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The Judgment of the Dead & Living During the Great Tribulation


From the previous studies on Daniel 7, Daniel 8, and the seven seals, we have determined that the judgment for the dead began in 1844. Because each dead person’s life is unique, because each person’s knowledge of God and His Word is unique, and because each person’s response to the Holy Spirit is unique, three witnesses are necessary in the judgment of the dead. After the testimony of these three witnesses has been corroborated, Jesus passes judgment on each dead person.


The first witness to speak in the judgment of the dead is the life record of each dead person. The second witness to speak is the law of God (the plumb line) and the third witness is the Holy Spirit. God follows His own law in the judgment of the dead.

“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deuteronomy 19:15) Notice how these three witnesses operate. First, Jesus reviews a flawless recording of the dead person’s actions. This is the first witness. Then, the second witness speaks: Jesus considers the level of knowledge of the dead person had regarding God’s law. Finally, Jesus listens to the Holy Spirit’s report about the dead person. The Spirit intimately knows the heart and mind of every person. (Romans 8:27) and His testimony is infallible. It is important to understand that the judgment of every dead person is unique, but completely fair. Every dead person is judged in the same way even though there are differences in actions, knowledge base, and responses to the Holy Spirit.


For example, those living in one age will have a different understanding of God and His law than those living in another age. Paul wrote, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have [knowledge of] the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for [unto] themselves, even though they do not have [knowledge of] the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness [that they acted in good faith], and their thoughts now accusing [having known some guilt], now even defending them [by doing what was thought to be right].” (Romans 2:14,15, insertions mine) Children and people with mental disabilities are held harmless, that is, God’s grace covers those who are not accountable for their sins. This makes the testimony of the Spirit very important because the Spirit intimately knows each one of us. He knows our response to His promptings. He knows how willing or unwilling we have been when it comes to fellowship and communion with God. After Jesus assembles the facts presented by the three witnesses, He passes judgment. Those declared righteous will be resurrected at the Second Coming. (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17) Those found to be evil will not be resurrected until the 1,000 years have ended. (Revelation 20:5)  


The second phase of the judgment bar is of Christ (the judgment of the living) and it begins when the censer is cast down and the Great Tribulation begins. The 144,000 will announce the judgment bar of Christ. They will cry out, “… Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of the water.”(Revelation 14:7, italics mine) 


The judgment of the living is unlike the judgment of the dead in several ways. First, the judgment of the living does not require a complete review of a person’s life. The judgment of the living will be based on our response to the Two Witnesses. Here is how it works: Jesus is going to test the faith of the living. (1 Corinthians 3:13; Revelation 3:10) All that matters to Jesus is our response to His Two Witnesses. At the end of the 1,260 days, the judgment of the living will end because every person will have received either the seal of God or the mark of the beast by that time. If a person should die during the Great Tribulation before he receives the seal of God or the mark of the beast, he will be judged just like those who have previously died. Because many people will die before they are sealed or receive the mark of the beast, the judgment of the dead continues uninterrupted after the judgment of the living begins.   


The second difference between the judgment of the dead and the living is that the judgment of the living involves a four-step process.  When the censer is cast down, everyone on Earth will participate in “Step One” even though they may not live long enough to complete all four steps. Some people will go through these four steps faster than others. The first people to be judged and receive the seal of God will be the 144,000. They are sealed just before the Great Tribulation begins. (Revelation 7:1-4) They are the first fruits of the end time harvest. (Revelation 14:4) After the 144,000 are sealed and empowered, the censer will be cast down and the four steps will begin. They are rather easy to understand.


The Four Step Process


Step One – The Law of God Proclaimed: When the censer is cast down, the 144,000 will go to work. The Holy Spirit will empower them to preach the law of God as a witness to all nations. (Matthew 24:14) A witness does not have to be a human being. Consider this example: “After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from the beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God. There it [the Words of God] will remain as a witness against you.’” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26, italics and insertion mine)


God’s law operates like a plumb line. God’s law defines the truth and in doing so doing, it destroys lies and deception. Nothing is more wonderful than the light of truth to those who love truth. During the Great tribulation, God’s Word will be given unusual power to cut people “to the heart.” Remember Peter and the disciples on the Day of Pentecost?

