People who have been presented with the gospel message of Jesus Christ are told that they can accept Jesus as Saviour. Some, being savvy consumers, demand to know how long the offer of eternal life as promised by John 3:16 (“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.”) is good for. Must one believe in Jesus Christ now, or is there time to consider? How late is too late? When Jesus returns to preside over the Final Judgement, can one declare belief at that time and still receive eternal life?
Two arguments can be made in support of the possibility of such “last ditch conversions”. They are:
1. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. This suggests that the love of Jesus is not time-limited, so the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ should not be time-limited either.
2. The story of Thomas (John 20:24-29) suggests the possibility of “believing after seeing”. The apostle Thomas initially doubted the claims by the other disciples of Christ that Jesus has risen from the dead, and insisted that “unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe”. Jesus later accommodated Thomas’ request. So, it is plausible that Jesus would also accommodate someone who declares that “unless I see Jesus return a second time as the One who judges, I will not believe”.
To assess the accuracy of these arguments, we need to assess whether they are consistent with the rest of the Bible, in particular the passage that describes the judgement to come.
The Final Judgement is described in Revelation 20:11-15 this way:
“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.”
This scene will take place somewhere outside our existing world. God is sitting in a big white majestic chair, and every person who has ever lived in history is standing in front of Him. A number of books, which contain the records of what everyone has ever done, will also be present. One by one, the records that belong to each person will be opened. There is another book that is present, called the Book of Life, which contains the names of everyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour, in accordance with John 3:16. If the person, whose records are opened, is not listed in the Book of Life, that person is sent to the lake of fire, which is eternal death. That is also where the devil was sent by then, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). It is referred to as “hell” by Jesus:
(What Jesus said about hell/lake of fire)
The Final Judgement scene described in the Bible is remarkable in the absence of any dialogue or speech. The only pronouncements significant enough to be recorded were the verdicts and sentences (if applicable) of each person, whether the person is to be sent to the lake of fire or not. No pleadings or arguments were recorded. What this means is that the Final Judgement is strictly for declaring verdicts and applicable sentencing – the “trial” is already over. The time for presenting arguments had passed, and the results are revealed. According to the Bible, it really is too late.
So what happened to the trial? Where were the arguments, both for the prosecution and defence? What did the prosecution say, and how can we mount a successful defence?
As with everything that is true, the prosecution’s arguments are contained in the Bible:
“As it is written:
‘There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.’
‘Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;
‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;
‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.’
‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” (Romans 3:10-18)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23)
The global and universal nature of condemnation is because all someone needs is to break one law that is from God, even the smallest one, even just once, and they are already guilty of violating the entire law:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)
Jesus further told us that someone is guilty not just if they actually break the law, even if they just thought about breaking a law, even just once, they are already guilty:
“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)
“But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
In other words, to be good enough for God, one needs to be as good as God. This is an impossible achievement for any human being. And everyone is already on trial during their life.
Given this, everyone has to conclude that they are guilty under God’s law. If anyone still claims that they are not guilty, they are liars and the following words of Jesus apply to them:
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
So they will still be guilty, regardless of their assertions of innocence. No defence made by a person can succeed.
As for what happens to the guilty, and how one can avoid this fate, both are contained in the same Bible passage:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
The only way to avoid God’s judgement and eternal punishment is through Jesus Christ. He is the only One who is good enough for God, since He is as good as God, because He is God. (Philippians 2:5-11) As mentioned before,
“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.” (John 3:16)
“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
If you believe in Jesus Christ, and accept Him as Lord and Saviour, then your name will be written in the Book of Life that will be opened during the Final Judgement.
At this point, many would query about people who died before ever hearing about this possibility of salvation through Jesus Christ, and perhaps wonder about what will happen to aborted/miscarried fetuses. Many learned persons have attempted to provide solutions to this puzzle, but suffice to say the Bible is silent on this topic, and we will not know the correct answer until the Final Judgement.
However, by reading this post to this point, you have already been presented with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Whatever will happen to those who died before hearing about Jesus Christ does not apply to you. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, the important question is therefore: what is YOUR decision?
Regarding whether Jesus is being consistent by allowing a cut-off time for accepting Him as Saviour, in fact Jesus had always maintained that there will be a final judgement when people will be sorted between those who will enter eternal life, and those who will enter eternal death:
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44-46)
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29)
In other words, Jesus talked a lot about love and forgiveness, but He also talked about judgement and condemnation.
Regarding Thomas, since the expiry time to believe is death or the Final Judgement, of course he was still able to believe when Jesus appeared to him: the Final Judgement is still an event in the future, and he is still alive. Nonetheless, Jesus noted that it would be even better, somehow, had Thomas believed without seeing:
“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:29)
We do not know completely how much more blessed would Thomas have been had he believed without seeing, or everything that he missed out by insisting on visual evidence. But there was something, and at the very least Thomas has been, and continue to be, saddled with the label “Doubting Thomas” for nearly 2,000 years. (Cue a “haw haw!” by Nelson Muntz)
So, since your own demise just might sneak up on you when you “didn’t see it coming”, the important question is also: what is your decision NOW?
The Final Judgement is the final event in time, after which is eternity. Since most people would have died before the Final Judgement, one may wonder where these people go in the meantime, and whether it is possible to accept Jesus Christ there.
As noted in the passage earlier, in Revelation 20:13, the dead are to be delivered to the Final Judgement from the sea, Death, and Hades. It is unclear as to who is sent to each after death, nor is it clear how distinct each of these three locations are. “Hades” is the Greek name for the place called “Sheol” in Hebrew, which is translated in Chinese as 陰間, and in English as “hell”, “realm of the dead”, “death”, or a similar term:
Example – Psalm 55:15
Example – Psalm 139:8
Since Revelation tells us that Sheol/Hades will be cast to the lake of fire after the Final Judgement, Sheol/Hades itself is not eternal death; rather, it is temporary death pending the Final Judgement. In Chinese, the lake of fire is火湖, while the term used by Jesus for hell is 地獄, both of which are different from the 陰間 of Sheol/Hades.
Apart from the fact that it is a temporary death, the Bible does not offer further details of what it is like to be in Sheol/Hades. Neither Jesus, who went there after the crucifixion, nor any person who was resurrected from the dead in the Bible, discussed the experience of being in Sheol/Hades. Therefore, it is unclear as to whether one is able to make conscious choices while in Sheol/Hades. It is entirely possible that one may “sleep through” Sheol/Hades, that is, one loses consciousness at death, and regains consciousness at the Final Judgement. Therefore, a person who decides to postpone the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour until after death is taking an exceptionally high level of risk, and is certainly not wise.
It is interesting to note that the sea is also listed as a location where the dead are temporarily held pending the Final Judgement. It would appear that when Jesus calmed a storm at (Matthew 8:23-27) and subsequently walked on water (Matthew 14:23-33) at a “sea” in the form of Lake Galilee, He may be demonstrating His authority over death, among other things.
In summary, the Final Judgement is too late for someone to believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life. It is best for someone to receive Jesus Christ before death, to ensure that it is not too late. Again, if you have not yet accepted Jesus Christ in your life, what is your decision now?
Cute video that is amazingly accurate: