The Universal Judgment - The Scene

Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (31) because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Act 17:30-31

… the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly… (10) …the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 2 Peter 3:7-10

The world as we see it today is only its infancy. All the events of time, even those which make such great noise among us, and determine the fate of nations, are but as the trivial games of little children.

But if we look forward and trace events to their end, we meet with vast, interesting, and majestic events! To one of those scenes I would direct your attention this day; I mean the solemn, tremendous, and glorious scene of the universal judgment!

You have sometimes seen a stately building in ruins; come now and view the ruins of a demolished world!

You may have seen a feeble mortal struggling in the agonies of death, and his shattered body failing and dwindling away; come now and view the whole universe severely laboring and agonizing in her last convulsions, and her well-ordered system dissolved!

You have heard of earthquakes here and there that have laid huge cities in ruins; come now and feel the tremors and convulsions of the whole globe, which blend cities and countries, oceans and continents, mountains, plains, and valleys, in one giant heap!

You have a thousand times beheld the moon on its bright course, and the sun shining in its strength; come now look and see the sun turned into darkness, and the moon into blood!

It is our lot to live in an age of moral decay and depravity; an age in which our attention is engaged by the uncertain fate of western civilisation. Draw off your thoughts from these objects for an hour, and fix them on more solemn and vital objects. Come view this dismal scene!

Such a scene we certainly have before us; for Paul tells us that "He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead " Christ's resurrection is an emphatic proof of it. Our text is the conclusion of Paul's defense or sermon before the famous court of Areopagus, in the learned and philosophical city of Athens.

In this stately assembly he speaks with the boldness, and in the evangelical words of an apostle of Christ. He first teaches them the great truths of natural religion, and works faithfully, though in a very gentle and inoffensive way, to reform them from that senseless idolatry and superstition into which even this learned philosophical city was sunk, though a Socrates, a Plato, and the most celebrated sages and moralists of pagan antiquity had lived and taught in it.

Afterwards, in the close of his address, he introduces the glorious themes of Christianity, particularly the great duty of repentance, from evangelical motives, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment. But no sooner has he entered upon this subject than he is interrupted, and seems to have broken off abruptly; for when he had just hinted at the then unpopular doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, we are told, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this." (Acts 17:32)

"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent!" In those dark times of ignorance which came before the proclamation of the gospel, God seemed to overlook the idolatry and various forms of wickedness that had overspread the world. That is, he seemed to take no notice of them, so as either to punish them, or to give the nations explicit calls to repentance. But now, says Paul, this has changed! Now the gospel is published throughout the world, and therefore God will no longer seem to overlook the wickedness and impenitence of mankind, but publishes his great mandate to a rebel world, explicitly and loudly, commanding all men everywhere to repent! And he now gives them particular motives and encouragements to this effect.

One motive of the greatest weight, which was never so clearly or extensively published before, is the doctrine of the universal judgment. "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed." And surely the prospect of a universal judgment must be a strong motive to sinners to repent! This, if anything, will rouse them from their thoughtless security, and bring them to repentance.

Repentance should, and one would think must, be as extensive as this reason for it. Paul implies this when he writes "now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness!" Wherever the gospel publishes the doctrine of future judgment, there it requires all men to repent; and wherever it requires repentance, there it enforces the command of this alarming doctrine. God has given assurance to all men; that is, to all that hear the gospel, that he has appointed a day for this great purpose, and that Jesus Christ, God-man, is to preside in person in this majestic event. He has given assurance of this; that is, sufficient ground to believe it; and the assurance consists in this: that he has raised him from the dead.

The resurrection of Christ gives assurance of this in several respects. It is an example and a pledge of a general resurrection, that grand preparation for the judgment. The resurrection of Christ is an incontestable proof of his divine mission; for God will never work so unprecedented a miracle in favor of an impostor. The resurrection of Christ is also an authentic attestation of all our Lord's claims; and he expressly claimed the authority of supreme Judge as delegated to him by the Father; "the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son." (John 5:22)

And there is a peculiar fitness and something very proper in this order of things. It is fit this high office should be given to him as an honorary reward for his important services and extreme abasement. Because he humbled himself, therefore God has highly exalted him. (Phil. 2:8, 9.)

