One of the most common responses to anything preached or taught about the Last Judgment, the Great Judgment, or the Last Assize is fear or even terror. The topic alone creates anxiety in many. Perhaps this tells us more about the history of how this topic has been preached than what the Bible actually says. In other words, the last judgment has been undeniably used to “put the fear of God” into people … yet….
Is the last judgment preached or taught in your church as something to anticipate with joy or something used rhetorically to put the fear of God in people?
The most common response to judgment in the Old Testament, and one could say the same of the New Testament, according to A.C. Thiselton (in Life after Death) is that God’s people anticipates the judgment with joy because they see it as vindication and the revelation of ultimate truth.
Why? (1) All deception is put to an end; (2) God will vindicate publicly the oppressed (Psalm 98:2, 4, 9); and (3) God will reveal himself as King of all creation, and will put all things right. This is something not to fear but to long for.
Thiselton observes how the “judge” of the Book of Judges is a “savior” so that “judgment” morphs into “vindication” and “salvation.” The righteous God then is the saving God. He sketches then NT texts to conclude that the NT sees the last judgment as “an event to which Christians may look forward with joyful anticipation, although never with complacency or presumption” (173).
This entails what “justification by faith” means – and Thiselton argues God’s judgment is verdictive (he renders something into reality) and that we enjoy in the now that verdictive word God will pronounce over us, in Christ alone, on that day. Faith is the acceptance of that already-verdicted word of God. (Justification creates faith; faith doesn’t create justification.) So we are justified now because God “looks on” us in light of Christ and that final verdict.
Then he wanders — no better word for it — into whether or not there is retribution in God’s judgment or whether it is only restorative. He sides with Stephen Travis (who thinks there are some retribution verses in the NT) while basically agreeing with Chris Marshall (for whom restorative justice is the point).