Last Judgment

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Michelangelo : The Last Judgment (around 1540), after the restoration 1980–95
Limburg Brothers : The Last Judgment , illustration from the Très Riches Heures , (around 1410)

The Last Judgment (also judgment , apocalypse , judgment day , night without morning , Last Court , the judgment of God , or World Court ), the ancient or Old Testament eschatological idea of Abrahamic religions are of one world events final divine judgment. It is the court of all the living and the dead are closely related to the idea of ​​the resurrection and must be distinguished from the individual particular judgment of the individual soul .


The idea of ​​the judgment of God is likely to have its origin in Zoroastrianism , in the Babylonian god-kingship and ancient Egyptian ideas of the afterlife . As a forerunner of monotheistic eschatologies , Zoroastrianism already asserts a judgment of the dead and the final historical decision-making battle between good and evil as a world judgment. As the supreme judge on this side, the God-King of Babylon preserves the cosmic order; Ancient Egypt knows the idea of ​​the otherworldly, individual judgments of the dead in the pyramid texts , books on the afterlife and in the book of the dead .

The Judaism combines the cosmological with the temporal performance at the idea of an eschatological world judgment and subsequent Messianic reign ( Isa 2.4  EU , EzEU , Dan 7.10  EU ). The Tanach knows a " day of the Lord " or a "day of judgment" as a prophetic topos , which the New Testament adopts. According to Jürgen Moltmann, the Jewish conception "theologizes" the idea of justice : the divine judge is beyond the cosmos and not an integral part of it as in Babylon.

The New Testament exaggerates this idea as a reminder of the approaching judgment of all living and dead. It determines heaven and eternal damnation and is a necessary moment for the final and complete establishment of the kingdom of God . According to this conception, the believers can look forward to Judgment Day knowing that their redemption is near ( Lk 21.28  EU ), since the coming Christ has already borne the punishment on the cross ( Matt 8.17  EU ). This thought also appears in the Judgment Signs that are said to have been seen during the Passion of Christ. The New Testament closes with the richly pictorial representation of the judgment in the Apocalypse of John .

The belief in the Last Judgment as the end of history and the homecoming to Allah is, following the biblical ideas, a central theme of the Qur'an , which originated in the 7th century AD, and a core component of the Islamic creed; whoever denies the judgment of God in this life, as an unbeliever in eternal condemnation, is subject to the punishment of the "ruler (s) on the day of judgment".

The idea of ​​the Last Judgment played a major role in medieval Europe . Since that time people constantly in the faith were, it stands as a concrete, historical event imminent, they tried to do their best to God to show their faith and so in the sky to reach.

The Last Judgment in the New Testament

End-time speeches in the New Testament

In a contemporary setting or following John the Baptist , all of Jesus' traditional speeches are embedded in the historical context of eschatological expectation and the upcoming judgment.

In his Gospel, Matthew reports on the Last Judgment (Last Judgment). As a judge, Jesus separates the righteous from the unrighteous: “What you did for one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” To the unrighteous, however, he says: “Get away from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire is intended for the devil and his angels! ”and concludes:“ And they will go away and receive eternal punishment, but the righteous will have eternal life ”(cf. Mt 25 : 31-46  EU )

John's apocalypse

In relation to the Old Testament tradition, especially the Book of Daniel , the Revelation of John outlines a Christian eschatology in visionary images. The Last Judgment stands at the end of the millennial reign of the Messiah , which begins with his first return, the first parousia . In a "first resurrection" ( Rev 20,5  EU ) the martyrs come to rule first. In this millennial kingdom (cf. millenarianism , chiliasm ) Satan is imprisoned. It ends with the second coming, the release of Satan and his eternal damnation after the final victory over him and his hosts in a final battle. ( Revelation 20.7 to 10  EU )

The fight between the warriors of good (angel) and the devil or Satan is already part of the Last Judgment, which is concluded by the second coming of Christ as the judge of all the dead and the overcoming and annihilation of death itself: “They were judged , each according to his works. ”( Rev. 20.13  EU ) The Last Judgment is followed by the“ new heavens ”and the“ new earth ”, the“ New Jerusalem ”( Rev. 21.1  EU ) as the final fulfillment of all promises of the kingdom God .