It is fit that creatures clothed with bodies should be judged by a man clothed in a body like themselves. As it is said that God “has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man." (John 5:27) Indeed, was Jesus Christ man only, he would be infinitely unable to fulfill the office of universal Judge; but he is both God and man, “Immanuel… God with us!” (Matt 1:24) As such, he is the fittest person in the universe for the work. It is also fit that Christ should be the supreme Judge, as it will be a great encouragement to his people for their Mediator to execute this office.

And it may be added, that in this way the condemnation of the wicked will be shown to be all the more just; for, if a Mediator, a Savior, the Friend of sinners, condemns them, they must be worthy of condemnation indeed!

Let us now enter upon the majestic scene. But what images shall I use to represent it? Nothing that we have ever seen, nothing that we have ever heard, nothing that has ever happened on the stage of time, can provide us with proper illustrations. All is low and groveling, all is faint and obscure, in this world, when compared with the grand phenomena of that day, the awesome day of judgment!

We are so accustomed to low and little objects, that it is impossible for us to ever raise our thoughts to a suitable degree. Before long we will be amazed spectators of these majestic wonders, we will learn these things from our eyes and our ears! But now, in order that our hearts may be affected by them and that we may be prepared for them, it is needful that we should have some ideas of them. Let us therefore look into those images which Scripture, our only guide in this case, gives us:

1. of the person of the Judge, and the manner of his appearance;

2. of the resurrection of the dead, and the transformation of the living;

3. of the universal gathering of all men before the supreme tribunal;

4. of their separation to the right and left hand of the Judge, according to their characters;

5. of the judicial process itself;

6. of the decisive sentence;

7. of its execution,

8. and of the conflagration of the world!

This morning, we will give our attention to the first four headings which describe the setting of this Day of Judgment. Next week will bring us to the last four headings and the trial itself.

1. As to the person of the Judge, the psalmist tells you that “God himself is judge.” Psalm 50:6. Yet Christ tells us, "the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son; And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man." (John 5:22, 27) It is therefore Christ Jesus, God-man, as we have seen, who will bear this high character as the universal Judge. And for the reasons already highlighted, it is most fitting that it should be entrusted to him. Being both God and man, all the advantages of divinity and humanity center in him, and make him more fit for this office than if he were God only, or man only. This is the grand Judge before whom we all must stand; and the thought of it may inspire us with reverence, joy, and terror.

As for the manner of his appearance, it will be such as befits the dignity of his person and office. He will shine in all the uncreated glories of the Godhead, and in all the gentler glories of a perfect man.

His attendants will add a dignity befitting to His grand appearance, and will increase the solemnity and terror of the day. Let his own word describe them:

"The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father!" Matthew 16:27.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne!" Matthew 25:31.

“When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2Th 1:7-9)

And not only will the angels, those illustrious ministers of the court of heaven, be there for that solemn occasion, but also all the saints who had left the world from Adam to that day; as Paul says, "through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." (1 Thess. 4:14)

The grand imagery in Daniel's vision is applicable to this day, and perhaps to this it primarily refers: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” (Dan 7:9-10)

It may be that our Lord Jesus will reveal himself to the whole world on this most grand occasion, in the same glorious form in which he was seen by his favorite John, “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, (15) his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. (16) In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” (Rev 1:14-16)

Another image of unmatched majesty and terror, the same writer gives us, when he says, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (13) And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. (14) Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:11-15)

What an astonishing scene is this! The stable earth and heaven cannot bear the majesty and terror of His look; they fly away frightened, and look for a place to hide themselves, but no place is found to hide them; every region through the immensity of space, lies open before Him! This is the Judge before whom we must stand; and this is the way in which he will appear on the day of judgment.

But is this the infant of Bethlehem, who lay helpless in the manger?

Is this the supposed son of the carpenter, the despised Galilean?

