1. A Transcendental Doctrine:
In Christian theology the Last Judgment is an act in which God interposes directly into human history, brings the course of this world to a final close, determines the eternal fate of human beings, and places them in surroundings spiritually adapted to their final condition. The concept is purely transcendental, and is to be distinguished from the hope that God will interfere in the history of this world to determine it undeviatingly toward good. The transcendental doctrine is possible only when an exalted idea of God has been attained, although it may afterward be united with crasser theories, as in certain naive conceptions of Christianity at the present day.
2. The Doctrine in the Religion of Israel:
In the religion of Israel, the doctrine of the Last Judgment arose from "transcendentalizing" the concept of the "Day of the Lord." Just as hope of immortality replaced desire for length of days on earth, just the as for "the rejuvenation of Israel" was substituted "an eternal abode in a new earth," so the ideal of a military victory over Israel's enemies expanded into God's solemn condemnation of evil. The concept thus strictly defined is hardly to be sought in the Old Testament, but Dan 12:1-3 may contain it. The first unequivocal assertion would appear to be in Enoch 91:17, where the final state is contrasted with a preceding reign of earthly happiness. (If there has been no redaction in the latter part of this section, its date is prior to 165 BC.) Hereafter the idea is so prevalent in the Jewish writings that detailed reference is needless. But it is by no means universal. Writings touched with Greek thought (En 108; 4 Macc; Philo) are content with an individual judgment at death. A unique theory is that of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Levi 18:8-14, e.g.), where the world grows into final blessedness without catastrophe. But much more common is the persistence of the non-transcendental ideas, ingrained as they were in the thought of the people (even in Philo; compare his prophecy of national earthly glory in Excr 9). This type of thought was so tenacious that it held its own alongside of the transcendental, and both points of view were accepted by more than one writer. Then the earthly happiness precedes the heavenly (as in Enoch 91), and there are two judgments, one by the Messiah and the other by God (2 Esdras 7; Syriac Baruch 30). So in Revelation 19 where Christ overcomes the enemies in battle-symbolism and establishes the Millennium, while the Last Judgment is held by God (20:11 ff). Otherwise the Messiah is never the judge except in the Parables of Enoch, where He appears as God's vicar uniformly (in 47:3 God fixes the time of judgment only). Possibly in The Wisdom of Solomon 4:16; 5:1 men share in the judgment-act but otherwise they (and angels) appear only as "assessors" or as executors of the sentence. In The Wisdom of Solomon 3:8, "judging" is used in the Old Testament sense of "rule" (Jdg 3:10, etc.), as is the case in Mt 19:28 parallel Lk 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2,3 (in the last case with the word in two senses). Further studies in the variation of the (rather conventionally fixed) details of the judgment will interest the special student only.
For discussions of the relevant Biblical passages, see DAY OF THE LORD; ESCHATOLOGY; PAROUSIA. The doctrine has real religious value, for it insists on a culmination in the evolution (or degeneration!) of the race as well as of the individual. So it is contrasted with the pessimism of natural science, which points only toward the gradual extinction of humanity through the cooling of the sun.
The variations of the concept are treated, fully only in Volz, Judische Eschatologie. For general literature see ESCHATOLOGY; PAROUSIA.
Burton Scott Easton