1.2 Judgment Now
God's Present Judgment
We have a tendency to consider God as passive to our failures and acts of righteousness, simply because His judgments are not openly manifest. We may forget that on, say, 6.6.96 we swore under our breath in anger…but God, in this sense, doesn't forget. The passage of time doesn't act as a pseudo-atonement for Him as it does in our consciences. The tendency for human beings to assume that God forgets our wrong actions and will never judge them is frequently commented upon in Scripture. "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness", i.e. to judge them for it at a future date (Hos. 7:2). The day of judgment is likened to God 'awaking' (Ps. 68:1; 73:20). Not that He is now sleeping; but then, the principles of His judgment which now appear to lie dormant will be openly manifested. Peter warns that the condemnation of false teachers is given by God in an ongoing sense, and that damnation doesn't slumber (2 Pet. 2:3). Asaph laments how the wicked seem to be so prosperous, and then remembers that one day God will awake. More than this, he comes to see that "they...shall perish: thou hast destroyed them...how are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (Ps. 73:27,19). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)- not 'it will be death at the judgment', it is right now the response God makes to sin. Because God is without time, the judgment has effectively happened to them. We are come to "God the judge of all"- even now (Heb. 12:23). He is right now enthroned as judge of our lives (Mt. 5:34; Ps. 93:2). We are now in God's presence, and can't escape from it (Ps. 139:2); and the presence of God is judgment language (Acts 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:9; 2:19; Jude 24; Rev. 14:10). "God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another" in His mind (Ps. 75:7)- although the final putting down and setting up will be at the judgment seat (the basis for the parable of the man being asked to go up higher, Lk. 14:10). This same parable is also rooted in Prov. 25:7: "Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither: than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince". We are in the King's presence both in this life- when we chose where to sit- just as much as when He returns and re-arranges the seating. The day of the Lord is coming, but it is even now (Mic. 7:4 Heb.). Jephthah understood this when he said: "The Lord the judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon" (Jud. 11:27). Because God is judge, this means we should realize that He will and does judge here and now. God told Israel that "Therefore will I [in the future judgment of the Babylonian invasion] discover they skirts upon thy face"; and yet effectively, "for the greatness of thine iniquity are [i.e. now] thy skirts discovered" (Jer. 13:22,26). "As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed" (Jer. 2:26). They had not then been found out; but they would be, and so sure was their future shaming in condemnation that Jeremiah spoke as if it was already being experienced by them. We are to "be separate" in this life, as an act of choice in the myriad of daily decisions we face (2 Cor. 6:17)- and yet at the judgment, the Lord will "sever" (s.w.) the wicked from the just (IMt. 13:49), or "separate" the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25:32). But we are to live out the judgment now in our separation from wickedness. And if we do this, wicked men shall "separate" from us- the judgment is worked out ahead of time (Lk. 6:22).
We are told that whoever broke the Sabbath, "the same soul will I destroy from among his people" (Lev. 23:30). Yet there is no evidence of this ever happening; indeed, the prophets criticize Israel for repeatedly breaking the Sabbath. The idea of destroying from among the people, 'cutting off' from Israel, are parallel with being blotted out of God's book. That blotting out, that cutting off, happens now in God's sight; but that judgment won't be articulated until judgment day. There is no record of God zapping people dead for, e.g., offering their seed to Molech, which earnt the condemnation of being 'cut off from among the people' (Lev. 20:6). It was God who cut them off in His own judgment, from amongst those whom He perceives to be His people. God's judgments are daily revealed, but the unworthy aren't shamed by them (Zeph. 3:5); they