Is this the man of sorrows?

Is this He who was . . . arrested, condemned, struck, spit upon, crowned with thorns, executed as a slave and a criminal, on the cross?

Yes, it is Him! The very same Jesus of Nazareth!

But how changed! How deservedly exalted! Heaven and earth bows before Him!

Now let his enemies appear and show their contempt and abuse!

Now, Pilate, condemn the King of the Jews as an usurper!

Now, you Jews, raise the clamor, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" Now bow the knee in mockery, spit in His face, and strike Him! Now tell the flogged impostor that He must die!

Now, you Atheists and Infidels, dispute his divinity and the truth of his religion if you can.

Now, you hypocritical professing Christians, try to impose upon him with your empty pretenses.

Now despise His grace, now laugh at His threatenings, and now make light of His displeasure, if you dare!

And now their courage fails, and terror surrounds them! Now they try to hide in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. Now they call to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev 6:16)

But, behold! That Lamb who once bled as a sacrifice for sin, now appears in all the terrors of a Lion! If they could but hide themselves in the bottom of the ocean, or in some rock under the weight of the mountains, how happy would they think themselves!

While the Judge is descending, those who are to be judged will be summoned to appear. But where are they? They are all asleep in their dusty graves except that present generation. And how will they be awakened from their long sleep of thousands of years?

This brings us to our second heading,

2. "The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God!" (1 Thess. 4:16) The trumpet shall sound, and those who are alive at that moment shall not pass into eternity through the usual means of death, but at the last trumpet they shall be changed; changed into immortals, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! (1 Cor 15:51, 52)

Now all the millions of mankind, of whatever country and nation, whether they expect this tremendous day or not, all feel a shock through their whole beings, while they are instantaneously transformed in every limb, and the immortality begins to completely overtake them! Now also those who sleep under ground begin to stir, to rouse, and spring to life! Now see graves opening, tombs bursting, the earth heaving, and all alive, while these underground armies are bursting their way through!

See what millions appear together in the spots where Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem, Rome, and London once stood! Whole armies spring to life in fields where they once lost their lives in battle, and were left unburied!

"The sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done!" (Rev 20:13) What vast multitudes which had perished in the waters, now emerge from rivers, and seas, and oceans, to great astonishment! Now appear to the view of all the world, the Goliaths, the Anakim, and the other giants of ancient times! And now millions of infants spring up at once!

"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt!" (Dan 12:2)

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (Joh 5:28-29)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1Co 15:51-53)

As the characters, and consequently the lot of mankind, will be very different, so we may reasonably suppose they will rise in very different forms of glory or dishonor, of beauty or deformity. Their bodies indeed will all be improved to the highest degree, and all made strong, full of endurance, and immortal. But here lies the difference: the bodies of the righteous will be strengthened to bear an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory, but those of the wicked will be strengthened to sustain an exceeding great and eternal load of misery! Their strength will be but mere capacity to suffer a terrible intensity of greater pain!

The immortality of the righteous will be their eternal happiness! But the immortality of the wicked will their eternal misery! Their immortality, the highest privilege of their nature, will be their heaviest curse! They would willingly exchange their eternity with an insect of a day, or a fading flower.

The bodies of the righteous will "shine like the brightness of the sky above; … like the stars forever and ever" (Dan 12:3) But the bodies of the wicked will be grim, and shocking, and ugly and hateful like hell itself!

The bodies of the righteous will be fit dwelling places for their heavenly spirits to inhabit, and every feature will be perfectly suited to them. But the wicked will be but spirits of hell clothed in material bodies; and malice, rage, despair, and all the infernal passions, will manifest themselves in their features, and cast a dismal gloom around them! They will be nothing else then, but shapes of deformity and terror! They will look like the natives of hell, and spread horror around them with every look!

With what reluctance may we suppose will the souls of the wicked enter again into a state of union with these hellish bodies, that will be everlasting engines of torture to them, as they once were instruments of sin to their bodies!

