During His mortal ministry, Jesus told His twelve apostles that they would one day “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
An angel explained to the prophet Nephi that the apostles would judge the tribes of Israel and that the twelve disciples chosen on the American continent would in turn judge his descendants:
Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel.
And these twelve ministers whom thou beholdest shall judge thy seed. And, behold, they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood (1 Nephi 12:9-10).
The prophet Mormon later reaffirmed this teaching:
I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem.
And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem (Mormon 3:18-19).
But Nephi’s brother Jacob testified that Jesus Christ alone will judge us:
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name (2 Nephi 9:41).
How can the apostles judge us if, as Jacob states, we will all be judged by God Himself?
Let me start by making things a little more confusing:
- The prophet Amulek said that we will one day stand “before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to [our] works” (Alma 11:44). So we will be judged by all three members of the Godhead, who will be perfectly unified in their decisions.
- The apostle Paul said to the members of the church in Corinth that they would one day stand as judges: “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)
- Alma taught that we will actually judge ourselves: “They are their own judges,” he said, speaking of people after the resurrection (Alma 41:7). He also described the event in terms of rigorous introspection and self-assessment: Our words, works, and thoughts will condemn us, he says, “and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God” (Alma 12:13-15). And King Benjamin taught that our guilt will cause us “to shrink from the presence of the Lord” (Mosiah 2:38, Mosiah 3:25). (See also 2 Nephi 9:14, 46.)
One thing we know for sure: no one will complain about the judgments rendered at that time. “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess” that the judgments rendered are fair and accurate (Mosiah 27:31, Romans 14:11-12, Isaiah 45:23).
We also know that an important part of our judgment will be an awareness of the invitations we have received from others. For example:
- Nephi closes his record by saying, “What I seal on earth shall be brought against you at the judgment bar” (2 Nephi 33:15).
- Jacob believed that, if he did not teach the word of God, then the blood of the people would come upon his garments at the last day (Jacob 1:19). During one sermon, he dramatically waved his robe in front of his audience as a symbol that he had shaken their iniquities off of his soul by teaching them the gospel (2 Nephi 9:44).
- Moroni ended the entire Book of Mormon by bidding us all farewell, “until my spirit and my body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the Great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead” (Moroni 10:34).
Perhaps the question of who will actually speak the verdict is the wrong question. Every judgment rendered at that day will be according to the will of God. Every judgment will be perfectly just, and all present will agree.
And the invitations we have received will be on full display. Every apostle, every prophet, every teacher who has encouraged us, warned us, and pleaded with us to accept the gospel will be there, and we will clearly see the opportunities we were given. They will be our judges in that sense: we will know that they did their part to help us succeed. If we failed to accept their invitations, we will know that it was our choice, that they are not to blame, that we are fully accountable.
Today, I will be grateful for a perfectly just and loving God who wants me to arrive joyfully at that judgment bar. I will be grateful for prophets, ancient and modern, and for others who have taught me how to receive the gifts of grace which the Savior has offered me and which I will desperately need at that time. I will remember that I will be judged by God, and that the accuracy of that judgment will be evident to all who are present, including those who have labored diligently to help me prepare for that day.