Hope In Justice
I was excited to be able to teach about Anchors One and Two from Gerry Beauchemin’s book, Hope For All, and now I am excited to teach about Anchor Six, “Hope In Justice.” Here is a preliminary statement I want to make at the very beginning: Both Justice and Judgment in the Bible are words and concepts that are inseparably related. I’ll explain that in more detail as we progress through this brief teaching. I am acutely aware I don’t know all there is to know about God’s justice and certainly don’t feel I know all the answers.
Here are two basic principles of Bible study. First, when studying any biblical subject, there is usually a specific reference, passage, chapter, or section that encapsulates or summarizes that subject. For example, the subject of resurrection is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15. The subject of God speaking to us is outlined in John chapter 10, and so on for other Bible topics. Second, when studying any subject in the Bible, study all the references about that subject before arriving at a conclusion. That way you avoid picking and choosing “proof texts” to prove a point and you avoid building an entire biblical understanding on only a partial or incomplete foundation of references.
The words justice and judgment (and their derivatives) together occur over 1,100 times throughout the Bible. One must study all those occurrences before arriving at a conclusion about God’s justice and judgements. I have studied all those 1,100 references over a period of years.
The one basic, key biblical reference about God’s justice is Isaiah 42: 3 in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12: 20 refers back to Isaiah 42: 3, but substitutes the word “victory” for the word “truth” Isaiah used in the Old Testament reference. Jesus is saying God’s justice leads to victory. Can Jesus change Bible words like that? Well, He is the author of the Bible; I think He has the right to do that; John, Paul, Peter, and other New Testament authors do that, too. They often change, amplify, and paraphrase the words of the Old Testament. Again, God’s justice leads to victory! That’s a key understanding of both justice and judgment in both the Old and New Testaments.
In Anchor Six in Hope For All, Gerry Beauchemin does an excellent job studying a large number of those 1,100 various references about justice throughout the Bible before he arrived a conclusion in Anchor Six about what the Bible as a whole teaches about God’s justice.
In this teaching, I will only add to or supplement Gerry’s teachings about Anchor Six. Gerry does such a good job in his book that it’s difficult to add to anything he has written. That’s why I often give away copies of Gerry’s books: they’re the most basic introductions to all these subjects that are available today.
I stated earlier that throughout the Bible the concepts of justice and judgment are very closely related. I will make this simple statement: God’s justice and judgments are always to make all wrong things right! That’s a very basic truth about God’s justice and judgment. I say that because human justice and judgment are not always to make all wrong things right.
You see, when most humans think about God’s justice and judgment, they think about punishment, God’s wrath and anger, suffering for sin, hell-fire and brimstone, and the like. Then, what happens is we take our own human views about justice and judgment and superimpose them on God, feeling He regards justice and judgment in the same manner with the same results as we do. That’s called anthropomorphism: ascribing human characteristics to God. But, it’s true, we humans have a tendency to ascribe to God’s nature and character our own nature and character; we tend to think He thinks like we do and does things like we do. He doesn’t! Isaiah 55: 8 – 11 speaks to that matter.
God’s justice is not a courtroom scene in which the judge hands down a verdict and renders a legal sentence leading to imprisonment and punishment as occurs in human courtrooms. No, it’s not a courtroom scene at all. It’s an eternal scenario where God’s so-called sentence is to make it possible for us to be completely cleansed of all sin and impurities through the eons of time—to prepare us to enter the timelessness of heaven in Eternal Realms with clean hands and clean hearts—there to forever serve Him with gladness and joy, free of all that hinders our eternal, growing, relationship and union with Him.
Well-intended humans try to emulate God’s justice and judgment, but fail all too often. God’s justice is always to restore, make whole, rehabilitate, reconcile, and make all wrong things right. Human justice and judgment sometimes try to rehabilitate and reform, but fail all too often. I thank God for those human attempts to copy God’s justice that do succeed. God’s justice will always prevail and succeed, will always make all wrong things right. God’s justice will ultimately prevail in restoring and reconciling everything—including all humanity—to Himself.
