor. 15:52], and eternal as to its consequences [Heb. 6:2], let us be concerned for the welfare of our immortal interests, flee to the refuge set before us, improve our precious time, depend on the merits of the Redeemer, and adhere to the dictates of the divine word, that we may be found of him in peace."

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Last Judgment

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Judgment at history's end is the climax of a process by which God holds nations and persons accountable to him as Creator and Lord.

The OT centers ultimate judgment in the day of Yahweh (or the day), when the Lord rids his world of every evil: haughtiness (Isa. 2:12-17), idolatry (Isa. 2:18-20), compromise with paganism (Zeph. 1:8), violence, fraud (Zeph. 1:9), complacency (Zeph. 1:12), and all that brands people as sinners (Isa. 13:9). Both the nations (Amos 1:2; Joel 3:2) and Israel (Amos 9:1-4; Mal. 3:2-5) are targets of judgment, which the OT sees as purification of God's people and world so that his creative and covenantal purposes are fulfilled: "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9).

The intertestamental period focuses on the punishment, usually by disaster, of God's enemies, human and supernatural (Eth. Enoch 10:6; 105:3-4). Where such judgment did not take place in history, where the wicked flourished and the righteous suffered (cf. Pss. 37; 73), divine justice was questioned. The problem was solved with the view that judgment was not limited to history but could occur after death (Ps. Sol. 3:1ff.; Eth. Enoch) when God or the Son of man would execute judgment in the last day (II Esd. 7; Eth. Enoch).

The NT builds on OT and intertestamental teaching, expanding it in light of Christ's incarnation. In the Synoptics, Jesus announces himself as the eschatological judge (Mark 15:62) and calls attention to the day of judgment (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41-42; 23:33), describing it as a final separation of the evildoers from the righteous (Matt. 13:41-43, 47-50). Jesus' parables indicate that his purpose is not to frame an eschatological timetable but so to teach the fact of judgment that his hearers face their present decisions for or against the kingdom with utter seriousness. In the longest judgment parable Jesus' point is that the ultimate outcome will be determined by whether the nations receive or reject his "brethren" who come to them with the gospel message (Matt. 25:31-46).

John's Gospel underscores the tie between present human decisions and future divine judgment: believers do not go through judgment but have already crossed from death to life (5:24); the disobedient will not see life but are already under wrath (3:36). Final judgment, committed by the Father to the Son (5:26-27), will follow the resurrection of both the evil and the good (5:28-29), sealing the decree that human faith or disobedience has already determined.

Paul amplifies these themes: judgment is connected with Christ's coming and the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:22-25); Christ is judge (II Tim. 4:1); Christians share in the judging (I Cor. 6:2-3); judgment is fair (Rom. 2:11), universal (Rom. 2:6), thorough (Rom. 2:16); through justification, judgment is robbed of terror for believers, whose sins have been judged on the cross (Rom. 3:21-26; 8:1, 31-34); believers' judgment consists of rewards for good works (Rom. 14:10; II Cor. 5:10) manifested when the purging fires clear away all dross (I Cor. 3:13-15); final judgment of unbelievers, exclusion from God's presence, is a recurrent theme, much of it stated in OT language (I Thess. 5:3; II Thess. 1:9; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; Rom. 6:21); divine judgment is both present and future reality (Rom. 1:18-32).

Jude and II Peter use some of the Bible's fiercest language to depict the fate of the wicked teachers (incipient Gnostics?) who misled the faithful by mocking their hope of a second coming and encouraging licentious living because they did not fear a final judgment (II Pet. 3:3-7; Jude 3-4). These letters see the final judgment as the ultimate act in a historical pattern (II Pet. 2:4-10; Jude 5-7), an act that should prompt righteous living by its cosmic power to destroy even the very heavens (II Pet. 3:11-13).

