I read an interesting opinion piece by Stuart Waiton in The Australian (30 Dec. ’13) that referred to the frequent public apologies being offered in recent years. He claims it is an attempt by those in authority to regain honour for our justice system by giving it a more humane face.
My reason for drawing attention to the article is that our world sees judging as cold, rigid and unforgiving and that this attitude may well carry over into how we think about God. If he is Judge, what chance is there of having a relationship with him? I have sought to show in an earlier blog, that God being Judge arises from his relationship with us and expresses that relationship, something for which we are grateful and rely on. But let me continue by showing what it means that Jesus, to whom God has entrusted all judging activity, came and died among us.
Jesus said, ‘Now is the judgement of this world…’ (John 12:31), and the context shows he is talking about his death. If all judgement has been entrusted to him, we have to understand that, from his cross, Jesus, far from being only a victim, is actually judging the world. Jesus said, “This is the judgement: Light [Jesus] has come into the world.” People then either prefer darkness or come to the light (John 3:19-21). The Jews and Romans who encountered him hated the light and crucified the Son of God. They, on behalf of us all, reveal the truth about humanity (John 9:39-41). We have judged ourselves by condemning Jesus.
The early preaching of the apostles regularly drew attention to this. ‘You nailed [him] to a cross by the hands of godless men’ (Acts 2:23). This is our sin really, that we kill the Son of God (John 16:8-9) and crucify him again, so to speak, when we are awakened by the truth and then turn away from it (Heb. 6:6).
Notice that Jesus, from the cross, is not only revealing the truth about us; he is disempowering the Prince of the world; Satan is thrown down from his position of eminence. Clearly, all who continue to follow the world and its Prince, share his fate. Judgement is not only being announced, it is being executed. Then again, with the downfall of the world’s Prince, Jesus becomes the rightful leader of humanity and will gather ‘all men’ to him. This means all who believe in him—people of all nations and all who will inherit the world to come. History is being rearranged, the truth needed for the future of the world is being established and the new people are being gathered. This great throng will find that the judgement of the world has already occurred and that it has not led to their condemnation but to their life (John 5:24).
We should note that Christ’s death does not look like a judge declaring what is right and wrong and then executing his decision. His weakness rather than his strength is what we see. This is why the Church cannot preach the gospel from a position of strength. We need to live in the love that took Christ to his cross and suffer the scorn and pain of those who reject him. Going to the world with a message that judgement is being worked out when Christ is crucified is not a message of vindictiveness but of forgiveness. This leads us to a second way in which Christ’s death is the judgement of this world.
Jesus did not come to judge but to save (John 3:17). Strange mission for a judge! But God is a Saviour. His Son is a Saviour. He has been given all responsibility to judge the world so that all will honour him as they honour the Father. If we stand before our Judge, and what he says will happen, he tends to have our attention! But Christ has also been given authority to judge so we will believe in him and not be condemned (John 5:22-24). He wants our attention so we will be saved. We could say that Jesus Christ, the Judge, has come over to our side of the courtroom to act as our Advocate (1 Jo. 2:1). He intercedes or intervenes for us so we will not be condemned (Rom. 8:34). He does not change roles but brings his authority as Judge into his role as Advocate. But how can he be an advocate for those deserving condemnation?
Christ becomes the subject of the judgement he has come to reveal. In the Bible, this is spoken about in three ways.
First, the prophet Isaiah (53:5-12) foretells that a Servant of God will be chastened with a view to our wellbeing. He says we will be healed because of the scourging he receives. God lays our iniquity on him, and he makes himself a guilt offering for us, we who will now be declared righteous. Christ becomes this suffering Servant. He brings justice to the nations (Is. 42:1-4) but in this strange way of suffering for those whose fate lies in his hand. He is highly exalted because he sprinkles many nations (52:13-15). He becomes great by pouring himself out to death and interceding for his people (53:12). He takes the place of the people he condemns and wins a new future for them.
