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… and He will come again with glo­ry to judge the liv­ing and the dead…

This Jesus who was tak­en up from you into heav­en, will come the same way as you saw him go into heav­en (Acts 1:11).

These words of the angels are addressed to the apos­tles at the ascen­sion of the Lord. Christ will come again in glo­ry, “not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eager­ly wait­ing for him” (Heb 9:28).

For the Lord him­self will descend from heav­en with a cry of com­mand, with the archangels’ call, and with the sound of the trum­pet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16–17, the Epis­tle read­ing of the Ortho­dox funer­al service).

The com­ing of the Lord at the end of the ages will be the Day of Judg­ment, the Day of the Lord fore­told in the Old Tes­ta­ment and pre­dict­ed by Jesus him­self (e.g. Dan 7; Mt 24). The exact time of the end is not fore­told, not even by Jesus, so that men would always be pre­pared by con­stant vig­il and good works.

The very pres­ence of Christ as the Truth and the Light is itself the judg­ment of the world. In this sense all men and the whole world are already judged or, more accu­rate­ly, already live in the full pres­ence of that reality—Christ and his works—by which they will be ulti­mate­ly judged. With Christ now revealed, there is no longer any excuse for igno­rance and sin (Jn 9:39).

At this point it is nec­es­sary to note that at the final judg­ment there will be those “on the left hand” who will go into “the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels” (Mt 25:41; Rev 20). That this is the case is no fault of God’s. It is the fault only of men, for “as I hear, I judge and my judg­ment is just,” says the Lord (Jn 5:30).

God takes no “plea­sure in the death of the wicked” (Ez 18:22). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowl­edge of the Truth” (1 Tim 2:4). He does every­thing in His pow­er so that sal­va­tion and eter­nal life would be avail­able and pos­si­ble for all. There is noth­ing more that God can do. Every­thing now depends on man. If some men refuse the gift of life in com­mu­nion with God, the Lord can only hon­or this refusal and respect the free­dom of His crea­tures which He Him­self has giv­en and will not take back. God allows men to live “with the dev­il and his angels” if they so desire. Even in this He is lov­ing and just. For if God’s pres­ence as the “con­sum­ing fire” (Heb 12:29) and the “unap­proach­able light” (1 Tim 6:16) which delights those who love Him only pro­duces hatred and anguish in those who do not “love His appear­ing” (2 Tim 4:8), there is noth­ing that God can do except either to destroy His sin­ful crea­tures com­plete­ly, or to destroy Him­self. But God will exist and will allow His crea­tures to exist. He also will not hide His Face forever.

The doc­trine of eter­nal hell, there­fore, does not mean that God active­ly tor­tures peo­ple by some unlov­ing and per­verse means. It does not mean that God takes delight in the pun­ish­ment and pain of His peo­ple whom He loves. Nei­ther does it mean that God “sep­a­rates Him­self” from His peo­ple, thus caus­ing them anguish in this sep­a­ra­tion (for indeed if peo­ple hate God, sep­a­ra­tion would be wel­come, and not abhorred!). It means rather that God con­tin­ues to allow all peo­ple, saints and sin­ners alike, to exist for­ev­er. All are raised from the dead into ever­last­ing life: “those who have done good, to the res­ur­rec­tion of judg­ment” (John 5:29). In the end, God will be “all and in all” (1 Cor 15:28). For those who love God, res­ur­rec­tion from the dead and the pres­ence of God will be par­adise. For those who hate God, res­ur­rec­tion from the dead and the pres­ence of God will be hell. This is the teach­ing of the fathers of the Church.

There is sprung up a light for the right­eous, and its part­ner is joy­ful glad­ness. And the light of the right­eous is everlasting…

One light alone let us shun—that which is the off­spring of the sor­row­ful fire…

For I know a cleans­ing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, and He Him­self is called a Fire. This Fire takes away what­so­ev­er is mate­r­i­al and of evil qual­i­ty; and this He desires to kin­dle with all speed…

I know also a fire which is not cleans­ing, but aveng­ing… which He pours down on all sin­ners… that which is pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels… that which pro­ceeds from the Face of the Lord and shall burn up His ene­mies round about… the unquench­able fire which… is eter­nal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroy­ing pow­er, though some may pre­fer even in this place to take a more mer­ci­ful view of this fire, worthi­ly of Him who chas­tis­es (St. Gre­go­ry the Theologian).

… those who find them­selves in Gehen­na will be chas­tised with the scourge of love. How cru­el and bit­ter this tor­ment of love will be! For those who under­stand that they have sinned against love under­go greater suf­fer­ings than those pro­duced of the most fear­ful tor­tures. The sor­row which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more pierc­ing than any oth­er pain. It is not right to say that sin­ners in hell are deprived of the love of God. …But love acts in two dif­fer­ent ways, as suf­fer­ing in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed (St. Isaac of Syria).

Thus, man’s final judg­ment and eter­nal des­tiny depends sole­ly on whether or not man loves God and his brethren. It depends on whether or not man loves the light more than the darkness—or the dark­ness more than the light. It depends, we might say, on whether or not man loves Love and Light Itself; whether or not man loves Life—which is God Him­self; the God revealed in cre­ation, in all things, in the “least of the brethren.”

The con­di­tions of the final judg­ment are already known. Christ has giv­en them Him­self with absolute clarity.

When the Son of Man shall come in His glo­ry, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glo­ri­ous throne. Before Him will be gath­ered all the nations and He will sep­a­rate them one from anoth­er as a shep­herd sep­a­rates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for you from the foun­da­tion of the world; for I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you wel­comed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you vis­it­ed me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then the right­eous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see Thee hun­gry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and wel­come Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and vis­it Thee?”

And the King will answer them, “Tru­ly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Then He will say to those at His left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels; for I was hun­gry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not wel­come me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not vis­it me.”

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see Thee hun­gry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not min­is­ter to Thee?”

Then He will answer them, “Tru­ly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eter­nal pun­ish­ment, but the right­eous into eter­nal life (Mt 25:31–46, Gospel read­ing for Meat­fare Sunday).

It is Christ who will judge, not God the Father. Christ has received the pow­er of judg­ment “because He is the Son of Man” (Jn 5:27). Thus, man and the world are not judged by God “sit­ting on a cloud,” as it were, but by One who is tru­ly a man, the One who has suf­fered every temp­ta­tion of this world and has emerged vic­to­ri­ous. The world is judged by Him who was Him­self hun­gry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison, wound­ed, and yet the sal­va­tion of all. As the Cru­ci­fied One, Christ has just­ly achieved the author­i­ty to make judg­ment for He alone has been the per­fect­ly obe­di­ent ser­vant of the Father who knows the depths of human tragedy by His own experience.

For He will ren­der to every man accord­ing to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glo­ry and hon­or and immor­tal­i­ty, He will give eter­nal life; but for those who are fac­tious and do not obey the truth, but obey wicked­ness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribu­la­tion and dis­tress for every human being who does evil… but glo­ry and hon­or and peace for every one who does good… for God shows no par­tial­i­ty. All who have sinned with­out the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hear­ers of the law who are right­eous before God, but the doers of the law who will be jus­ti­fied (Rom 2:6ff).