Christian iconography

Main portal of the Bern Minster , late Gothic
Princely portal of Bamberg Cathedral

Corresponding to the importance of the Last Judgment in the Middle Ages, there are numerous representations in Christian iconography from the Romanesque to the Renaissance , but especially in the Gothic .

Image composition

The pictorial program follows a typical pattern: usually the enthroned Christ as Pantocrator (all ruler) and Salvator Mundi (savior of the world, savior) is located at the top , flanked by the apostles as assessors of the court or other saints . Christ blesses with his right hand, with his left either he holds the book of life or he rejects the damned. Since the High Middle Ages, Christ has been marked as crucified by the stigmata, sometimes he raises both hands to show his stigmata. The sword of judgment can go out from the face of Christ (according to 1.16 EU and 2.16 EU ), which is supplemented in late medieval depictions by the lily of grace on the other side.

To the left of Christ, Mary kneels as intercessor for humanity, on the right John the Baptist (in Byzantine representations, less often in works of the Catholic Church) or John the Evangelist . Mary and John form the so-called Deesis with Christ . Angels can also be seen, mostly next to or above Christ. Some hold the instruments of suffering , ie cross, scourge, scourge column, etc. Other angels blow the trumpets of judgment ( Mt 24.31  EU ), which call the dead out of the graves.

Always (as seen by the viewer) the blessed are shown on the left, who ascend to heaven , and on the right, the damned, who fall down to hell. This representation corresponds to the announcement of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew : "He will gather the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left" ( Mt 25,33  EU ). The same arrangement can also be found in pictures of the crucifixion , where the good thief is shown on Christ's right hand, the unrepentant on his left. The Archangel Michael is often depicted with a balance and a sword.

Another picture type of the Last Judgment shows the enthroned Christ as Maiestas Domini surrounded by the four evangelist symbols (tetramorph) and the 24 elders of the Apocalypse (4.1–4 EU ); it is widespread in Romanesque portal symphanages and apse frescoes .


Ursula Querner : Christ as World Judge above the portal of the Christ Church Flensburg - Mürwik (1958)
Herbert Boeckl: " World Judge " fresco from the "Seckau Apocalypse" (1952–1960), Seckau basilica , angel chapel

The beginnings of the world judgment image lie in Ottonian book illumination from around the year 1000. In the Romanesque era, the world judgment becomes the main theme in the portal sympana. Well-known representations include the tympana of Moissac , Conques and Autun . In the Gothic, the portals of the cathedrals of Chartres (south transept), Amiens and Paris are to be mentioned. In Germany, the main portal of the Freiburg Minster is an example. In Italy the Last Judgment is often placed on the inner west wall of the church, for example in Torcello as a mosaic or in the arena chapel in Padua, painted by Giotto . The late Gothic panel painting also takes up the theme. The main work from this period is the Last Judgment , which the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden created for the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy . The successors include Schongauer's Last Judgment (1489) in the Stephansmünster in Breisach and the Danzig Altar by Hans Memling , which was actually intended for the Medici .

Probably the most famous picture of the Last Judgment comes from Michelangelo (1536–1541) and is on the west wall of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican . With this picture the heyday of Last Judgment depictions ends, although there are also baroque pictures of the Last Judgment such as The Great Last Judgment , an oil painting from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, and a few examples from modern times, such as Max Beckmann's resurrection from 1916/18 in the State Gallery Stuttgart. The Last Judgment / Composition V is the title of an abstract painting that Wassily Kandinsky painted in 1911.

The "Seckau Apocalypse" created by Herbert Boeckl from 1952 to 1960 in the angel chapel of the Seckau basilica, with its depictions from the Revelation of St. John, is one of the most important works of sacred art in Austria after 1945. The fresco cycle is considered the most extensive within modern monumental painting .


