When believers die and go to the present Heaven in the presence of God, do they face any kind of judgment of works at that point, or does all judgment come at the resurrection?
I lean toward around same time as the Great White Throne, but am uncertain on this subject, and therefore don’t want to push one idea above the others. It’s true that I don’t see it happening in relation to the rapture. Its timing is not absolutely clear in Scripture, and therefore I don’t dogmatically assert anything except that it will happen and it is of great importance.
Here’s what I write in my book Heaven:
Will We Be Judged When We Die?
When we die, we face judgment, what is called the judgment of faith. The outcome of this judgment determines whether we go to the present Heaven or the present Hell. This initial judgment depends not on our works but on our faith. It is not about what we’ve done during our lives but about what Christ has done for us. If we have accepted Christ’s atoning death for us, then when God judges us after we die, he sees his Son’s sacrifice for us, not our sin. Salvation is a free gift, to which we can contribute absolutely nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
This first judgment is not to be confused with the final judgment, or what is called the judgment of works. Both believers and unbelievers face a final judgment. The Bible indicates that all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of their lives (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). It’s critical to understand that this judgment is a judgment of works, not of faith (1 Corinthians 3:13-14). Our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our reward. Rewards are about our work for God, empowered by his Spirit. Rewards are conditional, dependent on our faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-28; 3:21).†
Unbelievers face a final judgment of works as well. The Bible tells us it will come at the great white throne, at the end of the old Earth and just before the beginning of the New Earth (Revelation 20:11-13).
Opinions vary about when the judgment of works for believers will occur. Some people picture it occurring immediately after the judgment of faith, a “one at a time” judgment happening as each believer dies. Others think it happens in the present Heaven, between our death and the return of Christ. Those who believe in a pretribulational Rapture often envision the judgment of works happening between the Rapture and the physical return of Christ, while the Tribulation is taking place on Earth. Still others believe it happens at the same time as the Great White Throne Judgment of unbelievers, after the Millennium.
See also these verses related to eternal rewards.
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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.