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Perhaps the most familiar, but erroneous, picture of the judgement is our arrival at the "pearly gates" immediately after we die to receive our reward or punishment. However, judgement in the Bible is actually described as a series of events rather than a one-time occurrence.
We can better comprehend these events by understanding what the seven annual Holy Days portray in Leviticus 23. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-8) occur early in the year, followed by Pentecost, or the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15-17, 21), which pictures the first harvest of people in God's plan of salvation.
We are then instructed to observe four more Holy Days a few months later: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day (see Leviticus 23:24-36). These four festivals portray God's plan of salvation for the rest of mankind.
Feast of Trumpets
God told the Israelites this day is "a memorial of blowing of trumpets" (Leviticus 23:24), with the blowing of trumpets in the Bible being associated with the Day of the Lord. "Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is…at hand" (Joel 2:1).
The Day of the Lord is the time when God will intervene in man's affairs and make His presence and power known to the world. Revelation 8 and 9 describe the blowing of six prophetic trumpets signaling the upheavals to take place at this time, culminating with the seventh trumpet when "the kingdoms of this world [become] the kingdoms of our Lord" (Revelation 11:15-18).
Revelation 19 details the final battle between Christ and the nations opposing His return. While returning in wrathful judgement, Jesus Christ will in reality save humanity from the terrible destruction mankind is bringing on himself. Prophesying of this time, Christ declared, "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive" (Matthew 24:22).
When Christ returns to earth those who have been judged faithful to Him in this life will be resurrected to immortal life. "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). This event is called "the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5-6).
Day Of Atonement
The judgement of God continues after Christ’s return with the fulfillment of the events pictured by the Day of Atonement, the next Holy Day. This Holy Day depicts the removal of Satan from his influence over humankind. The Day of Trumpets signifies judgement upon man, while the Day of Atonement depicts God's judgement of Satan and the fallen angels. At this time Satan and his angels will be banished to a place where they can no longer influence humanity (Revelation 20:1-3).
Feast Of Tabernacles
God’s judgement continues with the millennial reign of Christ on earth pictured by the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. At this time Christ and His resurrected saints will rule over those who have survived the cataclysmic events at the end of the age of man and their descendants for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4). The Apostle Paul confirms those who are faithful to Christ will play a part during this judgement period: "Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2).
This judgement during the Millennium is not to be confused with the return of Jesus Christ at the end of man's age. The judgement of the Day of the Lord will forcefully reveal the true God and deal wrathfully with the evil world of man. The judgement by Christ and His saints during the 1,000 year millennial rule will be a loving rule, which is described in Isaiah 11:3-4: (Jesus) "shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth."
Those who live in the Millennium will be accountable for deciding whether to submit to Christ, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD…" (Isaiah 11:9). With Satan and his demons bound, as depicted by the Day of Atonement, humankind will no longer be deceived and tempted to sin. All will have the opportunity to learn God's way of life: "...let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). Many will be judged and receive salvation during this time.
The Eighth Day
The Eighth Day (also called the Last Great Day) is the final Holy Day of the year. This day portrays the judgement for the “rest of the dead" (Revelation 20:5) who were not in the first resurrection and did not live through the millenium. They will never have had a chance to understand God’s way of life, and are pictured as being resurrected and standing before a great white throne (Revelation 20:11-12). This judgement is also not a time of sentencing, but a period for these newly resurrected to be considered "according to their works" over a period of time after having God’s way of life revealed to them.
A Final Resurrection
Then Revelation 20:14-15 speaks of what is sometimes called a third resurrection, when some will be cast into the lake of fire after having had a fair opportunity to receive salvation in a previous life at a time already outlined in this article. This final punishment is eternal death from which no one is resurrected, and contradicts the commonly held belief the wicked will exist forever in an ever-burning hell.
Thus the judgement of God on every human being will end. All will have experienced a time in which to be judged as to whether they will submit to God or not. The annual Holy Days hold the key to the knowledge of the judgement of God upon man, and those who observe these days each year as God commanded rejoice in God's great plan for man's salvation.
The Good News Magazine (Sep-Oct, 1996)