[Note: The following is the prepared text for the sermonette given on the morning of the services for the Last Great Day/Eighth Day at the United Church of God Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia on October 24, 2016.]
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should begin services today on this holy day by looking at a passage that is no doubt very familiar to all of us. Let us turn to Revelation 20:4-6 and 11-13. In these verses we read about the judgment that this day symbolizes. Revelation 20:4-6 tells us: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Continuing on, verses eleven through thirteen say: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea also gave up the dead who were in it, and death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.”
What do we see when we look at this picture? These two passages together tell us that we who enter the Kingdom of God and are resurrected into eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ will have judgment committed to us. We will sit on thrones and rule as priests of God and of Jesus Christ for a thousand years. Then we are told that the dead who did not believe during their lives will be resurrected to face judgment. Many of us have often read these same passages and look forward to the conversion of friend and family who never came to believe in God’s ways during their lives, and we see the possibility of teaching God’s truths to famous people we want to meet from history who were never believers in God’s ways during their lives. Having judgment over the fate of people is a serious matter, though, and so it behooves us to ask ourselves a few related questions: How are we preparing for the Great White Throne Judgment? And also, does the Bible tell us how we should be preparing ourselves for judgment ?
As it happens, there is such a passage, and it is one that we turn to much less frequently. I would like to spend most of the rest of my all too brief time this morning unpackaging the meaning and application of 1 Corinthians 6:1 through verse five. In this passage, Paul proclaims: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?”
I have a confession to make to you all. When I get the chance, I love to watch shows about judges on television. I am not sure how common these shows are in other countries so I will try to briefly explain what they are like. Two people come before a judge, with a name like Judge Judy, with a dispute. They bicker and argue with each other, the judge makes witty and sarcastic remarks as he or she seeks to determine the facts of the case, and the various disputants show evidence and provide witnesses to bolster their arguments, and after the back and forth the judge comes down with a verdict that is a binding arbitration that the two sides have agreed to accept beforehand. The two sides then comment on how fair they think the judgment is on the way out of court. Are you all familiar with this kind of television show? I see some of you, like my parents, are, at least. Paul is speaking very harshly here about our tendency to embarrass ourselves, and bring shame and dishonor upon the reputation of the Church of God, by not being able to resolve our problems and disagreements and disputes among ourselves. Whenever we take a dispute or disagreement with a fellow brother or sister in Christ, and air it in public, we are failing. Sadly, we fail all too often. I fail too often. We are told that we will judge the world, and yet we cannot even resolve our own disagreements with other people who have God’s spirit working with them as it works with us. This is something that brings me all kinds of embarrassment when I reflect upon it, and I reflect upon it often. Perhaps it is the same for you also.
Since we are already here in 1 Corinthians, let us turn to one last scripture in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, which talks about another aspect of our responsibilities here on this day. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 tells us: “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.” In light of this reminder from the apostle Paul, we also remember that as we are gathered together to learn about how to better understand and then live God’s ways, so we are called to give an offering today for the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Let us therefore remember to give generously for this purpose.
What are we to do about Paul has told us about the judgment? How can we better prepare ourselves to be good judges of the world and of the rebellious demons that it will be our place to judge on the day this Holy Day symbolizes? Paul gives us three different tasks. Let us begin with the last one that Paul mentions, and that is that we must behave righteously and avoid seeking to take advantage and exploit and cheat our brethren. The first step to living in such a matter that we are fit to be judges is that our lives are lived honorably and full of integrity, so that we do not take advantage of others through the law or by any means. Second, we must cultivate a willingness to accept wrong. Despite our intense anger and frustration with unjust and unkind treatment at the hands of others, there are times we must submit to injustices for a while, sometimes at the hand of our brethren, just as we must ultimately submit to the just and righteous judgment of our Father when we are judged ourselves. Knowing the burning hostility to injustice that we have when we suffer it is one of the greatest possible inoculations to any desire to take advantage of others. Third, we prepare for being judges by practicing being a fair and just judge of the problems that other people bring to us, known for our generosity of spirit. As we demonstrate that we are people of honor and integrity and generosity in our judgments, we will get plenty of practice in judging disputes, and in becoming the sort of people who are prepared for the job that God has in mind for us. Let us practice our judgment, so that we may be good judges when God gives us the robes of office and it becomes our solemn responsibility to weigh and balance the works of those who rise up in the Great White Throne Judgment and seek entrance into the Kingdom of God.
 See, for example: