Jeffrey B. Russell

Professor of History

University of California Santa Barbara

Judgment in the theological sense connotes a moral discernment between good or evil actions. By extension, it applies to discernment between good and evil persons, a good person being one whose general character, despite any number of faults, is inclined toward love of God and of fellow creatures, and an evil person being one whose character is inclined rather to self-love at the expense of others. Humans are entitled to judge whether an action is good or evil (Luke 12.57; John 7.24; 1 Cor 6.2-3), but judgment of a person is reserved to God (Matt 7.1; Luke 6.37): Do not judge, and you will not be judged. The parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt 13.24-30) has often been cited as a prooftext against human judgment: we are to let the weeds grow with the wheat and let the Lord distinguish between them at the time of the harvest--that is, at the time of divine judgment.

In his eternal knowledge and wisdom, God is always sifting the hearts of his creatures and judging their characters. But early Christian teaching, rooted in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament, OT), also affirms a Last Judgment at the end of the world. The Last Judgment was defined as God's judgment of the characters of all humans (and other free and intelligent beings such as angels), a judgment based on God's eternal and certain knowledge, and therefore immutable. One's character cannot be changed after the judgment; this fact follows the emphasis of the Hebrew Bible on the absolute importance of this present life on this earth, the only life that we have in which to make our moral choice and form our character.

Belief in a Last Judgment became common, indeed credal, in Christianity because scripture says it; tradition asserts it; reason supports it; and literature and art proclaim it. Though the Last Judgment does not occupy an especially prominent place in the Bible, many OT and NT texts are relevant: Psalm 98.9 says that the Lord will come to judge "the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity; John 12.48 says that on the last day, the Lord will judge those who reject him. The tradition is enshrined in the Nicene Creed formulated at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and still used in most churches: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." Reason applied to scripture confirms the idea: humans have free will to choose to follow the commandment to love God and neighbor (Deut 6.5; Matt 22.37-39). The responsibility lies both on the community (the human race in Adam and Eve, the Bene Israel, the Christian community and on the individual man or woman. Reason also shows that at the end of the world God's eternal judgment of each person will be made manifest; the end recapitulates and finalizes what has gone before in time, and eschatology declares the eternal divine knowledge of souls. Art and literature reflect this theology, the first depiction of the Last Judgment appearing in an early stage of Christian art, in the sixth century.

The Last Judgment was early established as one of the four essential eschatological moments (different from the later tradition of the "Four Last Things:" death, judgment, heaven, and hell) namely the parousia (return of Christ), the resurrection of the body, the Last Judgment, and the end of this world (whether the world is understood as the end of the physical cosmos or as the end of the present world order, kosmos or aiôn). These four eschatological moments are closely linked in early and medieval Christian theology, but this present article concentrates on the judgment, examining the idea in the Bible, patristic period, and Middle Ages. The Last Judgment was generally accepted as a necessary prelude to the reality of the kingdom of God in which all are recognized as their true selves; it is an occasion of terror for the evil and of joy for the loving, for the harvest of the kingdom is the poor, the dispossessed, the humble, the persecuted (Mt 5.3-12), who will be gathered up as rich wheat and baked into loaves that are heartwhole, heavenly, and fine.

In the OT, the "Day of the Lord," though not yet defined as the day when a court of judgment would be held, was a day to be feared by those who had not kept the Covenant. The earlier OT writings seem to assume that at death one is either obliterated or sent to the underground (Sheol) to dwell as a fluttering shadow. Since the afterlife was vague at best, the emphasis remained on this present world; consequently, the punishment envisioned for the unfaithful was devastation and ruin in this life. In the later OT writings emerged the concept of a division between the faithful and the unfaithful in the Lord's kingdom to come. The day of the Lord would usher in his kingdom on earth, in which the righteous would be rewarded while the faithless would be eternally destroyed in the fires of Ge-hinnom (Gehenna; hell). Such a radical, dire, and eternal division demanded a solemn judgment. By the time of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.), it was believed that God would resurrect and judge the dead on the Mount of Olives or on the Temple Square (expanded by metonymy to Jerusalem, to the kingdom of Judah, or the whole Land of Israel). Ezekiel declared (37) that the dry bones that the Lord would raise would be clothed in flesh, brought out of their graves and returned to Israel, where they would live in peace and faithfulness to the Covenant.

