When does judgment happen, and how can anyone enter heaven without being judged first?
I have always believed that when Jesus returns to earth, there will be a judgment day. The dead will rise up and be judged with the living. If those who have already passed on are in heaven (at least some of them), then haven't they already been judged? Also, isn't there a scripture in the Bible saying that Jesus, after having been crucified but before being resurrected, visited souls in the spirit realm? Who were they? Could Lazarus and Abraham (Luke 16:19-31) have been in a spiritual realm somewhat like purgatory or a place of prejudgment?
I will need to give you a step-by-step answer to this. First of all, we know that Jesus presently is in heaven, where He went when He ascended there, forty days after His Resurrection (Acts 3:3,9-11; Luke 24:50,51). Stephen even saw Jesus in heaven (Acts 7:55,56), and Peter said that He is there (1 Peter 3:21,22).
Now, certainly at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17a), those who are alive and caught up at that time will be with the Lord forever (4:17b), from that point forward. Jesus will return to heaven, along with caught-up believers, until the time for His second advent (bodily descent) back to earth with His believers. Paul, speaking to believers, even indicated that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). He also said that he would rather depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). Since we know that Jesus is in heaven, then the spirits/souls of those saved believers who have died, ever since Jesus went up into heaven, have gone there to be with Him.
Jesus also indicated that the "treasures" of believers are in heaven (Luke 12:33,34, 18:22). To receive these treasures, it would seem that we would need to go to heaven to get them. John certainly saw believers in heaven—praising, singing, and doing other activities (Revelation 7:9,10, 14:1-4)—and he also saw the armies of believers returning with Jesus from heaven, at His second advent (19:11,14).
There is a judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10)—often referred to as the "Bema Seat"—where believers will receive what is due them for the things done here on earth (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). There is much debate about whether this judgment, of saved believers, will take place when they die, when they are caught away at the Rapture, or at Jesus' second advent when He returns to rule and reign. If there is only one time of judgment and rewarding for all believers, I tend to believe that it will be at His second advent, when the Seventh Trumpet is blown (Revelation 11:15,18). Jesus did say that His reward will be with Him when He comes (22:12).
However, this is not a judgment to decide who is saved and who is unsaved. Once a person accepts and confesses Jesus as Lord, and believes that He was raised from the dead, he/she is saved (Romans 10:9,10). At that point, he/she is eligible to receive his/her treasures in heaven, upon death or following the Rapture.
The unsaved will not rise until after the Millennium has been completed. This will be at the Great White Throne judgment of God, and at that time they will be judged according to their deeds which have been written in books (Revelation 20:11-15). It seems that none of the names of the unsaved will be found written in the Book of Life, and they will experience the second death. It very well may be that those who accept Jesus, but who die during the Millennium, will be resurrected at this time. If so, their names will be found in the Book of Life, and they will be saved from the second death.
Jesus said that men will have to give account on the "day of judgment"; some will be acquitted, and some will be condemned (Matthew 12:36,37). I suggest that what He meant was that, for every person, there would be a day of judgment, not necessarily that there would be one judgment day on which all people will be judged at the same time. I believe that there will be a judgment day for the saved when Jesus comes; then, 1,000 years later, there will be a judgment day for the unsaved (and, possibly, for those saved during the Millennium).
Paul seemed to indicate that Jesus descended to the location of the departed spirits/souls and took them to heaven when He ascended there (Ephesians 4:8,9). I cannot say, with absolute certainty, if or how this took place, although it seems plausible to me that it did. If so, then these believers in the Messiah/Jesus (such as Lazarus and Abraham), after their deaths, went to a place of "safe-keeping," other than heaven, until Jesus had been crucified and resurrected. Once He entered heaven, presumably their spirits/souls also entered heaven with Him.
I don't think I would call the place of "safe-keeping" purgatory, which indicates a place of purification after death but before entering heaven. Again, Paul indicated that once a believer was absent from the body, he/she was present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). As such, I do not believe in purgatory. Non-believers, wherever they go after death, cannot be "purified" so that they can enter heaven. Evidently, some of them will reside in Hades, until they are judged at the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:13).
It would seem that, prior to Jesus' ascent into heaven following His resurrection, there was a place that saved believers, such as Lazarus and Abraham, resided until they were allowed to enter heaven. I have heard it called "paradise," because Jesus told one of the criminals crucified with Him that he would be with Jesus in paradise. However, we cannot be certain whether Jesus said that "today" the man would be with Him in paradise, or whether Jesus was telling the man "today" (the day of the crucifixion) that, eventually, he would be with Jesus in paradise. In any case, I would say that "paradise" is heaven or is located within the realm of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7).
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