Second, Christ is made a curse for us (Gal. 3:10, 13). This is the penalty for breaking God’s law, but it also expresses the revulsion God has when we turn from him to make idols of things he has made and live by our lusts instead by his commands. This becomes clear by reading Deuteronomy 28. Jesus Christ loved his Father, felt his jealous love for the creatures he had made, and made himself an offering for the sins of his people.
Third, Christ makes propitiation for us (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jo. 2:2; 4:10). That is, he turns God’s wrath away from us by submitting himself to the holy wrath of his Father against us. Looked at from God’s point of view, wrath is expressed by giving us up to our sins (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28) but now he gives up his Son to our sins (Rom. 4:25; 8:32). He becomes all that we are in our ignorance and hatred of God. Quite stunningly, Paul says God made him to be sin for us—the one who had never sinned—so we would be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Co. 5:21).
Whole books are written on this matter, as they should be, but my point here is simply that Christ’s death is the place for the world’s judgement. At one time or another, all of us must come to terms with this. God’s desire is that we will not run from, but to the one he has appointed as our Judge.
The biblical term for a judgement that is favourable to us is ‘justification’. This is not saying we are justified in what we have done but that God has announced that we are justified in his sight on the basis of what Christ has done. No amount of pleasant words or happy thoughts can hide the truth that we are answerable to God. We need to know that the court has sat, that all the facts are known and that God is now righteous in declaring us righteous. Only Christ can secure this for us and he has done so, fully and freely.
Many try to know the love of God by avoiding the fact of judgement but it doesn’t work. No number of human platitudes, or even divine providences, can break through to us that God is love. His loves comes to us as justification (Rom. 5:1-5; 8:31-38). Then it has moral validity and is convincing. The real holy God has come to a real sinner and really announced that he or she is justified. Christ has really come to us as our Judge, to save and not condemn, but his ‘no condemnation’ is still the word of our Judge! His word is final because it is just.
Then again, our righteousness is not just a formal acquittal; it is an unassailable righteousness before God forever. It comes to us with all the dignity of Jesus dying willingly because he loved his Father (John 14:31). It is not called ‘the righteousness of God’ for nothing! He is its author and sustainer, and we ‘are made the righteousness of God in [Christ]’ (2 Cor. 5:21). All this is done so we will never sin again, but then, we do, and we have an Advocate who is righteous and who has made propitiation. There is no real peace outside of this.
How necessary this is! It is necessary now because no one can properly function when they live under condemnation. It is not surprising that we spend so much time justifying ourselves! How much better to hear it from our Judge; that is, from our Saviour. It is necessary, too, in regard to the final judgement. None of us can avoid standing before Christ at the end of our life. God has appointed him as the world’s Judge and assured us of this by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
Christ has brought the final judgement into history, while he was among us, so we could hear this word of justification now. Those who hear this word have no remaining threat standing against them; not here or hereafter. Love has hit home. This is very heaven! It is also the one moral incentive that gives us a ‘head of steam’ in our fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. It’s called gratitude, or perhaps just holy love.
I want to consider how God’s judgements may be working out in our present history. It is of no value to have an idea of God being Judge if he himself is inept or inactive. God willing, I will look at this in a further blog.
Thanks for this Grant – a timely and helpful reminder and assurance of our standing in grace in Christ, without fear of condemnation, now and later. Your second last paragraph sums it up so well, and as you say, spurs us on into life and godliness and gospel proclamation – that we might hear the word of justification today because the final judgment has been brought into history in Jesus. I look forward to, and will value your next entry on how God’s ‘judgements’ are working out today as it is an area which I, and many others I’m sure, ponder and question often. Some of the questions which have come my way and come to mind are: (How) is God’s Fatherly discipline of his children (justified believers) different to his judgement? If God’s final judgement has been declared at the Cross – what judgement still remains – in the present, and on the last day?