“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29
Not only did God the Father entrust to His Son the power and authority to call the spiritually dead to faith and life through His Word, but He has also entrusted to the Son the power and authority to raise all the dead on the last day and judge them.
We confess this truth about Jesus Christ in the Apostles’ Creed when we say, “He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” And the Bible teaches this throughout.
In Revelation 1:7, we read of the Lord Jesus: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Yes, amen.”
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matt. 24:29-31).
In Matthew 25:31ff., Jesus said, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left …”
And in 2 Corinthians 5:10, we read that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
What does Jesus say will be the basis of His judgment? “Those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
While this sounds as though Jesus’ final judgment will be entirely based on whether we have done good deeds or bad deeds, we must remember that God’s Word clearly teaches that “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20); that “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away” (Isa. 64:6). The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
St. Paul also lays out this truth in Romans 3:19-20 when he says, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are in the Law, so that every mouth may be shut and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
So, how can we be made acceptable to God? How can we do works that God accepts as good and righteous in His eyes? The Bible tells us in Colossians 1:21-23: “You were formerly alienated and enemies in mind and in evil deeds, but now He reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
It is through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross that our sins are washed away and we are counted righteous and holy in God’s eyes. And through faith in Christ, our works are cleansed and made acceptable to God.
It is as Jesus said in His parable of the vine and the vinedresser: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit from itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Jesus explains this in his parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:34-46): “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom, which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
So, Jesus Himself says that He will judge based on whether we’ve done good or bad. However, no one measures up — even our best works are tainted by sin and are unclean in God’s eyes. But those who trust in Christ have forgiveness for all their sins — their sins will not be held against them. And they have a new birth and a new life. They are born again and trust in Christ by the gracious working of God’s Spirit through His Word and seek to do those things God created them to do (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). Though their good works are still imperfect, God forgives their sins and accepts their works done for Him and counts them perfect in His eyes for the sake of Christ Jesus and His holy life in our stead and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for all our sins. Only those who trust in Christ do works counted as good and acceptable in God’s sight.
O Jesus, Son of God, our only source of life and salvation, move us to hear Your voice and repent of our evil ways, looking to You and Your cross in faith for pardon and forgiveness that we may be acceptable in Your eyes and bring glory to Your name by the works You enable us to do. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (LSB®) Legacy Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2021 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Managed in partnership with Three Sixteen Publishing Inc. LSBible.org and 316publishing.com