aren't convicted by them to the extent that they realize their condemnation and repent; and therefore they will be shamed in the final, unalterable verdict (Dan. 12:2). They could cover their shame now (Rev. 3:18)- but they chose not to. And yet, unknown to them, in God's eyes these people foam out their own shame (Jude 13). To Him, slanderers and false teachers within the ecclesia already are given their condemnation (Rom. 3:8). "The Lord shall judge the people...God judgeth (present tense) the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day...he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows" (Ps. 7:8,11-13). God is now judging men, and preparing their final reward. For the wicked, the arrow is prepared in the bow, the sword is sharpened- all waiting for the final day in which the present judgments will be executed. Again, note how that the last day is not for gathering information, but for giving the result of present behaviour. The judgment process is ongoing, in that God right now (even while we sleep) is trying and judging our ways and motives (Job 7:18; Ps. 11:4; 17:3; 26:2; 139:23). He now weighs up the path / overall direction of our lives and will later openly show His judgments (Is. 26:7-9). Because of this, David asks God to judge him now (Ps. 26:1; 35:24; 43:1; 54:1). He wasn't so afraid of the future judgment; He knew that it will only be the pronouncement of how we have now lived. He had a good conscience, and so He asked God to show how He felt about him right now. "The Lord shall judge the people [at the last day; this is quoted in this connection in Heb. 10:30]: judge me [i.e. now], O Lord, according to my righteousness" (Ps. 7:8).This explains the Psalmists' joy that judgment is coming (Ps. 67:4; 96:12,13). The same spirit can be seen in the parable of the woman who keeps begging the unjust judge to open her case. She may have had her little piece of land taken away from her, whatever it was, she is confident she has a watertight case and this is why she so pesters the judge to judge her (Lk. 18:1-5). Now this is a powerful challenge to a brotherhood which underneath seems to fear the judgment process. David shows the same spirit in asking God to 'avenge my cause' (Ps. 35:23). There is the same confidence that by grace, he is in the right and longs for justice to be done. So much of Romans is dedicated to the images of the court room; we are justified, and we should be earnestly seeking the vindication of Spirit against flesh.
It should also be noted that "Yahweh shall judge (LXX krino, the NT word for judgment) His people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone" (Dt. 32:35)- when Israel are weak and under punishment, then God will judge them, i.e. save them. His judgment is more of salvation than condemnation, for judgment articulates the essential character of God. And He is above all, love and salvation. David speaks of God enthroned in the court of Heaven judging him and yet also maintaining his right; and yet in the same context, David speaks of how God's throne is prepared for future judgment, He will minister judgment (Ps. 9:4 cp. 7,8,19). The court of Heaven that was now trying him would sit again in the last day. Paul does the same when, under 'judgment' by his brethren, he calls God as a witness right now (2 Cor. 1:23 RSV), several times saying that he spoke "before God", as if already at judgment day. It is significant that David sees God as both His judge and defendant (as in 1 Sam. 24:15). "Arise O God, plead thine own cause" (Ps. 74:22) implies that God's cause was David's cause; He is His own advocate against His own role as judge. Thus God can both maintain our cause [as an advocate] and forgive, as a judge (2 Chron. 6:39). God is the one who will both plead our cause as an advocate, and take vengeance, i.e. order the sentence, as our judge (Jer. 51:36). Micah 7:9 speaks of how Micah has sinned against Yahweh, and yet He will plead his cause and also execute judgment. Likewise with Israel, "the Lord standeth up to plead, and (also) standeth up to judge his people" (Is. 3:13); even though He is also the witness against them (Mal. 3:5). David understood this when he asked that God would "judge [RV "give sentence"] between me and thee, and see [i.e. be the witness], and plead my cause [i.e. be the advocate]" (1 Sam. 24:15). These are Old Testament anticipations of the Lord Jesus as witness, advocate and judge.
