Judgment has many aspects. It may concern legal procedures and announcements, or it may concern private acts of examining, discerning or criticizing. It is something that people do and something that God does. It takes place in the lives of people now and will take place in their encounter with God at the end of the age.

God the judge

As creator of the human race and ruler of the universe, God is the supreme judge (Gen 18:25; Ps 67:4; 94:2; 96:13; John 8:50; Heb 12:23). His judgment is always just because it is according to his own perfect standards, but it is also mixed with mercy (Ps 9:8; 36:5-6; 89:14; Rom 2:12-16; 2 Tim 4:8; James 2:13; Rev 16:5; see MERCY). God’s judgment is not merely another word for his condemnation and punishment. True judgment involves both discernment and action, and the two are inseparable. First the judge makes a distinction between what is right and what is wrong, then on the basis of his findings he takes action. The purpose of that action is to condemn the person who is wrong and vindicate the person who is right (Deut 1:16-17; 16:18-20; 1 Kings 3:9,28; Jer 5:28; Ezek 7:27). For this reason persecuted believers in Old Testament days often looked forward to God’s judgment.

Though downtrodden, they knew they were in the right, but because of the corruption of the courts they had no way of gaining a hearing and therefore no chance of getting justice. They longed for the day when God would act in true judgment, righting the wrongs, declaring them to be right, and sentencing their opponents to punishment (Ps 7:6-8; 9:8,12; 10:2,12,17-18; 82:1-4; see JUSTICE). Persecuted believers in the New Testament era could likewise long for the day when God would intervene in judgment, bringing relief to them and punishment to their persecutors (2 Thess 1:4-8; Rev 6:10; 11:18). Christ’s death makes the judgment and condemnation of evildoers certain, because by that death Satan himself was judged and condemned (John 12:31-33; 16:8-11).

Everyday judgments

Making judgments between right and wrong is part of the process of living (Luke 7:43; 12:57). This is particularly so in the case of Christians who, having an understanding of the mind of God, are better able to judge between the good and the evil (John 7:24; 1 Cor 2:15-16; Heb 5:14). In the church they must make judgments concerning what is said (1 Cor 10:15; 14:29; 1 Thess 5:20-21) and what is done (Acts 15:19; 1 Cor 5:3,12; 6:1-3). When exercising this judgment, Christians must first of all judge themselves, to make sure they are not guilty of the things concerning which they accuse others. God will judge them according to the standard they use to judge others (Matt 7:1-5; Rom 2:1-3).

Therefore, they must exercise strict selfexamination and self-correction, otherwise they may experience God’s judgment upon them in the form of various sufferings (1 Cor 11:28-32; Heb 12:6; see CHASTISEMENT). There are some things, particularly in the lives of others, concerning which Christians should not make judgments at all. In such cases God is the only one capable of making right judgments (1 Cor 4:3-5; James 4:11-12). They should not be harshly critical of those of weaker faith, but should concentrate on strengthening them (Rom 14:3-4,13).

Jesus Christ the judge

The purpose of Jesus’ first coming was not to be a judge but to be a saviour; not to condemn sinners but to save sinners (John 3:17; 12:47). It is at his second coming that Jesus will carry out God’s work of judgment (Matt 25:36-41; John 5:22,26-30; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Thess 1:7-8; 2 Tim 4:1). Although Jesus’ first coming was not for the purpose of judgment, it did, in a sense, result in judgment. When people faced him they had to make a decision either to accept him or reject him; and the decision they made was their own judgment on themselves. It determined whether they would be saved or condemned (John 3:19; 9:39; cf. Rom 1:24,26,28). People who considered themselves good, who heard Jesus’ teachings and saw his mighty works yet deliberately rejected him, condemned themselves. They would suffer greater punishment than those whom they considered wicked but who had never heard of Jesus (Matt 11:20-24; Mark 12:40; Luke 12:47-48; John 9:39-41).

Final judgment

All people will one day stand before Christ, the supreme judge. This includes those who are living at Christ’s return and those who have died throughout the thousands of years of the world’s history (Matt 10:15; 25:31-32; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom 14:10; Heb 9:27; 1 Peter 4:5). Because no one knows when that judgment will be, people should live in a state of constant readiness for it (Matt 24:36,42-44). At that judgment each person’s behaviour will be judged, even hidden actions and secret thoughts, because such works are evidence of what a person really is (Matt 12:33-37; 16:27; Rom 2:6,16; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 22:12). Being perfect in holiness, God cannot treat evil as if it does not matter. His love for all that is right is so strong that he reacts against all that is wrong in righteous anger and holy wrath (Rom 1:18; 2:5; Eph 5:6; Rev 6:17; see HELL; PUNISHMENT).

As far as believers are concerned, this wrath has fallen on Jesus Christ. Through him believers have the forgiveness of their sins and so escape the wrath that is to fall on sinners at the final judgment (Rom 3:24-26; 5:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; see FORGIVENESS; JUSTIFICATION; PROPITIATION). Since Christ has borne their sin and brought them into a right relationship with God, believers can face God’s judgment with confidence (Rom 8:33; 1 John 4:17). They do not fear condemnation, because once they are ‘in Christ’ there can be no condemnation (John 3:18; 5:24; Rom 8:11). Since their names are in the book of life, they have no fear of the judgment of death (Rev 20:11-15; cf. Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3; Rev 21:27). This confidence does not mean that believers will escape all judgment. There will be an examination of their lives and works that will reveal whether they have lived for God or for themselves; whether they have followed God’s standards or the standards of the world. That examination will determine the reward or rebuke they will receive (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:8-15; 2 Cor 5:10; see HEAVEN; REWARD).

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