Even before the idea of a future judgment developed, the OT viewed the Lord as the judge of inner hearts. The metaphor for his eternal knowledge of souls was the book. Since the Book of the Law (Torah) contains the words of the covenant, it is by the book that we shall be judged; the idea was extended to the book in which our characters are written (Exod 32.32-33). The Lord is a righteous judge (Ps 7.11) who will judge all the peoples of the earth (Ps 82.8; 98.9) and Israel itself (Ezek 18.30). He judges not only peoples and nations but individuals, each according to his or her character (Ps 7.8; Ezek 33.20; Eccl 11.9). He judges both the righteous and the wicked, condemning the unfaithful and rewarding the poor and the humble (Eccl 3.17; Isa 11.4). The place where the Lord will judge is not in heaven but on earth (Ps 58.11), in Israel, in Jerusalem, or, as in Joel 3.12, "I will sit in the `valley of Jehosaphat' to judge all the nations." He will sit upon the throne of judgment (Ps 9.4-7; 122.5) and mete out justice with fire and sword (Isa 66.16).

The apocalyptic Jewish thought of the second century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.--that is, at the end of the time the OT was written and just afterwards--arose during times of great historical tribulation for Israel. Accordingly, its proponents doubted and feared that justice and righteousness could ever be achieved in this world (understood again as kosmos or aiôn, meaning the current state of human society) and therefore hoped and believed that the end-time was imminent. The Lord would come immediately, at any moment, and establish a new cosmos or aion: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven. At his coming, the Lord would judge and reward the faithful according to their deserts. Apocalyptic thought bound the day of the Lord and the judgment more tightly together than before. On the last day, the Judge would lead the faithful into the new eon, the new world, and forever cast out the faithless.

The most important of the OT apocryphal texts for the question of judgment is the Apocalypse of Daniel (Dan 7-12). Here a throne of "fiery flames...its wheels burning with fire" was set up for the "Ancient One," whose clothing is "white as snow." The Ancient one presides over a court of justice: "The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened" (Dan 7.9-10). The Ancient One bestows "dominion and power and kingship" upon "one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven (Dan 7.18)," and "judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom (Dan 7.22)."

Imminence of judgment was one characteristic of apocalyptic thought; another was transcendence. Whatever the end of the world and the new eon and the kingdom of God meant, they meant a complete change, whether by obliteration and new construction or by transformation of the existing world. The nature of the new eon, the kingdom of God, varied considerably among these writers. It might be a world not of this earth, or it might be a completely new order on this earth. It might be the end of time or the beginning of a new sort of time. For all the apocalyptic writers, however, it meant the final, eternal, and complete triumph of justice, in which the good would be rewarded and the evil punished, not just on earth and in time, but in eternity.

Even more clearly than in the OT, apocalyptic writers insisted that at the resurrection both the just and the unjust would be judged. Where Isaiah had prophesied the liberation of the faithful from pain and death without mentioning the punishment of the faithless (14.3), Daniel foresaw a trial of both the righteous and the wicked, with eternal joy for the former, "who shall shine like the brightness of the sky," and eternal punishment for the latter (Dan 12.2-10). Enoch concurred: "And to all the righteous He will grant peace. He will preserve the elect, and kindness shall be upon them. They shall all belong to God and they shall prosper and be blessed; and the light of God shall shine upon them" (1 Enoch Book 1, ch. 1.7-9; cf. 1 Enoch 45.3-6).

Apocalyptic, best known for its prophecies of doom, really emphasized the joy and goodness of the judgment as much as its fear. That is why apocalyptic thought flourished: it was a message of hope for the poor and the oppressed:

On that day, they shall lift up in one voice, blessing, glorifying, and extolling in the spirit of faith, in the spirit of wisdom and patience, in the spirit of mercy, in the spirit of justice and peace, and in the spirit of generosity.... All the elect ones who dwell in the garden of life (shall bless you); every spirit of light that is capable of blessing, glorifying, extolling, and sanctifying your blessed name (shall bless you) and all flesh shall glorify and bless your name with an exceedingly limitless power forever and ever (1 Enoch 61.10-13).

The judgment would be a judgment of all the peoples of the world, but the Jewish apocalyptic writers were naturally most concerned with the judgment of Israel itself, where the criterion was clear: loyalty or disloyalty to the Covenant. A peculiar emphasis of Jewish apocalyptic was messianic speculation. Mashiach, "the anointed one," was a title of the kings of Israel and Judah since Samuel had anointed Saul. With the repeated defeat and occupation of the Land of Israel by foreign empires, the conviction grew in the last two centuries B.C.E. that a mashiach, Messiah, of supernatural strength and power would soon emerge to liberate Israel. For some, the Messiah would lead the Jews in a military revolution against their oppressors and restore the earthly kingdom; for others, this earthly kingdom was to be transformed, and the Messiah would rule it for ages or even forever; for yet others the Messiah was to usher in a kingdom that completely and eternally transcended the present cosmos. The coming of the Messiah was then linked to the day of the Lord and, accordingly, to the Last Judgment. The Messiah would act as the agent of the Lord, or sit in judgment with the Lord. The functions of the Lord and of the Messiah at the Last Judgment were gradually fused.

In the crucial period of the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., the dominant OT, Deuteronomic, priestly Judaism of the Second Temple period divided into a number of competing movements, including Zealots, Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Christians. The shattering of the Second Temple consensus was completed with the literal demolition of the Second Temple by the Romans following their crushing of the Jewish rebellion in 70 C.E.

The two most successful of these groups were the Christians and the Pharisees, the latter the founders of the rabbinic, Talmudic tradition that is the mark of orthodox Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism held that God and/or his Messiah would come at the end of the world, raise the dead in Jerusalem, judge the people of the world, and lead the just to paradise (however defined) and the unjust to eternal punishment.

New Testament Christianity, founded in the midst of the apocalyptic period, drew upon the OT, apocalyptic Judaism, and the teachings of the rabbis. Like the OT and the rabbis, it did not emphasize the Last Judgment; in fact, the only Evangelist that gave it much attention is John, both in his Gospel and in the Book of Revelation, although it also appears in Matthew's "Little Apocalypse" (Matt 25.31-46). NT Christianity shared the conviction that the end-time was at hand and that each person would be judged according to his or her works: "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt 16.27; cf. Rev 20.13; 11.18). On the last day, God would be our judge (John 12.48), and that last day is imminent: the "hour is coming and now is" (John 5.25; cf. 12.31). The apostle Paul firmly linked the OT day of the Lord with the resurrection of the body, the coming of the Messiah, and the Last Judgment (1 Cor 15).

The greatest difference between the Christians and the other Jewish groups in the first century was of course their belief that the Messiah had already come in the person of Jesus, whom they called Christos, the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiach, "anointed ruler." By his life and by his voluntary, loving death on the cross, Christ removed the block of sin that had separated humans from God since our original choice, in Adam and Eve, to seek our own will rather than God's love. So the Messiah had come, and he had redeemed the world, but he had not come to judge on the last day, for the last day was patently not here yet. The Messiah, therefore, would come a second time, and it was at his second coming (which was at hand, since he had promised to come even before "this generation" passes away: Matt 24.34; Mark 13.30; Luke 31.32) that he would judge the living and the dead.

The other Jewish groups of the time had already conflated the roles of God and Messiah at the judgment, but the Christians made it specific and overt. Though NT Christianity had not yet defined what it meant to claim that Christ was God--a task left to the church fathers--it clearly assumed that Christ was the Son of God the Father in an absolutely unique way. "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son" (John 5.22): judgment had already begun with Jesus in his first coming, and he would return to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim 4.1; cf. 1 Pet 4.5). The Little Apocalypse of Matthew foretells that

when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by ny Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Then he will say to those at his left hand: "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt 25.31-46).

Here are assembled many motifs of the NT Last Judgment. Christ, rather than the Father, will judge, though of course in accordance with his Father's will. He will sit in glory upon a royal throne appropriate to the Anointed King (cf. Rom 14.10; 2 Cor 5.10). The throne appears even more dramatically in John's Revelation: "Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence" (Rev 20.11; cf. Rv 20.4). Christ will judge all people and all nations, and both the just and the unjust (John 5.19-30; Rev 20.11-15; 2 Cor 5.9-10): "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne" (Rev 20.12). He will discern the character of all: "And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books [of life] (Rev. 20.12). According to their character he will welcome the righteous into heaven and send the unrighteous to suffer eternal punishment in fire (2 Pet 3.7).