“[Peter said] “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do [to escape God’s wrath]?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:36-38, italics and insertion mine)


The overwhelming devastation of the first four trumpets will subdue religious prejudice for a short time. God’s manifold wrath will open the minds and hearts of a religiously diverse world so every person, regardless of language, culture, or religious background can thoughtfully and intelligently consider His law that the 144,000 will proclaim. People will hear the testimony of Jesus (the words of Jesus) coming out of the mouths of the 144,000 and the honest in heart will be “cut to the heart.”


Step Two – Holy Spirit Discomfort: God’s law makes no sense without the enlightenment of His Spirit! “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)


God’s law will be proclaimed throughout the world with Holy Spirit power. The distinction between truth and error, good and evil, will be made so plain that young people will be able to understand the difference. Conviction will fall upon the honest in heart and painful decisions will be required. The social consequences for following Jesus will be severe. (John 16:1-3) The Holy Spirit will sufficiently “pressure” each person to choose the right and refuse the wrong. (See Joshua 24:15 and Hebrews 3:7-19.) Socially and culturally speaking, the situation will be difficult.


The gospel of Jesus puts a person in a tough situation because the gospel demands total submission and loyalty to the law of God, and it goes without saying that our fallen human nature finds it difficult. When there is a price to pay for submission to God’s law, our faith in Christ is tested. Do you remember how Peter betrayed Christ outside Caiaphas’ home? (See Mark 14:53-15:1.) That embarrassing moment was a turning point in Peter’s life. Peter realized that Friday morning that there was a huge difference between knowing Jesus and surrendering to Jesus. A few weeks later, Peter was chosen as the primary speaker at Pentecost because he had openly betrayed Christ and repented. Jesus gave this converted disciple a chance to let his countrymen clearly know where he now stood. I mention this matter because Peter knew first hand the internal struggle between loyalty and cowardice. He wrote, “For it is time for the judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘if it is hard is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” (1 Peter 4:17,18, italics mine)


Those who love God and His truth will eventually step out in faith and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once a person decides to take his stand to obey God’s Word, he will be given as much grace and strength as needed to face the trials and persecution that will follow. On the other hand, people who cannot make a decision to obey the gospel will capitulate. There is no strength to bear the consequences of persecution without first making a wholehearted decision to follow Christ. Cowards, faithless, and double-minded people will go along with the flow to avoid suffering, and their eternal loss will be mind-boggling.  (Revelation 21:8)

“….’No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him-but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.’ The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9,10)


For 1,260 days Jesus will watch and wait, patiently allowing each person to make up his own mind. The Holy Spirit will pound on every heart’s door. The third member of the Godhead will do everything short of violating human choice to get rebellious people to surrender to the plumb line of Truth-the law of God; unfortunately, many people will choose to rebel. Like the rich young ruler, they will conclude that the price for obedience is just too great. (John 3:19-21; Luke 18:18-25; Revelation 13:8) Without the enabling power that comes from a determined decision to obey Christ at any price, the wicked will be right-the price for obedience is too great.


Step Three – Your Final Decision: During the judgment of the living, three forces will be working together. The Word of God will be heard by everyone. Then, the Holy Spirit will apply great pressure within every heart to obey God’s law, and last, persecution will force everyone into making a decision.  At first, you might think that the Two Witnesses are pulling people toward the shores of salvation and persecution is driving them away, but it is not what you think! Those who love God and His law will receive the testimony of the Holy Spirit. They will be willing to accept persecution because they are committed to pleasing God at any cost. On the other hand, those who love their lives and their possessions more than God will not be able to take the heat and accept the suffering that comes with their decision. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)


There are always some people who waver back and forth for a time, but increasing pressures from persecution will eventually force everyone into their final decision. Everyone living on Earth will either receive the mark of the beast or the seal of God. There is a simple reason for the persecution of the saints: Salvation comes through faith. Faith in God quickly separates people. Remember the twelve spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land? (Numbers 14) Faith is a scary thing to those who do not know God and His power of His Word. Faith in God separates sheep from goats. Our actions declare our faith. James agrees. He wrote, “…. I will show you [and God] my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18, insertion mine) Jesus assured the church members of Philadelphia (an early Christian Church that had suffered persecution for years), “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from [or during] the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10, italics and insertion mine)


Step Four – The Seal and the Tattoo: Every person who surrenders to the law of God and the Holy Spirit will fall in line with the testimony of Jesus. After choosing to obey Jesus without regard for the consequences, each person will be given the strength and faith to pass any test which persecution might impose. The fires of persecution will refine and purify the faith of the saints. “…. I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9) After passing some fiery tests of faith, a dramatic miracle will happen. It is ironic that after losing everything he owns, each faithful person will then lose his carnal nature!


The sealing of the saints requires the testimony of the Two Witnesses. The law of God will serve as the plumb line. It will measure the actions of John Doe. Jesus will see what John did, in fact, his submission to God’s law. John will demonstrate his love for Jesus and his neighbor. The Holy Spirit will testify that John’s faith was thoroughly tested and that he loves God with all his heart, mind, and soul, and his neighbor as himself. John gave everything he owned for the sake of the gospel. John was persecuted for worshiping Jesus on His Sabbath day. John’s actions clearly showed his love for God and man. The testimony of God’s Two Witnesses will establish the fact that John loves God and man. Jesus will announce His judgment” “Seal John Doe! Set him free from sin’s curse. Give him the wedding robe!” At that moment, John’s carnal nature will be removed and John will no longer have a propensity for sinning! John Doe will be like Adam before the fall. He will feel a joyful difference and if he is in prison, he might start singing at midnight.

(Acts 16:25)


Those who reject the law of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit will become more rebellious and hard hearted as time passes. Eventually, everyone in the crowd will commit the unpardonable sin. God’s plumb line will measure their rebellion and the Holy Spirit will confirm the blasphemy of each person. To save their possessions and themselves from death, the wicked will eventually submit to wearing the mark of the beast- a tattoo that Lucifer will impose on mankind during the sixth trumpet. After everyone has been sealed or tattooed, the judgment of the living will come to an end and the influence of the Two Witnesses will disappear. Their work and influence is finished.  

“Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss [Lucifer] will attack them, and overpower them and kill them…. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.”

(Revelation 11:7,10, italics and insertion mine)


Three Observations


Now that both phases of the judgment bar of Christ (the judgment of the dead and the living) have been discussed, three observations need to be made:


1.   Consider the righteousness and fairness of God when judging mankind. God will deal with the dead and the living, the rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated, the Christian and the non-Christian using the same witnesses. Everyone will be judged according to their actions. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it be good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 20:13)

Jesus judges the dead and the living according to their actions, not their religious beliefs, or even their faith because their actions reveal their faith and love, not the other way around. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

(James 2:17)


2.   Those who receive the seal of God will be set free of sin’s power. Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) I cannot emphasize this aspect of God’s amazing grace enough! Think about this: Even the worst addict or the vilest sinner can be set free of their addiction and sinful baggage if only they will step out in faith and obey the gospel of Jesus. The choice for salvation will be very clear during the Great Tribulation, but the cost will be great. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) It is interesting to me that the fourth commandment (which will be the object of great hatred) is the only commandment in the Ten Commandments that commands people to cease from work at an appointed time. What a wonderful commandment! God requires rest on His seventh day so that His children can rejuvenate. The 144,000 will powerfully proclaim, “Worship [the Creator on His holy day, worship] him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water, but astounding as it seems, millions will rebel. The fourth commandment has been scorned for centuries and the wicked will widely resist it when they are confronted with the demands of God’s law! Why is this called blasphemy? Blasphemy is rebellion against the law of God. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7) This hostility cannot be justified. It only exists because we have carnal natures. Nothing is more wonderful than a Sabbath rest from the burdens of life. I have found God’s Sabbath rest to be my favorite day of the week! Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29,30)


3.   By the time Jesus closes His judgment bar; He will have passed judgment on every soul who has ever lived on Earth. When He appears at the Second Coming, He will deal separately with four groups of people:


A.   The righteous dead

B.   The righteous living

C.   The wicked dead

D.   The wicked living


“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12, italics mine) Notice the outcome for each group: The righteous dead will be resurrected, and the righteous living will be caught up together with the righteous dead to meet the Lord in the air.

(1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) The wicked dead will not be disturbed. They will sleep through the Second Coming and be resurrected at the end of the 1,000 years.

(Revelation 20:5) The wicked living will be destroyed at the Second Coming and they will sleep during the 1,000 years. (Revelation 19:19-21)  Every person who lived during the 6,000 years of Earth’s history will be in one of these four groups at the Second Coming.          

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