This is the second article in my series, Three Questions Facing the Church. Read my first article, How Do You View Church, to catch up! Today I’m going to address judgment. How do you view judgment?
For the early Church, this wasn’t as much of an issue as it is for our generation. The apostles and early disciples dealt not only with Roman oppression, but the message of the cross was a powerful message of deliverance from the judgment that is to come.
Even the cross itself was understood as judgment. Jesus stood as the great intercessor between God and man at the cross. He bore our sin to the point of becoming sin (2 Cor 5:21), fully embracing its legal consequence (death), that we might become righteous and posses eternal life. It pleased the Father to crush the Son. The Father’s pleasure didn’t stop there however, because the Father “prolonged” Jesus’ days, exalting Him eternally and giving Jesus the name above every name.
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. –Isaiah 53:10 NKJV
The judgment of the cross reveals the Father’s heart. God Himself bore the weight of mankind’s sin, not in deity, but in humanity. He became fully human in the Man Jesus. He experienced all of our weaknesses-even death. This is how God reveals judgment. This is how God handles judgment. The determining measurement by which God judges is mercy.
Judgment didn’t end with the cross however. If it did, God would have to deny Himself, and the very cross by which we are saved would be of no effect. Why?
“Gather My saints together to Me,
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”
Let the heavens declare His righteousness,
For God Himself is Judge. Selah -Psalm 50:6 NKJV
God’s mercy does not change His identity. God is Judge. This is an eternal characteristic of God’s identity. In fact, mercy itself does not apply unless we both ask for it (repent and believe), and also give it freely to others. (James 2:13; Acts 2:36-39)
The other issue that the early church didn’t wonder as we do today, “Does God still judge us like in the Old Testament?”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 24). This took place in 70AD. The early church understood that the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign pointing to the tribulation as a future event. Here’s one reason why: John did not write the book of Revelation until after 70AD. One of the reasons for the book of Revelation being written when it was probably had to do with the fact that Christians at the time believed they were going through the tribulation. Jesus visited John and had his angel show John some pretty crazy things. John’s writings highlighted the fact that the early Church was fact going through tribulation, but not the great tribulation that will yet come at the end of this age.
This has a couple of big implications when understanding judgment. First, Jesus prophesied about the destruction of a city during (if you’re a dispensationalist) A) The Church Age; and B) Prior to the Great Tribulation. If you’re not dispensationalist you can simply understand it as “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
The issue of judgment is not, “Why is God always angry and judgmental?” If that is your question or reasoning, try considering another perspective.
God is not a clock-maker. He didn’t create the world and everything within it to just watch and “allow” things to happen. God is decisive. He is intimately involved with everything related to mankind. He upholds rulers and authorities, establishes nations, commands the wind and the waves, decides the times and the seasons, and most importantly- He is greatly concerned with the thoughts, intents, and desires of mankind. God doesn’t allow anything. He does. He acts. He responds. Every decision (judgment) of God is measured by mercy.
So, mercy triumphs over judgment? Yes. Says so in James. This means we get to appeal to the mercies of God, just like the prophets of the Old Testament, the assembly of Israel, the apostles in their preaching, and the church in the book of Revelation. We get to appeal to God’s mercy and loving-kindness. We are also invited to command the judgments and justice of God. (Luke 18; Revelation 5 & 8:1-5) This is how we rule and reign with Christ. This is not all, but part of, what it means to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
However, this does not mean we get to heap judgment on people. This isn’t a license to pray for God to destroy ISIS, for example. God wants to save them. We can and should pray that God would judge in justice and mercy in the Middle East (to keep with this example). We want ISIS to stop destroying cities and killing Christians. When we pray for judgment to be released, we need to make sure we’re not like Jonah who was angry when God showed mercy.
The emphasis of praying for judgment isn’t, “God, get those bad people.” We’ve all done something worthy of God’s judgments, good and bad. The emphasis of praying for judgment is two-fold: It releases justice and mercy. We appeal to Jesus, and He judges rightly.
Sometimes, when God judges, it may look like a military defeat of ISIS. Sometimes, it may look like God saving the leaders of ISIS and discipling them into radical Christians like Paul. If they turn to Jesus, God will judge the kingdom of darkness by saying, “Satan can’t have this one!”
In fact, every time someone is saved the kingdom of darkness is judged.
Furthermore, every time we say, “God doesn’t judge like that anymore”, we are rejecting God’s identity and making ourselves judge. That mindset is never fruitful.
Feel free to respond below or you can find me @JSMarek