The Last Judgment is now tied firmly and permanently to the general resurrection of the body. At the last day, Christ will judge both the living and the dead. Those living at the time of the Second Coming will not suffer physical death (1 Thess 4.17) and will be judged in the bodies that they have in this life. Those who have already suffered physical death will be raised in the bodies that they had in life. The resurrected human being will be, as the living human being is, an indivisible union of body and soul. The judgment would produce two effects of the resurrection, which John sometimes refers to as "two resurrections," namely a resurrection to eternal life for the just; and the resurrection to "judgment" (here restricted in meaning to condemnation) for the unjust (Jn 5.29). John also uses a similar equivocity in the term "death," speaking of the first death as the physical death and the "second death" as the death or damnation limited to the unjust. The just, though dead, will rise and live forever, and "over these the second death has no power" (Rev. 20.60); the unjust will die and then die again in eternity.

Angels as well as humans are judged. The Devil, the "ruler of this world," is judged (John 16.11; cf. Rev 20.2-3), and all the evil angels are reserved for the Last Judgment to be cast into hell (2 Pet 2.4; Jude 6). Christ is usually said to judge alone, but several texts indicate that he will be joined by the apostles and the saints: "You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19.28); the idea was extended to all peoples by Paul: "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (1 Cor 6.2).

The perennial question whether God, Christ, is evil because he condemns the unjust to hell was already raised by Paul: Is God "unjust to inflict wrath on us? . . . By no means! For then how could God judge the world?" (Rom 3.5-6). The judgment of God is "righteous" (2 Thess 1.5). The essential message is positive, even joyful: those who love will at the judgment love with unhindered joy: "God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. . . . see, I am making all things new" (Rev 21.3-5).

The Christian Apocrypha (books written in the first three centuries C.E. that were accepted by some as revealed but not included in the canon of the NT) offer a similar view to that of the canonical NT. Jesus tells the apostles that he is coming again "as the sun bursts forth; thus will I, shining seven times brighter than it in glory, while I am carried on the wings of the clouds in splendor with my cross going before me, come to earth to judge the living and the dead" (Epistola apostolorum ca. 150 C.E., 16-17). The Apocalypse of Peter, the Letter of the Apostles, and the Sibylline Oracles are among the apocryphal texts confirming the NT view of the Last Judgment. (The Sibylline Oracles were so widely respected throughout early and medieval Christianity that the thirteenth-century author of the great hymn, "Day of Wrath," cites "the Sibyl" as well as the Psalmist ["David"] as the two great guarantees of the judgment to come.)

The exceptions are the Gnostic Apocrypha, such as "The Gospel of Thomas." Gnosticism (as opposed to Gnostic thought in general, some of which was Jewish) was a variety of Christianity that faded by the third century C.E.. Gnosticism was incompatible with emerging orthodox Christianity primarily because most Gnostics attempted to explain the existence of evil by claiming that the material world and the body were the evil creation of an evil deity or subdeity ("demiurge") hostile to the Lord, who is the Lord of spirit alone. This immensely powerful opponent of God is the source of all evil. A human being is a spark of divine spirit that Satan has entrapped in loathsome flesh. Our duty is to escape the flesh and return our spirit to God. We can achieve this only by embracing gnôsis, divinely revealed knowledge. Since bodies are disgusting and evil, Christ did not have a body, nor will our own bodies rise again. Christ, in order to communicate with us wretched humans, took on only the appearance of a body. He saves us not by becoming flesh and dying on the cross, but by serving as an angelic, bodiless messenger bringing from God the gnosis that we must escape our prison house of flesh. In such a system, there could be no resurrection of the body, no Last Judgment. Rather, the soul is judged at death, and it is either reimprisoned in another body or, liberated by gnosis, ascends through a series of spheres, becoming ever more spiritual and less material until, having cast all filthy matter aside, it shines forth as pure spirit (pneuma) and reunites with the pure, spiritual Light from which Satan had kidnapped it.

The Christian fathers of the first few centuries C.E., dismissing this Gnostic hatred of the body, affirmed and developed the teachings of the NT, maintaining the union of the eschatological moment: at the end of time Christ would return as the judge of the whole world, including the living and the dead, who would be resurrected in the flesh. The further development of the concept of the Last Judgment would take place within the boundaries of these teachings.

