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How Can Judgment Day Be “More Tolerable” for Some?

Question: Speaking to audiences in the first century, Jesus occasionally told them that the day of judgment would be “more tolerable” for the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15) and Tyre and Sidon (11:21–24) than for many of those who heard and rejected His message during His ministry on earth. How is this possible? If all these people were judged and condemned, how can some fare better than others at the day of judgment?

Answer: God destroyed those cities, making them an example and a warning to “those who afterward would live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). But most people today do not realize how such punishments of the past fit into God’s plan for mankind. When Jesus said that the day of judgment would be “more tolerable” for Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon, He was revealing that the residents of these cities had not yet had an opportunity to understand His message.

How can we understand this? We must recognize that, as the New Testament explains, there are three different “judgment ages” for mankind. The Apostle Peter described the first judgment age: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

This is the “Church Age,” the first period of judgment. Peter called the Church “the house of God”—true Christians whose eyes have been opened to understand Christ’s message. Jesus holds His disciples accountable for this knowledge and expects them to produce spiritual fruit (Matthew 25:14–30; 2 Peter 1:1–9; John 15:1–10). True Christians are being judged in this lifetime by their works and obedience to God’s word (1 Peter 4:17; Revelation 22:12).

The next judgment period is the “Millennial Age.” Bible prophecy shows that Jesus Christ will soon return and set up His Kingdom on earth for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2–6). All nations will then come up to Jerusalem, the world headquarters of Christ’s government, to be taught (Isaiah 2:1–4). The whole world will be exposed to the wonderful truth and perfect way of God—“for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). During this age, God will write His holy and righteous laws in people’s hearts through the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 8:10–12). Just as during the “Church Age,” people will be judged by their obedience to God’s word.

The third and final judgment period could be called the “Last Judgment Age”—the book of Revelation calls it the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11–12). In this age, billions who lived and died in ignorance of God’s truth and His way of life will be resurrected to physical life (Ezekiel 37:1–14). For the first time, their eyes will be opened to the truth, and they will have their first real opportunity for salvation.

Jesus Christ explained that in the future, the men of Nineveh and the queen of the South would be resurrected alongside those in His audience and would condemn those of Jesus’ day who rejected His message (Matthew 12:41–42). Consider the magnitude of the time of judgment that Jesus is describing! Billions of people across the millennia of human history will be alive, together, to learn God’s way and to contrast it to how they previously lived without God.

Millions today wrongly believe either that God is capricious, sending to damnation billions who never heard His message preached, or that He is inconsistent, giving salvation to some who never heard His Gospel. The truth is far more inspiring! To learn more about God’s plan for all of us after death, please request our free booklet What Happens When You Die?


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