Not only must we come to know the judgment mind of God now, but as we observe the judgment process, then we- yes, we- will discern between the righteous and the wicked (Mal. 3:18). We will come to know and share the mind of our Lord as we watch Him judge, as He discerns between the sheep and the goats. Knowing God's present judgment should have a powerful practical effect upon us. If we know the judgment of God against certain types of behaviour, we will keep away from them totally. It is only the rejected who refuse to know "the judgment of their God" (Jer. 5:4). We are living our lives under judgment. Knowing God's judgment-principles, we will wish to separate from all that will finally be condemned and destroyed. "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God [at judgment day]: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men" (Ps. 139:19). With this spirit at heart, we must ask whether it is right to watch or read of wickedness which we know we will be crucially and eternally separated from in this last day. No longer need the outcome of judgment be a mystery. Although we have a quite right sense of our inadequacy, of our desert of condemnation, yet mixed in with this must be the faith that we will be saved by grace alone. It is almost impossible to articulate this paradox and get the balance right, either in our own feelings or in words. It has been truly commented: "He was raised again because of our acquittal" [Rom. 4:25] Paul joyously proclaims. The verdict of the last day need no longer be awaited in awful suspense; it is anticipated here and now. "Since we are justified by faith"- here and now in this present age- "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" [Rom. 5:1]. United with Christ a man could face the judgment unafraid, released from the paralyzing terror of wondering all through his life if he would be accepted or rejected at the last". For us, judgment ought to be perceived as salvation. Indeed, these two ideas are paralleled in Is. 59:16,17. Israel looked for judgment, but there was none; for salvation, but it was far from them (Is. 59:11). In this sense judgment to come is a comfort not a threat. Ps. 135:14 parallels the Lord judging His people with Him feeling sorry for them (Heb.).
I’d summarize Job 35:14-16 RV like this: “Your judgment is with God not man; so trust Him, be comforted by this fact. Therefore you don’t need to speak words of self justification, this is vain speaking. For God doesn’t now show His judgments, but He will do. If we believe this, then we will control our tongue from justifying ourselves and relax in the comfort of a true judgment to come”.
There is another useful thing about knowing God’s judgments. One thing that tends to hold back our self examination is the way we tent to rely solely upon the power of our own self scrutiny. This is why we can end up excessively blaming or praising ourselves. Yet if we are examining ourselves in the light of God’s judgments then we will do it as God intends, and accurately. We will appreciate the parallel drawn in Is. 40:27 between our way in life, and our judgment- and we must never like Israel forget that how we are living right now, is living out our judgment: “Why sayest thou, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?”.
God’s Present Judgment
- “They shall perish: thou hast destroyed them...they are utterly consumed with terrors” (Ps. 73:19,27)
- “The Lord shall judge the people...God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day...he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death” (Ps. 7:8,11-13)
- We are come now “to God the judge of all” (Heb. 12:23)
- God is now enthroned as judge (Ps. 93:2; Mt. 5:34 “the heaven is God’s throne”)
- We are now inescapably in God’s presence (Ps. 139:2); God’s presence = judgment language:
“Punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9)
“Before the presence of his glory” (Jude 24)
“...tormented with fire and brimstone...in the presence of the lamb” (Rev. 14:10)
- “God is the judge: he putteth down one and setteth up another” (Ps. 75:7) = Lk. 14:10.
- “The day of the Lord is coming, but it is even now” (Mic. 7:4 Heb.)
- “To every matter there is a time (kairos) and a judgment (krisis)” (Ecc. 8:6 RVmg.)
Christ's Present Judgment
The Lord speaks of how “to them that are without all these things are done in parables” (Mk. 4:11). But those “without” in His other teaching clearly refer to those rejected at the judgment, who will stand “without” begging for admission to the Kingdom (Lk. 13:25; Rev. 20:15). But those ‘without’ in Mk. 4:11 are those who chose not to understand the Lord’s teaching, for whom it’s all parables, fascinating perhaps, but confusing, unclear, and not something they are really bothered to understand. This connection of thought doesn’t mean that intellectual clarity of understanding alone decides who will be, indeed who is, within or without of the Kingdom. But it is all the same true that the Kingdom life both now and in the future requires us to understand so that we might believe and live and be as the Lord requires. The idea of the essence of judgment going on now is brought out by a sensitive comparison of the Gospel records. Mt. 16:26 records the Lord as teaching: “What will it profit a man [i.e. at the future judgment], if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”. Mk. 8:36 has: “What does it [right now] profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”. Could it be that the Lord said both these things at the same time- to make His point, that the essence of judgment day is being decided right now by our decisions today? And the Lord’s next words make the same point: “What shall [at judgment day] a man give in return for his life?” (Mt. 16:26) is matched by Mk. 8:37: “What can [right now] a man give in return for his life?”. The question we will face at judgment day, the obvious issue between winning for a moment and losing eternally, or losing now and winning eternally… this is being worked out right now. The choice is ours, hour by hour, decision by decision.