The all-to-often prevailing human view that God is a stern, angry, vindictive Judge does not present an authentic biblical picture of what God’s justice is about, but is a human legal perspective that comes from human history, culture, and society. Biblically, to “bring justice” does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing, restoration, rehabilitation, and reconciliation. I say it again: in the Bible, God’s justice always means to make all 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” or “discipleship” class—is that God is a stern Judge seated on a throne in heaven. God is a Judge (not necessarily stern, however; more about that later). The issue is who is God judging from his throne in heaven, 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 answer something like this: “Well, I picture Him sitting on his throne handing out judgment to people . . . punishing people with his terrible judgments . . . pouring out his wrath on people . . . punishing people for their sins . . . sending people to burn in hell . . . causing ‘natural calamities’ such as hurricanes and earthquakes.”
For example, a familiar song we in the United States often sing illustrates my point: “My 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 hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword . . . “
Yes, most people envision God sitting on his throne wreaking terrible judgments, wrath, and punishment—even evil and deliberately bad things—on people. Also, our entire multi-billion dollar insurance industry calls dreadful environmental disasters and natural calamities “Acts of God.” For most people, God is perceived as being stern, tyrannical, judgmental, angry, and often downright “mean.” God gets blamed for all that is bad and often not praised for all that is good.
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? For a few minutes, let’s think about God on his throne judging.
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 is God’s throne called (or named) a throne of judgment! On the contrary, God’s throne is called a 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 says 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, 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, material throne in some “throne room” of his palace in a far-off heaven. Those are merely limited, finite human words to describe God sitting somewhere on a literal throne.
To write or speak of God’s throne as being literal is incorrect; God is everywhere and everywhen in and beyond his 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.
As mentioned previously, the meaning of the word “justice” is to “make all 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. That’s just not true!
I hasten to say, however, that, yes, God does correct, chastise, discipline, purge, and cleanse people by his judgment and justice, but that’s only part of the story. What does it mean that God does those things to humans? 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 “discipline 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 outcome even though there may be some pain or suffering involved in order to reach the desired outcomes.
That brings me to my next point—a point that’s extremely important to both Gerry Beauchemin and me. This point is foundational to the thinking of both of us. Let me explain. For centuries, there has been a prevailing view among millions of believers in Jesus that when a human dies, they immediately go to either heaven or to hell. That before they die and go to heaven or hell, all of God’s judgments for humans take place in this life. That when we die, all judgment ceases and we either go to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment or go to heaven and immediately become perfect—no more judgment. That’s the prevailing view among millions of believers in Jesus.
That view is erroneous. It’s not true. It’s horribly misleading and has hurt numerous believers in Jesus—and far too many pre-believers in Jesus. It’s a grossly skewed view of God’s character and nature and his ultimate purposes for humankind. When we die, we do not immediately go to heaven and magically become perfect the instant we walk through heaven’s gates. No, when we die we continue to be judged, cleansed, purified, purged, and disciplined by God—sometimes by the fires of God that do not destroy or torment but transform us more and more into the clear image of God as best revealed in Jesus. The image of God means we are visible representations of the invisible God.
God’s transforming justice and judgments continue for many future ages and eons of time after we die—and before time ends, after which time we finally enter Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven in eternity.
There is another aspect of judgment I want to share with you—a judgment which is not really judgment. This judgment is referred to in 1 Corinthians 3: 9 – 15 and 2 Corinthians 5: 10. It is called “the judgment seat of Jesus.” The word for judgment in the Greek language is “bema.”
Here’s a word picture of the bema judgment. In ancient Greece and Rome when athletic contests were held, there was an award ceremony at the end of the contests, much like we see in modern Olympics. The winning athletes would be called to come forward and present themselves to the contest judges who were seated on the “bema seat” to pass out the awards. The winners would receive various types of awards while the losers would receive nothing; the losers weren’t punished; they simply received no awards.
That’s what the bema judgment of Jesus is. It is a future time after He returns to earth, when Jesus will reward some believers for what they have done during this mortal life—their “works” on his behalf. But in this case, while some will receive rewards denoted by “gold, silver, and precious stones,” some will “suffer loss” denoted by “wood, hay, and stubble.” Those who suffer loss will not be cast into an ever-burning hell; it is simply that their works of wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up. The people will suffer loss of rewards and awards, but they themselves will not be burned up . . . only their ineffective works.
What are the works “judged” at the bema seat? They are the differences between works done “in the flesh” and works done “in the Spirit,” a theme found throughout the New Testament. When gold, silver, and precious stones are subjected to fire, they are merely refined, purified, and made better. When wood, hay, and stubble are subjected to fire, they are burned up. 2 Timothy 2: 20 refers to the same matter.
Gold, silver, and precious stones symbolize God’s nature and character He is producing in the lives of his children; it is what the Bible elsewhere calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5: 22 and 23, as one example). Wood, hay, and stubble symbolize earthly and purely self-directed works people have attempted to do for God by their own religious efforts.
Another way of putting it is that at the bema seat Jesus believers will “reap what we have sown” (Galatians 6: 7). The criteria used by Jesus at the bema judgment will be: were our works done in cooperation with Holy Spirit who lives within us and empowered by Him . . . or, were they done by “fleshly” self-effort? In other words, what will be the source of the works done and who actually produced the works in our lives: Spirit or self?
The Book of Revelation puts this matter of the bema judgment this way. Our labor—our inner works of righteousness—must originate with the Holy Spirit living in our spirits and then produced in our lives by us cooperating with his inner ability and power, not our own. (John 3: 21) If that is the case, then we will be “clothed with righteous deeds.” (Revelation 19: 8) However, if the “flesh” is the source of our works, then we will produce unfruitful works and be found naked. (Revelation 3: 17; 16: 15) You realize of course that those people in these scenarios in Revelation are not literally clothed in righteousness or literally naked.
If our works are prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives in our spirits, those works will withstand the fire at the bema judgment and the believer will be rewarded. (1 Corinthians 3: 14 and Revelation 22: 2). If, however, our works are done with the self-centered, self-absorbed motive of being seen and applauded by others, or to impress God, then that becomes its own reward. There will be no other rewards for such works. (Matthew chapters 6 and 7 teach about that matter) For example, in Matthew 7: 23 where Jesus says to his early followers, “I never knew you,” He is really saying, “I never authorized you to do what you did; you went ahead and did those works without my prior authorization.” They were disobedient works of the self-motivated flesh.
There is some indication in the New Testament that “crowns” will be awarded at the bema judgment of Jesus. These are crowns which are symbols of victory. They are not literal crowns which denote royalty. There are at least 5 crowns named in the New Testament and likely awarded at the bema judgment of Jesus:
- The incorruptible crown—also called the victor’s crown—is awarded for self-control and gaining victory over our fleshly natures. (1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25)
- The crown of rejoicing is awarded to Jesus believers for fruitful works they have performed in service to others as empowered by Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 2: 19)
- The crown of life is for those who have persevered, endured trials, even faced death—and yet remained faithful to Jesus. (James 1: 12 and Revelation 2: 10)
- The crown of glory is for those who have shepherded and tended Jesus’ church. (1 Peter 5:
- The crown of righteousness is for those who have displayed, exhibited, or radiated Jesus’ shining light out through their lives (2 Timothy 4: 8)
After the long ages and eons of time have come to an end…after we have all finally been purged, cleansed, disciplined, and made whole and obedient children of the Father…when time shall be no more…when we then enter heaven’s gates shining in the bright image of God…then God’s justice will have turned to victory for all humanity as Jesus proclaimed. We shall all sit down with Jesus at the bountiful marriage feast of the Lamb and enjoy the full presence and union of God and with one another throughout Eternal Realms in God’s bright Kingdom.
I try not to mention my own ministry website too much, but there are 5 relevant teachings on my website I’d like to recommend to you. My website is leservices.org The 5 teachings I’d like to recommend to you for additional information about what I’ve taught today are: 1. “Justice and Judgment,” 2. “Beyond The Far Shores of Time,” 3. “Fire,” 4. “Restoration,” and 5. “Rewards.” I’m not trying to push anything on you or indoctrinate you or manipulate you to my way of thinking; these are simply five teachings that amplify and clarify this subject about God’s justice. I feel they might be helpful to you.
I pray earnestly that this brief teaching about Gerry Beauchemin’s Anchor Six will give you a large measure of renewed hope for the bright future God has in store for you beyond the far shores of time—for you and your loved ones and friends, and—ultimately—for everyone. Hope is defined as “confident expectation that God will do what He promises He will do.” There is hope for all—as the title of this book—Hope For All—we are studying boldly proclaims!
My books may be purchased at billsbooks.org or at amazon.com