Judgement After Death in Christianity, Islam and Buddhism

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Christ Appearing to Mary by Rembrandt
Bodily resurrection is official dogma of Judaism but it is a doctrine that many modernist Jews have trouble accepting. It was incorporated into Judaism around 600 B.C. presumably from the Zoroastrian Persians. See Zoroastrianism.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah 26:19 reads: “dead corpses shall rise awake and sing.” After the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C., the Jews were exiled to Babylonia, where the Prophet Ezekiel predicted the resurrection of the Jews and described a field of dry bones that God told to "come together bone by bone" and lived again.

Jewish concepts of resurrection are believed to have been influenced by the Greeks and Egyptians. Judaism doesn’t talk much about judgement, which is different Christianity and Islam. It talks a little about some people being blessed and some being condemned but it doesn’t really have any episodes in which people stand before God, who judges them and sends them to heaven or hell.

During the period of upheaval that occurred after Greeks desecrated the Temple in 167 B.C. the idea of a resurrection gained more credibility. According to the Book of Daniel, written 165 B.C., “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the Pharisees, a Jewish sect, “believe that souls are endowed with immortal power and that somewhere under the earth rewards and punishment will be meted out to them, according to whether they have lived vice or virtue. The former will be condemned to perpetual imprisonment, but the others will be allowed to return to life.”

Websites and Resources on Christianity BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Internet Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christian Denominations: Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches oikoumene.org ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church orthodoxeurope.org; Islam IslamOnline islamonline.net ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ispu.org; Islam.com islam.com ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org

Christian View of Judgement

Christians have a doctrine of two judgements: one for individual after death, and one for mankind at the end of the world. The concepts of judgement was adapted by Zoroastrianism and passed on to Christianity and Islam. and influenced by the Greeks. One of the first people to suggest the after death the soul was freed from the flesh and there was a judgement in which the Blessed were selected for the Elysian Fields (Greek heaven) was Plato. Judaism doesn’t talk much about judgement. It talks a little about some people being blessed and some being condemned but it doesn’t really have any episodes in which people stand before God, who judges them and sends them to heaven or hell.

Joanne M. Pierce of the College of Holy Cross wrote: During times of war or plague in antiquity and the Middle Ages, Western Christians often interpreted the social chaos as a sign of the end of the world. However, as the centuries passed, the Second Coming of Christ generally became a more remote event for most Christians, still awaited but relegated to an indeterminate future. Instead, Christian theology focused more on the moment of individual death. “Judgment, the evaluation of the moral state of each human being, was no longer postponed until the end of the world. Each soul was first judged individually by Christ immediately after death (the “Particular” Judgment), as well as at the Second Coming (the Final or General Judgment). [Source: Joanne M. Pierce, Professor of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross, The Conversation, April 26, 2021]

“Deathbed rituals or “Last Rites” developed from earlier rites for the sick and penitent, and most had the opportunity to confess their sins to a priest, be anointed, and receive a “final” communion before breathing their last. Medieval Christians prayed to be protected from a sudden or unexpected death, because they feared baptism alone was not enough to enter heaven directly without these Last Rites.

“Another doctrine had developed. Some died still guilty of lesser or venial sins, like common gossip, petty theft, or minor lies that did not completely deplete one’s soul of God’s grace. After death, these souls would first be “purged” of any remaining sin or guilt in a spiritual state called Purgatory. After this spiritual cleansing, usually visualized as fire, they would be pure enough to enter heaven. Only those who were extraordinarily virtuous, such as the saints, or those who had received the Last Rites, could enter directly into heaven and the presence of God.

The Last Judgment

According to Matthew the Day of Judgement will occur “when the Son of man comes in his glory” and will be heralded by “angels with a loud trumpet” who stand at the four corners of the earth. On that day all people who have lived will be judged. Those have done good things and maintained their faith in God and Jesus will be separated from the wicked who are condemned “to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.” Jesus plays the role of a judge and redeemer who asks God to show mercy.

The Last Judgement is presided over by Jesus as the ruler of the world. The Book of Revelation 20:11-21:8 reads: “Then I saw a great white throne, and the One who sat upon it; from his presence earth and heaven vanished away, and no place was left for them. I could see the dead, great and small, standing before the throne; and books were opened. Then another book was opened, the roll of the living. From what was written in these books the dead were judged upon the record of their deeds.

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Last Judgment by Michelangelo

“The sea gave up its dead,” the passage continues, “and Death and Hades gave up the dead in their keeping; they were judged each man on the record of his deeds. Then Death and Hades were flung into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is second death; and into it were flung any whose names were not to be found in the roll of the living.”

Views About Judgement by Jews and Different Christian Denominations

Catholics believe that final judgement will come at the end of time. This is when all of humanity will be raised and each person's body and soul will be reunited. Here, everyone will be judged by Christ who will have returned in all his glory. By contrast the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, it is only God who has the final say on who enters heaven. [Source: Wikipedia]

Traditionally, Protestants anticipate a final judgment day, during which all the dead will be resurrected with transformed bodies. This belief is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus and underlines the significance of this event in Christian faith. The outcome of this judgment determines whether individuals enter heaven or hell.

Judaism doesn’t talk much about judgement, which is different Christianity and Islam. It talks a little about some people being blessed and some being condemned but it doesn’t really have any episodes in which people stand before God, who judges them and sends them to heaven or hell.

Bodily resurrection is official dogma of Judaism but it is a doctrine that many modernist Jews have trouble accepting. It was incorporated into Judaism around 600 B.C. presumably from the Zoroastrian Persians. Jewish concepts of resurrection are believed to have been influenced by the Greeks and Egyptians.

Muslim Ideas About Judgement Day

Muslims believe in there is a Judgement Day, known as the “ Hisab” (“the Reckoning”), in which all men are resurrected from the dead and judged on the basis of their deeds. Heralded by a trumpet blown by the archangel Asrafil, it takes places after the destruction of the universe and its re-creation by God. Some Muslims believe that on the Judgement Day the Kaaba will be transported to Jerusalem and all the dead with meet on their way to the city.

During the Muslim resurrection people emerge from their graves, with sinners displaying deformities that are in proportion to their sins. Everyone gathers before God in a great “ Hashr” (Assembly) and thinks over their sins and good deeds while they wait their turn to be judged. There is nothing they can do; their fate has been sealed by the actions on earth or by pre-destination, depending on how that matter is viewed. By some estimates the average person has to wait 50,000 years for his turn. They only people are exempt from waiting are prophets and martyrs who have gone directly to heaven.

As their moment of judgment approaches, the souls of the dead are asked to prostrate themselves. The Muslim faithful who have prayed religiously five times a day find this part easy. Sinners and infidels find their backs are rigid and find they can’t bend over. Some say at this juncture Muhammad will appear and intercede on behalf of those who followed his path.

Qur’an and Sunnah on Judgement

The Qur’an reads: “So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. It is he who has spread out the earth for his creatures: Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates); also corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants. Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny? |::|

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

The Sunnah reads: “The first judgment that God will pass on man at the day of resurrection will be for murder. Whosoever throws himself from the top of a mountain and killeth himself is in hell fire forever; and whosoever killeth himself with iron, his iron shall be in his hand, and he will stab his belly with it in hell fire everlastingly. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“No judge must decide between two persons whilst he is angry. There is no judge who hath decided between men, whether just or unjust, but will come to God's court on the day of resurrection held by the neck by an angel; and the angel will raise his head toward the heavens and wait for God's orders; and if God orders to throw him into hell, the angel will do it from a height of forty years' journey. Verily there will come on a just judge at the day of resurrection such fear and horror, that he will wish, Would to God that I had not decided between two persons in a trial for a single date.

Death and Judgement in Mahayana Buddhism

Skillful Means is regarded by some as the most important doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. According to the religious scholar J.C. Clear: Skillful means refers “to strategies, methods, devices, targeted to the capacities, circumstances, likes and dislikes of each sentient being, so as to rescue him and lead him to Enlightenment. "Thus, all particular formulations of the Teaching are just provisional expedients to communicate the Truth (Dharma) in specific contexts." "The Buddha’s words were medicines for a given sickness at a given time," always infinitely adaptable to the audience’s conditions.”

“In conceiving of the Six Courses as a form of Skillful Means, what actually happens at the time of death? In a typical description, a fiery cart manned by hideous-looking officials carries the deceased to the court of King Yama. King Yama was an infernal Chief Justice, whose court happens to be located adjacent to the realm of hells. The officials who go to pick up the dead convey her or him across a vast river and then into a waiting room. Why the waiting room? Because the court system has a vast backlog of cases pending, and it will be a while — several years perhaps — before King Yama and his secretaries get around to someone's file. In the meantime, the deceased sits in the waiting room. There, s/he does not listen to piped in music but to the screams of those suffering in the various hells. Sitting there thinking about the past lifetime of sin and shortcomings, he or she might have no desire to get on with a speedy hearing. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

“But all must have “their day in court." And in all too many cases, after reading the thick file containing notations of every good and bad deed in the person's lifetime, the infernal king finds little with which to be happy. Of course, should the good deeds outweigh the bad (metaphysically: a reduction in the karmic balance or burden), King Yama smiles and decrees that the person shall be reborn into a higher realm of existence than in the previous lifetime. This rebirth could be as a higher level of human being or even into one of the two realms higher than humans. ~

“For those, however, whose the bad deeds outweigh the good, rebirth into a lower realm is required. In relatively mild cases, the deceased might be reborn into a lover level of human society. For worse cases, rebirth as some sort of animal may be in order. For the worst sort of offenses, however (like neglecting to make generous donations to Buddhist temples!), hard time as a starving ghost or in one or more of the hells will be necessary to repay the cosmic debt. As the infernal king recites the list of offenses, the deceased might protest his or her innocence. "I didn't do that! You've got the wrong person!" the defendant might plead. Justice will be done, however, thanks to a 100 percent effective video replay system, the "Soul Mirror." Forced to face this mirror, the deceased sees all past offenses replayed before his or her eyes. There can be no denying one's karmic debt, and the worst offenders are carted off to the realms of starving ghosts or hells to work off this debt for a few tens, hundreds or thousands of years — whatever is necessary. Once the debt is repaid, the person in question is reborn as a human to try it all over again. ~

“You should know that there are numerous variations in the ways this process of judgement might be described. The above paragraphs explain it in the simplest terms. In some versions, for example, the deceased endures ten trials by ten different "kings" of hell. Even here, however, the trial before King Yama and his soul mirror is the most important one. Regardless of the details, however, the basic idea of a judgment in an other-worldly courtroom is a consistent feature of the Six Courses as Skillful Means." ~

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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