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In the Letter to the Thessalonians, we are told:

1 Thessalonians 4:16: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (emphasis added).

On the other hand, we read in the apostle Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."

Judgment seems conspicuously missing in 1 Thessalonians 4 (particularly vs. 17). Is there a means by which we can interpret (and reconcile) these two sets of passages?

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    The two are simply discussing different subjects!! Resurrection appears conspicuously absent in 2 Cor 5:10.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 21:31
  • @Dottard 1 Thessalonians 4:17 does not appear to read: "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to be judged, and then to meet the Lord in the air..." How are these not directly connected?
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 21:40
  • 1
    The judgement occurs before the resurrection not after?
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 21:42
  • I guess I'm not following you. 2 Cor. 5:10 is stating a judgment for "deeds done in the body." Presumably, as we are "caught up together in the clouds" we have been resurrected. How else could we "meet the Lord in the air?"
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 21:45
  • I will add an answer to show the "problem" here.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 21:50

3 Answers 3

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The judgment for believers happens after they have been raised. That is when someone's works will be burned up or rewarded.

968 bḗma (from bainō, "to step, ascend") – properly, a platform to which someone walked up to receive judgment; (figuratively) the administration of justice – literally, given from "a tribunal-chair" (throne) where rewards and punishments are meted out.

Now if anyone builds upon the foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will become manifest, for the day will disclose it, because it is revealed in fire, and the fire itself will prove the work of each, what sort it is. If the work of anyone that he built up will remain, he will receive a reward. If the work of anyone will be burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, but so as through fire. First Corinthians 3:12<

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  • While you are absolutely correct that final, ultimate judgment is beyond our current lives of flesh and blood, even the slightest infraction of God's Law condemns us to hell. There could be rewards as you say (and note from 1 Cor. 3:12), but what might those be when our righteous works are described for us in Isaiah 64:6: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" I have had difficulty reconciling just what work will be rewarded other than our persistent, faithful obedience to Christ. +1.
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 23:02
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    @Xeno you are very active on this forum, and your interpretations are very interesting. Nevertheless when you have statements like “even the slightest infraction of God's Law condemns us to hell.”, you need to realise that they (infractions) are not the reason why anyone will end up there.
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 23:15
  • @Dave I stand corrected. It is "lawlessness", however we choose to define that, that leads to eternal separation from God.
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 23:22
  • Xeno, Who will lay a charge against the chosen ones of God? God [is] He that is declaring righteous; Who [is] he that is condemning? Christ [is] He that died, indeed, rather also, was raised up; who is also on the right hand of God—who also interceded for us Rom.8:33 Any Righteous works that are done through us will have been done by God who is at work in us to will and do His good pleasure. Phil.2:13 These things will be rewarded and the things that are done in the flesh will be burned.
    – Sherrie
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 1:08
  • Up-voted +1. I found the Brethren Movement to be the culprits who spread a theory of 'believers not being judged'. It seems to me to be something to do with the worldly way in which the generality of that movement behave, as if a mere profession of religion avoided any kind of judgment.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 8:49
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In “The New Unger's Bible Dictionary”, we also have a list a several judgements. According to Unger, an inductive study of the Scriptures shows that there's more than one general judgement (which I agree with) and goes as far as to specify eight distinct judgements described in the Bible

