Again Magazine Volume 12 No. 4 December, 1989 Page29-30
THE DREAD JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
By Saint John Chrysostom
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the
things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
11 Corinthians 5:10
Consider the words of Saint Paul as he says, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Let us picture in our mind that court of justice – imagine that it is present right now, and the day of reckoning is at hand. (I will have more to say about this later. Paul passes over the subject rather quickly in this passage, since he was speaking to the Corinthians about affliction, and did not want to burden them down with such a heavy topic. He says only “each one shall receive according to what he has done,” and moves on.)
But let us stop for a moment and imagine that we are in that courtroom now, wrestling with our own guilty consciences. The Judge is already present. All the evidence has been brought in and is ready to be spread out before everyone. (After all, it won’t just be us standing before God and man on that day. Everything we have ever done in life will be revealed.)
Does that thought cause you to blush? Are you horrified at the idea? If just the thought of such an occurrence causes us to fall back in guilt and terror, what will it be like when that day actually comes? For now we are just talking about supposition and imagination. But one day it will be reality. One day the whole world will be present to witness the event. The angels and archangels will be in attendance. Imagine it – row upon row of spectators hurrying in at once, some caught up on the clouds – an atmosphere of terror with great trumpets sounding one after another with ceaseless voices.
Suppose for a moment there were no hell. Suppose the only punishment awaiting sinners was to be excluded from the brilliance of heaven and the shame of being “dishonorably discharged.” What an awful fate that alone would be!
Think about it. Even here on earth, whenever a powerful and wealthy ruler rides into town in all his glory, we can’t really bring ourselves to enjoy the spectacle. Why? All we can do is moan about our own poverty and feel sorry for ourselves because we don’t have a part in any of the goings on. We can’t even get near! How much greater will our disappointment be in heaven.
Do you think it is a light thing not to be ranked with the heavenly host, to be considered unworthy of the honor of that unspeakable glory, to be cut off from that great multitude and all the wonderful things in store for us in heaven, to be banished and sent away to some distant place?
Alright, then add to this the horrors of hell. Consider the darkness, the gnashing of teeth, the unbreakable chains, the undying worm. Think of the unquenchable fire, the affliction and pain, the scorching tongues (as in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus). In hell we may cry out—but who will hear? We may groan and gnash our teeth—but who will care? We may look all around for someone to comfort us—but we won’t find anyone. Where in all creation could we find a more miserable soul than someone in such a horrible condition? Where could we find anyone more pitiable?
If we go into a prison and see the inmates—some chained up, some half-starved, others locked up in darkness—we shudder and are moved with compassion. And we resolve never to be locked up in such a place. Well, what will it be like when we are led and dragged away into the torture-dungeons of hell itself? The chains there aren’t made out of steel, but of never-ending fire. And the guards there are not just fellow humans, who with some luck might be bought off or won over. No, the guards of hell are holy angels—whose faces we dare not even look upon. They are enraged at our impiety and the insults we have cast before their Master.
Don’t expect to have someone bring in money or food or letters of comfort as you might in prison. No one will take pity on you there. Though the holiest of men might come—Noah, or Job, or Daniel— and see relatives and friends, they wouldn’t offer any sympathy. Even the natural sympathy of righteous fathers for wicked children (or righteous children for wicked fathers) will be washed away. Their pleasure in heaven will not be diluted by sorrow due to sympathy. No, this sympathy is extinguished, and they themselves are indignant together with the Master against their own kindred.
Do you find this hard to accept? What do people do nowadays when their children turn out to be vicious criminals? They disown them and cut them off from the family. So much more will the righteous saints in heaven disown those who turn away from God.
Let me draw out a few lessons from this terrifying vision of the Dread Judgement Seat of Christ.
• If you have the burning fire of lust in your heart, set against it the thought of the fires of hell—the lust will eventually be put out and disappear.
• If you are thinking about letting loose with some harsh language, think about the gnashing of teeth in hell and the fear will help you bridle your tongue.
• If you are contemplating stealing something, imagine the Judge saying, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13). Then you will have second thoughts.
• If you are a drunkard or overly indulgent, remember the rich man crying out to no avail, “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Maybe this thought will hold you back.
• If you are a lover of luxury, think of the affliction and distress of hell, and you will not long after earthly pleasures.
• If you are harsh and cruel, think of the virgins spoken of in the Gospels. Just because their lamps went out, they completely missed the bridal feast. Let that thought make you more humane.
• Are you lazy and sluggish? What about the steward who hid the talent in the ground? Think about his end, and your zeal for good works will burn like a forest-fire.
• Do you desire your neighbor’s possessions? Think about the worm that never dies. This will help you easily put this lust away and seek virtue in all things.
After all, God hasn’t really asked us to do anything difficult or oppressive. Why then do the admonitions found in Scripture seem so harsh? Because of our own laziness. For if we are really willing to work hard at something, even those jobs which seem intolerable in life soon become light and easy. By the same token, if we are lazy, even the easiest of things becomes difficult to do.
So, with all this in mind, let us not waste time drooling over the life-style of the rich and famous. Instead, think about where that life-style leads. In this life it leads only to filthy minds and fat bellies. In that life, it leads to the worm and everlasting fire. And don’t envy the greedy or the self-seekers. They won’t find anything more here than cares, fear, and anxiety. There they will find unbreakable chains. Don’t waste time on the “glory-seekers” either. All they find here is a life of self-slavery and phony disguises. There they will have to endure total loss and perpetual torment.
If we consider these things, both as we talk with one another and as we battle our own evil lusts, we will find it much easier to cast out the love of present, earthly things and kindle a love for things eternal. Let us indeed kindle that kind of love and set it ablaze. For if we are able to get just a faint image of the treasures of heaven into our minds, it will give us great joy. Needless to say, the actual experience of those heavenly treasures will be beyond words. Those who attain these things will be blessed and thrice blessed again and again. Those who go the opposite way will be pitiable and thrice cursed.
So that we may not be found included in this latter group, let us choose virtue. By it, we can attain to all the good things to come. And may we indeed attain to those good things through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ; by Whom, and with Whom, to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, and honor, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, world without end. Amen.
A modern, popular paraphrase of Saint John Chrysostom’s homily on 11 Corinthians 5:10.