The most important shift between the NT point of view and that of the fathers of the second century was occasioned by the fact that time, rather than coming to a rapid end in the generation of the apostles, was observed to continue. Though the end of the world was still believed to be about to happen at any moment, the longer it delayed, the more vague was its date in the future. Bernard McGinn has argued that there was a shift from "predictive" historical imminence to psychological imminence. Each person continued to expect judgment at any moment, but the historical time of the judgment faded into an indefinite future. Indeed, it is a common principle that the longer an event that is not certain to occur is postponed, the less likely it becomes. Though Christians still affirm imminence psychologically, the delay of the end-time by now commands little historical credence indeed.

This so-called delay of the parousia had the effect of causing a growing tension in the idea of judgment, a tension between the so-called particular judgment and the Last Judgment. So long as it was believed that no significant time would elapse between a person's physical death and the end of time, the tension itself was not significant. But it became clear by the middle of the second century that Christians were dying scores, even a hundred years, before the Last Judgment. The question whether they underwent a personal, "particular" judgment while awaiting the Last Judgment gradually became a significant problem, and though it was not a central concern until later, it appeared early in the second century. Those historians who have mistakenly argued that the particular judgment was a creation of the later Middle Ages have been refuted by Anton Gurevic's demonstration that it was found in the early Middle Ages as well. But Gurevic did not go far enough. The ideas of the individual judgment and of the Last Judgment both existed, although in unresolved tension, together from at least the second century.

In the NT itself, the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) suggests the idea of a particular judgment. Clement of Rome (96-98 C.E.) said that Peter and Paul went directly to "the holy place" at their deaths and that they found there a throng of martyrs and saints "made perfect in charity (1 Clement 5.4-7; 6.1; 50.3). This holy place must be presumed to be heaven itself or at least a blessed antechamber to heaven: in either event, the judgment passed upon these saints would surely not be changed or even modified at the Last Judgment. The anonymous Martyrdom of Polycarp (ca. 170 C.E.) implied the particular judgment with the notion that the martyrs, even if no one else, went directly into God's presence (to heaven) immediately at their death (Mart. Poly. 17.1). This implication left the question what God was doing with other people between their death and their resurrection: whether there was some kind of intermediate state between death and resurrection; or one between death and judgment. It posed the further theological question how the Last Judgment could possibly obtain a different result from the particular judgment, since the dead do not change their characters and God does not change his mind.

The fathers affirmed that the Last Judge would be Christ (Barnabas 7.2; 2 Clement 1.1; Polycarp, Phil 2.1) and expand upon it. Justin Martyr (fl. 150 C.E.) explained that just as Christ came for the first time in humility and died in anguish, he would come for the second time in glory to establish his eternal kingdom. The worthy he makes immortal; the unworthy he sends to eternal hell (Dial. 40.4; 45.4; 49.2; 80.5; 81.4; 1 Apol. 52). He sends them to hell not out of cruelty and vengeance, but rather because they merit it and indeed have chosen it for themselves in their hateful lives. Marcion (d. ca. 160 C.E.) attempted to distinguish between justice and mercy, but Tertullian (fl. ca. 200 C.E.) replied that the two are inseparable: a god that would not love justice and hate iniquity would be no god at all (Adv. Marc. 1.26). It would be no mercy to the oppressed and persecuted to bring their tormentors into the midst of their joy.

Hippolytus (fl. ca. 225 C.E.) posited hades (a Greco-Roman word and concept similar to that of the OT Sheol) as the place where all the dead await resurrection and the Last Judgment. But he also stipulated that in the meanwhile the blessed dead repose in a place that he called "Abraham's bosom" (Against Plato, 1; cf. Lk. 16.22) awaiting the general resurrection. The unjust wait in the shadows for the final judgment, when angels as ministers of justice drag them off to hell, a lightless place beneath the earth. Again the reason that the angels thrust them into hell was not malice, but because the damned have already made the choice that put them there.

Irenaeus (fl. ca. 200 C.E.), the most influential of the early fathers, attacked the Gnostic idea that at death the soul passed directly to heaven (De haer. 5.31). Even the Savior, he pointed out, first descended to the dead before rising again. But the Gnostics, unlike the orthodox Christians, had no problem with the interim period, because the Gnostics totally rejected the resurrection of the body and the need for a Last Judgment. The Gnostics, with their loathing of the body, declared the soul the only genuine part of a human person and therefore had no difficulty with the idea that the blessed entered into their journey as disembodied souls directly at the time of their death.

