THE judgment to come
“Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas 4:17)
It is a foundation principle of Scripture (Heb 6:1,2), that the Creator “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31; Ps 9:8, 96:13, 98:9). That is a simple truth plainly expressed; there is a coming day in which the world is to be judged at the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the righteous principles of the Father. Indeed in this place, it is an aspect of the Truth that Paul preached to unrepentant Gentiles, entrenched in their superstitions and beguiled by the sophistry of the flesh. It was to this class that he declared: “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And at the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness”. He used the fact of coming judgment as a reason as to why men ought to obey the command to repent.
The doctrine of coming judgment, as this case illustrates, was something which the Apostle taught as part of his Gospel. Indeed, this is confirmed for us in the Spirit’s epistle through Paul to the Romans, where reference is made to “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel” (Rom 2:16, see Heb 6:1,2). In our day however, things are very different; the doctrine of judgment is a most unfashionable teaching, for men want to hear only good, and not evil concerning themselves, and their manner of life. Men do not want to hear about coming judgments, and so this aspect of things is commonly minimized in preaching activities by those who seek to make the Gospel more palatable to men of the flesh. They teach instead what may be styled a ‘social’ religion focusing upon beneficence towards man – that is, a religion centred around men doing good deeds to other men, and his reward for doing those deeds – rather than to declare the whole counsel of God.
The Bible however, has a very different focus, of which matters of human beneficence is but a small part. It centres on the righteousness of the Great Creator, and His dealings with His creation. It speaks of how shortly after the beginning, man disbelieved the sure word that condemnation would follow rebellion against his maker (Gen 3:1-7). It describes how all men are rightly condemned to the grave because of the inheritance of a transgressing nature (Rom 5:12-19), and it emphasizes that the means of forgiveness extended by Yahweh in his graciousness and mercy involves a recognition, and declaration of His righteousness (Rom 3:25,26) which was slighted in Eden. Indeed, the entire system of salvation arranged by the Deity in His beneficence towards those who would turn from their iniquities to hearken unto him, is specifically designed for the glorification of His Name. Even so it is written: “Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him; that glory may dwell in our land.” Yahweh is magnified by the repentance and faith of those who would draw near to him, and become conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29,30), which is, in fact, His own image (Heb 1:3, cp Gen 1:26). And this is the ultimate purpose of the Creator with man – not the salvation of man itself, for that is but the means whereby that purpose will be worked out – but the filling of the entire globe with His glory (cp Is 6:3), that ultimately, the Deity may be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
This being so, whereas the focus of what passes as “the Gospel” taught by many in our day, is Man, and what benefits may or may not come to him, the focus of Scripture is upon Yahweh, and the outworking of His purpose. That is the true Good News that the Bible declares; that His Kingdom will be established, and that men will be subjected to Him (Is 52:7; Rom 10:15). And so whilst it may be thought by some that the matter of Judgment is a ‘negative’ thing, to be minimized out of a desire to only preach ‘positive’ things to those around us, in actual fact, it is a just and necessary positive aspect of the Gospel; for the very means of establishing the righteousness of the Deity upon the earth involves the casting down of human rebellion and the clearing away of unrepentant sinners, in order that the earth may be filled with men suited to meet the Father’s requirements.
THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
Concerning the throne of personal judgment, the Apostle wrote:
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).
There is then, a time when men shall be called upon to stand before the enthroned Messiah, and give account of the deeds they have performed during their lives. But who will be summoned to the Master’s judgment-throne? Who are the ‘We’ of which the Apostle speaks? Evidently, it includes himself and others – but which others? All those who have been baptized? Or all those who have received the commandment to repent, that they may be judged according to their response to it?