When we read of how we are now "justified", we can easily forget that this is a legal term. To be justified was to be given a not guilty verdict. And we have received that right now. The Lord Jesus was and is and will be the light of the world. Nothing is kept secret, but that it should come abroad, under the glare of the light that is Him. The more we sense His presence, the more we feel rather than know that He is the light of our world right now, the more we will realize that our every action and thought is already before His judgment. The judgment of God against wickedness is immediate; in His mind and consciousness, it is sure. One of the Hebrew words for “sin” also means “punishment”- sin is its own iudgment. Thus Zech. 14:19 speaks in the AV of “the punishment of Egypt” but in the RV of “the sin of Egypt”. The Hebrew word mishpat means [and is translated] both “crime” (Ez. 7:23) and “judgment” (Ez. 5:20). Every sin is its own judgment, and brings us immediately as it were before the judgment throne of God. And yet mishpat is also translated “ordinance”, in speaking about the commands of God (Ez. 11:20). Acts of obedience are also acts of judgment; they too bring us positively before the judgment of God. The Greek and Hebrew words translated 'judge' mean both the process of discerning / summing up, and also the execution of judgment. Interestingly, Am. 7:8 describes Israel's condemnation as a plumb line, a measurement and assessor, being applied to them. Here the figure of weighing up evidence is made to mean condemnation; so immediate is God's judgment. he needs no time to draw a conclusion; being outside of time, He can see a situation and make the judgment immediately, and implicit within the information gathering process. The Lord Jesus likewise judged as soon as He heard (Jn. 5:30). His very existence among men was their judgment- for judgment He came into this world, the light of His moral excellence blinded the immoral (Jn. 9:39). Bright light shows up every shadow. Whenever men were in Christ's presence, they were judged. The very presence of His light amongst men was their condemnation (Jn. 3:19; 5:27; 12:31; 16:8,11). In this sense He could say that for judgment He came into this world (Jn. 9:39), although He Himself came not to judge so much as to save (Jn. 12:47; "not" is also used in the sense of 'not so much to...but rather to...' in 2 Cor. 7:12: "I did it not [so much] for his cause ....but that our care...". Likewise in Mk. 10:45, the Lord came not so much as to be ministered unto, but to minister. He was and is ministered unto, but His focus is upon His ministering to us: Mk. 1:13,31; 15:41; Col. 1:7; 1 Tim. 4:6). In response to Israel's attitude of "Where is the God of judgment?", and a genuine failure to realize their sinfulness ("wherein have we...?"), God prophesied He would send His messenger and then His Christ; His Son was by His coming alone the manifestation of "the God of judgment", the supreme judge of men by His very being (Mal. 2:17; 3:1). In His coming, God "visited His people" (Lk. 7:16); but the OT image of Yahweh visiting His people was one of visiting in judgment (Ez. 32:34; Jer. 23:2; Hos. 2:13; 9:9). By His very being amongst men He would convict them of their sinfulness. His light would show up the shadows of their sins. Mark begins his Gospel by quoting this Malachi passage, as if to say that the appearance of Jesus was the coming of judgment for men (Mk. 1:2). This judgment-coming of Jesus at His revelation to Israel 2000 years ago is then described as God coming near to men in judgment (Mal. 3:5). This is why a consideration of the Lord Jesus in bread and wine inevitably and naturally leads to self-examination; for He is, by His very being, our immediate and insistent judge.