But see with what joy will the souls of the righteous return to their old dwelling places, in which they once served their God with honest though feeble efforts, and now so gloriously repaired and improved! How will they welcome the resurrection of their old companions from their long sleep in death, now made fit to share with them in the wonderful occupations and enjoyments of heaven! Every part will be an instrument of service and an source of pleasure, and the soul will no longer be encumbered, but assisted by this union to the body.

We will be astonished at what surprising creatures Omnipotence can raise from the dust! To what a high degree of beauty can the Almighty refine the offspring of the earth! And into what miracles of glory and blessedness can he form them!

Now the Judge has come, the Judgment-seat is erected, the dead are raised. And what follows? Why,

3. our third heading, the universal gathering of all people before the Judgment-seat!

The place of judgment will probably be the vast regions of the air for Paul tells us that the saints "will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." 1 Thess. 4:17. And that the air will be the place where judgment takes place, perhaps, may be implied when our Lord is pictures as coming in the clouds, and sitting on a cloudy throne.

These expressions can hardly be understood literally, for clouds would seem to be very improper materials for such a throne of judgment, but they may very properly imply that Christ will make his appearance, and hold his court in the region of the clouds; that is, in the air! And perhaps that the rays of light and majestic darkness will be blended in such a way around him as to form the appearance of a cloud to the view of the wondering and gazing world! What we can say for sure is that it will be a grand, majestic and ominous scene, on the scale of vast clouds and the sky itself.

To this throne of judgment, from where all the earth will be visible, will all the sons of men be convened. And they will be gathered together by the work of angels, the officers of this grand court. “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Mat 24:30-31)

Their work also extends to the wicked, whom they will drag away to judgment and execution, and separate from the righteous. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 13:39-42)

What a dazzling convocation, what a vast assembly is this! Imagine flights of angels darting round the globe from east to west, from pole to pole—gathering up here and there the scattered saints, separating them out from among the crowd of the ungodly, and bearing them up on their wings to meet the Lord in the air!

Meanwhile the wretched crowd look and gaze, and stretch their hands, and would climb up along with them; but they must be left behind, and wait for another kind of convoy—a convoy of cruel, unrelenting devils, who will snatch them up as their prey with malevolent joy, and place them before the flaming tribunal.

Now all the sons of men meet in one immense assembly! Adam beholds the long line of his posterity; and they behold their common father. Now Europeans and Asians, the sons of Africa and of America—all mingle together. Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Pagans, the learned and the ignorant, kings and subjects, rich and poor, free and slave—form one great crowd. Now all the vast armies that conquered or fell under Xerxes, Darius, Alexander, Caesar, and other illustrious warriors, unite in one vast army! There, in short, all the successive inhabitants of the earth for thousands of years—appear in one vast assembly. And imaging how very great must the number be, billions and billions of people!

The extensive region of the air is very properly chosen as the place of judgment for this vast multitude. In that prodigious assembly, you and I must mingle! And we will not be lost in the crowd, nor escape the notice of our Judge! His eye will be as particularly fixed on each one of us—as though there were but one person before Him!

To increase the number, and add a majesty and terror to the assembly, the fallen angels also make their appearance at the judgment bar. This they have long expected with horror, as the period when their supreme misery is to begin. When Christ, in the form of a servant, exercised a god-like power over them in his days on this earth, they almost mistook his first coming as a Savior—for his second coming as their Judge; and therefore, they cried out, "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt 8:29) That is, "We expected that you would at last appear to torment us—but we did not expect your coming so soon!"

In agreement with this, Peter tells us, "God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Pet 2:4) To the same purpose Jude speaks: "And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day." (Jude 6)

What horribly dreadful figures will these be! And what a dreadful appearance will they make at the judgment bar! Their powers blasted, stripped of their earlier glories, and lying in ruins! Yet dreadful even in ruins—gigantic forms of terror and deformity; horribly dreadful, fallen angels!

Now the Judge is seated—and anxious billions stand before Him waiting for their verdict! As yet, there is no separation made between them; but men and devils, saints and sinners, are blended together. But see! at the order of the Judge, the crowd is all in motion!

We come to our fourth heading.

4. They part, they sort together according to their character, and divide to the right and left. He Himself has told us, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” (Mat 25:31-33)

And what strange separations are now made! what multitudes that once ranked themselves among the saints, and were highly esteemed for their piety, by others as well as themselves—are now banished from among them, and placed with the trembling criminals on the left hand!

And how many poor, honest-hearted, doubting, desponding souls, whose foreboding fears had often placed them there, now find themselves, to their happy surprise, stationed on the right hand of their Judge, who smiles upon them!

What relationships are now broken! What hearts are now torn apart! What intimate companions, what dear friendships are now separated forever! Neighbor from neighbor, friend from friend, parents from children, husband from wife! Those who were one flesh, and who spent their life together—must part forever. Those who lived in the same country, who worshiped in the same place, who lived under one roof; who began life in the same womb—must now part forever!

And is there no separation likely to be made then in our families or in our small assembly? Is it likely that we shall all be placed in that blessed group on the right hand? Are all the members of our families prepared for that glorious post? Alas! are there not some among us who, it is to be feared—will be sent off to the left hand?

For who are those miserable multitudes on the left hand? There, by the light of Scripture revelation, I see the drunkard, the swearer, the immoral, the liar, the thief, and the various classes of profane, reckless sinners. There I see the unbeliever, the impenitent, the lukewarm formalist, and the various classes of hypocrites, and half-Christians. There I see those who do not call upon God's name. There I see whole nations that forget him. And what vast multitudes, what thousands of thousands of thousands do all these add up to!

And do not some, sadly! do not many of you belong to one or other of these classes of sinners whom God, and Christ, and Scripture, and conscience unite to condemn? If so, to the left hand you must depart among devils and trembling criminals, whose guilty minds foretell their doom, even before the judicial process begins.

But who are those glorious immortals on the right hand? They are those who have surrendered themselves entirely to God, through Jesus Christ, who have heartily complied with the way of salvation revealed in the gospel; who have been formed new creatures by the almighty power of God; who make it the most earnest, persevering endeavor of their lives—to work out their own salvation, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in the world. These are some of the principal traits of character of those who will have their safe and honorable position at the right hand of the sovereign Judge.

And is not this the prevailing character of some of you? I hope and believe that it is. Through the light of Scripture revelation, I see you in that blessed position. And it would be my greatest joy to be able to make an appointment with you today to meet you there. Let us today appoint the time and place where we will meet after the separation and dispersion that death will make among us; and let it be at the right hand of the Judge at the last day!

If I be so happy as to be given some humble place there, I will look for some of you who are here today! There I will expect your company, that we may ascend together to join in the more exalted services and enjoyments of heaven, as we have frequently done in the humbler forms of worship in the church on earth.

But when I think what startling separations will then be made—I recoil in horror for fear that some of you, I will not see there! And are you not afraid for fear that you should miss some of your friends, or some of your family members there? Or that you should then see them move off to the left hand, and looking back with eagerness upon you, as if they would say, "This is my doom through your carelessness! Had you but acted as a faithful friend towards me, while I spoke with you or while I was under your care—I might now have had my place among the blessed saints!" Consider this! How could you bear such powerful, piercing looks from your child, or your friend! Therefore, now do all in your power to "convert sinners from the error of their way, and to save their souls from death!"

And so, as we come to a close today, we have beheld the judge and how he will appear, the resurrection of the dead, the universal gathering of all men before the supreme court, and the solemn and inevitable separation of all people either to the right or to the left hand of the Judge.

Next week, if the Lord tarries, we will survey the judicial process as the momentous trial begins. May each of you here, by God’s grace, be of those who have no reason to fear this trial because you have put all your hope in the sure promises of God through Jesus Christ his Son.

And, if the Lord returns, I must call each of you here to witness that I have earnestly warned you to be prepared, to examine yourselves and test yourselves against the Scriptures, and to surrender yourselves to God now while there is time, while the final trial has not begun and mercy is freely offered.

May God have mercy on our souls,