The judgment

The covenants God established with Abraham and his descendants were divine pledges to be Israel’s God as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny with one condition “Israel’s total consecration to the LORD as His people (His kingdom) who live by his rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament). The covenant between God and Israel was initiated at Mount Sinai and was an outgrowth and extension of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants 600 years earlier (note on Exodus 19:5). At the time the Sinaitic Covenant was initiated, Moses was given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and other laws that were to govern the Israelites’ behavior. Afterward, Moses affirmed the covenant when he “took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

Jesus’ arrival on Earth marked a transition from the Sinaitic Covenant to the New Covenant which was “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ – a covenant of pure grace” (Covenants of the Old Testament). Jesus parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought about a new approach to salvation. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:15-16). The point Jesus was making was that John the Baptist concluded the ministry or work of the law and the prophets. From that point forward, God’s grace was being made available to everyone and people were eagerly receiving it.

As he concluded his three-year ministry on Earth, Jesus prepared his disciples for what still lay ahead of them in their mission to save the world. Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents there would be a period of time when he would be absent from the world, but his work of salvation would continue. Then, he would return and establish his kingdom on Earth. According to the book of Revelation, there will be two separate judgments that will take place after Jesus returns. The first takes place before the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4), and the second judgment takes place afterward. Revelation 20:11-12 states, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works.”

Jesus’ description of the judgment that will take place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory” (Matthew 25:31), could be one or the other of the judgments that are mentioned in Revelation 20, or a different one altogether. It seems likely that Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment because it signifies the ultimate completion of his work on Earth. Jesus said “before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:32-33, 46). The basis of this judgment could be the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples (John 13:34) or the great commandment that was summarized in Mark 12:29-31. Either way, the central focus of Jesus’ judgment will be the love that is shown to others based on the example he gave during his three-year ministry on Earth (Matthew 25:34-40).

On the inside

Jesus distinguished the kingdom of God as something that could not be discovered through observation. He said, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). If you think of a kingdom as a realm of control or something that is able to be governed, then you could say the kingdom of God operates on the inside of a person by way of the believer’s heart making conscious decisions to obey God’s commandments. The things that I do for God may not be evident to the people around me, but they are visible to everyone in the spiritual realm. To a certain extent, the kingdom of God is hidden right now; it is intentionally being kept out of view.

Jesus told his disciples, “The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it” (Luke 17:22). By this, I believe Jesus meant that the physical  manifestation of his work, the miracles and other supernatural activities he performed while he was on Earth would no longer be evident, meaning they would not be clearly seen or understood. The primary way we know that Jesus is alive today is by the conviction we feel in our hearts that he is speaking to us. After Jesus’ resurrection, he talked to two men who were traveling to a village called Emmaus. At first they didn’t recognize Jesus, but while they were eating a meal with him, it says in Luke 24:31 their eyes were opened and they knew him. After he vanished out of their sight, “they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32).

Jesus told his disciples there would come a day when he would be revealed to the world (Luke 17:30). The way he described it, Jesus’ unveiling would result in a sudden shift in the physical and spiritual realms that would bring about a separation of the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Satan. He said, “I tell you in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women will be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36). Apparently, what will happen is everyone who does not belong in God’s kingdom will be removed from the earth in judgment as in the flood of Noah’s day (Luke 17:26-27) (G3880).

Bad things happen to good people

“In ancient times, and even today, it was often assumed that a calamity would befall only those who were extremely sinful (see John 9:1-2; see also Job 4:7; 22:5, where Eliphaz falsely accused Job)” (note on Luke 13:2,4). Jesus refuted this belief when he responded to a report that Pilate, a Roman governor was offering human sacrifices in his temple. It says in Luke 13:2-3, “And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment when he said all who didn’t repent would likewise perish. This is the judgment of unbelievers (those who have rejected Christ) that takes place at the end of the Great Tribulation. It says in Revelation 20:11-15:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the difference between judgment (what happens to unbelievers) and discipline (what happens to believers). In his parable, the owner of the fig tree expected it to produce fruit, but after three years there was none. Therefore, the owner told the caretaker of his vineyard to cut it down because it was useless to him (Luke 13:7). The caretaker responded, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shall cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9). Jesus used the image of fruit symbolically throughout his ministry to represent spiritual activity in the life of a believer. Jesus explained the process of spiritual discipline to his disciples in John 15:1-2. He said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” In other words, like a healthy tree that needs to be pruned, God disciplines believers so that they will produce more spiritual fruit.

One of the hindrances to believers bearing fruit is spiritual bondage. Jesus used the example of a woman’s infirmity or feebleness to show that a person can be delivered from moral sickness. It says in Luke 13:11-12, “And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman thou art loosed from thy infirmity.” The Greek word translated loosed, apoluo (ap-ol-oo´-o) means to set free or “to let go free, release a captive: i.e. to loose his bonds and bid him depart, to give him liberty to depart (Lk 22:68; 23:32), to acquit one accused of a crime and set him at liberty” (630). It seems as though this woman may have been bound by her guilt and needed to be released from the power it had to condemn her. Jesus did not mention any sin or say that she was forgiven, but merely took away the spirit or belief she had that she was a bad person.

 

Negative impact

Although many were affected positively by Jesus’ teaching, there was a large portion of the Jewish population that rejected his messages and refused to respond to Jesus’ call to repentance. Jesus said, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida: for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). The Greek word Jesus used, which is translated repented, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh´-o) means “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (3340). Jesus wanted God’s people to understand that his kingdom was not an imaginary, fictitious place, but a real destination that everyone would eventually arrive at. Jesus compared the cities within the borders of the Promised Land to “Gentile cities in Phoenicia, north of Galilee, which had not had opportunity to witness Jesus’ miracles and hear his preaching as the people had in most of Galilee” (note on Luke 10:14). Jesus’ vicious condemnation of the Jews made it clear that they would be judged for their rejection of his gospel message.

The town where Jesus had spent the majority of his time, Capernaum received the harshest reprimand of all. Jesus continued, “But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell; for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day” (Matthew 11:22-23). The mighty works Jesus referred to were the numerous miracles he had performed in Capernaum, including raising a young man from the dead (Luke 7:14-15). “Although Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it (Gen 19:24-28; Jude 7), the people who heard the message of Jesus and his disciples were even more accountable, because they had the gospel of the kingdom preached to them. This passage clearly teaches degrees of punishment. Some sins are worse than others and bring more judgment” (note on Luke 10:12).

The day of judgment that Jesus eluded to was mentioned numerous times during his ministry. Jesus’ example of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Sodom, as cities that would fair better in the day of judgment, was meant to startle or perhaps even shock his listeners into an awareness of their extremely dangerous spiritual state. The thought that Capernaum would be brought down to hell would surely have had a negative impact on those that believed territories within the border of the Promised Land would escape the judgment or at least be judged on a different scale than the notorious pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon and ancient city of Sodom. The truth that Jesus was declaring to them was that the Jews would be judged on a different scale, one much more harsh than others, because they had heard his gospel and rejected it.