This is an important question, not least because it will have a direct bearing upon the Gospel that we preach. Paul preached judgment as part of his Gospel, even to the extent of using the promise of coming judgment to persuade men to repent: “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:11; Cp Acts 17:30,31). If we wish to be found preaching the same Gospel as Paul, using the doctrines he used to persuade men to repent and submit to the authority of Christ, we need to be sure of what class of men are going to be considered responsible enough to give account of themselves before the Lord of all flesh. Unless we can establish this, we will be in no position to teach men how they stand in relation to their Maker; whether or not he makes any demands upon them, whether or not they are obliged to respond if so, or whether they can freely disobey with no consequence ensuing.
A THEORY CONSIDERED
There are those who believe that unless a man comes into covenant relationship with Yahweh (whether it be through baptism, or in the case of those before Christ, through circumcision and the offering of sacrifice), he may not be considered accountable, and may not therefore appear before the judgment seat of Christ. According to this position, a man who hears the preaching of the Gospel is under no obligation to obey it; he is free to continue a life of rebellion against his Maker, without having to give account of his decision to reject the Fathers love as declared in his Christ. There are, however serious problems with this teaching, some of which we list below:
It teaches that it rests with man, and not with God, whether he be judged. In the scenario where a man is only held accountable to judgment if he is baptized, he can learn the principles of the Gospel, decide that the Way is too narrow for the exercise of his fleshly desires, and choose to reject the calling of Christ without any fear of there being consequences. In other words, he can choose to rebel, and also choose not to be judged by refusing baptism. He, not the Almighty, decides whether he be judged or not. There is no passage of Scripture where such a scenario is taught.
It teaches that a partial disobedience against the Deity will be called to account, whereas total rebellion will not. Those who have begun to obey by submitting to baptism, yet who in the end are found wanting, will be summoned to give account of themselves, and experience “the terror of the Lord”; whereas those who deliberately commit themselves to total rebellion, refusing baptism, rather setting themselves totally against the ways of the Most High, will rest peacefully in the grave. There is no passage of Scripture where such a scenario is taught.
It teaches that the “command” of the Creator for men to repent (Acts 17:30) is not a command to be obeyed, but a mere invitation which men may accept or reject as they please. However, the Scriptures teach that whilst the call of the Gospel is an invitation to love and mercy, it is also a command to submit and obey (Cp 2 Pet 2:21; 1 Jno 3:23; 2 Jno 1:4; 2 Thes 1:8; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 4:17)
Most significantly, it teaches that association with the blood of Christ (through either baptism or circumcision & sacrifice) forms the ground of wrath and punishment. Whereas Scripture presents the blood of Christ as the basis of reconciliation and forgiveness (Rom 3:25; Col 1:14; Heb 13:12; 1 Jno 1:7).
A variety of reasons are given for the belief that only men who are in covenant-relationship with the Deity shall be called forth to judgment (ranging from the idea that man is legally condemned to an eternal death by the sin of another man (Adam) and that unless that condemnation is removed he cannot therefore be raised, to simply “there is no point” in raising disobedient men merely to condemn them), but it is a fact that there is no passage in Scripture where such a thing is stated. The teaching that men who are not baptized will not be summoned to stand before the Master to give account of their rebellion is not found in any verse of Scripture. However, the Bible does describe those who will be judged, demonstrating that the basis of condemnation for those rejected, is not association with the blood of Christ, but their personal iniquity:
“the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; that that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jno 5:29)
“there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15)
“where are the dwelling places of the wicked? Have ye not asked them that go by the way? And do ye not know their tokens, that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? They shall be brought forth to the day of wrath” (Job 21:30; cp Jude 6).
The class of men then, who shall be raised from the dead to condemnation, are the doers of “evil”, the “unjust” and the “wicked”. From these testimonies, it is clear that the basis of their appearance and condemnation before the judgment seat of Christ is their personal wickedness. By contrast, there is no verse of Scripture which states that baptism (or circumcision & sacrifice in the Mosaic era) is a basis for judgment and condemnation.
But not all the wicked shall be summoned before the Great Judge; Scripture teaches that not all men will be raised from the dead to appear there. There is a class of men who shall not be raised to appear anywhere, for any purpose, let alone before Christ for judgment:
“O Yahweh our Elohim, other lords besides Thee have had dominion over us: but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased; they shall not rise …” (Is 26:13,14).
“Yea, a man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:10-12).
“many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2, i.e. many will rise, therefore some will not).
THE GROUND OF ACCOUNTABILITY
There are therefore, men who shall are not to be rewarded for faithfulness, nor punished for iniquity. These “shall not rise” – but why? Why are they excused from judgment? The answer is before us. For a man to be condemned for doing evil, being “unjust” and “wicked”, is to imply that he has made the choice to do evil, to be unjust and wicked, and is now reaping the consequences of that decision . And in order to make that choice, he must know what is right, yet has decided to do that which is wrong. In other words, they have had opportunity to do good, to be just, and be righteous, yet they have chosen not to be. And indeed, we find this to be in harmony with the facts of Scripture, that a knowledge of the righteousness of God renders a man responsible for his actions in response to it, whether it be in obedience, or disobedience. As our opening quotation states: “to him that knoweth to go good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas 4:17). Those who know to do good are convicted of sin if they do it not – those who know the commandment that Yahweh has given them, yet do it not, shall be convicted as sinners, for their rebellion shall be considered sin to them in the day to come. By the same token, those who do not know the way of righteousness – who therefore have no opportunity to do that righteousness, and be just – will not be held accountable for defying a command that was not made known to them. The Scriptures are quite plain on this:
“the times of this ignorance God winked at …” (Acts 17:30)
“Jesus said unto them; If ye were blind, ye should have no sin” (John 9:41)
“for as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12)
“ … the law worketh wrath, for where no law is, there is no transgression …” (Rom 4:15)
Whilst God winked at times of ignorance, no Scripture states that He winked at times of knowledge. Men who are “without law”, who are “ignorant” are not held accountable for not responding favourably to that which they did not know. Such men, with no understanding of the commandments of the Creator, rather to be raised for the purposes of being punished for disobedience to a law they never knew, shall rest in the grave without hope, and without punishment – like the beasts that perish:
“Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 49:20).
Conversely, the Scriptures are equally plain in teaching that those who have received the Light of the Word are accountable as to how they have responded to it, as we have already seen, either in obedience or disobedience:
“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you” (Prov 1:24-27).
“This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (Jno 3:19)
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” (Jno 15:22)
“he that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jno 12:48)
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16)
TEACHING THE GOSPEL
Upon considering the above testimonies, it becomes clear why Paul taught coming judgments as part of his Gospel. In fact, he was commanded to do so by the Father Himself: “He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and dead” (Acts 10:42). Therefore, when we find Paul preaching judgment to the heathen philosophers at Mars Hill (Acts 17:31), and again to the Roman Procurator, Felix (Acts 24:25) – who “trembled” in fear as a consequence – he was obeying the commandment of Yahweh to include this particular topic in his preaching. And we can readily perceive why; the Apostles were not merely issuing invitations for men to enter into an agreement of service, if it pleased them to do so. They were proclaiming the commandment of the Creator for men to repent – and they proclaimed the consequences of men disobeying that command. Those that “believe not shall be damned”, and so the Apostles warned men of the consequences of their rejecting the Light which shone unto them.
It is felt by some that to speak of coming judgment to men is ‘unloving,’ and ‘unchristian’. It may well be ‘unchristian’ by the standards of what passes for Christianity in our day, which is as pure to the Truth as sewer gas is to fresh air. But it is by no means unloving. On the contrary, it would be most unloving to preach to men that they can obey the Gospel if they please, but if they would prefer not to, they are free to leave it; and not warn them of the consequences. And by not warning men of what will befall them, those who are not preaching the whole counsel of God leave themselves open for rebuke. As Bro Robert Roberts wrote:
“How terrible it will be in that day, if through looseness of doctrine in this matter on our part, men should find themselves awake from the dead to judgment who did not expect to be there, and who would naturally turn their reproaches against us. “Why did you tell me I was not responsible?” Paul declared himself “free from the blood of all men,” because he “had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.” In this position we can scarcely consider ourselves if we lull people into a deadly indifference by teaching them that if they choose to disobey God, the worst they have to look for is to be left undisturbed in an everlasting grave. This is not the worst. There is a judgment which shall “devour the adversary” of which every (responsible) soul of man will partake who are “contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (Rom 2:8)” (The Christadelphian, 1894).