  1. Judgement of the Cross - This is the judgement upon sin effected by Christ when He said "It is finished" (John 19:30). It is the basis of the believer’s salvation when he believes. Christ has borne the sinner’s guilt and in Him, as a substitute for all on behalf of whom He died, sin has been judged. The one who believes on Christ has been released from judgment, and “there is therefore now no condemnation” (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:26– 28; 1 Pet. 2:24).
  2. Judgement of Believers - This takes the form of divine correction and chastisement (1 Cor. 11:30-32; Heb 12:3-13; John 15:1-9). The apostle Paul says: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:31–32). This, then, involves God’s disciplinary action against a sinning saint. “The sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16; cf. 1 Cor. 5:1–5; Acts 5:1–11) occurs when the believer, through deliberate continued sin, brings reproach upon the name of Christ and upon his salvation by free grace, and forfeits his physical life “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
  3. Believer's Works - This judgement concerns only Christians and it is not a matter of judgement for sins that have been judged at the cross and with which the believer will not again be faced (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1); it involves instead the divine appraisal of the Christian’s works and service. This will entail reward or loss of reward (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10, 12; Eph. 6:8; 2 Tim. 4:8).
  4. Judgement of Self - This is referred to in 1 Cor. 11:31-32. It has reference to stern criticism of a Christian of his own ways with accommodation to the divine will and immediate confession of and turning away from all sin (1 John 1:7–9). True confession is equivalent to self-judgment and involves immediate cleansing and restoration to fellowship and walking “in the light.”
  5. Judgement of the Nations - This judgement is referred to in Matt. 25:31-46. It involves divine dealing with the nations on the basis of their treatment of Israel. The “goat” nations on the left hand involve those peoples who are sent to the lake of fire. The “sheep” nations on the right hand enter the millennial kingdom. The peculiar basis of this judgment is the way all nations have dealt with Israel during the Tribulation period preceding the second advent of Christ. OT prophecy is clear in its prediction that some Gentile nations will enter the coming kingdom of Israel (cf. Isa. 60:3; 61:6; 62:2). These nations will be subordinate to Israel. As the millennial state merges into the eternal state, Gentile nations are still asserted to be on the earth when the heavenly Jerusalem descends from heaven (Rev. 21:24, 26).
  6. Judgement of Israel - Ezekiel 20:33-44 clearly teaches that Israel must come into judgement before being restored in the millennial kingdom. This OT teaching has confirmation in the NT from the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13 (see Joel 3:11–15). Prophecy seems to teach that there will be a general resurrection of all truly regenerated Israelites of the past dispensation to be judged. Those who had a kingdom hope are to arise and enter the earthly glory (cf. Ezek. 37:1–14; Dan. 12:1–3).
  7. Judgement of Angels - These are fallen angels and are evidently judged in connection with the great white throne (1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6).
  8. White Throne Judgement - This last great judgement comprehends the judgement of all unsaved of all ages (Rev. 20:11-15). The basis will be works, which evidently suggests differences and degrees of punishment. All who are not found in “the book of life” are cast into “the lake of fire.” This is called “the second death,” which means final and complete cutting off from God’s presence and a sin-cleansed universe.

Thus, when we speak of "the judgement", we need to be a bit more precise. Often, people mean the great eschatological judgement, but even this is divided into several portions according to the scenario presented in Rev 20 where saints are involved in parts of the final judgement.

However, the main point is clear, God has decisions = judgement before He acts upon them to reward or punish.

In 1 Cor 5:10 and 1 Thess 4:13-18, Paul's point is quite different and he treats each subject distinctly.

The New Testament uses several Greek words which can be translated “judgement” or “judging”

Krino: This verb denotes the act of separating or deciding, judging. It occurs 8 times in Revelation (6:10, 11:18, 16:5, 18:8, 20, 19:2, 11, 20:12, 13) and 106 times in the rest of the New Testament.

Krisis: This noun denotes the investigation or court trial, the judgement process, the process of collecting evidence, preceding the final decision. The word is often used to refer to the end-time judgement in the phrase, “day of judgement”, that is the eschatological cosmic trial in which all matters will be resolved (Matt 10:15, 11:22, 24, 12:36, 41, 42, Luke 10:14, 11:31, 32, 2 Peter 3:9, Jude 6). Since a trial is a neutral process, this can refer to justice (Matt 12 18, 20, 23:23, Luke 11:42, Acts 8:33) or condemnation (Matt 23:23, John 5:24, 25, James 5:12, Rev 18:10).

The intensive form, katakrisis, literally means the process (or evidence) leading to condemnation (2 Cor 3:9, 7:3).

Thus, when discussing the judgement we need to define whether we are discussing the process or the final verdict and execution of judgement.

