The Day of Judgement
The final point about the resurrection of the dead at the return of Jesus is that it involves judgement. The return of Jesus is also the day of judgement.
"…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." (Acts 17:31)
The day of judgement is already chosen by God, but no-one else knows when it will happen. Our world is ticking on towards this date, and we don’t know when judgement will come. The judge who will carry out the final judgement is also chosen. We can easily see who this is because God has raised him from the dead. Only one person fits this description and this is Jesus Christ.
The Bible gives three brief pictures of the judgement.
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. " (Daniel 12:2)
This passage describes a resurrection with two outcomes. When Jesus returns the dead are raised, but then one of two things will happen to each of those that have been raised. Either they will receive life or they will be given to shame and contempt. This passage is very succinct. Everlasting life is given to one group, which indicates that it is not given to the other group, and the group which is not granted eternal life will find shame and contempt.
"For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. 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 judgement." (John 5:26-29)
Here we have another picture of judgement. Jesus is given authority to judge, just as was explained in Acts 17:31. The implication of the passage is that the people raised are those who have at least heard the Gospel message - the reality is likely to be slightly more complex than that. The people raised are either to receive life, or to be condemned. For these to be real alternatives, those condemned must be deprived of life, while those who receive life are not condemned.
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39,40)
This picture tells us when the resurrection happens. It is not a gradual process that carries on whenever people die, but a single event at what the Bible calls “the last day”. This is the last day of the history of mankind, and the day on which the Kingdom of God begins.
A final picture of the day of judgement is a little more complex. This is found in Matthew 25:
"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. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’"
This passage describes the day of judgement very closely. It reminds us that the day of judgement happens soon after the return of Jesus and that all nations will be gathered to the judgement. The picture continues by showing the reward for the faithful - they inherit the Kingdom of God. The destiny of the others is described further down the chapter:
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46)
The eternal punishment of the unfaithful will be eternal death; this is the alternative to the eternal life granted to the faithful.
The destruction of the wicked is described for us in both the Old and the New Testaments:
"But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away." (Psalm 37:20)
"…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 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. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might," (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
These, and many other passages, confirm what one would expect from a merciful God. God will not wish to inflict torment on his creatures, even though they have turned away from him, and eternal torment would be even less merciful. God has no need for this; the punishment for sin is death, and for those who fail to take God’s way of salvation this death is eternal.