Looking forward to Judgment

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).

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    I preached on exactly that yesterday! “No fears have I on that great day / When I am judged by God the just / All hell falls silent at the words / “Jesus is Lord, in him I trust”. Thanks for this.

  • J.L. Schafer

    C.S. Lewis has a nice chapter about this in Reflections on the Psalms. The thought of coming judgment invokes different emotions in us today than it did among authors of the Bible. They anticipated it with joy.

  • Bob

    Along the same lines, I am curious about how judgment and hell should be communicated to children. The following quotes come from a Good New Bible club for children. How do we communicate these concepts to children without making fear or death central?

    “God hates the sinful things you do, like pouting and complaining or hitting someone. He says you deserve His punishment, which is separation from Him forever in a terrible place called Hell.”

    “Perhaps you have cheated by copying someone else’s homework. Maybe you look at things on the Internet that God would not be pleased with. All these things are sin because they break God’s laws. God says the punishment you deserve for sin is to be separated from Him forever in a terrible place of suffering. Unless you follow His plan, you will be punished.”

  • T

    For me, one of the valuable aspects of Jesus being the ultimate judge of the living and the dead, is that right now there is an appearance, a lie, that creation does not exist by him, through him and for him. For people who have bought into and are living according to someone’s way of life other than Christ’s, the judgment of that life *by Christ* and his way is very scary (whether they call themselves ‘Christians’ or not). At the same time, if one arranges one’s life around Christ and his way, it is bound to create difficulties in a world that is significantly led and shaped by contrary powers. But for those people who live life on Christ’s terms (and take some lumps for it), they long for vindication and look forward when the lies will be shown as such, when these counterfeit kingdoms will be revealed fully as scams, when it is shown that Jesus has been, and always really be Lord after all, and his love was and is the law that mattered.

    Bob, for what it’s worth, that’s how I’m talking about it with my children, or at least my 7 year old.

  • JHM

    Scot,

    In churches I’ve been in there has often been both the anticipation and warning preached.

    I have a two questions that often nag me when discussing these passages and the last judgement:

    1) I don’t feel particularly oppressed (white, middle-class, male, living in the suburbs) so I wonder if justification or vindication of the oppressed doesn’t include me. Even worse, what if I’ve actually been an oppressor (not consciously), does vindication or justification then become a bad thing for me?

    2) How can all thing be put to right without dealing with the person who is wrong? As a person whose done plenty of wrong, isn’t the “putting to right” part something that should induce fear?

    I get a similar feeling when I read some of the Psalms when the authors talk about how righteous they are before God and call on God to destroy those who do evil. I can’t imagine saying something like that. Aren’t we all in that camp?

  • T

    JHM,

    I just read James this past weekend. It’s interesting to me how James is written to Christians, but there are statements of “woe” to the rich as well as comfort to the poor, both tied to not only the gospel, but also to the final judgment and the passing away of the glories of riches in this age.

    I have to say, I think we all do well to remember whose standards and values matter and by whose we will be measured; it’s part of the gospel announcement that Jesus is Lord.

    Like you, I have a hard time asking for someone’s judgment/punishment, but at the same time, I do long for the day when there’s not enough darkness for the lies to work on anyone, and thereby hurt anyone. I long for an end to evil and pain and death.

  • T

    JHM,

    Also, I don’t think it’s possible for one who has invested themselves in something that the judgment shows to be unworthy or pathetic (riches of this age, for example) can experience even the end of those things without feeling pain of loss and perhaps more. As was mentioned in the “purgatory” post last week or so, I Cor. makes a good case that Christians who invest themselves wrongly will “suffer loss” as being saved “through” flames while their life’s work is burnt up. Regardless of what exactly that picture means, we do well to remember that the life of stuff is already condemned. That only life and work in and about and for Christ is lasting.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    I also spoke on it yesterday. And just like J.L. (2) and Andrew (1) see the judgment as a very healthy hopeful event. Judgment paired with the elimination of evil seems something everyone not only can but should be receptive to.

    There is also then the move of pairing such a future with one’s present sanctification now.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Studying what scripture actually affirms concerning judgment is part of what freed me to believe that Jesus really is the savior of all the world, that Jesus does not fail to save anyone (Christian Universalism). I appreciated the OP and would like to note how understanding judgment to me affirms universal reconciliation.

    For example, consider the following in regards to the traditional doctrine of Hell.

    “(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.”

    If Hell was true then (1) Deception would never end but people would continue in deception forever; (2) God does not vindicate the oppressed but if the oppressed are not saved they only suffer endless and exponentially worse oppression in Hell. And (3) God does Not “put all things right”!

    Also note what was written concerning justification, “(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.”

    If the above is true, then all people stand “justified” before God. It seems to me then to send a “justified” person to Hell would be “unjust”.

    Also, have you noticed that most of the passages concerning future judgment 1) were written to those in covenant relationship with God (believers), and 2) warned of judgment of how one actually lives, not just what one “believes”!

    I believe that judgment is a present aspect of the kingdom of God that we can embrace today. I’ve encountered the Lord and, well, His judgments burnt the hell out of me! God is a consuming fire, a refiner’s soap! He takes out our stony hearts and gives hearts of flesh. It is He that translates us from the kingdom of darkness to His kingdom of light, not we ourselves. We do not save ourselves, but it is He that saves us.

