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The judgment

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Archives / 1979 / July



The judgment

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as a professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.



Eschatology, the doctrine of "last things," has become prominent in the study of the Christian church only in these last times. The early centuries of the Christian era were preoccupied with the primary question "What think ye of Christ?" Inevitably, there followed attention to the nature of the Godhead, resulting in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Later issues revolved around the nature of sin, atonement, justification, and regeneration. Our own day is characterized by investigation of the scriptural testimony regarding the closing events in the history of the church and the world. The latter rain of the Holy Spirit, the final proclamation of the gospel and the con sequent testing of the church by persecution, the sealing of every man's destiny as manifested by the judgment, and the second advent of Christ—these are the topics now absorbing those who believe in Holy Writ.

New investigation brings new truth, and nowhere is this more evident than in the increasing light that has been shed on the doctrine of the judgment. For centuries the church paid lip service to the Biblical warnings of judgment, but only in the past century and a half have theologians given it serious study. Until very recent times it was popular to misinterpret John 5:24 to assert that Christians would not be judged. Now most scholars 14 see in that text a statement of the present privileges of the believer he does not stand under condemnation but has passed from death to life. Certainly Biblical scholarship today concurs that even Christians must undergo ultimate investigation by God Himself.

Canon J. E. Fison somewhat caustically, but accurately, accuses popular misconceptions regarding the judgment of refusing to allow it to do the one thing that the New Testament declares it is most designed to do—judge, not lost pagans outside the pale of the church, but the complacent, ecclesiastical souls whose entire confidence is based upon the fact that they are well within it (Leon Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment, p. 64).

In the same book Morris himself speaks similarly. "The judgment will be such that none may escape it. The living and the dead are involved (2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pe 4:5). Even angels are included (2 Pe 2:4; Jude 6). God is 'the Judge of all' (Heb. 12:23). It is" the temptation of religious man to think that he will escape in such a time. He can understand such a saying as 'fornicators and adulterers God will judge' (Heb. 13:4). He can appreciate the force of Paul's dictum that all will be judged 'who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness' (2 Thess. 2:12). But he likes to think of himself as immune. . . . But the New Testament will not leave religious man to rest in his complacent smugness. It prods him wide awake with its insistence that he, too, stands under judgment. Take the saying quoted in Heb. 10:30 (Deut. 32:36), 'The Lord shall judge His people.' This brings the matter unpleasantly close to home. And it is even worse with 1 Peter 4:17, 'the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God.' Jesus assures us that people like the scribes, with religious pretensions, 'shall receive greater condemnation' (Mk. 12:40), and James reminds us that Christian teachers 'shall receive heavier judgment' (James 3:1). Jesus tells us that in the judgment some will say, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name do many mighty works?' only to receive His sentence, 'I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity' (Matt. 7:22 f.). ... It is worth noting that the people who will be surprised on that day are not the rank outsiders, but those who think themselves safe within the church."—Ibid., pp. 62, 64. (Bible references are from the A.S.V.)

The doctrine of judgment was no strange thing to the ancient people of the tabernacle. In their ritual, on the Day of Atonement, there was "a remembrance again made of sins every year" (Heb. 10:3). Not all Israelites, of course, could be summoned within the Holy of Holies before the glory of God, but all appeared in the person of their representative, the High Priest.

Students of the tabernacle have long understood that it portrays the true Pilgrim's Progress. Entering the courtyard, the believer is confronted by the brazen altar of sacrifice, a fitting emblem of conversion and justification at the be ginning of the Christian journey to the New Jerusalem. At this point, having accepted the invitation to "come," the believer in the grace of God finds himself surrounded by the spotless white of the court hangings, and through the ministry of priest and sacrifice his burden of guilt is rolled away. With Bunyan's pilgrim—who confronting the cross could sing: "Blest cross, blest sepulchre, blest rather be, the Man who there was put to shame for me"—he feels his burden slip from his shoulders and roll into the tomb of Christ.

Every Christian knows it is not enough to be declared righteous through the imputed merits of the Saviour. Holiness of heart and life are essential. The laver, located between the altar of burnt offering and the tabernacle entrance, pointed to the truth of sanctification. Without holiness "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14), because God justifies no man whom He does not proceed to sanctify. God ever presents His gifts with two hands, and no man can receive forgiveness, pardon, and righteousness, without also receiving the sanctifying Spirit. No man can accept Christ's atoning death without also taking His risen life, which gives victory over sinful habits. God is not content with forgiving the rebel; He also takes away his rebellion. Not only the stream of pollution is dealt with, but also the fountain.

