Hebrews 9:27 - After This The Judgment

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 9:27 - And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

QUESTION: Is there any Scriptural problem related to interpreting this passage as applying to all who hear and understand the Gospel message?

ANSWER: There is no contextual warrant for giving it such a wide application as proposed in the question. There are important principles revealed in the Scriptures concerning the judgment seat of Christ. This place of judgment is specifically mentioned in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. In the first reference, the apostle Paul continues the argument that he began in verse 4: Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth ... But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In the context, he is arguing that the believers in the Roman ecclesia should not be engaged overmuch in judging their brethren because each servant is accountable to his own master and not to his fellow-servants. When he picks up this line of questioning again in verse 10, he uses the word "brother" twice, in place of the word "servant." It is clear in this context that the judgment seat of Christ is the place where servants - Christ's brethren will give account to him as their common master. There is no reference to any who are not servants and / or brethren in these seven verses. The apostle s arguments would not be meaningful in relation to those who were not servants.

The purpose of the judgment seat is also stated explicitly in the second reference: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Everyone who comes before the judgment seat of Christ comes under these terms of reference, to receive Christ's assessment of what they have done, whether it be good or bad. These terms of reference necessitate that those appearing at the judgment seat of Christ have taken on his name, otherwise there is no possibility that they might be found to have done good.

In this ninth chapter of Hebrews from which the verse in question is taken, the writer explains how the sacrificial death of the covenant victim, Christ, was necessary to bring the covenant (under which the promise of eternal inheritance could be received) into force. The entire chapter, and the one which follows, are concerned with those heirs of the everlasting covenant; For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:24-28). There is a symmetry or parallelism in the last two verses, as indicated by the connecting word so: (verse 27, As it is appointed unto men once to die ... But after this ... the judgment SO; verse 28, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many ... The second time he shall appear ... Unto them that look for him).

This symmetry shows that the "men" who were appointed once to die, and after their death be raised for judgment, are the same as those "many" for whom Christ was once offered to bear their sins. There is no indication in the text that unbaptized persons, without Christ, who are not covered by his sacrificial offering, will rise from the dead for judgment. If the statement is not thus qualified, there is nothing in the context to limit its application to those with knowledge and it might just as well in that case be applied universally. The teaching of the apostle Paul concerning the judgment seat of Christ shows that it is reserved for those who are his brethren, so the master can take account of his servants.

In the tenth chapter the apostle Paul draws a comparison between the fateof those who despised Moses law and those who count the blood of the covenant wherewith they have been sanctified an unholy thing, noting that the punishment of the latter group is "much sorer" than the former. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people (Hebrews 10:28-30). The difference is that under the Law of Moses, offenders were judged and put to death and that closed their account. Those under the Law of Christ have been sanctified by his blood and will be raised to give account and receive reward or punishment. To support this conclusion from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the apostle Paul cites that phrase from Deuteronomy 32:36,The Lord shall judge his people. This would be an unusual citation, linking the judgment with God's people, if it was the divine intention to bring to the judgment seat of Christ those who were not His people.

Scriptural evidence linking resurrection to judgment
specifically to relationship with Christ includes:

  1. Romans 6:4-5 - Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death...For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.

  2. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 - For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

  3. Acts 4:1-2 - And as they spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came unto them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

  4. John 11:25 - Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.

  5. Psalm 50:5 - Gather my saints together unto me, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.

  6. Matthew 24:31 - And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

    ...the elect are defined in Scripture as...

  7. 1 Peter 1:2 - Elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.

    ...culminating in...

  8. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 - For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him. For the Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.

The problem with interpreting Hebrews 9:27 as "applying to all who hear and understand the Gospel message" is that it nullifies the force of the scriptural principles documented above and has no basis in the context. The Scriptures above present resurrection to judgment specifically through Christ in direct and indisputable language. Resurrection to judgment is presented "through Jesus" and "in Christ", addressing those who "sleep in Jesus", are "dead in Christ" and "elect...unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Not one of these verses addressing resurrectional responsibility hints at resurrection through any other means, and we know of no direct testimony of resurrection to judgment outside of Christ. Should the wisdom of God result in His bringing back to life a person who was not justified by the atoning work of Christ, that would be His prerogative; but that is not where the Scriptures place their teaching or their emphasis in relation to resurrectional judgment. In our proclamation of first principles, ought we not to teach the certainties of scriptural truth?