    Is judgment retributive or restorative? I believe it is both. For example, the unforgiving servant was put in jail to pay his debt until it was paid! And yet, I get the sense that such “retributive” punishment was meant to bring a change in the unforgiving servant, and thus was restorative.

    It reminds me of discipling my children. I’ll sometimes say to them, “You can choose the easy way, or the hard way.” In the end though, my will is accomplished in them and they learn their lesson. If the easy way doesn’t produce the results I desire, the hard way does. Why would we think of the judgment of God as being anything less than that of a loving father disciplining His children. I mean, even the Mt. 24 passage, Jesus says that God is like a shepherd separating out the kids (baby goats) from the flock! Why? Because the kids were selfish, so consumed with their own lives they didn’t even see the needs of those around them! Sadly, of course, the message of this passage is hidden because it’s interpeted as being the shepherd separating out the sheep from the goats instead of the kids from the flock. Of course, even if it was the sheep from the goats, both are part of, valuable members, clean animals, of the shepherd’s flock.

    Anyhow, I’ve come to understand judgment as being restorative even, or should I say, especially when retributive! Even Paul said that he turned a brother over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved!

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Yeah, how many people echo John’s last words in the Revelation of Messiah on Patmos, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus”

    The Holy Spirit taught me to really have joy in the judgments of God through many helpful brothers.

    Sherman:

    I understand where you’re coming from, I was a Soteriological Universalist for a little while. However, I moved on because I was convinced it adds to Scripture where the Judgment is a reckoning of in toto the old age ending and the new one commencing (though both are happening at this very moment!). There is much good in what you say, but I guess I’ve moved to what one would call an ‘annihilationist’.

    Pax,
    Cal

  • Andy H

    Actually, Scot, I preached on this subject in 2010 and my title was: “Looking forward to judgement”!!! I kid you not. Maybe I’m doing something right after all!

  • Sherman Nobles

    Cal @10,

    That’s interesting. And you know, if not for the many promises I see in scripture concerning the reconciliation of all, if I just looked at the passages of scripture on judgment, then I too would believe in “conditional” immortality. But I understand grace as being “unconditional”.

    Blessings upon you and yours,
    Sherman

  • Sherman Nobles

    From an experiential perspective, I’ve encountered the judgment of God a couple of times in my life. Once I was reading the parable of the talents and I came to the pronouncement against the 1 talent man and the Lord said to me, “That’s the way you are except I’ve given you 10 talents!” His voice was stern, but loving. I wept and gnashed my teeth for two weeks at the revelation of my selfishness (lazyness) and wickedness (twists in my theology that caused me to be fearful). This word of judgment though changed me. And though it was harsh I knew it was rooted in acceptance and love for me. It was tough love!

    Another time I was reading the “Wows” to the Pharisees in Mt. 23 (I think). I was just finishing the passage and the Lord spoke to me saying, “That’s the way you are.” And he revealed the selfishness of my own heart. He revealed to me that the reason I did much of my religious activity was to be seen by others, to have others think well of me. He revealed to me the wickedness and evil of my heart so profoundly that I could not escape it. The revelation of my wickedness and evil was so overwhelming, I cried so hard and for so long my family began to worry that I had lost my mind. And yet, it was for my good. The truth of God’s judgment of me, well, burnt the hell out of me. It was terrible but it was good for me and delivered me from some deep bondage to sin. And though the word was harsh, even coming across as angry, I knew/felt it was rooted in love for me.

    These and other encounters with the judgment of God have forever changed me. I’ve experienced weeping and grinding of teeth so much that my eye-teeth are actually ground flat.

    You’ve seen or heard the saying “I’m Ok; You’re Ok!” Well, the truth is “I’m a Mess and so are You!” This is actually a favorites saying of mine and thus my students had a tee-shirt made for me. On the front it has “I’m Ok, You’re Ok” with a big “Not-sign” around it. And on the back is written, “Truth Is, I’m a Mess, and I Think You’re an Even Bigger Mess”. Of course, the second phrase is said tongue-n-cheek. The only reason I could even think you’re a bigger mess than I is because I am such a mess!

    Judgment is good for us, though it burns the hell out of us!

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    That’s interesting Sherman and I think you’re right!

    We also forget judgment is not always a negative. When the Lord Jesus says, if He says, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ that’s a judgment. When finally the King returns and He says, “There shall be no more tears or pain, for the old has passed away”, that is a judgment. And being sent away to the eternal punishment (‘age-abiding’ to be more correct!) is staying in the old and being done away with.

    The scene in ‘The Last Battle’ from Narnia, where Aslan opens the door to the true Narnia is one way I try and paint this reality. All who remain are done away with in the old. That is the Valley of Himnon.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Yes, judgment is not always negative. Not only have I received from the Lord terrible corrections, I’ve also experienced many “ada-boys”. I believe Judgment is an “eternal” reality, something that we can embrace today, something that we will all embrace eventually. Concerning annihilation, I just don’t see how that is triumphant or glorious. It’s nothing for God to snuff out of existance those who disagree with Him; it is something though to reconcile them, to show that love does not fail. Infernalism and annihilationism both limit the atonement and thus limit the glory of God, imo. The reconciliation of all creation, everything in heaven and earth, the complete triumph of good over evil, love over hate, now that’s glorious!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X