A Judgment That Balances Justice with Mercy
WHEN you think of going before a judge, what picture comes to your mind?
Perhaps you envision a harsh, strict, unbending individual who listens to the charges and the evidence against you, but gives you no chance to explain your position and the reason for your failures.
This is the picture that the religious churches of Christendom often paint of Christ as judge. For example, a mural in the Sistine Chapel in Rome depicts Christ pronouncing judgment. He is making a sweeping gesture as he utters condemnation to the “damned” for their past sins, sending them to a hell of eternal torment. So harsh and terrifying is his expression that his mother Mary, shown alongside him, is cringing, as if she were more righteous and merciful than he—that Christ’s judgment is inhumanly cruel.
Nothing could be farther from the truth than such a picture. Of the one appointed as Head Judge, the apostle John wrote: “He was full of undeserved kindness and truth.” (John 1:14) And at the time of judgment he will have with him as associate judges 144,000 heavenly persons, of whom the Bible says: “No falsehood was found in their mouths; they are without blemish.”—Rev. 14:1, 5.
Furthermore, the Judgment Day the Bible describes is not one twenty-four-hour day, in which all the billions of humanity are paraded before the throne to have their past sins rehearsed and to receive a final, irrevocable judgment then and there. The judgment day during which Christ and his 144,000 associates serve as judges occupies a full thousand years.—Rev. 20:6, 12, 13.
WHAT IS A “JUDGE” IN THE BIBLE SENSE?
When we examine the Bible account, we see that judges were not men who merely sat to hear and weigh evidence and then pronounced a judgment or sentence. Judges were appointed as leaders, helpers, deliverers of the people. (Judg. 2:18) They not only judged violators of law; they also helped the people to know and to apply God’s law in their lives—they were like “fathers” to the people.
Take, for example, Judge Gideon. He was an unassuming man, a farmer, but well informed on the law. With three hundred men of faith in God he delivered Israel out of the oppressive hand of the Midianites. Then he led and judged the nation in righteousness for forty years, during which time the land was without disturbance.—Judg. chaps. 6-8.
Then there was Jephthah, an outcast man, who relieved Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites. His zeal for God’s cause was so fervent that he vowed of his own accord to sacrifice whoever came out of his house to greet him on his victorious return from battle. (This vow was not to burn anyone literally, but to devote the individual to a life of service at the tabernacle of God.) To do this was his right as head of his household. Jephthah faithfully fulfilled his vow when his own daughter, his only child, proved to be the one. Afterward he “continued to judge Israel for six years” until his death.—Judg. chaps. 11, 12.
The apostle Paul names a number of these judges and says that they “effected righteousness.” (Heb. 11:33) How? They acted to restore pure worship of God; they served to clean up the nation and to bring it back into favor with God, with resultant peace and prosperity. (Judg. 6:28-32) They counseled and directed so that individuals could bring their lives into harmony with God and thereby secure prosperous and happy living.—Isa. 1:26.
Other judges in ancient Israel were also elders in their communities. They handled legal cases, but that was only one feature of their work. Much of their time was spent in directing the affairs of the community, seeing to the welfare of all, in harmony with the arrangements that God had established. They helped the people to learn and abide by the law, thus reducing the number of legal cases that would otherwise arise.—Prov. 8:15, 16.
Kings of Israel were also judges. Israel requested “a king to judge us like all the nations.” Though the king had responsibility for the welfare of all the population on his shoulders at all times, sitting in judgment of judicial cases was, of course, an important part of his work.—1 Sam. 8:4, 5; 2 Chron. 1:9-12.
MANKIND’S JUDGMENT DAY
The apostle Paul told an audience in Athens: “[God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) That “man” is the Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection is a guarantee of the resurrection of the dead, as Paul wrote to his fellow minister Timothy: “I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is destined to judge the living and the dead, and by his manifestation and his kingdom.”—2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Cor. 15:12-19.
Jesus Christ can judge all mankind, including the resurrected dead, because of purchasing the human race by his ransom sacrifice. He said: “Just as the Father raises the dead up and makes them alive, so the Son also makes those alive whom he wants to. For the Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. And he has given him authority to do judging, because Son of man he is. Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment. I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear [from the Father], I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 5:21-23, 27-30.
Having been a perfect man on earth as was Adam, who lost life for the human race, Jesus Christ is the “Son of man.” He stands in the position of blood relative and repurchaser, as foreshadowed by the Law. He can repurchase humankind and thereby deliver them from the bondage to sin and death, even from the grave.—Lev. 25:47-49; Rom. 5:14.
