Do you believe in divine judgment? By which I mean, do you believe in a God who acts as our Judge?
Many, it seems, do not. Speak to them of God as a Father, a friend, a helper, one who loves us despite all our weakness and folly and sin, and their faces light up; you are on their wavelength at once. But speak to them of God as Judge and they frown and shake their heads. Their minds recoil from such an idea. They find it repellent and unworthy.
But there are few things stressed more strongly in the Bible than the reality of God’s work as Judge. Judge is a word often applied to him. Abraham, interceding for Sodom, the sin-filled city that God was about to destroy, cried, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). Jephthah, concluding his ultimatum to the Ammonite invaders, declared, “I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon” (Judg 11:27 KJV). “It is God who judges,” declared the psalmist (Ps 75:7); “Rise up, O God, judge the earth” (Ps 82:8). In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of “God the Judge of all” (Heb 12:23 KJV).
Nor is this a matter of a word merely; the reality of divine judgment, as a fact, is set forth on page after page of Bible history.
God judged Adam and Eve, expelling them from the Garden and pronouncing curses on their future earthly life (Gen 3). God judged the corrupt world of Noah’s day, sending a flood to destroy humankind (Gen 6–8). God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, engulfing them in a volcanic catastrophe (Gen 18–19). God judged Israel’s Egyptian taskmasters, just as he foretold he would (see Gen 15:14), unleashing against them the terrors of the ten plagues (Ex 7–12).
God judged those who worshiped the golden calf, using the Levites as his executioners (Ex 32:26-35). God judged Nadab and Abihu for offering him strange fire (Lev 10:1-3), as later he judged Korah, Dathan and Ab-iram, who were swallowed up in an earth tremor. God judged Achan for sacrilegious thieving; he and his family and all their possessions were wiped out (Josh 7). God judged Israel for unfaithfulness to him after their entry into Canaan, causing them to fall under the dominion of other nations (Judg 2:11-15; 3:5-8; 4:1-3). Before ever they entered the Promised Land, God threatened his people with deportation as the ultimate penalty for impiety, and eventually, after repeated warnings from the prophets, he judged them by fulfilling this threat—the northern kingdom (Israel) fell victim to the Assyrian captivity and the southern kingdom (Judah) to the Babylonian captivity (2 Kings 17; 22:15-17; 23:26-27). In Babylon, God judged both Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar for their impiety. The former was given time to amend his life (Dan 4:5, 27, 34); the latter was not (Dan 5:5-6, 23-28, 30).
Nor are the narratives of divine judgment confined to the Old Testament. In the New Testament story, judgment falls on the Jews for rejecting Christ (Mt 21:43-44; 1 Thess 2:14-16), on Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God (Acts 5:1-10), on Herod, for his pride (Acts 12:21-23), on Elymas, for his opposition to the gospel (Acts 13:8-11), and on Christians at Corinth, who were afflicted with illness (which in some cases proved fatal) by reason of their gross irreverence in connection, particularly, with the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:29-32). And this is only a selection from the abundant accounts of divine acts of judgment which the Bible contains.
When we turn from Bible history to Bible teaching—the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom writings, the words of Christ and his apostles—we find the thought of God’s action in judgment overshadowing everything. The Mosaic legislation is given as from a God who is himself a just judge and will not hesitate to inflict penalties by direct providential action if his people break his law. The prophets take up this theme; indeed, the greater part of their recorded teaching consists of exposition and application of the law, and threats of judgment against the lawless and impenitent. They spend a good deal more space preaching judgment than they do predicting the Messiah and his kingdom! In the Wisdom literature, the same viewpoint appears: The one basic certainty underlying all discussion of life’s problems in Job, Ecclesiastes and all the practical maxims of Proverbs is that “God will bring you to judgment,” “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccles 11:9; 12:14).
People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the Old Testament to the New, the theme of divine judgment fades into the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified.
The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment, and by the problem thence arising: How may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time? The New Testament looks on to “the day of judgment,” “the day of wrath,” “the wrath to come,” and proclaims Jesus, the divine Savior, as the divinely appointed Judge.
The judge who stands before the door (Jas 5:9), “ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5), “the righteous Judge” who will give Paul his crown (2 Tim 4:8), is the Lord Jesus Christ. “He is the one who has been designated by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42 NEB). God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” Paul told the Athenians (Acts 17:31); and to the Romans he wrote, “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Rom 2:16).
Jesus himself says the same. “The Father . . . has entrusted all judgment to the Son. . . . And he has given him authority to judge. . . . A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (NEB has “will rise to hear their doom”) (Jn 5:22, 27-29). The Jesus of the New Testament, who is the world’s Savior, is its Judge as well.
J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2011).
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