The Problem with Judgment
The judgment of God is a difficult topic to discuss. The common understanding of the Biblical concept of judgment is that it is a one-sided activity. Mention the word judgment and most people are likely to form mental pictures of fire and brimstone, anger and wrath, desolation and destruction, pestilence and death. Defense of such an understanding of judgment is easily developed with chapter and verse from the Bible. Death was almost always the penalty for intentionally breaking the Old Covenant Law. Even following the resurrection of Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the dawning of the New Covenant built on better promises, Paul would still declare that, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a)
Yet another obstacle exists when attempting to explore the principles of God’s judgment. Popular theology establishes the time of God’s judgment as being sometime in the future either before, during or after the return of Jesus. However, there is plenty of evidence from the Bible that is contrary to this view. If we understand God’s judgment as an integral ingredient of God’s covenant with mankind, we can easily adopt another view.
The Abrahamic covenant which Jesus came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17) contains not only curses but blessings as well. The New Covenant does not exclude the Old Covenant, rather it is built upon it. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old in the same way as roses are the fulfillment of the bush. The flower is different from the bush, yet it is completely dependent on it. Without the bush there could be no flower.
Jesus is the one who officiates over the New Covenant. Hebrews 9:15 tells us that He is the mediator of the New Covenant. And Hebrews 13:20 says, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord.” Therefore, Jesus is the mediator of an eternal covenant, and this covenant contains blessings and curses ( see Deuteronomy 27-28).
It is reasonable to ask, “Why a delay of more than 2,000 years for dispensing judgment?” When an Israelite broke a commandment of the covenant, they were instructed to put that person to death. The sentence was to be carried out at once, not days, weeks, months, years, decades or centuries later. Execution for the offense was to be carried out immediately. This is God’s way.
9 “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
10 but repays those who hate Him [those who do not keep but break the covenant] to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10)
God’s judgment is often called the Day of the Lord. The broadly accepted theology of our day says that the day of the Lord is to come at a distant time. But what does the Bible say?
The prophet Joel describes a great and awesome day in the prophetic book called by his name, and three times he identifies the events he is describing as the Day of the Lord. (Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:11) He ends the eleventh verse of chapter two with the following question.
The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)
He answers the question immediately.
12 “Yet even now,” [in the midst of the day of the Lord] declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart [repent], And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
13 And rend your heart and not your garments [it’s spiritual not physical].” Now return to the LORD your God [repent], For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)
The way to escape the wrath of the day of the Lord is to repent.
The time of the day of the Lord is clearly stated near the end of the second chapter of Joel.
“It will come about after this [after the day of the Lord] That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind.” (Joel 2:28a)
The key phrase in this verse is after this. It means that God will pour out His Spirit on all mankind after that which he has been describing, that is, the Day of the Lord. That outpouring of God’s Spirit happened on the day we call the Day of Pentecost. How do we know that it happened then? Peter tells us when he stands up to answer the confusing comments coming from the crowd. “And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” (Acts 2:12-13) Then we read:
14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.
15 “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day;
16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND. (Acts 2:14-16)
What an amazing declaration. Peter proclaims to the thousands of devout Jews who were gathered before him that what they were witnessing was in fact the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as prophesied by Joel. However, that is not all Peter is communicating. With that declaration, he also establishes the Day of the Lord as something that has already taken place since Joel clearly said that the outpouring of the Spirit would occur after the day of the Lord.
That is why Peter could not quote Joel exactly. He said, “And it shall be in the last days,” rather than directly quoting Joel who said, “It will come about after this.” Peter could not say after this since the Spirit was being poured out even as he spoke. Instead, he uses the phrase, in the last days, to indicate the time following the Day of the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Since the Day of the Lord took place before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, that which is left is the judgment of the Day of the Lord as described by Joel. No wonder many in the crowd of devout Jews were pierced in their hearts and asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) To which Peter’s response was, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter’s response of, “Repent, “is the same solution offered by Joel, who said the way to escape the wrath of the day of the Lord is to, “Return to Me with all your heart.”
Paul also declared that the Day of the Lord had already taken place when he describes the righteous judgment of God.
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:
7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;
8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek,
10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 2:5-10)
Note that in the fifth verse Paul says that those with unrepentant hearts are storing up wrath in the day of wrath. The wrath being stored up is not for a coming wrath, but it is being stored up even as they are living in the day of wrath itself. In other words, these people are living in the last days, the days of God’s judgment, and they are foolishly storing up wrath for themselves.