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  • The most useful answer on this Q. The other stuff (so far) is without merit.+1 FWIW, #8 is a bit off, but the rest was pretty good after a skim. It would be good to align (graphically) this judgement layout with the resurrections.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 11:15
  • Please see this question and offer an answer. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/83213/… Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 19:28
  • I would broadly agree with Ray Butterworth's position.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 21:36
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Why does judgment before God appear to be missing in 1 Thess. 4:17?

Answer: Saints are not judged as they ascend to forever be with Christ.

Suppose we review the passages that relate specifically to the subject of judgment. First, let us examine the argument of universal judgment — the idea that everyone will stand before the Judgment Seat of God or Christ. Superficially, Scripture seems pretty clear:

Romans 14:10, 12: "For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Each one of us will give an account of himself to God."

2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."

Finally, we have this:

1 Peter 4:17: "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

Based on these passages it seems certain that everyone will stand before God in judgment. But is that true? Well, yes and no.

Perhaps we should ask a vital question here: If we have been baptized into Christ, have all our sins not been washed away just as we have been promised? More than that, we are also promised:

1 John 1:7, 9: "[If] we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

How, then, can the saints stand in judgment? Suppose we contrast the preceding verses with several others that are also relevant. First, we should understand that, upon His Resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven in glory and honor with the Father to become the King of all Creation (Mk 16:19, Acts 1:11, Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2).

In doing so, Christ now sits on His Throne governing everything that transpires on Earth. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 17:14, 19:6). In other words, we are all standing before Christ's Throne right now, although we may rarely (if ever) view things from that perspective. We have lived before the Seat of Christ all of our lives, and the evidence for or against us exists on our consciences. God is fully aware of our every act as human beings.

Suppose we now consider what else the New Testament has to say about the faithful. Note the many times that Christ, as God, has proclaimed (or necessarily implied) that while we walk in the Light, we are not to be judged:

John 3:18a: "He who believes in Him is not judged" (emphasis added).

From another passage in John' s Gospel, we know the Father does not judge:

John 5:22: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son."

Are we to view John 3:18a and John 5:22 as mere hyperbole regarding the faithful? Only two verses later we read yet another, similar pronouncement by the Son of God:

John 5:24: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears [obeys] My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (emphasis added).

Are we to simply reject these vital pronouncements? Why would Christ ever make such claims (those emphasized in Jn. 3:18a, 5:22, 5:24)? It seems reasonable to conclude that He is addressing those who have exercised obedience to His Word. Consider this next passage that speaks to the status of the saints:

Romans 8:1: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (emphasis added).

Has Paul not clearly stated that to those in Christ, the ones that have "clothed themselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27) there is now no condemnation? What does that mean? It means that there is nothing to judge in our walk with Christ. And, if there is nothing to judge, then how do we stand before a judgment seat?

The answer is that saints do not stand in judgment.

Where there is judgment, some form of condemnation inevitable follows. However, any condemnation by God leads to eternal separation from Him. Those in Christ should understand that they have passed from being slaves of disobedience to become "slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:18) — the children of God. Consider Paul's Letter to the Colossians, which argues the point more emphatically:

Colossians 1:21-22: "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet [Christ] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before [the Father] holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (emphasis added).

We were once alienated and hostile to God. We were "engaged in evil deeds" just as verse 21 states. That is how God sees everyone outside of Christ, irrespective of whether we consider them "good" or "bad": what we happen to think is beside the point.

Precisely who stands in God's righteous judgment when they are holy, blameless, and beyond reproach? If this is not true, how do words have meaning? Paul's letter to the saints at Corinth appears to echo the same sentiments as those in his Letter to the Colossians:

1 Corinthians 6:11: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God!" (emphasis added).

As before, note the similarity of the words to Col. 1:21-22: "washed," "sanctified," "justified." Of course, those who have not been washed (baptized, immersed), sanctified (set apart as holy), and justified (removal of condemnation, guilt, and sin) are filling up the measure of their sins before the Throne of God right now. This world appears to constitute The Trial, where we are either being cleansed, or forever condemned to eternal separation at physical death (the "first death").

On the other hand, those who exist in such a perfected state, will never stand in judgment. If one believes otherwise, perhaps they should ask themselves this question: Does being "washed, sanctified, and justified", not equate to spiritual perfection? How much more can any human being do? Our Heavenly Father is painfully aware of our limitations and our human frailties. That is why He has provided the solution to our great dilemma.

