On Particular Judgement
Particular Judgement is a relatively simple teaching but it is perhaps worth a brief overview, including looking at some objections, since some so-called Christians deny it.
It is necessary to provide a description, else the discussion will go in circles. It can be described as the following:
Particular Judgement follows the physical death of each human being—that is, the separation of the soul from the accidental body—at the conclusion of which Christ sentences said soul to its eternal destiny.
It should be noted that:
immediately following Christ’s judgement, said separated soul goes to Hell if damned, Heaven if saved or Purgatory for the necessary duration before entering Heaven if saved but with a remaining temporal debt due to sin.
Particular Judgement is not to be confused for the General Judgement (which is another topic), also referred to as the Universal Judgement or Last Judgement, which occurs at the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ when the resurrection of the body also takes place; that is, when soul and body are re-joined.
General Judgement affirms each sentence given at Particular Judgement and does not reverse it.
some may be exempted from Particular Judgement as described above, such as those still alive at the Second Coming.
2. Argument from Commonsense
God is just and justice demands everything be accounted for.
It follows that God judges all individuals and everything that each has done.
It also follows that this, in particular, occurs after one’s physical death.
The notion that a god judges is a given, it’s what a god would do. If one looks at the classical myths, the pagan gods judged in various circumstances and ways… it’s just that some of them did so unjustly given the silly or petty characters that they were.
3. Scriptural Support
The following are passages that support Particular Judgement, some more clear than others. The order presented is merely as found in Scripture.
Rejoice therefore, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart be in that which is good in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thy eyes: and know that for all these God will bring thee into judgement.
Ecclesiastes 12 is a warning to “remember thy Creator” when still young, in effect a longer version of the above. Below is verse 1 and then the last two verses, verses 13 and 14:
Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come, and the years draw nigh of which thou shalt say: They please me not.
Let us all hear together the conclusion of the discourse. Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is all man. And all things that are done, God will bring into judgement for every error, whether it be good or evil.
Ecclesiasticus 7:40 is a warning of one’s “last end”. Although it does not explicitly mention judgement, the tone is important.
In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.
Ecclesiasticus 28:6 provides another warning:
Remember thy last things, and let enmity cease.
Read in isolation, the above is still vague, but “last things” (plural) rather than “last end” (singular) is a clue. It is from this that the Catholic traditional teaching of “The Four Last Things” is derived, which are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
Ecclesiasticus 11 are lessons of humility because life can be unpredictable. Below are verses 26 to 29:
Say not: I am sufficient for myself: and what shall I be made worse by this? In the day of good things be not unmindful of evils: and in the day of evils be not unmindful of good things: For it is easy before God in the day of death to reward every one according to his ways. The affliction of an hour maketh one forget great delights, and in the end of a man is the disclosing of his works.
Verse 28 in italics may or may not be hinting at Particular Judgement but is included for one’s consideration.
2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all be manifested before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.
Hebrews 4:12 describes the process of physical death and Particular Judgement:
For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
If the above are too vague, then Hebrews 9:27 is clear:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgement.
Some are understandably confused between Particular Judgement and General Judgement.
There are way more scriptural passages about the General Judgement than Particular Judgement and the former are typically more explicit, often describing some of the conditions or preceding conditions as General Judgement occurs at the Second Coming when the resurrection of the body for all the dead also takes place. Many passages also refer to this as “day of the Lord” or something similar (Isaiah 2, Ezekiel 13, Joel 3, John 6, Acts 2, 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Peter 3 etc).
The scriptural passages quoted above do not mention any of that and read like it is referring to the individual, Hebrews 9:27 being the most explicit.
4. Some Objections
4.1 Objection: After physical death, the separated soul is in some sort of “suspension” or “slumber” until the Second Coming when the resurrection of the body and General Judgement takes place. Therefore, there is no Particular Judgement.
Reply: Setting aside this view conveniently ignores the scriptural passages quoted in section 3, at least a few passages indicate each separated soul goes to Hell, Heaven or Purgatory immediately without waiting until the Second Coming.
● Christ tells the parable of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man in Luke 16. Lazarus died and was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” and the rich man also died and “was buried in hell”. This being a parable does not mean that it is not true. The naming of Lazarus also suggests the parable is based on real individuals.
● Luke 23:43 records Christ’s promise to Dismas the repentant thief on the cross that “this day thou shalt be with me in paradise”.
● Acts 1:25 narrates that Judas had fallen “that he might go to his own place”.
● In 2 Corinthians 5:6–8, Paul writes, “But we are confident, and have a good will to be absent rather from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” This indicates that the separated soul could be “with the Lord”.
● 1 Peter 3 tells of how when Christ expired on the cross, He “preached to those spirits that were in prison”, those who had died in during the Flood at the time of Noah. This “prison” is not Hell but rather Purgatory which is a temporal term consistent to Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:25–26. In any case, one does not need to preach to those in Hell or in “suspension”.
● Matthew 12 warns about “sin/blasphemy against the Holy Ghost”, that it would not be forgiven, “neither in this world, nor in the world to come”. This implies that all but the aforementioned sin can still be forgiven after physical death, an opportunity that must necessarily end in judgement.
The first five scriptural references clearly indicate that the separated soul need not wait in some sort of “suspension” until the General Judgement to go to their eternal destiny.
Although judgement is not mentioned, for one to receive their reward after physical death, there must be some form of judgement. To use a crude analogy: a grade cannot be awarded to a student without a score, and a score cannot be tabulated without an assessor going through the student’s paper.
That said, since the body is not re-joined to the soul until the General Judgement, it follows that the nature and/or degree of joy for the saved or the sense of loss for the damned are somehow augmented at that point. Either way, the separated soul is not in “suspension” until the Second Coming.
4.2 Objection: Matthew 24, Matthew 25, Luke 12 and Revelations 3 warn us to beware of our mortality because the “day and hour no one knows” except the Father. Since no one knows, no one can be certain about Particular Judgement.
Reply: The first three are clearly referring to the Second Coming rather than a warning about each individual’s physical death, although Revelations 3 could be referring to each individual.
That said, there is nothing wrong with taking above as personal warnings, but a statement about the when is not about the what. Not knowing when X happens does not address the question of if X happens, let alone disproving X. If anything, it is an implied admission that X happens, we just don’t know when.
4.3 Objection: In 1 Corinthians 15:52, St Paul states that our end will take place “in the twinkling of an eye”, therefore there is no such thing as Particular Judgement after one’s death.
Reply: 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 is reproduced below.
Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed.
The passage is clearly referring to bodily resurrection which occurs at the Second Coming. The description is consistent to what was said to the Apostles after Christ’s Ascension as recorded in Acts 1:11, “This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Even if it is describing an individual’s death, this does not exclude Particular Judgement. It simply hints that the process will be quick. This, of course, is reasonable as one would not expect God to run a trial that lasts years due to inefficient bureaucracy.
4.4 Objection: Christ warns to “Judge not, that you may not be judged”, so there is the possibility of no Particular Judgement.
Reply: Matthew 7:1–2 is reproduced below.
Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Reading the first sentence (verse 1) on its own, one is tempted to think of “judge” as the act itself. But reading the next verse, the verb seems to be used for not merely the act but the act in a negative manner; that is, to judge inappropriately.
Either way, whether one has judged or not, or whether one has judged inappropriately or not requires judgement by God.
Romans 14:10–12 also warns of judging others and yet, “we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ” and “render account”. This particular passage could, admittedly, be referring to the General Judgement—the wording indicates both the individual and the collective.
The above passage from Matthew is consistent to the principle that God is just and that He will factor in our circumstances when He judges as also indicated in James 3:1 and Luke 12:48.
4.5 Objection: God the Father does not judge us since Christ has died for our sins.
Reply: It is true enough that God the Father does not judge us but the above statement begs the question. The Father does not judge us but then how does the Son judge us? Has one accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? That question still requires Christ’s judgement in one way or another.
John 5:22, 26–27 supports that reasoning:
For neither doth the Father judge any man, but hath given all judgment to the Son. … For as the Father hath life in himself, so he hath given the Son also to have life in himself: And he hath given him power to do judgement, because he is the Son of man.
If one reads the entire passage, the text around verse 22 reads like it is for the individual (perhaps implying Particular Judgement) but approaching verse 27 and afterward, it refers to the dead and the resurrection (and therefore implying General Judgement).
People can pretend they can run away from judgement. It won’t work.
5. Other Considerations
The need to have a Particular Judgement and the General Judgement may seem odd. The following, although not without scriptural support, is merely opinion.
It should be noted that one of the consequences of the Fall is death (Genesis 2, Romans 6) and said consequence is passed to subsequent generations. (Romans 5, Psalm 50)
Although this is not explicitly stated in Genesis, we know in hindsight that “death” is spiritual (supernatural) death, the absence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and physical (natural) death, the separation of the soul from the accidental body.
Whilst Baptism is the ordinary means to deal with spiritual death, the penalty of physical death has obviously not been rescinded, even for baptized individuals. The separation of the soul from the accidental body seems to be an unnatural state which God permits, with the resurrection of the body—that is, when the soul and body are re-joined—not taking place until the Second Coming.
Given this, Particular Judgement is of the separated soul. But since the soul is meant to be joined to a body and is judged for what was done this life whilst having a body (2 Corinthians 5:10), it makes sense that some sort of judgement also takes place once the body is re-joined to the soul even if it is a formality.
Particular Judgement is also (presumably) a mostly private process. We as individuals are responsible for our own choices; however, our choices, good or bad, impact others materially and spiritually. Said impact as an end result may be eternal but as a rippling effect (and I stress continuous tense), it may not end until the Second Coming. So, it makes sense that the General Judgement, a public process, also takes place in the end when God judges all, and perhaps God with all the saved judge all the damned. (Luke 22:30, Revelations 3:21)
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