The Agora
Bible Editorials

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Focusing too much on one passage

Like some other subjects (the Atonement, for example) -- the whole concept of God's judgment (or judgments) can be a tricky issue if we focus on one passage here or there. The main reason being: not every single relevant point is taught in every single relevant passage. I'll give you an example:

In 1Th 4, Paul says (vv 16,17 particularly) that Christ will return from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first; THEN we will ever be with the Lord! If one reads these verses alone, without comparing other scriptures (some of Paul's included), then one might conclude that there is absolutely no judgment at all intervening between resurrection and glorification, and that everyone who is raised must be glorified.

Of course, this conclusion is pretty obviously contradicted by -- among other passages -- Ecc 12:14; Mat 25;31-46; Acts 10:42; Rom 14:10-12; 2Co 5:10. There will plainly be a judgment, some sort of judgment, intervening between resurrection and the Kingdom of God -- although there is room for some different opinions about: where that judgment takes place, how long it will last, what it will consist of, as to procedure, order, etc, etc.

So why does Paul, in 1Th 4, not mention judgment at all? Has he forgotten that there will be one? Of course not! It seems to me that he doesn't mention it because it wasn't the main point he had in mind at that time. He was intent on comforting some believers who were grieving for those who had died... by simply reminding them that, when Christ returned, they would all be reunited -- both living and dead together. Death before Christ returned would be no barrier to entering his Father's eternal kingdom; they would be raised from the dead!

I think Paul didn't feel the need to say, once again, "Oh, by the way, as you should already know, there will be a gathering together of all the responsible, living and dead, and a great judgment before the Lord's tribunal, where every man and woman will stand and give some account, and by the way again, some of those who are raised will be rejected and condemned to a second death... before the rest of us will be gathered together and given the blessing of immortality, etc, etc." Such a digression, or detour, would have spoiled his message, or at least introduced a negative element in what Paul intended to be very positive and comforting.

Think of it this way: let us say that Dad is going to work one day, and the little kids know that he will be near their favorite ice cream store. So they beg him, "Please bring home some ice cream this evening." And he says, "I will", and he does.

Now, to the little children, all they care about, and in some sense all they "know", is that: (a) Dad went off to work, (b) Dad bought ice cream, and (c) Dad came home with it! They don't know, nor at that point do they care to know, that between the time Dad left home and the time he returned, he made six stops and 17 telephone calls, wrote nine letters, had 12 conversations with 25 people, and ate lunch himself. All they want to know is: Where's the ice cream!?

So sometimes, in especially complicated subjects, or subjects that span the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, it is a mistake to assume that -- since such-and-such isn't mentioned here -- it doesn't happen. But the "argument from omission" is a notoriously unreliable argument. Because something isn't mentioned, then it MAY not happen. But, just as well, it MAY happen, and God just doesn't bother to tell us... because (1) it isn't necessary for us to know, or to think about at this time, or (2) it would have detracted from His main message at this point, or (3) we are EXPECTED to compare one Bible passage with another, and figure out for ourselves that, yes indeed, such-and-such DOES happen too -- because it says so over there if not right here!

So... once again... to say that -- for example -- we are all being "judged" NOW does not contradict the principle that there will be a gathering together and a summary judgment when Christ returned. On different levels, and with different emphases, both ideas may be -- in fact, ARE -- true.

Or to say, on the basis of Rev 20, that there will be a "second death" at the end of the millennium -- for some at least -- does not contradict the idea that there will be a "second death" for others at an earlier judgment, that is, the one when Christ returns to set up God's Kingdom.

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