Entrance to the first apartment re minds the pilgrim that all Christian growth depends upon partaking of the bread of life and the nourishing of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The shewbread, lampstand, and the incense altar where prayer was offered symbolize the elements of the devotional life, as well as the Christian warfare. The incense is a continual reminder that the blessings of justification cannot be left behind at conversion, but continue to be necessary until the end of the journey. The ascending fragrance alone makes all else acceptable.

The next step of pilgrimage finds one inside the Holy of Holies confronting the ark of the law. This article is an apt figure of judgment, the necessary preliminary to glorification.

Let me repeat that the Israelites did not appear in person before the ark. They appeared only in the person of their representative advocate—the high priest. A number of scholars now recognize that the New Testament does not speak of a judgment of the church fol lowing the Second Advent except in the parable of Matthew 25:41-46, which is recognized by many as a wide-lens photograph, a picture in cosmic perspective, condensing in one representation the en tire divine judgment, though other scriptures separate its phases (see J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, p. 417). The judgment of those who profess Christ must precede His coming in order to determine the genuineness of their faith in Christ and dependence upon His merits—a dependence made manifest by holy works—thus deciding who is entitled to be in the first resurrection (see Rev. 20:4-6).

As Joseph Seiss has seen: "The truth is, that the resurrection, and changes which pass 'in the twinkling of an eye' upon the living, are themselves the fruits and embodiments of antecedent judgment. . . . Strictly speaking, men are neither raised nor translated, in order to come to judgment. Resurrections and translations are products of judgment previously passed, upon the dead as dead, and upon the quick (living) as quick." —The Apocalypse, vol. 1, pp. 325, 326.

In a volume entitled The Last Things, Walter Wood lists in his table of contents such themes as the following: The day of judgment not necessarily a natural day; the righteous and the wicked will not be judged together; passages in which the judgment of Christ's people is spoken of without any accompanying judgment of the heathen; the judgment of saints and sinners cannot be simultaneous because the saints are to bear a part in the work of judgment.

Wood's last point is highly significant. There are two sets of texts in Scripture about judgment. One set declares that all who profess the name of Christ will be judged (Matt. 7:24 ff; 24:45 ff; 25:1 ff; 25:14 ff., etc.). But the other set represents the believers as appearing in the day of judgment in a different capacity—not as defendants but as judges (Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:30, and particularly 1 Cor. 6:2, 3, where it is affirmed that the saints shall judge both the world and angels).* These two sets of texts prove that there is a definite order in the judgment; and that; of necessity, believers must first be judged, and that prior to the coming of the Lord.

These truths help us understand the significance of Israel's Day of Atonement, and also such passages as Zechariah 3, where the high priest stands be fore the Most High in the soiled garments that represent the sins of Israel. We also gain insight into that passage in the Bible's last book, which warns that "the hour of his judgment is come" (Rev. 14:6-12). This threefold message, which encompasses the "ever lasting gospel," gathers out of the world a host who are characterized by their loyalty to "the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (verse 12).

How wonderfully wise are the ways of God! While salvation is set forth repeatedly in Scripture as a gift, yet the doctrine of judgment reminds all recipients of that gift; that their lives are to be reviewed to see whether there is evidence of that absolute surrender to Christ that characterizes genuine faith. We are indeed justified by faith alone, but all will be judged by their works, in order that all of God's immortal ones may recognize whether the claim to faith has been substantiated. Not the Father, but He who bears our human nature as well as the divine, is to render each verdict (John 5:22). How vital that we be found in Him, trusting solely in His merits, yet laboring earnestly to glorify Him in all things!

The final message to the world echoes the gospel of which Paul was not ashamed. It proclaims "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, R.S. V.). While calling all men to the worship of the Creator rather than the creature, it simultaneously warns against the chief perversions of the gospel—legalism and antinomianism. The "everlasting gospel" of Revelation 14:6 is a defense against the first heresy; the clarion call announcing the judgment hour in the next verse is the divine warning against antinomianism.

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* A number of systematic theologians have made this point. Benjamin Field says: "The saints, after being judged themselves, shall be assessors with Christ in the judgment wherein he shall condemn all the wicked, as well angels as men." —Handbook of Christian Theology, p. 259. See also the writings of D. H. Kromminga, especially The Millennium in the Church, pp. 86, 87.
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