Ask many people what they think about God’s judgment(s), and their responses will be something like this: “There is coming a time when God will judge every human, and, as a result, some will go to heaven to live forever with God and some will be cast into hell to burn there forever with Satan.” That’s generally how many humans think about God’s judgments upon humanity. You see, when many humans think about God’s judgments, they think about punishment, imprisonment, suffering for sin, hell, unquenchable fire, brimstone, and the like. Search your own heart, and see if that’s kind of what you believe.
Then, what happens is we take our own views about judgment and superimpose them on God, feeling He regards and practices judgment in the same manner with the same results. That’s called anthropomorphism: ascribing human characteristics to God or to other, non-human beings such as household pets. I just wanted to impress you with that big word. But, it’s true, we have a tendency to ascribe to God’s nature and character our own nature and character; we tend to think He thinks and does things like we do. For example, those people who have issues with anger, rage, and violence, tend to believe God is full of rage, anger, and violence, too . . . sitting above the clouds somewhere casting thunderbolts down to earth because He is extremely angry with humanity.
Judgment = Justice
Would it surprise you to learn that when the Bible refers to God’s judgments, his views about judgments and the way He practices judgments are much different than human judgments? Ironically, the God-as-stern-Judge viewpoint does not present an authentic biblical picture of what divine justice is about, but is a legalistic perspective that comes from human religion and culture. Biblically, to “bring justice” does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation. In the Bible, God’s justice always means to make wrong things right!
Unfortunately, one of the first things new believers in Jesus learn about God—often in some sort of church “new believers class”—is thatGod is a stern Judge seated on a throne in heaven. That is true. God is a Judge (not necessarily stern, however; more about that later). The issue is who is God judging from his throne, and what He is judging them about. Over the course of many years, I’ve asked numerous people—both believers in Jesus and pre-Jesus believers—this question or one similar to it: “Whenever you picture God on his throne, what do you envision Him doing?”
The vast majority of people usually respond something like this: “Well, I picture Him sitting on his throne meting out judgments on people . . . punishing people with his terrible judgments . . . pouring out his wrath on people . . . punishing people for their sins . . . sending people to hell . . . causing ‘natural calamities’ such as hurricanes and earthquakes.”
An old familiar song we USAmericans sing illustrates my point: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword . . . “
Yes, many people envision God sitting on his throne wreaking terrible judgments, wrath, and punishment on people. Also, our entire multi-billion dollar insurance industry calls environmental disasters and natural calamities “Acts of God.” For most people, God is perceived as being stern, tyrannical, judgmental, and often downright “mean.” If you’re one of those people who feel that way, I’ve got some good news for you!
A Bible Principle
There is a principle of Bible study known as “The Rule of First Mention,” meaning that whenever a subject is first mentioned or introduced in the Bible, all subsequent biblical references to that subject will generally “agree” with what is first mentioned. In the Bible, the first mention of God as Judge is Genesis 18: 25. In that reference, the ancient patriarch, Abraham, asked a rhetorical question: “Shall not the Judge of all humanity judge in a righteous manner?” The answer to Abraham’s question is, “Yes, God judges in a righteous manner.” But what does that mean? The answer to that question is the main subject of this teaching.
The word “throne” occurs 175 times in the Bible. Those 175 times include not only God’s throne, but also other thrones that human rulers sit upon. Not once in the Bible is God’s throne called (or named) a throne of judgment! On the contrary, God’s throne is calleda throne of grace(Hebrews 4: 16), a throne of glory (Jeremiah 14: 21 and Matthew 19: 28), a throne of majesty (Hebrews 8: 1), and a throne of holiness (Psalm 47: 8). The Bible also teaches that righteousness and justice are the foundations of God’s throne (Psalm 89: 14 and 97: 2).
“So what?” you ask. “So what if it’s called a throne of glory, grace, majesty, and holiness, not of judgment? What difference does that make to anyone . . . to me?” First of all, what is a throne? By definition it is the “seat of a king, judge, or priest.” In this study, let’s think of it as the seat of God the King. Keep in mind, however, that God is spirit. He is not “composed” of material substance as we are.
God does not actually sit on a literal throne in some “throne room” of his palace in a far off heaven. Those are merely limited human attempts to describe God sitting on a throne of judgment. To write or speak of God’s throne as being literal is untrue; God is everywhere and everywhen in and “outside” his unbounded creation, and is not limited to being in one place at a time as we humans are. He is not seated on a literal throne somewhere in a far-off heaven. It may be true, however, that the glorified King Jesus is “seated” on a literal throne, but that’s another subject I won’t cover in this teaching.
