Say the words “judgment of God,” or “wrath of God,” and people’s minds inevitably go to the final judgment of God against sin. It is certainly true that God’s judgment will culminate against all sinners at the Great White Throne judgment that will come at the end of the age (Rev. 20:11-15). But that is not the only judgment of God. There are other times of God’s judgment in addition to that one cataclysmic event.
Paul clearly states in Romans 1 that the unbeliever already is undergoing judgment for his rebellion against and suppression of the truth of God (1:18). That judgment is demonstrated in God allowing the unbeliever to persist in his sin; God gives the sinner over to live in his sin (1:24, 26, 28). So what the believer believes is “freedom” to indulge his fleshly lusts, is in fact the judgment of God against him.
God has also demonstrated his judgment on sinners for their sin through cataclysmic events on earth — events like the flood (Gen. 6-9) and His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19; see also passages like Is. 45:7; 47:10-11; Lam. 3:38).
There is also God’s judgment of Israel at the end of the Tribulation (Ezk. 20:34-38; Mt. 25:1-30). And near that same time, there will also be God’s judgment of the Gentiles who survive the Tribulation (Joel 3:1-2; Mt. 25:31-46). This judgment is against the nations for the way they treated Israel during the Tribulation, and will determine who will and will not enter the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (the separation of the sheep and the goats in Mt. 25).
There are also several judgments at the end of the Millennial Kingdom. [Aside: as a reminder, the order of the final events on earth is as follows — the rapture of the church from the earth (1 Thess. 4:13-18), the Tribulation (Rev. 6-19), the Return of Christ (also called the Second Coming, Zech. 14; Rev. 19:11-21), the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:4-6), the loosing of Satan and the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:7-15), and the eternal state (Rev. 21-22).] Among those judgments are the judgments of Satan (Rev. 20:7-12), his angels, the demons (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10), and the judgment of the unsaved dead (Rev. 20:11-15), who will be judged according to (proportionate to, indicating degrees of punishment in Hell) their rebellion against God (see also Rom. 2:5).
As I mentioned Sunday, there is also the judgment of believers for reward at the judgment seat of Christ (often called the Bema seat of Christ; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This judgment is not for life and death or Heaven or Hell, but for rewards for those who are believers in Christ. This judgment will take place in Heaven after the rapture of the church, during the seven years of Tribulation on earth (Rom. 14:10; Rev. 19:8). Just as no believer will appear at the Great White Throne, so no unbeliever will appear at the judgment seat of Christ.
And finally, there is also God’s redemptive wrath in His judgment against Christ on the cross. This is the supreme revelation of God’s judgment against sin. How angry is God with sin? He is angry (and gracious) enough to pour out His wrath on the only One who can absorb that wrath, His Son. This is His own provision for men to escape His wrath. And if you are a Christian, this is how you came to life! As one theologian has stated, “the believer has been in court, condemned, sentenced, and executed in the Person of his Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the message of Good Friday and the resurrection of Christ. And the Scriptures repeatedly affirm God’s goodness in pouring out His judgment wrath against His beloved Son (see Is. 53:4-5; Rom. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Mt. 27:45-46).
So as you think about the judgment of God recognize that it is past (in cataclysmic events), present (in abandoning sinners to their sin) and future (in a series of final culminating events). It is for believers (for reward) and unbelievers (for condemnation). His judgment is complete, final, and authoritative. There is no appeal against His judgment. But there is provision for all men prior to His judgment by trusting in Christ for redemption from sin and from His wrath.
His terror against sin is great; and His provision for condemned sinners through the blood of Christ is greatly gracious. How great is this God who is a just judge and a justifying God (Rom. 3:26)!