Here, now, is the passage in question from the OP:

1 Thessalonians 4:17: "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."

Obviously, Paul is speaking to the saints. However, where is there any mention of judgment in this verse? Are we to insert words that do not exist: "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up to judgment only to later be together with them in the clouds"?

How does such reasoning not suggest that we will stand guilty for sins that have been washed away by our godly life in Christ? Read what the writer of Hebrews has to tell us:

Hebrews 9:28: "[So] Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him" (emphasis added).

What does it mean to appear "without reference to sin"? Do judges adjudicate cases when there are no charges and no case? Hear the apostle Paul's expectation, where he reveals the destiny of the saints when absent from the physical body:

2 Corinthians 5:8: "[We] are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."

Just how is anyone "at home with the Lord" if they must stand in judgment? (Imagine standing in judgment for many appear to believe will be thousands of years.) Note that there is absolutely no detour mentioned in 2 Cor. 5:8, where "absent from the body — we will be judged — to later be at home with the Lord". Inevitably, these seem to beg questions that demand answers!

Read God's ominous words to the lost:

John 3:18b: "[He] who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed [obeyed, cf. Jn. 3:36, NAS] in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (emphasis added).

Suppose we consider another passage in favor of those in Christ:

Matthew 25:34: "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"

Note that "the King" does not say: "Now, stand in judgment for all your unrighteous deeds in the body". While the wording differs considerably, this passage is reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 in the OP, where we are told that "we will meet the Lord in the air."

In Matthew's account, the "sheep" have metaphorically been separated from the "goats" (Matt. 25:32-33) — the "goats" being those who will face God's Wrath (cf. Lk. 16:19ff).

Since Christ's Kingdom was inaugurated on Pentecost in the first century A.D., we might note a clause from the Lord's Prayer: "Your Kingdom come..." The reason that we still pray this is that, while the gates of the Kingdom were opened on the Lord's Day (first century), the Kingdom, the Church, has continued to receive new residents since that time. Each day, people are baptized to become citizens.

Each time a person is saved, they have "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27, cf. Matt. 22:13) as royalty (1 Pet. 2:9). All others remain slaves — slaves of sin and death (Rom. 6:16), their consciences continually bearing witness against them (1 Cor. 8:10, 1 Cor. 10:25, 29, 1 Tim. 1:5, 1 Tim. 3:9, Heb. 13:18).

It should now be clear why neither the Father nor Christ will be a "judge" per se. It is because we are being contrasted to the Word of God every moment:

John 12:48: "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day" (emphasis added).

Our faithful behavior is cleansing us at right now. Otherwise, our faithless disobedience condemns us. And, in that sense, our consciences, containing the entire record of our lives, will ultimately be our judge. The only words the lost may ever hear from God are these:

Matthew 7:23: "I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."

The reason that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 appears to overlook 2 Corinthians 5:10 is that, while the faithless are storing up wrath every day by their persistent disobedience, those who walk in the Light are being cleansed daily. That is why there is no judgment of the saints, in contrast to the faithless, or in Christ's words, "Those who practice lawlessness." There is no contradiction.

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    This is the reasoning of those who are nervous about giving an account of their lives to God. All shall be judged, make no mistake.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 8:46
  • @NigelJ Thanks for that. Apparently, there are many who disbelieve the words by Paul, that in Christ we are "washed," "sanctified," "justified," "in order to be presented before God holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (1 Cor. 6:11, Col. 1:22).
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 17:09
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    . . . and those who are such will show it forth in their life, their conduct and their words. And when they are judged they shall shine forth like gold that is as clear as glass.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 20:08
  • @xeno This shows the lengths some go to write their own truth, adjusting scripture to fit their theology. You must think that God calling Himself’Saviour’ is just a part time gig, He really, according to you, and many others, is much more focused on killing everyone!
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 21:27
  • @user48152 If you're interested (you may not be), I've answered most of these questions here a few moments ago.
    – Xeno
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 21:30

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