Revelation pictures a tribulation poured out on the earth as a judgment just before the final judgment (seven trumpets, 8-11; seven bowls, 16). As the first step in the final judgment the evil leaders whose blasphemous activities sparked the tribulation are captured in battle by the triumphant Christ and consigned to the lake of fire (19:20-21). Next Satan, the ultimate source of evil, is seized and bound for the duration of the millennium (20:1-3). His release results in further deception of the nations, a clear sign that God's final judgment is deserved, even after a thousand years of Christ's perfect rule the nations persist in their sin. The throne and the books symbolize a careful, accurate process based on well-kept records (20:11-15). The scene is cosmic in scope: earth and sky flee to be replaced by a new heaven and earth (20:11; 21:1); the damage to creation done by human sin is reversed, as the OT prophets foresaw (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:17-25) and Paul depicted (Rom. 8:22-23).

The theological implications of the biblical teaching are that final judgment is (1) the ultimate triumph of God's will and the consummate display of his glory in history, the sign that all he intended has been accomplished; (2) the cosmic declaration that God is just, all affronts to his glory are punished and all recognition of it is rewarded; (3) the climax of Christ's ministry, as the Apostles' Creed affirms; (4) the reminder that human and cosmic history move toward a goal, measured by the purposes of God; (5) the absolute seal of human accountability, all believers are held responsible for their works, all unbelievers for their rebellion; (6) the most serious motive for Christian mission, in the face of such judgment the world's only hope is Christ's salvation (Acts 4:12).

Belief in the last judgment was uniformly endorsed in the early creeds and the Reformation confessions. Except where the various ancient and modern forms of universalism have held sway, Christians have accepted the fact of final judgment, though its form and timing have been strongly debated.

D A Hubbard
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

D. G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, II, 211-34; A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT; J. P. Martin, The Last Judgment; W. Schneider, NIDNTT, II, 361-67.

Last Judgment, General Judgment

Catholic Information

(Judicium Universale, Last Judgment).



Few truths are more often or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the general judgment. To it the prophets of the Old Testament refer when they speak of the "Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31; Ezekiel 13:5; Isaiah 2:12), in which the nations will be summoned to judgment. In the New Testament the second Parusia, or coming of Christ as Judge of the world, is an oft-repeated doctrine. The Saviour Himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays its circumstances (Matthew 24:27 sqq.; 25:31 sqq.). The Apostles give a most prominent place to this doctrine in their preaching (Acts 10:42; 17:31) and writings (Romans 2:5-16; 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 5:7). Besides the name Parusia (parousia), or Advent (1 Corinthians 15:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:19), the Second Coming is also called Epiphany, epiphaneia, or Appearance (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:13), and Apocalypse (apokalypsis), or Revelation (2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Peter 4:13). The time of the Second Coming is spoken of as "that Day" (2 Timothy 4:8), "the day of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 5:2), "the day of Christ" (Philemon 1:6), "the day of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:30), "the last day" (John 6:39-40).


The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church. It is contained as an article of faith in all the ancient creeds: "He ascended into heaven. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead" (Apostles' Creed). He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead" (Nicene Creed). "From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead, at whose coming all men must rise with their bodies and are to render an account of their deeds" (Athanasian Creed). Relying on the authority of Papias, several Fathers of the first four centuries advanced the theory of a thousand years' terrestrial reign of Christ with the saints to precede the end of the World (see article on MILLENNIUM). Though this idea is interwoven with the eschatological teachings of those writers, it in no way detracted from their belief in a universal world-judgment. Patristic testimony to this dogma is clear and unanimous.


The Roman Catechism thus explains why, besides the particular judgment of each individual, a general one should also be passed on the assembled world: "The first reason is founded on the circumstances that most augment the rewards or aggravate the punishments of the dead. Those who depart this life sometimes leave behind them children who imitate the conduct of their parents, descendants, followers; and others who adhere to and advocate the example, the language, the conduct of those on whom they depend, and whose example they follow; and as the good or bad influence or example, affecting as it does the conduct of many, is to terminate only with this world; justice demands that, in order to form a proper estimate of the good or bad actions of all, a general judgment should take place. . . . Finally, it was important to prove, that in prosperity and adversity, which are sometimes the promiscuous lot of the good and of the bad, everything is ordered by an all-wise, all-just, and all-ruling Providence: it was therefore necessary not only that rewards and punishments should await us in the next life but that they should be awarded by a public and general judgment."


