On Monday we studied Revelation 20:11-15, which records John’s vision of the judgement at the Great White Throne. Here are some further thoughts from Thomas Oden, answering this question: Why must the ultimate judgement for humans happen at the very end of history?
The Decisive Moral Significance of Final Judgement for Present Choices
Why final? Any judgment short of final judgment would risk being incomplete, hence unjust. After one dies, one’s influence continues. The deceased lives on in memory, reputation, progeny, and in the “projects on which he had set his heart.” For “no action can be fully assessed before it is finished and its results are evident.” For “no action can be fully assessed before it is finished and its results are evident.” “A full and public verdict cannot be pronounced and sentence passes while time rolls on its course.” [These quotes are from Thomas Aquinas.]
This is why there must be a final judgment at the end of history, and not only at many points within history. The effects of a given life are not known at the time of death. The evil consequences initiated by Hitler and Stalin continue to plague the world long after they are gone, and in generations yet unborn. It is therefore reasonable that the final judgment be rendered only after all accounts of all historical agents are in, namely, at the end time. Good and evil deeds of all historical agents “continue to extend their influence throughout all time as a stone thrown into the water creates successive and ever widening circles.” These influences are only known by God’s omniscience, hence only revealed at the final judgment.
The incomparable justice of God requires a final judgment, for in this life many if not most evils remain unjudged, or crudely judged (Psalm 103:10, 92:7; Luke 6:24, 25; Romans 9:22). If justice is inadequately fulfilled in this present life, surely another life, another sphere, another city is required to perfect it… Some future judgment [is] rationally required by the disparity between conscience and historical injustice…
Thus only the end of history could be the proper time for final judgment when all things are brought to their end. We intuitively hypothesize from [our own] conscience that more fitting and impartial justice must somehow follow, even if we cannot now behold it.
We weary the Lord by repeatedly asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17).
Scripture, rather, points us toward a final judgment beyond history wherein God will answer all human queries about the course of justice.
Classic Christianity, p. 814