QUESTION: When Christ returns to judge the billions of people for life or death, will it not take years, if not decades, to accomplish this feat/deed?
No. The Scriptures refer to it as “that day,” as in the Lord’s day, or Jehovah’s day —indicating that it is a relatively short period of time, as is a 24 hour day.
Basically, what people do now will determine their fate “in that day” anyway. For example, Jesus indicated that the majority of people (The “many” contrasted with the “few.”) who profess to be Christians are not recognized by the Lord as such. In the seventh chapter of Matthew Jesus illustrated it this way: “Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’”
So, according to Jesus the many, who prior to “that day” are satisfied with their faith and self-assured of their salvation, will have no standing before Jesus when the judgment begins.
The Scriptures, in fact, reveal the length of the judgment phase. It is the time, times and half a time prophetic period found in Daniel and Revelation, also expressed as 42 months and 1,260 days. In other words, three and a half years.
Unfortunately, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been deprived of this knowledge by the Watchtower’s cockamamie 1914 doctrine. Supposedly the 42 month period began during the First World War, ending in 1919. As recently as 2014 the Watchtower repeated this nonsensical drivel in the Questions from Readers column.
The truth is —the two witnesses only come on the scene in the post-preaching era. That is why they are dressed in sackcloth, which harmonizes with the prophecy of Joel, which is a vivid depiction of the end of the Christian preaching, teaching and disciple-making work. That is why in Joel “the priests, the ministers of Jehovah, are in mourning. The field has been devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain has been devastated, the new wine has dried up, the oil has failed.” —Joel 1:9-10
“The field” symbolizes exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to as the field. The next verse is even more explicit, saying: “Farmers are dismayed, vinedressers wail, because of the wheat and the barley; for the harvest of the field has perished.” The farmers and vinedressers are not literal agriculture workers. They symbolize the millions of publishers and pioneers who go into the field service on a daily basis. Suddenly, though, disaster stikes. Then, whatever is in the field is lost. That is what is to occur to commence the judgment period.
That is evident by what is stated further on in Joel: “Put on sackcloth and mourn, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come in and spend the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God; for grain offering and drink offering have been withheld from the house of your God. Proclaim a fast; call for a solemn assembly. Gather the elders together, with all the inhabitants of the land, to the house of Jehovah your God, and cry to Jehovah for help. Woe because of the day! For the day of Jehovah is near, and it will come like a destruction from the Almighty!”
The Watchtower’s embarrassingly ridiculous interpretation of Joel aside, obviously the priests and ministers of Jehovah are not the clergy of Christendom. They represent anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses who will find themselves overtaken in an unanticipated disaster. Having been led to believe they will be bystanders to the judgment, they will find themselves confronted with it. Hence, the sackcloth.
Back to the two witnesses who prophesy in sackcloth for 1,260 days; their prophesying is in connection with the coming of Christ; no, not that he is coming, but that he has come. They give witness to the fact that they have seen Christ face-to-face. That is what the parousia is all about. That is what the transfiguration vision prefigured, in which Moses and Elijah appeared.
Moses and Elijah are alluded to as the two witnesses. Although not named as such, the fact that the two witnesses perform the same miracles as did Moses and Elijah ought to make the transfiguration connection apparent.
The significance of the appearance of two witnesses is that the world will be judged on the basis of their treatment of them. And, Revelation reveals that the resurrected beast will not only war against the two anointed witnesses, it will kill them. As a result: “Those of the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their corpses for three and a half days, and they do not allow their corpses to be laid in a tomb. And those dwelling on the earth rejoice over them and celebrate, and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those dwelling on the earth.”
Not being interred is considered the worst indignity. So, the peoples, tribes, tongues and nations not allowing their corpses to be buried symbolizes that the world will express their contempt for God’s messengers. They will not view the deaths of Christ’s brothers as any loss. They will rejoice and celebrate, just as they would if Jesus himself had been put to death.
And as Jesus indicated in his illustration of the sheep and the goats, the treatment of his brothers in their lowly state is the basis for judgment of the nations. What is done to them is as if done directly to Jesus, personally.
The deaths of the two witnesses will not take place over an extended period, but at the conclusion of the 42 months. And it is in that context that the scripture says that God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth.
At the end of the prophesying of the two witnesses all of the 144,000 will be with Christ in heaven. The new covenant will then be concluded. That is why the last verse in the 11th chapter of Revelation says: “And the temple sanctuary of God in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple sanctuary. And there were flashes of lightning and voices and thunders and an earthquake and a great hail.”