The millennial Judgment Day will be resurrection day for all those in the memorial tombs. This means all of redeemed mankind aside from Christ’s spiritual “brothers,” his 144,000 associate kings and priests, who will also be judges during that “day.” This is because these associates will have an earlier resurrection, since they share in the “first resurrection,” a resurrection to heaven.—Rev. 20:4-6; Phil. 3:11.
This resurrection will be not only of those reckoned as righteous but also of those who are called “unrighteous” in comparison. “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous,” the apostle Paul declared. We have no fears for the “righteous,” but what of the “unrighteous”?—Acts 24:15.
We need not have fears for the “unrighteous” either. It is up to them, during the Judgment Day, to accept or to reject Christ’s ransom when they are given an understanding of it. The very fact that a thousand years are set aside for the Judgment Day indicates that it consists of more than a mere pronouncement of verdicts and sentences. It is a merciful arrangement. All resurrected will need help, and one of the very purposes of the thousand years is to give them that help.
The “unrighteous” will need more help than the “righteous.” During their lifetime they did not hear of God’s provision, or else they did not heed when the good news came to their attention. Circumstances and environment had much to do with their attitudes. Some did not even know that there is a Christ. Others were so hindered by worldly pressures and cares that the “seed” of the good news did not take permanent root in their hearts. (Matt. 13:18-22) The present system of things under the invisible influence of Satan the Devil has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” (2 Cor. 4:4) It is not a ‘second chance’ for those resurrected ones. It is their first real opportunity to get eternal life on earth through faith in Jesus Christ.
The “unrighteous” will have far to go to reach perfection. But, under the far better, merciful conditions of Judgment Day, with Satan and his demons out of the way, and the present evil system gone, they will not again be hindered by outside obstacles. They will hear the good news under these better conditions and may accept or reject it. Those who reject it will die; theirs will be a ‘resurrection followed by conduct that brings on them condemnatory judgment.’ Those who accept it will have to begin making their minds over. (Rom. 12:1, 2) It will take time for them to do this.
On the other hand, the “righteous” who are brought back in the earthly resurrection will have a ‘head start.’ But the judges will have to devote time to them also. All of them died because of inheriting sin and its penalty death from the disobedient Adam and Eve. So they all died without having any righteousness of their own. (Rom. 5:12; 3:23) Their righteousness in God’s eyes was due, not to moral and physical perfection, but to the fact that they were men and women of integrity toward God, as the patriarch Job was.—Job 2:3, 9, 10; 27:5; Jas. 5:11.
Accordingly, when the “righteous” come back to earth in the resurrection, untransformed as to their personal characteristics, even they will not be free from imperfection and sinfulness. This was true in the cases of those men and women whom the prophets Elijah and Elisha and the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles resurrected, brought back to life on earth.
In view of that, the “righteous” ones just as well as the “unrighteous” will need more than just liberation from the memorial tombs by resurrection from the dead. The “righteous” will also need liberation from sinfulness and human imperfection. Consequently, the heavenly Judge Jesus Christ cannot pronounce them at once actually innocent, perfect, free from condemnable sinfulness and on their very day of resurrection hand down the decision that they are fit for eternal life on earth. They will mercifully be given the benefits of Christ’s atonement sacrifice so that they can come to human perfection, spiritually and physically. If they are obedient they will not die again. That is why the resurrection of the Judgment Day is called “a better resurrection” than that experienced by those resurrected in Bible days.—Heb. 11:35.
Those who, as a “great crowd,” survive the destruction of this system of things will be in a like position. (Rev. 7:9, 10, 13-15) They will still have their inherited sinfulness, though they have made good progress in putting on the new personality. (Eph. 4:22-24) They are on the way to life, and will have to keep on, under the merciful guidance and care of the heavenly judges, until these judges have delivered them completely from sinfulness, weaknesses and the dying state.
WILL YOU BE THERE?
So there is no reason to fear the Judgment Day of a thousand years. It is something to look forward to with all our heart. Imagine being on the scene to welcome back your loved ones to an opportunity to live under conditions in which one would really want to keep on living!
The question set before each of us today is, Will I be there to welcome back relatives and friends in the resurrection? For now is our time of opportunity for life. We know about God’s arrangements through his kingdom under Christ, the Judge for a thousand years. Our taking hold of the truth, learning more about God and his good purposes toward us, and making the truth our way of life, will work toward our survival.—Zeph. 2:2, 3.
Even if we should die while serving God in the short time this system of things has left, we can be assured of an early resurrection. So the question is raised, Will I be there? This is answerable in large measure by oneself, for God now holds the opportunity before us.—John 11:25, 26.