Do we stand before God in judgment upon death or later?

We have to make a distinction, as I think the Bible does, between the judgment that we receive immediately upon our death, at which we are brought before Christ, and what the Bible speaks of as the last judgment. There’s a reason the Bible refers to the last judgment as the last. That which is last presupposes that there have been some kinds of judgment prior to it. The Bible says that it’s appointed for man to die once, and then the judgment. I think there’s much in the New Testament to indicate that at the moment we die, we experience at least a preliminary judgment.

Paul, for example, said that he longed to depart and to be with Christ, which was far better than to remain here in this life and in the ministry he had. Historic Christianity has almost universally, but not quite, confessed the idea that the departed saints go immediately to be in the presence of Christ, in what is called the enjoyment of the intermediate state; that is, we are disembodied spirits, and we await the final consummation of the kingdom of Christ, whereby we will experience the resurrection of the body. When, in the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we’re not talking about Christ’s body but about our future resurrected bodies. As I say, historic Christianity believes that there is an immediate transference from this world into the presence of Christ, at least in our disembodied spirit state. For that to happen, some kind of judgment has to take place. For example, Paul would not be ushered into the presence of Christ immediately upon his death without Christ first making an evaluation that Paul was indeed one of his—that he was a justified man in a state of salvation. I think there is a preliminary division of the sheep and the goats prior to the final judgment on the last day, of which Scripture speaks. Jesus warns repeatedly of that last judgment.

Very few people in our secular culture find a discussion of judgment to be relevant; it is politically incorrect to judge others or, to some extent, even ourselves—to distinguish between right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Yet these very same people will commend the teachings of Jesus as wise and wonderful. But if Jesus of Nazareth taught anything, he taught repeatedly and emphatically that everyone of us will in fact be brought before the judgment throne of God for a final, consummate judgment.

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.