VARIOUS OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED
The Bible is emphatic in its teaching of coming judgment. There is both the judgment to come upon the world as a whole, by way of bringing the world into subjection to Christ (Ps 110:6; Ps 149:9; Ezek 39:21; Rev 18); and there is also the personal judgment of those who will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to be judged according to their deeds. The two are distinct, involving different classes of men, yet both are similar in the condemnation of sin, and the upholding of the Deity’s righteousness.
There are those who claim that the promised judgments that formed part of the Gospel that Paul preached are these national outpourings of wrath against the unenlightened heathen who oppose the imposition of Divine Rule upon the earth (cp Rev 17; Ps 2). But this cannot be so – why should Felix the Roman “tremble” in fear of national judgments to be poured out around two thousand years later? Why should the Apostle use the fact of Yahweh judging the earth (Acts 17) as a reason for men to repent, if those men held no relationship to those judgments which would not occur until many centuries after their death? The simple truth is that Paul preached the day of coming judgment to those at Mars Hill as a reason for them to repent, because they themselves would experience those judgments if they did not. And in order for those judgments to have any relevance to those men, they must be among the dead who are raised – among that class of men who “shall be damned” for believing not the word proclaimed to them (Mark 16:16).
Again, others claim that the judgment to come that Felix trembled at, was the judgment of AD 70. But again, this will just not do; the judgment that Paul was commanded to preach was in relation to the Christ being “the judge of the quick and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Therefore, the judgment he spoke of in his preaching was that which pertained to the resurrection of the dead. Besides this, why should Felix, as a Roman procurator be afraid of the overthrow of Jerusalem, brought about by the victorious armies of his people?
Some argue that knowing rejecters of the Gospel will not be judged, simply because “there is no point”. However, the testimony of God plainly declares that such judgments will be meted when men are rewarded according to their deeds. We leave those who deny this emphatic teaching of Scripture on the spurious grounds that they fail to perceive the reason of things, to inform the Lord at his coming that there is “no point” in him executing the judgment written. For our part, we believe that the judgment of God is according to truth against them whose wilful rebellion warrants it (Rom 2:2).
And finally, it is sometimes objected that the passages commonly used to demonstrate accountability to judgment, in their context refer to those in covenant relationship, whether they be Jews under the Law, or Gentiles baptised into Christ. Therefore, it is argued, the most that these passages prove is that those in covenant relationship shall be judged. However, we have cited other references, such as Acts 17 which were spoken to unbelieving and disobedient Gentiles. Moreover, even the passages which speak of believers being accountable to judgment do not state that their association with the blood of Christ as the ground of judgment, but rather Knowledge:
“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet 2:21).
The Scriptures are as clear on this matter as they are on any other first principle of the Truth. And men of faith, who preach the same Gospel that Paul preached will not omit this vital aspect from their preaching, but will warn the wicked to turn from their ways, for Yahweh “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30).
This article is penned in response to a public challenge mounted by a prominent member, against an aspect of the Gospel (described in Clause 24 of the BASF) being taught in a public lecture by the present writer. The basis of the challenge was that the matter “cannot be proved from Scripture,” and that “there is no point” in Yahweh raising an enlightened rejecter of the Gospel. Here, we have sought to present the clear and emphatic teaching of Scripture concerning the issue; further comments and questions are welcomed.