Will Jesus Judge Everyone AT His Return—as Matthew 25:31-46 Seems to Indicate?


Without comparing other Scriptures, some assume that Jesus will immediately judge all people at His return. But that is NOT what the Bible reveals!

These verses referenced in Matthew 25:31-46 encompass a PERIOD OF TIME in which Jesus will reign on the earth in the Kingdom of God. It is important to understand that judgment has been given to Him by the Father, as Jesus stated, “‘For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son…’” (John 5:22). Paul also taught this:

“‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead’” (Acts 17:30-31; compare Acts 10:42).

In saying that God “‘has appointed a day,’” what did Paul mean? Was this to be just a twenty-four-hour period—only ONE day? In speaking about those who rejected the preaching of the gospel by His twelve apostles, Jesus stated:

“‘Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!’” (Matthew 10:15).

In this example with Sodom, is Jesus’ statement to be understood as implying that there is only ONE judgment period for ALL mankind —or is He referring to a very specific future time in which people will give account for themselves and be examined  based on their response to being taught the Truth of God? (Compare Matthew 11:20-24). The answer is that in the example regarding Sodom, He is referring to a time period which is described in the Bible as the Great White Throne Judgment… but it does not refer to the same judgment period for ALL human beings.

Very clearly, the Bible reveals that there will be multiple resurrections, as well as multiple judgment periods, and that judgment is taking place NOW for those whom God calls in this age:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” (1 Peter 4:17-18).

Those whom God has called and who are judged to be righteous in this life will be in the FIRST RESURRECTION:

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Further proof that judgment regarding the receipt of eternal life will have been taking place already by Jesus prior to His return for those who are called now (remember, all judgment has been committed to Jesus—John 5:22) is found in the Book of Revelation. In chapters 2 and 3, it is to those people in the Church of God who “overcome,” that both eternal life and rewards of reigning with Him are offered. Also, in Hebrews 11, other righteous men and women are mentioned who await the first resurrection:

“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

All of those “who are Christ’s at His coming,” will have been judged to receive eternal life. They will receive the promise, and that will take place BEFORE subsequent resurrections occur:

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6).

(As an aside, we also read in this passage that it is our incredible potential to rule and judge under Christ. And as will be mentioned below, even those in the First Resurrection will still appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be given their reward of rulership in the Kingdom of God.)

Notice how there will be a period of judgment following the thousand years:

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

All people will be judged by Jesus Christ! Those not in the First Resurrection will be brought back to life. There will be a period of time in which the Way of God is taught, and the people will have a chance to choose life in God’s eternal Kingdom—it is the choice which has always been ultimately set before mankind (compare Deuteronomy 30:19-20). And, as God’s Word reveals, everyone will face Jesus Christ:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; also, Romans 14:10). And this will include those in the First Resurrection as well. They, too, will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be given their specific reward of rulership in the Kingdom of God (compare Luke 19:11-27).

Not only will everyone appear before Christ, but everyone will submit to His authority:

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Along with those in the First Resurrection, everyone who does come to repentance in the Second Resurrection will make up those who are figuratively called the “‘sheep’” in Matthew 25, verses 32 and 33. (Note that the term “Second Resurrection” does not occur in the Bible, but is revealed in Revelation 20 as following the First Resurrection when Christ will judge all of the rest of humanity.) It has been man’s potential from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34) to inherit eternal life, but man must decide and choose to accept God’s offer.

However, a final or third group is revealed—people who refused in this life and who will refuse in the future to accept God’s Way of Life. They will come back to life in a Third Resurrection to be destroyed in the lake of fire. They will, by that time, have been judged for eternal condemnation, as they REJECTED OBEDIENCE to God. They are those who are identified as the “‘goats’” in Matthew 25, verses 32 and 33, and who are positioned at Christ’s “‘left hand.’” Their fate is described in verse 31 of Matthew 25:

“‘Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

These are those who will experience the “second death” (Revelation 20:14). As Revelation 20, verse 13, shows, this will be a period of judgment—but this is to formally condemn those who have committed  sin and have fully known God’s Truth but have chosen to utterly reject God, His Son—Jesus Christ—and the opportunity for eternal life:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6).


“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Jesus Christ will complete the judgment of mankind, and as we have seen, the Bible reveals that judgment involves a period of time and does not occur just at His return to the earth:

“But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:23-26).

Focusing specifically on Christ’s judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, we also note that His judgment will occur throughout the Millennium as well, in addition to the Great White Throne Judgment period of the Second Resurrection. Those who live in the Millennium will also be judged on a continuous basis—like we are being judged today and like those in the Second Resurrection who will be judged during a 100 year time period (compare Isaiah 65:20). That is, the nations mentioned in Matthew 25 will not only be judged at the very beginning of the Millennium, but throughout the 1,000 years and thereafter. The process of time and the continuation of Christ’s judgment are clearly described in verse 46, stating that the righteous will go away into everlasting life. This cannot refer to those in the First Resurrection as they will have already received everlasting life when they appear before the judgment seat of Christ. (The continuation of Christ’s judgment over all of mankind is also clearly described in Isaiah 9:6-7).

The argument is made that the entire judgment period in Matthew 25 must refer to those who have lived and died before the Millennium and can’t refer to those in the Millennium and the Second Resurrection, as in the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment, there will not be any prisons nor any of the other conditions mentioned in Matthew 25. This argument overlooks that Christ’s statements also address people who lived before His return (including those who will survive the Great Tribulation and live into the Millennium and those who will be brought back to life in the Second Resurrection). Their judgment will include actions committed in this life… especially when they refuse to repent (Matthew 25:46). Christ’s statements must also be viewed in the context of those who choose a way of give and those who choose to live a way of get.

The Work of God given to Jesus Christ includes judging the world, but it is not for condemnation! Rather it is the work of salvation:

“‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’” (John 3:16-17).

NOTE: For further information about God’s great masterplan for salvation, please study our booklets and articles on God’s Holy Days, Punishment for Our Sins, and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God —available at www.eternalgod.org

Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link

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