The Scriptures mention certain events which are to take place before the final judgment. These predictions were not intended to serve as indications of the exact time of the judgment, for that day and hour are known only to the Father, and will come when least expected. They were meant to foreshadow the last judgment and to keep the end of the world present to the minds of Christians, without, however, exciting useless curiosity and vain fears. Theologians usually enumerate the following nine events as signs of the last judgment:

1. General Preaching of the Christian Religion

Concerning this sign the Saviour says: "And this gospel of the kingdom, shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come" (Matthew 24:14). This sign was understood by Chrysostom and Theophilus as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, but, according to the majority of interpreters, Christ is here speaking of the end of the world.

2. Conversion of the Jews

According to the interpretation of the Fathers, the conversion of the Jews towards the end of the world is foretold by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (11:25-26): "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, . . . that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob".

3. Return of Enoch and Elijah

The belief that these two men, who have never tasted death, are reserved for the last times to be precursors of the Second Advent was practically unanimous among the Fathers, which belief they base on several texts of Scripture. (Concerning Elijah see Malachi 4:5-6; Sirach 48:10; Matthew 17:11; concerning Enoch see Sirach 44:16)

4. A Great Apostasy

As to this event St. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:3) that they must not be terrified, as if the day of the Lord were at hand, for there must first come a revolt (he apostasia).The Fathers and interpreters understand by this revolt a great reduction in the number of the faithful through the abandonment of the Christian religion by many nations. Some commentators cite as confirmatory of this belief the words of Christ: "But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).

5. The Reign of Antichrist

In the passage above mentioned (2 Thessalonians 2:3 sqq.) St. Paul indicates as another sign of the day of the Lord, the revelation of the man of sin, the son of perdition. "The man of sin" here described is generally identified with the Antichrist, who, says St. John (1 John 2:18), is to come in the last days. Although much obscurity and difference of opinion prevails on this subject, it is generally admitted from the foregoing and other texts that before the Second Coming there will arise a powerful adversary of Christ, who will seduce the nations by his wonders, and persecute the Church.

6. Extraordinary Perturbations of Nature

The Scriptures clearly indicate that the judgment will be preceded by unwonted and terrifying disturbances of the physical universe (Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25-26). The wars, pestilences, famines, and earthquakes foretold in Matthew 24:6 sq., are also understood by some writers as among the calamities of the last times.

7. The Universal Conflagration

In the Apostolic writings we are told that the end of the world will be brought about through a general conflagration, which, however, will not annihilate the present creation, but will change its form and appearance (2 Peter 3:10-13; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Apocalypse 3:3, and 16:15). Natural science shows the possibility of such a catastrophe being produced in the ordinary course of events, but theologians generally tend to believe that its origin will be entirely miraculous.

8. The Trumpet of Resurrection

Several texts in the New Testament make mention of a voice or trumpet which will awaken the dead to resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; John 5:28). According to St. Thomas (Supplement 86:2) there is reference in these passages either to the voice or to the apparition of Christ, which will cause the resurrection of the dead.

9. "The Sign of the Son of Man Appearing in the Heavens."

In Matthew 24:30, this is indicated as the sign immediately preceding the appearance of Christ to judge the world. By this sign the Fathers of the Church generally understand the appearance in the sky of the Cross on which the Saviour died or else of a wonderful cross of light.


1. Time

As was stated above, the signs that are to precede the judgment give no accurate indication of the time when it will occur (Mark 13:32). When the Disciples asked the Saviour: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" He answered: "It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:6-7). The uncertainty of the day of judgment is continually urged by Christ and the Apostles as an incentive to vigilance. The day of the Lord will come "as a thief" (Matthew 24:42-43), like lightning suddenly appearing (Matthew 24:27), like a snare (Luke 21:34), as the Deluge (Matthew 24:37).

