Last Judgment

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In Christian eschatology, the Last Judgment or Judgement Day is the ethical-judicial trial, judgment, and punishment/reward of individual humans (assignment to heaven or to hell) by a divine tribunal at the end of time, following the destruction of humans' present earthly existence. This eschatology has spawned numerous artistic depictions.



The doctrine and iconographic features of a "Last Judgment" are drawn from many passages from the apocalyptic books of the Bible. It appears most directly in the Apocalyptic sections of the Book of Matthew:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matt 25:31-34, 41, 46)

The doctrine is further supported by passages in Daniel, Isaiah and the Revelation of Saint John the Divine:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev 20:11-12)

Adherents of millennialism, mostly Protestant Christians, regard the two passages as describing separate events: the "sheep and goats" judgment will determine the final status of those persons alive at the end of the Tribulation, and the "great white throne" judgment will be the final condemnation of the unrighteous dead at the end of all time, after the end of the world and before the beginning of the eternal period described in the final two chapters of Revelation.


Belief in final judgment is held firmly by the Roman Catholic Church and its followers. The Roman Catholic Church also has a strong faith and belief that there is another place called Purgatory, where dead people with only venial sin wait for their mercy and prayers by the Church and people still living so that God can have mercy on them. It is a belief the Roman Catholic Church has that from here dead people with only venial sin can then be taken to heaven. (See also Dante's Divine Comedy.)

Artistic Representations

Detail of The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
Detail of The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

In art, the Last Judgment is a common theme in medieval and renaissance religious iconography. Like most early iconographic innovations, its origins stem from Byzantium. In Western Christianity, it is often the subject depicted on the central tympanum of medieval cathedrals and churches, or as the central section of a triptych, flanked by depictions of heaven and hell to the left and right, respectively (heaven being to the viewer's left, but to the Christ figure's right).

The most famous Renaissance depiction is Michelangelo Buonarroti's "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel. Included in this is his self portrait, as St. Bartholomew's flayed skin.

See also

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