It is true that life for all of us continues after we die. We are not just physical matter. All of us have three parts to our being. We have our physical body, our spirit, and our soul. It is our soul that continues after death in the supernatural realm. And for the christian we are instantly taken to be with Jesus Christ.
The Bible teaches these things to us. It also teaches us that there will be a lot that happens in this other realm hidden from us right now. In the future, long after the earth no longer exists, we will all have to stand before Jesus Christ. He will be seated upon his white throne, prepared to judge us for everything we have ever done.
" For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body." 2 Corinthians 5:10
This can be a very unsettling thing for us because none of us are perfect. We have all done at least one thing in our lives that we are not proud of.
" But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soup that bleaches clothes." Malachi 3:2
Yes, this can be very disconcerting. But here is where studying the Bible and asking God to explain His meaning becomes so important. You see, there will be two very different judgments at the end of time.
The first judgment will be when Jesus separates believers from non-believers. Another words, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and those who did not. This is what the Bible talks about in Matthew 25 verse 32:
"All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."
Those who had put their trust in Him will be brought into heaven. Those who are found to have rejected Jesus and what He did for them will be sent to hell.
" He will place his sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ' Come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.' Then the king will turn to those on the left and say, ' Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" Matthew 25: 33, 34, & 41
This is not something that Jesus does lightly. Notice that the verse clearly states Jesus makes a point of stating that hell was meant for satan and his demons. It was never meant for human beings. This deserves a whole post all its own. But trust me when I say that God never wished for anyone to be separated from Him. He is a righteous and perfect being and so He cannot tolerate any sin in heaven or else heaven would be corrupted.
God will make certain that what happened in the Garden of Eden will never happen again. It is a tragedy to be sure that people will suffer eternal punishment previously reserved for the evil one but so it will be.
The second judgment is specific to the sheep, those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ. This judgment is not to decide who goes to heaven or hell. That has already been decided and finished. No, this judgment is specifically to test the actions and thoughts of every Christian during their life time.
" But on judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value." I Corinthians 3:13
The purpose of this is to give rewards. This is where we will receive crowns. This is also when all our sins, if they haven't already been confessed, will be burned and forgotten forever. It is my belief that any sins we confess now will not even be brought up at this judgment because God promises to forget our confessed sins and remember them no more.
" And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins." Hebrews 8:12
It will be a beautiful, intimate, breathtaking experience for each of us. To be faced by our savior and Lord, to know that He will see everything we have ever thought or acted upon, and still love us and want us with Him forever! How amazing is that love?! I imagine I would cry for joy and also perhaps for wishing I had done more to serve Him. But that will be okay because Jesus promises to comfort us.
" He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever." Revelation 21:4
But returning to the topic of this post... the burning flames. Will there be an actual fire before the white throne? Perhaps.
I am particularly intrigued with the description given to us by John in the book of Revelation about what Jesus looks like now.
" His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire." Revelation 1:14
Could it be that Jesus will simply look at us? His judgment, his analyzing of everything we ever did, those amazing eyes seeing right through us... to be the focus of such incredible purity, holiness, and love... I can't even imagine how powerful and all consuming that will be.