2. Place of the Judgment

All the texts in which mention is made of the Parusia, or Second Coming, seem to imply clearly enough that the general judgment will take place on the earth. Some commentators infer from 1 Thessalonians 4:16, that the judgment will be held in the air, the newly risen being carried into the clouds to meet Christ; according to others the prophecy of Joel (3:1 sq.) places the last judgment in the Valley of Josaphat.

3. The Coming of the Judge

That this judgment is ascribed to Christ, not only as God, but also as Man, is expressly declared in Scripture; for although the power of judging is common to all the Persons of the Trinity, yet it is specially attributed to the Son, because to Him also in a special manner is ascribed wisdom. But that as Man He will judge the world is confirmed by Christ Himself (John 5:26-27). At the Second Coming Christ will appear in the heavens, seated on a cloud and surrounded by the angelic hosts (Matthew 16:27; 24:30; 25:31). The angels will minister to the Judge by bringing all before Him (Matthew 24:31). The elect will aid Christ in a judicial capacity (1 Corinthians 6:2). The lives of the just will in themselves be a condemnation of the wicked (Matthew 21:41), whose punishment they will publicly approve. But the Apostles will be judges of the world in a sense yet more exact, for the promise that they shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28) seems to imply a real participation in judicial authority. According to a very probable opinion, this prerogative is extended to all who have faithfully fulfilled the counsels of the Gospel (Matthew 19:27-28). Nothing certain is known as to the manner in which this delegated authority will be exercised. St. Thomas conjectures that the greater saints will make known the sentence of Christ to others (Supplement 88:2).

4. Those to be Judged

All men, both good and bad, according to the Athanasian Creed, will appear in the judgment to give an account of their deeds. As to children that have personally done neither good nor evil, the baptized must be distinguished from the unbaptized. The former appear in the judgment, not to be judged, but only to hold the glory of Christ (Supplement 80:5), while the latter, ranked with the wicked, although not judged, will be enabled to realize the justice of their eternal loss (Suarez). The angels and the demons will not be judged directly, since their eternal destiny has already been fixed; yet, because they have exercised a certain influence over the fortunes of men, the sentence pronounced on the latter will have a corresponding effect on them also (Supplement 89:8).

5. Object of the Judgment

The judgment will embrace all works, good or bad, forgiven as well as forgiven sins, every idle word (Matthew 12:36), every secret thought (1 Corinthians 4:5). With the exception of Peter Lombard, theologians teach that even the secret sins of the just will be made manifest, in order that judgment may be made complete and that the justice and mercy of God may be glorified. This will not pain or embarrass the saints, but add to their glory, just as the repentance of St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalen is to these saints a source of joy and honour.

6. Form of the Judgment

The procedure of the judgment is described in Matthew 25:31-46, and in the Apocalypse 20:12. Commentators see in those passages allegorical descriptions intended to convey in a vivid manner the fact that in the last judgment the conduct and deserts of each individual will be made plain not only to his own conscience but to the knowledge of the assembled world. It is probable that no words will be spoken in the judgment, but that in one instant, through a Divine illumination, each creature will thoroughly understand his own moral condition and that of every fellow creature (Romans 2:15). Many believe, however, that the words of the sentence: "Come, ye blessed", etc. and "Depart from me", etc. will be really addressed by Christ to the multitude of the saved and the lost.


With the fulfilment of the sentence pronounced in the last judgment the relations and the dealings of the Creator with the creature find their culmination, are explained and justified. The Divine purpose being accomplished, the human race will, as a consequence, attain its final destiny. The reign of Christ over mankind will be the sequel of the General Judgment.

Publication information Written by J.A. McHugh. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

Also, see:
Divine Judgment
Second Coming of Christ
Dispensation, Dispensationalism
Millenarianism. Views of the Millennium
Rapture of the Church, Tribulation
Tribulation, Great Tribulation

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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