Bible teaching concerning the judgment is one of the basic principles of the one faith (Acts 24:25; Heb. 6:2). Frequently the Scriptures speak of “the day of judgment” (e.g. 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 Jn. 4:17; Jude 6), a time when those who have been given the knowledge of God will receive their reward. All these must “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10); we “must all have our lives laid open before the tribunal of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10) to “receive what is due to him for his conduct in the body, good or bad.” (R.E.B.)
Daniel’s visions concerning Christ’s second coming, included one of this judgment seat in the form of a throne (Dan. 7:9-14). The parables help to flesh out the details somewhat. That of the talents likens it to the return of a master, who calls his servants and assesses how well they have used the money which he had left them (Mt. 25:14-29). The parable of the fishermen likens the call of the gospel to a fishing net, gathering all kinds of people; the men then sat down ( cf. the judgment sitting) and divided the good fish from the bad (Mt. 13:47-49). The interpretation is clear: “At the end of the age. The angels will come forth, (and) separate the wicked from among the just”.
From what we have seen so far, it is fair to assume that after the Lord’s return and the resurrection, there will be a gathering together of all who have been called to the Gospel to a certain place at a specific time, when they will meet Christ. An account will have to be given by them, and he will indicate whether or not they are acceptable to receive the reward of entering the Kingdom. It is only at this point that the righteous receive their reward. All this is brought together by the parable of the sheep and goats: “The Son of man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory (David’s throne in Jerusalem, Lk. 1:32,33). All the nations (i.e. people from all nations, cf. Mt. 28:19) will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you ...’” (Mt. 25:31-34).
Inheriting the Kingdom of God, receiving the promises to Abraham concerning it, is the reward (by grace) of the righteous. Yet this will only be after the judgment, which will be at Christ’s return. It is therefore impossible to receive the promised reward of an immortalised body before Christ’s return; we therefore have to conclude that from the time of death until the resurrection, the believer has no conscious existence at all.
It is a repeated Biblical principle that when Christ returns, then the gracious reward will be given - and not before.
Jesus bringing our reward with him implies that it has been prepared for us in heaven, but will be brought to us on the earth at the second coming; our “inheritance” of the land promised to Abraham is in this sense “reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” of Christ’s coming (1 Pet. 1:4,5). So sure is our reward that it is as if we have been given it; so sure are God’s promises that He speaks of things which don’t exist as if they do (Rom. 4:17).
As the reward will only be given at the judgment on Christ’s return, it follows that the righteous and wicked go to the same place when they die, i.e. the grave. There is no differentiation made between them in their deaths. The following is proof positive for this.
All this is in sharp contrast to the claims of popular Christianity. Their teaching that the righteous immediately go to heaven at death destroys the need for a resurrection and judgment. Yet we have seen that these are vital events in God’s plan of salvation, and therefore in the Gospel message. The popular idea suggests that one righteous person dies and is rewarded by going to heaven, to be followed the next day, the next month, the next year, by others. This is in sharp contrast to the Bible’s teaching that all the righteous will be rewarded together, at the same time.