For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
—2 Corinthians 5:10
There can be immediate confusion about how we’re judged when we die, because you may have heard the term “judgment” discussed in two different ways.
In one sense, it seems that “Judgment Day” happens right after death. We are judged for our good and bad actions on earth and assigned an eternal abode accordingly.
But in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of a final judgment day, when He will come in glory to separate the sheep from the goats—that is, those who will reign with Him forever in heaven, and those who will spend eternity in hell.
Both are correct.
We believe in both the particular judgment and the general judgment. Let’s explore each one.
Particular Judgment: After our deaths, we will stand before the throne of God for our particular judgment. This is our individual day of reckoning, when we will be judged on our earthly deeds and receive our corresponding reward or punishment.
At this moment, we will see our lives with perfect clarity. We will see all the ways in which we have succeeded or failed to live up to the example of Christ. Every good and bad deed will be revealed to us exactly as it is.
God’s perfect justice will then assign us our final destination: heaven (with, perhaps, a stop in purgatory) or hell.
General Judgment: The general judgment, sometimes called the last judgment, is a public event that will take place at the end of the world, when Christ will come a second time—not as He came the first time, His glory hidden, but in all His divine majesty, accompanied by the heavenly court.
At that moment, all the dead—those in heaven, purgatory, and hell—will be resurrected and assume their bodies again. Purgatory itself will cease to exist.
Every action of every human person who has ever lived will be revealed in the sight of all at the general judgment.
We will see the entire plan of salvation in all its details, all the glorious workings of God’s grace and providence in every single human life, in every era of human history. From the just, this will elicit pure joy, gratitude, and love for the God Who has, since the beginning of time, shepherded His people with such incomprehensible love and providence.
The general judgment does not change anyone’s particular judgment. So no, you won’t get judged “twice.”
Learn more in Good Catholic’s new series, Purgatory: Cleansing Fire. Fr. Matthew Kauth returns for this series, where—in addition to the “two judgments”—you’ll learn all about the doctrine of purgatory, who goes there and why, where to find purgatory in the Bible, how we can help the poor souls, and so much more. Sign up today at Good Catholic!