Likewise Noah's very example was a condemnation of his world (Heb. 11:7); the very existence of believing Gentiles judges the Jews as condemned (Rom. 2:27); and the very existence of the repentant Ninevites condemned first century Israel (Mt. 12:41). The faithful preaching of the Corinthians would judge an unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:24). Noah's very act of righteousness in building the ark condemned / judged those who saw it and didn't respond (Heb. 11:7). The fact the Pharisees' children cast out demons condemned the Pharisees (Mt. 12:27). This is why the rejected will be shamed before the accepted; they will bow in shame at their feet (Rev. 3:9; 16:15). Perhaps it is in this sense that "we shall judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3)- rejected ecclesial elders, cp. the angels of the churches in Rev. 2,3? The point is, men's behaviour and conduct judges others because of the contrast it throws upon them. And this was supremely true of the Lord. No wonder in the naked shame and glory of the cross lay the supreme "judgment of this world" (See Types Of Judgment). "I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts (in this life): and I will give unto every one of you according to your works" at the day of judgment (Rev. 2:23 cp. 22:12). And He is now (Gk.) ordained as judge of living and dead (Acts 10:42)- and we should preach Him as such. He is now the judge of the dead in the sense that His very being and victory is in itself the judgment of all men. Those who reject our message right now are judging themselves. The Lord taught His preachers that if people rejected their message, in that day when they did this, “it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city”. But He repeats Himself later on: “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you” (Lk. 10:12,14 RV). “In that day” clearly refers to the day on which the preacher’s message was rejected. But that day was effectively their judgment day.
But where and when and how the judgments of Father and Son are finally manifested and outplayed isn't the most important thing. The essence of their judgment is what needs to concern us. Tragically we as a community have all too often been like the foolish questioner Paul envisages in 1 Cor. 15:35; he was preoccupied with how the body would come out of the grave, rather than on the essence of the fact that as we sow now, as we now allow God's word to take root in us, so we will receive in the nature of the eternal existence which we will be given at the judgment (see Appendix 2 for more on this). I'm not saying that how we are raised etc. is unimportant; but it's importance hinges around its practical import for us. All to easily we can bat these questions around with no attention to their practical relevance for us.
Judged By Others’ Presence
- Noah’s example condemned the world (Heb. 11:7)
- The very existence of believing Gentiles condemns the Jews (Rom. 2:27)
- The very existence of repentant Ninevites condemns first century Israel (Mt. 12:41)
- The faithful preaching of the Corinthians would judge an unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:24)
- The faith of the Pharisees’ children in casting out demons condemned the Pharisees (Mt. 12:27)
It will be observed in this study that John’s Gospel especially makes many references to the idea of Christ’s judgment being right now. Why is this? John was clearly written some time after the other Gospels. The early community of believers were expecting the Lord’s return at any moment; but by the time John wrote, it was apparent that He hadn’t returned as soon as they had hoped for. Perhaps his point was that much of what we are expecting at the second coming is in essence going on right now. The very ‘coming’ of Jesus was judgment (Jn. 3:13; 6:62; 16:28). Those who refuse to believe have already been condemned (Jn. 3:17-21). Whilst the other Gospels stress that we will receive eternal life at the second coming (Mk. 10:30; Mt. 18:8,9), John stresses that the essence of the life eternal is our present experience; we have passed from death to life (Jn. 5:24). We will be made children of God at the last day (Lk. 6:35; 20:36); but the essence of being God’s children has begun now, when we are born again (Jn. 1:12). Yet John brings out his continuity with the other Gospels by speaking of both future and present condemnation (Jn. 12:48 cp. 3:18; 9:39); of future eternal life and present eternal life (Jn. 12:25 cp. 3:36; 5:24); and future resurrection and present ‘resurrection’ to new life (Jn. 6:39,40,54 cp. 5:21,24).
Through John’s Gospel, the Lord inspired an awareness that the essence of His coming, the day of judgment and the future Kingdom was in fact to be realized within Christian experience right now. John’s Gospel brings this out clearly. The Synoptics all include the Lord’s Mount Olivet prophecy as a lead-in to the record of the breaking of bread and crucifixion. In John, the record of this prophecy is omitted and replaced by the account of the Lord’s discourse in the upper room. “The day of the son of man” in John becomes “the hour [of the cross]… that the son of man should be glorified” (Jn. 12:23). “Coming”, “that day”, “convict / judge the world” are all phrases picked up by John and applied to our experience of the Lord right now. In our context of judgment now, we have to appreciate that the reality of the future judgment of course holds true; but the essence of it is going on now. As John Robinson put it, “the Last Assize is being accomplished in every moment of choice and decision… Judgment Day is a dramatised, idealised picture of every day”(1) .