In music, the Last Judgment is the theme and title of an evening music attributed to Dietrich Buxtehude (see: Buxtehude Works Directory ) and an oratorio by Georg Philipp Telemann ( Judgment Day ) and Louis Spohr . A full-length, large-scale setting of the Revelation of John is the oratorio The Book with Seven Seals by Franz Schmidt (1874–1939, first performance of the work in Vienna in 1938). The French organist and composer Jean Langlais wrote an organ cycle with five meditations on the Apocalypse ( Cinq Méditations sur l'Apocalypse ) in 1973 .

Dies irae ("Day of Wrath") is the beginning of a medieval hymn about the Last Judgment, which is part of the Gregorian Requiem as a sequence . In occidental music history there is a multitude of settings of the dies irae as well as musical quotations from the Gregorian melody to classical music and pop music .


The Last Judgment is represented in different literary forms. One of the poems of the Last Judgment of the Middle Ages is, for example, the poem Hamburg Last Judgment, which was shaped by the penitential sermon .

See also


  • Klaus Seybold, Roger David Aus, Egon Brandenburger, Helmut Merkel and Eberhard Amelung: Judgment of God I. Old Testament II. Judaism III. New Testament IV. Old Church to Reformation times V. Modern times and ethical . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 12 (1984), pp. 460-497 (comprehensive overview).
  • Meinolf Schumacher : Painted heavenly joys in the Last Judgment. On the intermediality of the last things in Heinrich von Neustadt , in: Aesthetic Transgressions. Festschrift for Ulrich Ernst, ed. by Michael Scheffel u. a. (Literature series 69), Trier 2006, pp. 55–80, ISBN 3-88476-792-5 ( digitized version ).

To representations in art

  • Herbert Boeckl: The Apocalypse. The frescoes in the angel chapel of the Seckau Abbey. Introduction by Werner Hofmann. Text selection by Gernot Eder. Edition Christian Brandstätter, Vienna 1983.
  • Yves Christe: The Last Judgment . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2001, ISBN 3-7954-1422-9 .
  • Heaven, Hell, Purgatory: the afterlife in the Middle Ages (exhibition catalog Swiss National Museum Zurich, Schnütgen Museum Cologne). Catalog by Peter Jezler. 2nd Edition. Fink Verlag, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-7705-2964-2 .
  • Iris Grötecke: The picture of the Last Judgment. The iconographic conventions in Italy and their political updating in Florence (= manuscripts for art history in the Werner publishing company 52). Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 1997, ISBN 978-3-88462-951-2 .

Web links

Commons : Last Judgment  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Apocalypse  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The deceased made a " negative confession of guilt " before 43 judges .
  2. The words coming out of the final judgment , the more common in the German Final Judgment makes (a significant shift to the temporal aspect), the idea underlying can be found in the Bible Luther's translation of 1545 is likely to that of the "last created," meaning "Doomsday " be.
  3. Friedrich Rückert : The Koran (German translation) in the Gutenberg-DE project Cf. in particular Sura 50 : 20; 69: 18-37; 81; 84; 99; 101.
  4. See ibid. 1: 4
  5. These ideas reappear in religious communities that predict the end of the world and promise their members appropriate survival concepts.
  6. Cf. “In those days John the Baptist appeared and proclaimed in the desert of Judea: Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. "( Mt 3,1  EU )
  7. image
  8. Sistine Chapel
  9. Hans Konrad Roethel and Jean K. Benjamin: Kandinsky, Catalog raisonné of oil paintings 1900–1915 , Vol. I, London 1982, No. 400, p. 385.
  10. Magdalena M. Moeller: Der Blaue Reiter , Cologne 1987, p. 81.
  11. Bernd Fäthke: Werefkin and Jawlensky with their son Andreas in the “Murnauer Zeit” , in the exhibition catalog: 1908–2008. 100 years ago. Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky, Werefkin in Murnau. Murnau 2008, pp. 60 f., The Last Judgment (Kandinsky) Poster at In: Retrieved February 19, 2015 .
  12. Othmar Stary / Wim van der Kallen: The Seckauer Apocalypse by Herbert Boeckl , Graz 1989, p. 5.
  13. 'Hamburg's Last Judgment'. In: Burghart Wachinger et al. (Hrsg.): The German literature of the Middle Ages. Author Lexicon . 2nd, completely revised edition, volume 3. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1981, ISBN 3-11-007264-5 , column 426 f.