The sixth verse describes the righteous judgment of God as giving to every person according to their deeds. Notice that there are judgments for doing good and also for doing evil. For those who do good (keep God’s covenant commandments) the reward is eternal life (verse 7), as well as glory, honor and peace (verse 10). The penalty for doing evil is wrath and indignation (verse 8) along with tribulation and distress (verse 9).
The righteous judgment of God is the system of justice for the last days, and these are the last days and have been since Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on all mankind.
Having looked at the problem of the generally perceived one-sidedness of God’s judgment and the futuristic timing of the Day of the Lord, let us return to our discussion of the righteous judgment of God. There is no doubt that breaking or just ignoring God’s laws, commandments, ordinances and statutes are offenses worthy of death. In fact, it could be argued that just being born as a descendant of Adam is an automatic death penalty. David signed all of our death sentences when he wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
God’s mercy and grace, called lovingkindness in the Old Covenant, has been revealed to the world in Jesus Christ. His sinless life, shameful death and glorious resurrection is actually God’s pardon from our sentence of death. Clearly it was not God’s desire that anyone should die. Even though death was our fate, God Himself intervened and provided a pathway to freedom.
However, there was a problem. God could not overlook the fact that we all deserved to die at birth since we were conceived in sin. Paul explains that through the sin of one man, Adam, we all became sinners. This is due to the characteristic of covenant which says a blood covenant extends to the covenanting person’s descendants. It wasn’t even necessary for us to have sinned, we were sinners at birth, and therefore worthy of death. Being a sinner speaks to our nature and not our behavior. We are sinners before we ever sin. Please understand that we are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners. If everyone were to receive the penalty due them, no one would ever have an opportunity to repent and enter into a new life of freedom. The solution to this dilemma is found in the Righteous Judgment of God.
God Acts According To The Covenant
Everything God does with regard to mankind is done within the framework of the fulfilled covenant God Made with Abraham which is called the New Covenant. It has been discussed in previous articles that there are curses and blessings in the covenant. The righteous judgment of God is the system of justice used to dispense the curses as well as the blessings. The blessings lead to life while the curses lead to death.
God cannot ignore sin. Neither does He desire that everyone die without an opportunity for repentance. Through His righteous judgment, God satisfies both positions. He repays sin, not with a sudden execution of death, but with a recompense according to the deed. This magnificent display of mercy is actually a stay of execution and allows time for the sinner to repent. In addition, the righteous judgment of God provides a means to shower blessings on those who make and keep the covenant with Jesus Christ by following His commandments. That is, by obedience to the Holy Spirit within each believer. This life of obedience is called the walk of sanctification.
1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification [we are to walk so as to fulfill the will of God, that is, in sanctification]; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, [This is not a one-time event, it is a continual walk.]
5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things [Jesus is the mediator of the covenant], just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)
Paul made reference to God’s mercy in judgment when he wrote, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His [God’s] kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) God’s plan is to show mercy to sinners by delaying the final execution of the rightful sentence of death in the hope that His kindness will prove to be the pathway to repentance and eternal life. Sadly, too few take advantage of God’s mercifulness.
By administering the blessings and curses of the covenant through the righteous judgment system of justice, God achieves all of His goals while staying within the mandates of the eternal covenant.
Mercy In Judgment
The penalty for breaking the laws, commandments, statutes and ordinances under the Old Covenant was decisive and final.
2 “If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant.
5 then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death, (Deuteronomy 17:2, 5)
However, God must be more than vengeance and wrath. If there is retribution for sins committed, there must also be rewards for right behavior. The cry of mankind’s heart is for mercy.
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your wrath [David is seeking mercy rather than justice].
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.
3 And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD – how long ?
4 Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness [mercy]. (Psalm 6:1-4)
The Psalmist knows the due penalty for sin is death. He also knows that anger and wrath are not God’s only attributes. God is also a God of compassion and mercy. In the writings of the Old Covenant, these attributes are often called lovingkindness. David writes concerning Cush, a Benjamite, who apparently wants to either harm or kill him. David then implores God to deal with him according to His righteous judgment.