We have to see this fact of judgment day happening now within a wider context. Almost every major New Testament description of the Lord’s coming and what He will bring with Him is also given an application to our experience in this life: the Kingdom of God, eternal life, salvation, justification, sanctification, perfection, glorification… and of course, judgment. All these things shall come; but the essence of them is being worked out in the life of the believer now. All this is brought to our attention whenever we attend the breaking of bread. That “table” at which we sit is a picture of the future banquet and table in the coming Kingdom. The “gladness” which accompanied the breaking of bread (Acts 2:46) is the same word used about the “rejoicing” at the future marriage supper of the lamb (Rev. 19:7) and the Lord’s return (1 Pet. 4:13; Jude 24).
Knowing God's Judgment
God's word is often styled His 'judgments' in the OT (e.g. Ps. 119:43,160; 147:19). In His word we see His judgments- how He judges and will judge. And in the wealth of Bible history we see examples of how these judgments have been articulated with men in practice. Thus the Lord Jesus concluded the sermon on the mount with a parable of judgment, that of the two builders (Mt. 7:24-27). One heard the Lord's words of the sermon and did them, the other heard but didn't deeply apply them. The message was clear: 'Deeply meditate on what I've just been saying. For this is the basis upon which I will judge men in the last day. You can try to discern for yourselves how seriously and fundamentally you apply my words; and in this you will have a preview of how I will judge you". We know right now the principles on which God will judge us. We can judge what is acceptable to the Lord (Eph. 5:10- again, judgment day language). We can judge / discern those things which are excellent in His eyes (Phil. 1:10). We are sure of what the judgment of God is going to be against persistent sinners (Rom. 2:2); and yet if we condemn them, we can be equally sure that even now we are condemned of ourselves, seeing that if we condemn, we will be likewise (Rom. 2:1). The wrath of God is right now revealed, constantly disclosed, against sin (Rom. 1:18). Judas realized that he was right then condemned; it was as if he had an accurate preview of the future judgment, and realized that right there and then, he stood condemned (Mt. 27:3). The works of the flesh are already manifest (Gal. 5:19)- although they will be manifested again at the day of judgment (Lk. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:13). The children of God and of the devil in the ecclesia are already manifest, in a sense (1 Jn. 3:10). Whilst it may be hard to believe, Gal. 6: 4 says that we can prove / judge our own works, and thus have rejoicing in ourselves. Although self-examination is fraught with problems, and even our conscience can be deceptive at times (1 Cor. 4:4), there is a sense in which we can judge / discern ourselves now. We can judge brethren and find them blameless (1 Tim. 3:10; Tit. 1:6,7)- all the language of the future judgment (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 1:22). We cannot personally condemn them, but we can judge their behaviour against the judgments of God as revealed in the word. Some know the judgments of God against certain sins, and yet still do them, in the blindness of human nature (Rom. 1:32). Israel chose to be oblivious of what they well knew; there was no (awareness of) God's judgment in their way of life (Is. 59:8; Jer. 5:4) and therefore they lacked that innate sense of judgment to come which they ought to have had, as surely as the stork knows the coming time for her migration (Jer. 8:7). Judas knew in advance of judgment day that he was condemned (Mt. 27:3).
The idea of knowing God's judgments is frightening. Sin is its own judgment. Sins rise up to Heaven (2 Chron. 28:9)- and the judgment for them is spoken of as rising up to Heaven (same Hebrew words, Jer. 51:9). Sin and judgment are paralleled. Whenever we commit sin, we do so knowing (at least in one part of our brain) the judgment / condemnation which it is. The outcome of the judgment needn't be something mysterious to us; it isn't necessarily the great unknown to the thoughtful, self-reflective believer who knows and loves and studies God's judgments with the verve of David in Ps. 119. If we walk in the way of God's judgments, if this is the overall direction of our lives, temporal slips notwithstanding, we can look ahead to the final judgment with quiet confidence; or we ought to be able to. For the way of the just is the way of God's judgments (Is. 26:7,8). And yet there is good reason to think that few if any of the accepted will think they are worthy of their salvation. The solution to this paradox may be unattainable now; or it may be that now we should be able to have an overall sense of God's judgments of us, but in reality, before the judgment seat, we will simply be swamped by the holiness of God and the extent of our humanity. Or it may be that this quiet confidence is possible, but in practice the Lord foresaw in His parables that generally, we wouldn't get there (see Sheep). "A wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment. Because to every purpose there is time and judgment" - a time of judgment for every small and great action of daily life (Ecc. 8:5,6 cp. 3:1,17,18; 12:14), which is foreknown and understood by the wise man who knows God's judgments. This is why Bible reading and study may not always yield practical results; but it is all an exposure to God's principles, His judgments. Because all things will in some ways be judged, and are even now, therefore we must fear God and keep His commands (Ecc. 3:1; 12:13,14).
