No matter how many times I read it, or how much I try to understand it, there is still one verse in the Bible that nags at me on occasion.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” – Revelation 20:12
Growing up in the church, I was always taught two things when it came to the subjects of heaven, hell, and the afterlife.
- Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven.
- Anyone that believes they will be judged based on how much good or bad that they’ve done in life, is wrong.
I have no problem believing that being saved is the only sure way to heaven. I accept that as truth. The 2nd teaching is a subject that I’ve run across many times from people on both sides of the argument. There are a lot of people, including some church going people, that think they will be judged based on the good vs. bad they’ve done. There are quite a few religious beliefs that embrace that concept as well:
- Egypt – Entry based on the weight of sins. The human heart was placed on a scale and it was required to be lighter than a feather in order to enter heaven.
- Buddhism – Entry into heaven is based on how much good Karma you have accumulated.
- Islam – Entry into heaven is based on good deeds.
- Jainism – Entry into heaven is based on Karma.
The above are just 4 examples of religions that believe they will be judged based on their good and bad deeds. Based on Revelation 20:12 can I still say that those religions are wrong for believing they will be judged based on their works? They don’t make the guarantee of reaching heaven, and neither does the Bible in this particular instance.
I’m not making the claim that these religions are teaching truth in the general sense, but they had to have gotten the concept from somewhere. Or maybe its just coincidence and they all made a lucky guess?
No Man Comes To The Father…
As a byproduct of being taught the two lessons above, I never really considered what was being said. People that have been going to church their entire lives were telling me that all of mankind would be judged solely on whether or not they accepted Christ. As I got older, I asked the same question that many people have asked before me and will continue to ask after me. “What about those people that never had the chance to hear about Christ?” I’ve heard many Christians that attempt to put forth answers to questions like that. My favorite and most amusing answer I’ve heard to date is:
“God knows if they would have accepted Christ or not, so those that would have will be in heaven.”
I’ve heard several variations of the above, but pretty much the same general idea. Why is it that Revelation 20:12 is never mentioned when the subject of salvation, heaven, hell, and the afterlife come up? I firmly believe that some Christians believe, the very mention of another way to possibly make it to heaven, threatens the truth of the following verse:
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”- John 14:6
Even if non believers made it into heaven (not saying they will), it wouldn’t negate this verse at all because Jesus is the Judge. Entry into heaven would require going through Him whether it was via salvation or a verdict of “not guilty”.
The Righteous Judge
I’m not saying that non believers will make it into heaven. The Bible doesn’t say that either. I’m also not saying that a person that has done a majority of good deeds in life will make it into heaven based solely on their good deeds. The Bible doesn’t address the specifics of the “works judgement”. Let’s look at the duties of a judge before we continue.
“A public official who hears and decides cases brought before a court of law.” – The Free Dictionary
In Revelation 20, Jesus fits this definition. He will likely read off a list of charges, and the defending party would have a chance to explain themselves.
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” – Matthew 12:36-37
Its my assumption that deeds/works would be included in that session where people will give account for their idle words. Do you really wanna explain all of your “dirty laundry” to God? Very awkward moment.
What Does It All Mean?
I honestly have no idea what it means. I don’t know if there will be non believers in heaven or not. I don’t know if good people will go to hell. What I do know is that accepting Christ as your personal Savior is the one sure way to guarantee your salvation.
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18
What I also know is that you don’t want to take your salvation to trial. Unlike a human trial, there will be no hung jury, no continuations, and no mistrial. You will be judged, whether it be guilty or innocent. Right now, Christ is offering Diplomatic Immunity for all of your past sins, but for a limited time only. Tomorrow is not promised.