As mentioned previously, the Bible meaning of the word “justice” is “to make wrong things right.” From his throne of grace, glory, holiness, and majesty (the foundations of which are righteousness and justice) God judges with justice, and ultimately makes all wrong things right. From his throne, God does not wreak terrible judgments, wrath, and punishment on people. I hasten to say that, yes, God does correct, chastise, discipline, purge, and cleanse people by his judgment and justice, but that’s only part of the story. Discipline is defined as “training that develops self-control and godly character.” Correction means “punishment to correct faults; to change from wrong to right.” Cleanse means “to remove contamination and impurities.” Chastisement is “punishment in order to correct or cure.” Purge means “to cleanse or rid of impurities or undesirable elements.”Notice each of these definitions has a positive final outcome even though there may be some pain involved in order to reach the desired outcomes.
Word Study On Your Own
There are many other aspects of God’s judgments and justice He “dispenses” from his throne. His judgments also involves rebirth, replacement, redemption, restoration, reconciliation, rehabilitation, rectification, refining, revitalization, reformation, reclamation, renewal, recoupment, renovation, refreshing, rekindling, reviving, and restitution. I encourage you to look up the definitions of each of those words both in a good Bible dictionary and in a standard dictionary in your native language.
And . . . I strongly encourage you to read and study another teaching on this website titled Restoration.
What does the Bible mean when it mentions God’s wrath? It means He is “intensely angry.” Intensely angry at what or who? We know that God’s basic character trait—the very essence of his nature—is love: love for human beings He created. God’s wrath is not directed at human beings, per se, but at the sin(s) of human beings—at what they do, not who they are. Concerning God’s wrath, we also know that his entire wrath against sin was poured out in full upon Jesus when He was crucified. God’s entire wrath that was directed at our sin(s) was, instead, directed at Jesus who “paid” the penalty for all our sins when He was crucified.
God’s wrath against our sin(s) was totally expended on Jesus—and then dissipated in full. Jesus, the God-Man, became our substitute, bearing full punishment for the sins(s) of all humanity. Thus, never again will any human have to endure God’s wrath against his or her sin. I want you to envision a fictitious scenario in your imagination—based on 1 John 2: 1-2 in the New Testament.
You are summoned to appear before God to have Him judge your sins and pass judgment upon you. An angel opens the book of your life, full of all your sins from an early age. There is no question you are guilty of sin and deserve the death sentence. God is about to render his judgment, and sentence you to death, when Jesus asks, “Your Honor, may I approach the bench?” God summons Jesus forward. Jesus says, “Your Honor, it is true—my client is guilty of sins and justly deserves the death penalty. However, I want to remind you, that acting on my client’s behalf I have paid the ultimate penalty for his sin by dying on his behalf. Now, acting as his Defense Attorney, I remind You that You cannot sentence my client to death . . . because I died for him on his behalf. Justice demands my client be set free and his case closed!” That’s the scenario of that reference in 1 John.
It is true, however, that God’s wrath still “abides” upon pre-Jesus believers, but that simply means pre-believers will still have to face their Judge’s discipline, correction, cleansing, chastisement, and purging before having the other aspects of God’s judgments and justice dispensed to them in order to fully restore them into a vital relationship with Him.
And, of course, every human ever born still faces the basic penalty of sin: death, the dreadful experience the Bible terms humankind’s greatest enemy. Only those Jesus believers alive at the time of Jesus’ return to earth to establish his Kingdom will not face death as we presently experience it. Otherwise, every human ever born has or will experience death, the penalty of sin.
Throughout all the prophetic books of the Old Testament, justice is always associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Divine justice is God’s saving action at work for all that are oppressed, as the following biblical reference demonstrates: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). Note what happens when one does right by seeking justice. The oppressed are encouraged and the helpless are helped. “This is what God says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.’” (Jeremiah 21:12). Justice is done when the oppressed are rescued. “This is what God Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another.’” (Zechariah 7:9).
Continued next month
“Whatweknow is that when Jesus returns, we’ll see Him—and in seeing Him, become like Him. All of us who look forward to his coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.” –1 John 3: 2 and 3
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy [wholesome] life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.” –2 Peter 3: 11
To Think About This Month
“Doesn’t the Judge of all the earth judge with justice?” –Genesis 18: 25
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Revised and Updated December 2020