Will we be confronted with our sins at the Last Judgment? I don't think we know for sure. Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us." Isaiah 43:25 and Jeremiah 31:31 are clear that "He remembers our sins no more." Jesus, with his sacrifice and resurrection, has washed them away and removed the penalty of death.

But apparently there's a record of those sins, and they're going to come up. As Christians, we believe our names are written in the "book of life," and that fact—and not a sinless record—is what will get us through the great judgment.

Is the Last Judgment the "Day" when people will be rewarded for their works in Christ? Bible scholars have thought so. Paul writes of the Day in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Certainly Jesus said that it was on the Day of Judgment that each person would have to account for the words he had spoken, whether good or evil (Mt. 12:34-37). In Romans, Paul declared that "each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." So we will not only have our records read out, but will be expected to speak at the throne of judgment. Over the years, I have figured I'd be able to bleat the name "Jesus!" and that would be about it.

But I'm not sure we're capable today of intuiting what the Last Judgment will really be like. If the earth and the heavens are to "flee from his presence"—flee from Jesus on the throne of judgment—then I think all bets are off. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3, "Do you not know that we will judge angels?" This whole business has to be pretty darn interesting.

One of the few things I am absolutely sure of is that we will not point at or "give an account of" other sinners at the Last Judgment. In Romans 14, Paul's context when he says we will give an account of ourselves is precisely that of warning us against judging others. Jesus will not ask us at the Last Judgment what the rich people did while we were on earth, or what our husbands did, our wives, our parents, homosexuals, traditional-marriage supporters, or the people who disagreed with us about global warming or abortion. If we lived our lives as if preparing for the Last Judgment, I don't think we would put much stock in the power of our flawed, corruptible human politics and governments to make other people conform to our vision. Our vision would be trained elsewhere.

One place we would direct our gaze is toward acts of love. I suspect we're going to see at the Last Judgment how very important those acts are. I've known people in my life who had little thought for their prerogatives and rarely stood on their dignity, but who loved much—and I think those humble individuals' rewards are going to surprise us at the Last Judgment.

The circle that will be completed through these great events is that of God's great love for us, as we finally assume our rightful place with Jesus as the crown of His creation. We are told that this earth, in which there is so much beauty, will pass away. But the new earth—foretold in Isaiah 65 as well as in Revelation—will be even better than this present one, which awes us so often with its inspiring forms and heartbreaking hues. We are told almost nothing of the new heaven, but brief glimpses of the current one, recorded by Isaiah and Ezekiel, as well as in Revelation 4-5, suggest an abode of surpassing wonder.

How often do we stop to think that all of this is for us? God Himself doesn't need heaven or earth. Heaven and earth, as form and context, are things we need. He made them for us. And the fulfillments He has told us of will be occasions for great joy. The marvels He has in store for us are much better than what we have today.

I don't believe, as some Christians traditionally have, that all these things mean we should despise what we have here on earth right now. There are many good things here to love, to be inspired by, and to give ourselves to. There are still many people suffering and many people who have never heard the Gospel. We aren't supposed to check out of human life the day we think we see Armageddon on the horizon.

But the sense of connectedness with God's eternal timetable does seem to give His cosmic promises a greater feeling of practical immediacy than they had twenty or thirty years ago. We are to heed Jesus' warning, in Matthew 24:45-51, that what we must want is to be found doing the master's bidding when he comes again. But we can also reflect on the fact that the whole denouement will unfold for our benefit. We will be there for it, and we will be glad.