HOW do you picture Judgment Day? Many think that one by one, billions of souls will be brought before the throne of God. There, judgment will be passed upon each individual. Some will be rewarded with heavenly bliss, and others will be condemned to eternal torment. However, the Bible paints quite a different picture of this period of time. God’s Word portrays it, not as a terrifying time, but as a time of hope and restoration.
At Revelation 20:11, 12, we read the apostle John’s description of Judgment Day: “I saw a great white throne and the one seated on it. From before him the earth and the heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.” Who is the Judge described here?
Jehovah God is the ultimate Judge of mankind. However, he delegates the actual work of judging. According to Acts 17:31, the apostle Paul said that God “has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” This appointed Judge is the resurrected Jesus Christ. (John 5:22) When, though, does Judgment Day begin? How long does it last?
The book of Revelation shows that Judgment Day begins after the war of Armageddon, when Satan’s system on earth will be destroyed.* (Revelation 16:14, 16; 19:19-20:3) After Armageddon, Satan and his demons will be imprisoned in an abyss for a thousand years. During that time, the 144,000 heavenly joint heirs will be judges and will rule “as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 14:1-3; 20:1-4; Romans 8:17) Judgment Day is not some hurried event lasting a mere 24 hours. It lasts a thousand years.
During that thousand-year period, Jesus Christ will “judge the living and the dead.” (2 Timothy 4:1) “The living” will be the “great crowd” that survives Armageddon. (Revelation 7:9-17) The apostle John also saw “the dead…standing before the throne” of judgment. As Jesus promised, “those in the memorial tombs will hear [Christ’s] voice and come out” by means of a resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) But on what basis will all be judged?
According to the apostle John’s vision, “scrolls were opened,” and “the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.” Are these scrolls the record of people’s past deeds? No, the judgment will not focus on what people did before they died. How do we know that? The Bible says: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” (Romans 6:7) Those resurrected thus come to life with a clean slate, so to speak. The scrolls must therefore represent God’s further requirements. To live forever, both Armageddon survivors and resurrected ones will have to obey God’s commandments, including whatever new requirements Jehovah might reveal during the thousand years. Thus, individuals will be judged on the basis of what they do during Judgment Day.
Judgment Day will give billions of people their first opportunity to learn about God’s will and to conform to it. This means that a large-scale educational work will take place. Indeed, “righteousness is what the inhabitants of the productive land will certainly learn.” (Isaiah 26:9) However, not all will be willing to conform to God’s will. Isaiah 26:10 says: “Though the wicked one should be shown favor, he simply will not learn righteousness. In the land of straightforwardness he will act unjustly and will not see the eminence of Jehovah.” These wicked ones will be put to death permanently during Judgment Day.—Isaiah 65:20.
By the end of Judgment Day, surviving humans will have “come to life” fully as perfect humans. (Revelation 20:5) Judgment Day will thus see the restoration of mankind to its original perfect state. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) Then a final test will take place. Satan will be released from his imprisonment and allowed to try to mislead mankind one last time. (Revelation 20:3, 7-10) Those who resist him will enjoy the complete fulfillment of the Bible’s promise: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Psalm 37:29) Yes, Judgment Day will be a blessing to all faithful mankind!
* Regarding Armageddon, please see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, pages 594-5, 1037-8, and chapter 20 of Worship the Only True God, both published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.