Some of the best jokes concern the fate of a person after death. He or she is seen standing before Peter at the pearly gates where the records must be checked to see if entrance into heaven is permissible. While the jokes may be funny, they generally are theologically incorrect. There are two major misconceptions about judgment after death. The first is that there is a judgment to every person immediately after death to determine their eternal destination. The other is that there is a singular judgment at the end of time to determine one’s destiny.
Scripture lists four future judgments. The first, chronologically, is a judgment that concerns only believers in Jesus Christ who have died. It will occur after the rapture of the church in heaven itself. It is called the Bema Seat Judgment or the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is referred to in Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. It is a judgment of the believer’s works done on earth. The purpose of the judgment is to determine appropriate reward. It cannot be a judgment concerning destiny, in that all who are being judged are already in heaven. Likewise, the promise of Romans 8:1 precludes any judgment of condemnation for the believer.
The next two judgments transpire on earth after the conclusion of the time of God’s 7-year universal judgement upon the earth known as the Tribulation Period. Both judgments are listed in Matthew 25. The first judgment concerns Jewish survivors of the tribulation. They will be likened to 10 virgins who awaited the arrival of the bridegroom. Some (5) were prepared for his anytime arrival by having oil for their lamps in order to light the way back to the groom’s house. This is analogous to having faith in Israel’s Messiah. The consequence of their faith is that they enter into the millennial kingdom. The other 5 were faithless and, consequently, are consigned to hell until the final judgment.
The second of the two judgments in Matthew 25 concerns the Gentiles who physically survive the Tribulation Period. They are likened to sheep and goats. The sheep are those who trusted Jesus Christ during the Tribulation and their faith is revealed in how they treated those who were being persecuted by the Antichrist during the Tribulation. They, like the 5 wise virgins, enter into the millennial kingdom. The goats are those Gentiles who never came to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. Their faithlessness is manifested by their treatment to the same persecuted ones. Like the five foolish virgins, they too are sent to hell until the final judgment.
This final judgment comes immediately after the millennial kingdom. It is called the Great White Throne Judgment and its details are given in Revelation 20:11-15. All who stand at this judgment are those who died without having trusted in the salvation provided by God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All are cast into a lake of fire where they shall be for all eternity.
That anyone must wait until after they die to know of their eternal destiny is refuted by the promise of God given in 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” Where one will spend eternity is a matter of what they believe about Jesus Christ before they die and that is not a joking matter.