4.1 Fear of Judgment: "The Terror of the Lord"
Paul appears to justify speaking about the judgment seat by saying "knowing therefore the terror of the Lord (the terror of the thought of rejection), we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God" (2 Cor. 5:11). This is to say 'A healthy fear of judgment can persuade men to a better way of life- but by our complete openness to God, through self examination, we can know ourselves to be personally unworthy, but justified through Christ; and so we don't need to think of rejection in the same way as faithless men do'. We will go through a process of ‘persuading’ our own hearts before the judgment presence of Jesus in the last day; and we should likewise persuade ourselves of His grace and justice now (1 Jn. 3:19 Gk.). The fear of judgment is again used by Paul as a motivation for obedience in Heb. 2:1-4; 4:1. An element of fear is not wrong in itself. Israel in the wilderness had the pillar of fire to remind them of God's close presence, and to thereby motivate them not to sin: "His fear (will) be before your faces, that ye sin not" (Ex. 20:20). Notice how Isaac's guardian angel is described as "the fear" in Gen. 31:42,53 cp. 48:15,16. The trumpet blasts which our call to judgment is likened to are based upon the Old Testament blowing of trumpets to mark "the day(s) of your gladness...your solemn days...the beginnings of your months" and also whenever the camp was to move onwards (Num. 10:10). This same mixture of emotions will fill us when we receive the call; a sense of solemnity, but also of gladness at a new beginning, a moving on towards the promised land.
"The knowledge that God is not mocked is a salutary thing in itself, and the propriety of His executing vengeance on those who cast His kindness back in His face is not to be questioned. But if the chastening of the Lord can stir slothful or rebellious souls into the path of obedience, then the prospect of judgment to come will have wrought a good work in those who cannot at first be moved by love. But of course it is not the ideal condition. Many of us need to be warned, but none of us ought to need to live a life of dread with the judgment seat in prospect. If, starting as some will from fear, we can progress through obedience to pleasurable service, and so to live, it will even perhaps be possible for us to approach the judgment seat in the spirit which John exhorts us to: "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casteth out fear" (1 Jn. 4:17,18). This is the spirit which overcomes the trembling of the sinner who knows that he is not yet ripe for grace and moves toward the confidence of the man who could write: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…and not for me only, but also for all them also that love his appearing"".
Much of the Lord's teaching concerned judgment to come. It was a particular theme of His parables. An analysis of them reveals that:
- He puts far more emphasis on the rejected than on the accepted.
- There is the theme of surprise in many of the parables of judgment. Both worthy and unworthy are surprised at both the process and outcome of judgment.
The day of judgment was an important theme with the Lord. There is an element of unreality in the way he speaks of the King as being the judge (Mt. 25:40); the implication is that our judgment will be an extremely important event; the King himself is the judge (actually, the King of heaven and earth). This indicates that the Lord wishes to put before us the picture of those who have been called to the Kingdom but reject His offer. Sadly we seem to be shying away from this picture as a community, falling victim to the sloppy picture of God peddled by an apostate Christendom. This stress on rejection is only a continuation of the emphasis of the Old Testament. The real possibility of rejection at judgment day was evidently a motivator in Paul's life (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:27), and he used "the terror" of the coming day of judgment to persuade men in his teaching of the ecclesias (2 Cor. 5:11), and also in his preaching to the world (e.g. Acts 17:31). Paul's exposition of judgment to come caused Felix to tremble (Acts 24:25). I don't suppose he would if he walked into many churches today. The fact is, many will be rejected. The unforgiving believer will be delivered to the tormentors to pay what is due (Mt. 18:34); God is preparing torture instruments for the punishment of the rejected (Ps. 7:13). These are awesome descriptions of the self-inflicted mental agony in which the rejected will writhe. The matchless grace of God and His eagerness for our salvation should not be allowed to blunt the impact of these warnings- of what we can do to ourselves, more than God doing to us. Almost certainly, some of those you know today will go through the terrible rejection process which we are going to explore now. People from all over the world, the living responsible, will see the sign of the Son of man, will know His return is imminent, and wail with the knowledge that they have crucified Him afresh and must now meet Him (Mt. 24:30,31 cp. Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10). Our response to the certain knowledge that His return is imminent will in effect be our judgment.
Facing Our Fears
Condemnation is about having our fears brought upon us. Israel feared the sword, and so God brought the sword upon them (Ez. 11:8). Passively, subconsciously, for all the blasé nonchalance of some, every man who has even known the Lord fears His wrath and His condemnation. And their fears will be brought upon them. Job went through a condemnation experience and then repented, just as Peter did. He described it as the thing that he had feared coming upon him (Job 3:25). Prov. 1:27 uses the same Hebrew words to describe latter day condemnation- it is the fear of the condemned coming upon them. In fact, the Proverbs passage would appear to be alluding to Job, and holding him up as a pattern for all those who reject wisdom and thus find themselves condemned. Note how Jer. 48:44; 49:5 likewise describe condemnation as fear being brought upon people, and Is. 24:18 and other passages speak of the condemned fleeing from “the noise of the fear”. “The fear” is almost a way of saying ‘the judgment of God’ (Lam. 3:47). The torment of the rejected will be their fear (1 Jn. 4:18). Psychologically, we need to get in touch with our own fears now, face our fears of condemnation eye to eye, and work through them- in repenting and coming to believe firmly in God’s gracious acceptance, living in the spirit of the true love which casts out fear. I know men and women who knew God and walked with the Lord, but now say ‘it means nothing to me’. They shrug when I nervously mention to them the reality of judgment to come- and I’m not very bold at bringing the conversations around to that issue, because it is just so fearsome and of such magnitude. They tell me that they’re indifferent. But somewhere deep within them, no matter what good actors they are before the stage of our human eyes, there has to be a deep and awful fear. And it is that fear which will be revealed and which will grip them in that final day. Perhaps the greatest mental torment of the rejected will be realizing how they could have been in the Kingdom of God; they will then perceive how great was the potential which they had had in the brief years of their mortality. Thus Israel had their judgment from God “in the border of Israel” (Ez. 11:11), in Babylon, on the Euphrates, which was intended to be the border of the land promised to Abraham and themselves, his seed. They were made to realize the potential they had missed, and as it were they were taken to the gate of Eden, to the entry to the promised land, judged there, and thrown out of Paradise. They were made to realize that they had followed the judgements of this world rather than of God (Ez. 11:12 RVmg.), and that one of the reasons for their condemnation was the way in which they had told some of their brethren that unto them, and not unto those brethren, the land had been promised (Ez. 11:15). Thus they had acted as if some of their brethren were not really ‘of Israel’. They were made to remember their words and actions, and now they realized that they were themselves being thrown out of the promised land, the land they had tried to cast their brethren out of. Hence their judgment “in the border” of that same land. The forced recollection of such acts and attitudes of unlove, of ungrace, will be punishment enough.