1 O LORD my God, in You I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me,
2 Or he will tear my soul like a lion, Dragging me away, while there is none to deliver.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, If there is injustice in my hands,
4 If I have rewarded evil to my friend, Or have plundered him who without cause was my adversary,
5 Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; And let him trample my life down to the ground And lay my glory in the dust. Selah.
6 Arise, O LORD, in Your anger; Lift up Yourself against the rage of my adversaries, And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples encompass You, And over them return on high.
8 The LORD judges the peoples; Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. [David is asking God to exercise righteous judgment.]
10 My shield is with God, Who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day.
12 If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.
13 He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.
14 Behold, he [the one who is unrighteous of heart] travails with wickedness, And he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.
15 He has dug a pit and hollowed it out, And has fallen into the hole which he made.
16 His mischief will return upon his own head, And his violence will descend upon his own pate. [To each according to their deeds, i.e., the Righteous Judgment of God.]
17 I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7)
David’s cry for mercy is more than a prayer. It is a prophetic look into the future when God’s lovingkindness (mercy and grace) will be revealed and become part of God’s system of justice called the Righteous Judgment of God. The particulars of this system are laid out in Paul’s letter to believers in Rome.
Good News Indeed
The apostle Paul was called to preach the gospel, i.e., the good news, and he said, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16) It had often been Paul’s intention to go to Rome, and even though he believed he was about to actually make that journey he also knew that his travel schedule was not his own, so he wrote to believers in Rome in advance of his going there. And what did he do in this letter to believers in Rome? He preached the gospel, as would be expected.
15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
[And he begins to do just that.]
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it [the gospel, the good news] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes [everyone who has repented and is walking the walk of sanctification], to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:15-16)
Following this, Paul begins to explain the Gospel.
17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith [or obedience to obedience; following the Holy Spirit in the walk of sanctification]; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith [again, obedience to the Holy Spirit].”
18 For the wrath of God [the curses of the covenant] is [present tense] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness [living according to the flesh] of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1: 17-18)
It is very interesting that Paul begins to explain the gospel by describing the blessings and curses associated with righteous or unrighteous behavior. Also take note that he says that a righteous person has God’s righteousness revealed to him or her (the blessings of the covenant) through their acts of faith. And faith equates to obedience, “… we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” (Romans 1:5)
Verses 16-18 show us the duality of the gospel. It is the righteousness of God to those who repent and believe and who obey the commandments of the covenant. Their reward is the blessings of the covenant leading to salvation and eternal life. On the flip side, the gospel is the wrath of God to those who reject the covenant and who knowingly and willingly disobey the commandments of the covenant. They are rewarded with the curses of the covenant leading to eternal death.
Paul wrote to the Galatians:
8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)
As we have seen, one side of the gospel’s good news is that the blessings of God are awarded to believers through faith. The above two verses tell us that all the people of the world are able to be blessed through God’s covenant with Abraham.
Paul also tells us that unbelievers are also under the Law.
For God has shut up [has placed everyone under the covenant and the judgment of the Law] ALL in disobedience [because everyone is living according to the flesh until they repent] so that He may show mercy to all. (Romans 11:32)
Not only are believers under the Law, but unbelievers as well. If they were not, how could they be redeemed from the curse of the Law.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE “-
14 in order that in [covenant with] Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)
Note that it is the curse of the Law from which we were redeemed. In order to be redeemed from something, we must first be under its power or authority. God declared to Abraham that, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” Jesus, in fulfilling the covenant, made this declaration a reality. By the time of Jesus on the earth, the only promise of God to Abraham that had not been fulfilled was that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Up to the time of Jesus, Abraham was the father of just one nation, Israel. The death of Jesus, the sinless One, was more than enough to compensate (redeem) for the debt of every person (past, present and future) in the entire world. Now Abraham is indeed the father of many nations. That means that the covenant God made with Abraham is the Law of the entire world.
In the second half of the fifth chapter of the book of Romans, Paul explains how everyone is now under the covenant and therefore receiving either its curses or blessings as determined by The Righteous Judgment of God.
12 Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned –
13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)
As we know, the covenant was made complete through Jesus. Because of this, the opportunity to be set free from the condemnation of sin, which is death, is available to all. And through righteousness, that is repentance and sanctification, all who have been freed receive eternal life. Thus, the covenant was made complete in Jesus Christ, and all people everywhere are now subject to its consequences through the blessings and curses of The Righteous Judgment of God.