If we know God's judgments- and this is an ongoing process- then our self-examination will become closer and closer to the real picture of us which God has. It is apparent that God now tries our hearts (Job 7:18; Ps. 11:4; 17:3; 26:2; 139:23), e.g. weighing up our motives in preaching (1 Thess. 2:4). In likely allusion to the these descriptions of God searching and trying our hearts in the Psalms, Jeremiah says that we should "search and try our hearts" (Lam. 3:40)- we should seek to know ourselves as God does. David's invitations to God to search and try him (Ps. 17:3; 26:2; 139;23) imply he has done so himself (cp. Ps. 77:6). God now searches and tries the hearts, and will [at judgment day] give every man as his work shall be (Jer. 17:10 cp. Rev. 22:12). The spirit of man is [i.e. is intended to be] the candle which God also uses for His examination of men (Prov. 20:27); there is thus a link intended between our self-examination and the way God looks at us. His judgment must be ours. As sin is condemned by Him, so we should examine ourselves to the point of self-condemnation. Not only in our own self-examination should there be this unit between our judgment and that of the Father; Jeremiah was told to "know and try" Israel's way, just as God said that He did (Jer. 6:27 cp. 9:7; 17:10). Our 'judging' of others, as well as ourselves, must be according to God's judgments of them. And further; if we know the judgments of God, then we will be more strongly motivated in our preaching and pastoral work, to pull men out of the fire of condemnation (Jude 23).
Above all, if we know God's judgment, and believe in His salvation, we can have a humble confidence of acceptance there. This makes the coming of the Lord and judgment something to look forward to. David not only looked forward to the judgment; he sung about it: “I will sing of mercy and judgment” (Ps. 101:1). By saying that, he recognized that the judgment day experience will be all about mercy. And foreseeing that, believing in it, he could sing joyfully about it- and again repeat his desire for that day to come: “O when wilt thou come unto me?” (Ps. 101:2). Note that the Hebrew translated “mercy” is hesed, the word usually used about God’s covenant mercy. It’s through our faith in that mercy which is all tied up in the covenants, that we can joyfully look forward to judgment day. This is a powerful example of doctrine having radical import in practice. There’s another example of this theme in Ps. 98:3-9. Exactly because God has a history of mercy towards Israel, therefore we can “make a joyful noise unto the Lord… for he cometh to judge the earth”.
Knowing God’s Judgment
- God’s word = His ‘judgments’ (Ps. 119:43,160)
- We can judge what is acceptable to the Lord (Eph. 5:10), judge / discern what is pleasing in His eyes (Phil. 1:10)
- We are sure of what the judgment of God is going to be against sinners (Rom. 2:2)
- The works of the flesh are already manifest (Gal. 5:19) although they will be manifested at the judgment: “Nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest” (Lk. 8:17); “every man’s work shall be made manifest” (1 Cor. 3:13)
- We can prove / judge our own works and have rejoicing in ourselves (Gal. 6:4)
- We can judge brethren and find them blameless (1 Tim. 3:10; Tit. 1:6,7)- cp. “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 1:22)
- Some know the judgments of God against certain sins but still do them (Rom. 1:32)
- Israel chose not to know the judgments of God (Jer. 5:4); “there is no [knowledge of] judgment in their goings” (Is. 59:8)
(1) John Robinson, In The End God (London: James Clark, 1950), pp. 66,69 .