|Judgment To Come Duncan Heaster|
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1.5 Practical Effect
The very fact of judgment to come is in itself a demand for righteousness and temperance (Acts 24:25). Felix realized this and trembled, in anticipation of rejection at the judgment. As the Lord had explained in Jn. 5, when a man hears the word of the Gospel, he hears the call to go to judgment. And if he rejects it, he rejects himself from the Lord's presence in the future. Likewise Acts 17:31 reasons that the very existence of the future judgment seat and the Lord ordained as judge of living and dead is a command to repent. At the Lord's resurrection, a day was appointed for human judgment, and therefore a knowledge of the Lord's resurrection means we are accountable to that day, and must therefore repent and prepare. It is by this logic that Paul argues that the Lord's resurrection is a guarantee that judgment day will come. "For to this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be Lord...[which involves that] we shall all [therefore] stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written...Every knee shall bow to me [as Lord and judge]..." (Rom. 14:9,10).
For the righteous, our acceptability before God now is related to our acceptability with him at judgment day. Our good works are manifest before we reach the judgment, which will manifest them again (1 Tim. 5:25). Thus David reflected on the experiences of his life: "Thou hast made my judgment; thou satest in the throne judging right...and he shall judge the world (at the second coming, through Christ, Acts 17:11) in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness" (Ps. 9:4,8 A.V.mg.). This shows the continuity between God's attitude to him in his mortal life, and God's attitude at the coming judgment. If Christ is glorified by us now, we will glorify Him in that day (2 Thess. 1:10,12). John 3:18 puts the issue clearly: "He that believeth on (Christ) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already (before the judgment), because he hath not believed". It is in this sense that in prospect we can be assured that we are saved by being in Christ. We can therefore live as "the sons of God, without rebuke...blameless" (Phil. 2:15) in God's sight (being so in the eyes of the world is almost impossible for a true believer!), in the same way as at the judgment we will be presented "holy and unblameable and unreproveable". It must be significant that the language of forgiveness in the New Testament constantly alludes to judgment: justification, appeal, counsel for the defence, advocate, accusation etc. are common ideas, especially in the Greek. The point of this may be to teach that the experience of forgiveness now does stand related to the judgment which we will receive at Christ's return. Thus if we are convicted of sin now, but aided by Christ as our advocate and therefore justified, we will have the same experience at the judgment seat.
On Our Way To Judgment
The practical result of this understanding is fundamental. Each action and thought and word is now judged by God; and the result will be communicated to us on the last day. There is a krisis (judgment) now for every work (Ecc. 8:5,6 LXX). Every action and moment is a crisis. In this thought alone we see the crucial importance of life and living, every moment. As cotton wool clouds drift across the sky, we can lose this sense of urgency and vitality which there ought to be about every moment we live here. But we know His judgments; we know how He judges behaviour; and therefore we should live as men and women under judgment. Each act and thought is our judgment. It has been truly observed by John Robinson: "'To every matter there is a time (kairos) and a judgment (krisis)' (Ecc. 8:6 RV margin). And each particular moment of judgment makes its contribution towards the supreme consummation towards which it is all working- the final kairos which is also the final krisis" (1) . The judgment is the final crisis. That sense of crisis must not be lost on us. And yet we have a tendency to act and speak and think as if judgment day is not going to come: "Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him [in judgment], yet judgment is before him", right now (Job 35:14).
