Question: Please explain 1 Timothy 5: 24.
Answer: 1 Timothy 5: 24: “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.”
This text has puzzled many Christians, especially those who believe that everyone’s eternal destiny is determined during this present life. The Bible, however, teaches that mankind is divided into two general classes: (1) those who have had their trial for life in this life – the Little Flock and the Great Company, both classes having been spirit-begotten during the Gospel Age; and (2) those who will have their trial for life during the Millennial Age – mankind in general.
The Little Flock and Great Company have had all their sins, Adamic and partially willful, atoned for and expiated before the general judgment time for the world, and are therefore referred to in our text as, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment.” Of course, any who were on trial for life in this Age, and became guilty of fully willful sin, went into the Second Death (Hebrews 6: 4-6) (Hebrews 10: 26-29).
All those who will have their trial for life in the Millennial Age are included in the second part of the text, “and some men they [their sins] follow after [in the Millennial Age].” Although punishment for sins is sure to come, not all punishment for the sins of the world will be in the next Age. Many suffer at least partially for their sins in this life, as we have all perhaps observed or experienced.
Let us also guard against the thought that mankind in general are not accountable before God at the present time, and that they may live as selfishly and unrighteously in this life as they please, since they are to have an opportunity for salvation in the next life. The Bible clearly teaches that everyone, according to his measure of enlightenment, ability and opportunity is accountable before God for his thoughts, motives, words and acts (Ecclesiastes 12: 14) (Matthew 12: 36, 37) (Luke 12: 47, 48). Everyone is either building his character by good thoughts, motives, words and acts and is thereby becoming more fit for everlasting life; or is tearing down his character by evil thoughts, motives, words and deeds, especially by willfulness in them, and is thereby gradually making himself more and more unfit for everlasting life.
Some of the non-elect by sins in this life so deprave their characters that it will be impossible for them in the Millennium to rid their characters of indelibly fixed evil qualities, and therefore will go into the Second Death. Jesus said to the willfully hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees of His day, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell [gehenna, the Second Death]?” (Matthew 23: 33). By sinning willfully they had so undermined their characters that Jesus despaired of their escaping the Second Death, though He showed that it is a possibility. The same is true of many since then who have sinned willfully along various lines. It will be very difficult for them to rid themselves of the bad qualities that caused their sins, and it will require great effort on their part, if they ever succeed.