The fathers followed the OT tradition of the resurrection and worked on unpacking the idea. Athenagoras (fl. 180 C.E.) confronted both the Gnostics and the Platonists in his defense of the judgment of body and soul conjoined. He explained that the demonstrable decomposition on bodies after death made a resurrection necessary, since a human being is composed of both body and soul and no separation of the two can be permanent. If God intended humans to end up as disembodied souls, he would not have created them body and soul to begin with. The end and goal of human lives, including our lives after death, is to live as complete, harmonious, human beings, which requires both body and soul. Human nature could not exist without the resurrection of the body. Judgment, Athenagoras continued, is thus judgment of the whole person, both body and soul; furthermore, since the passions of the body can urge us to sin, it would be unjust or absurd to judge the soul without the body; the opposite is true also: the body, which has labored and suffered, deserves its reward.

Athenagoras (Plea), Lactantius (d. ca. 330, and Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) introduced a new difficulty based upon their reading of Ps 1.5, Jn 5.28-29, and Ac 24.15. Lactantius (Div. Inst. 7.20) argued that at the End, not all will be judged. Those who fundamentally reject ("they who have not known God") God are not judged, for they have already been judged and condemned. Those who have known God are judged: if their virtues outweigh their vices, they go to heaven; if not they are destroyed or else suffer in eternal fire. Yet in Div. Inst. 7.26, he says that all shall be resurrected and then divided into the good and the evil. Even more inconsistently, Lactantius seems to have two judgments: one at the beginning of the millennium and the other a second and final judgment at the end of the millennium, which of course confirms the first but ushers in the absolute end.

Ephraim divided humanity into three groups: those "above judgment" (the saints), those "under judgment," and those "beyond judgment" (the damned). All pass through fire, but the first group do not suffer, the second group do not remain suffering but are purified, the damned do not remain at all. Athenagoras refuted the idea that the Last Judgment is the very purpose of Christ's second coming, he argued that since though all human beings who die rise again, not all who rise again are to be judged. The judgment is of the wicked alone, for the righteous do not need to be judged, much less judged again. The cement binding the Last Judgment to the second coming and the resurrection showed a crack here, for if the judgment and the general resurrection are not causally linked, it is not logically necessary that they occur at the same time. But neither Athenagoras or the other fathers pried further into that particular fissure.

The most important tension between the particular and last judgments has to do with time. If the souls of the dead must pass through a period of time between death and the Last Judgment, where do they do this? Where are they now? Have they not been judged at all? But if they have been judged in the particular judgment, then why must they wait for the inevitable confirmation of that in the Last Judgment? But if no time elapses between death and Last Judgment, then the soul is never disembodied. If the particular judgment and the Last Judgment occur outside of time, in an eternal moment, then why does time elapse on earth while bodies decay? Does the Last Judgment occur on the last day of time (or any day in time) or in an eternal moment or past the end of time? Only to the last question did the fathers give a clear and unambiguous answer: on the last day of time, the parousia would occur, the Lord would judge, and all persons would be set eternally in heaven or hell.

The question left by John's distinction between the resurrection of life and the resurrection of condemnation (Jn 5.29) left doubt among the fathers as to who would be judged at the Last Day. To be sure, all are judged, but perhaps not all are judged at the Last Judgment. Hilary of Poitiers, for example, divided the dead into three categories. The impious have been judged already at the particular judgment and do not need to be judged again; the just do not need to be judged at all; only those whose lives were mixed need the final judgment (In Ps. 1.15-18). This view, never significant in the East, was roundly rejected by Augustine (354-430) for the West. The judgment of each person is determined at death, Augustine said--that is, at the particular judgment-- but since that judgment is not known to us humans, God "has reserved a day on which his wisdom and justice will be proclaimed together before everyone" (De civ. Dei, Book 20).

Yet another question left unresolved by the NT for the fathers was the defining moment of beatitude. Is it at baptism, when a person is incorporated into the Body of Christ; is it at conversio, the moment when the conscious will to surrender to Christ occurs; is it the particular judgment, when death has made changes of mind impossible; or is it the Last Judgment?

By all accounts, the second coming of Christ forever breaks the power of evil, completing the conquest of the Devil, whose power has already been broken by the Passion. The parousia ushers in the new eon, the new age, the new Jerusalem, the kingdom of God. Whether that reign of God will take place on this earth (however transformed an earth it is), or in heaven, or whether there will be a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth before the Last Judgment and the end of time are questions that form the core of millenarianism (q.v.), a phenomenon that the present article has no room to explore.