The whole Kingdom of God is likened to the parable of the virgins about the judgment (Mt. 25:1). We are speeding towards judgment, therefore we should watch with urgency what manner of people we are (2 Pet. 3:11,12). "The things that shall come upon them, sealed up among my treasures, make haste" (Dt. 32:34,35 Heb.). We are on our way to judgment day, and that day is rushing towards us (cp. Lk. 14:31); the hearing of the Gospel is in itself a call to go forth and meet the Lord (Mt. 22:8). The believer is called to his Lord to receive his pounds, and is called to Him in judgment at His return (Lk. 19:13,15). The repetition of the idea of being called to our Lord surely suggests that our calling to Him in the first place is in fact a calling to judgment. We are being gathered to judgment now (Mt. 13:47; 22:10; Jn. 11:52) although we will be gathered then to meet the Lord (s.w. Mt. 3:12; 13:30). We are as fish gathered into the net, and yet also gathered into vessels at the judgment (Mt. 13:47,48). The gathering is both then and now; our gathering into the net, our first response to the Gospel, is a gathering unto judgment. The Hebrew idea of 'calling' very often implies a calling to give account- e.g. God calling Adam to account (Gen. 3:9), Pharaoh calling Abram to account (Gen. 12:18), and Abimelech likewise (Gen. 20:9- other examples in Gen. 26:9,10; Dt. 25:8). Our calling to the Kingdom is effectively also a calling to give account. The point is, we must act now as men and women will do so on their way to judgment and the meeting with their ultimate destiny. Then we will not be bickering amongst ourselves or worrying about our worldly advantage; then, only one thing will matter. And so now, only one thing matters. When we go to judgment, we are not to look back as did Lot's wife; and yet we are not to look back having put our hand to the plough in this life. By starting on the way of Christ, we are starting on our way to judgment. The Christian life is likened to a man on his way to his judge along with his adversary (Lk. 12:58); and evidently, he ought to settle his differences with his brother before he arrives, for this judge will be extremely hard upon those who cannot be reconciled to their brethren. This would suggest that the Lord foresaw that getting along with our brethren would be a major part in the development process of His people; and as they draw closer to the day of meeting with Him, the more urgent is the need to settle their disputes, as He will be unsympathetic towards them. The Lord prefaces this parable by appealing for His people to ‘judge righteously’ because His judgment is about to come (Lk. 12:57 Gk.). By forgiving our brother and reconciling with him, we are judging righteously; we are in essence deciding our own judgment which is to be revealed at the Lord’s return. The moment of conversion is the beginning of the gathering to judgment (Lk. 11:23; Jn. 4:36). The one talent man didn't appreciate this; he objected to the Lord reaping and gathering him (Mt. 25:24). But whatever human objections, the responsible from all nations will be gathered to judgment (Mt. 25:32). The servants are called to receive their talents, and then called again to account (Lk. 19;13,15); there is something in common between the calling to know the Gospel, and the calling to judgment. At the point of conversion, the secrets of our hearts are in a sense made manifest (1 Cor. 14:25); but secrets are made manifest in the last day (Mt. 6:4,6,18; 1 Cor. 3:13). The present judgments of God about us will be revealed at the judgment (Rom. 2:5). Our actions "treasure up" wrath or acceptance (Rom. 2:5). The materialistic believer heaps up treasure for judgment at the last day (James 5:3).
On Our Way To Judgment
The present nature of the judgment ought to powerfully motivate us. "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things..." (1 Tim. 5:21) is full of judgment language: before God, Christ and the Angels of the elect (i.e. our 'guardian Angels'). 'Before God' is the language of the judgment in Mt. 25:32; Lk. 21:36; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:14; 1 Jn. 2:28; Jude 24; Rev. 14:5. It's as if Paul was reminding Timothy that he was present before the judgment already, and should therefore be obedient. 2 Tim. 4:1 makes the link even more apparent: he charged Timothy to preach as being before (Gk.) both the Father and Son, who will judge the living and dead at His appearing. Because we effectively stand before the judgment seat now, therefore preach now, because preaching is one of those things that will be taken into account at the final judgment day (Lk. 12:8). As men being before the Lord's throne, who will be finally judged just as we are now being judged, therefore act according to the principles which we know will lead to acceptance then.
As recipients of God's grace through the experience of His way of working with us reflecting His character, we too must reflect those same characteristics to others. This is why we must judge- for in doing so, we have the opportunity to reflect God's character. We must judge righteous judgment (Jn. 7:24) in reflection of that of "the Lord, the righteous judge" (2 Tim. 4:8). David was almost eager to replicate the principles of God's judgments in how he judged issues (Ps. 75:10 cp. 7; 75:7 cp. 2). And therefore Asaph poses the question to Israel's judges: 'Because God judges justly, why don't you?' (Ps. 82:1-3). As we judge, we will be judged; even Babylon will be judged as she judged others (Rev. 18:20 RV), and Edom's judgments in Jer. 49:9 are an exact reflection of how she judged Israel (Obad. 5). And therefore we should almost jump at the opportunity to judge. "Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the...fatherless and widow" (Dt. 27:79) because "A father of the fatherless and a judge of the widow is God in his holy habitation" (Ps. 68:5). Israel were to reflect God's judgments in their judgments. And thus the leaders of the people were reminded: "Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you: take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons" (2 Chron. 19:5-7). All Israel were to judge their neighbour "in righteousness" (Lev. 15:19; Ex. 1:17); and in allusion to this, the Lord bids us judge "righteous judgment". Our natural tendency is to flunk issues, avoid giving a judgment, leave it to someone else. And yet there is an imperative to judge others, for in doing so we reflect our experience of the Lord's gracious judgment of us. There are frequently cases in ecclesial life which thrust themselves upon us; not least in the area of marriage failure. We can't dodge these issues, for fear of the reaction of others. Whenever issues arise, even if we avoid publicly giving our comment, we have a reaction and position. We have each one experienced the Lord's gracious judgment of us, and trust to yet receive it. If this experience has truly touched us, we will surely respond in how we judge others. We know His judgment, but we also know there is an essential tension within the personality of God, in that His mercy rejoices against His judgment. And we must reflect this.