Is God Delaying His Judgment?
IMAGINE you are awaiting an out-of-town visitor who has told you the day of his arrival but not the hour. As time passes, and he still has not come, you begin to wonder if he has been delayed. Was this really the day he said he would come? Could there have been a misunderstanding? Slowly, what was at first only impatience gives way to something more disconcerting, something called doubt.
This may well describe how some people feel about the promised arrival of God’s time to execute judgment against wickedness. After all, his worshipers have been waiting so long for it. Take, for example, faithful King David. Over 3,000 years ago he said: “Jehovah himself at your right hand will certainly break kings to pieces on the day of his anger. He will execute judgment among the nations.” So can anyone today be blamed for wondering, When?—Psalm 110:5, 6.
By comparing world conditions with Bible prophecy and by taking into account Bible chronology, serious Bible students have become convinced that God’s day of judgment is finally near. But have not many people in the past felt the same way, only to find out later that they were mistaken? Is there any sure way of determining exactly when God’s judgment will be executed?
At God’s “Appointed Time”
Jesus indicated that judgment would take place at a definite time. But in warning to his followers, he said: “Keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.”—Mark 13:33.
Habakkuk, commissioned by God six centuries earlier to write about the execution of divine judgment, also said it would be “for the appointed time.” And as a warning against becoming impatient, or perhaps even doubtful, he promised at God’s direction: “It will not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:2, 3.
But if God’s judgment is “for the appointed time” and if it “will not be late,” why does Habakkuk say “even if it should delay”? Evidently to show that some of God’s people would expect it to come sooner than it actually would. Why? Because the exact time of its coming would remain unknown to them.
While on earth, even Jesus did not know the exact time, for he said: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32) What he did know, however, was the time period during which judgment would occur. Thus, at his disciples’ request, he gave a sign that would enable them to recognize this time period once it had begun. Its first evidence, Jesus said, would be “like the first pains of childbirth.” Now, of course, a pregnant woman going into labor does not know the exact time her child will be born. She does know, however, that its birth is imminent.—Matthew 24:3-8, Today’s English Version.
“This Generation Will by No Means Pass Away”
Besides knowing when the time period for divine judgment would come, Jesus was able to put a limit on its length. Using the illustration of a fig tree, he said: “Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”—Matthew 24:32-34.
Thus judgment would be executed sometime during the life span of people seeing the first evidence of the time period foretold by Jesus. The start of this time period would mark the beginning of the end for Satan’s world, against which God’s newly established Kingdom in heaven would execute divine judgment. Bible chronology and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy provide ample proof that this time period began in 1914.a
Thus before the 1914 generation completely dies out, God’s judgment must be executed. This generation still exists in goodly numbers. For example, in 1980 there were still 1,597,700 persons alive in the Federal Republic of Germany who were born in 1900 or before. The figure would be even larger had not millions of its citizens experienced premature death during the two world wars.
In promising that “this generation will by no means pass away,” Jesus used the two Greek negatives ou and me. The Companion Bible explains this usage as follows: “The two negatives when combined lose their distinctive meanings, and form the strongest and most emphatic asseveration [affirmation].” Only now, at a time when it appears that the generation could pass away before all is fulfilled, do Jesus’ words “by no means” take on real significance.
A Test of Faith
Habakkuk’s warning words indicate that there would be an apparent delay in Jehovah’s judgment, serving as a test of faith. Logically this test could not arise until late in the generation of which Jesus spoke. In reference to the example at the beginning of this article, consider this: When would you begin seriously doubting that your visitor was coming? Certainly not at nine o’clock in the morning, nor at noon, possibly not even in the late afternoon. But likely your faith would be tested once evening had set in. However, remember that even at 11:30 p.m. your visitor still would have sufficient time to come in fulfillment of his promise!
There is no reason to worry that God’s Word will go unfulfilled. It has never failed. Joshua’s words to the Israelites over 3,000 years ago are as true now as they were then: “Not one word out of all the good words that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.”—Joshua 23:14.
“Respecting the fulfilment of prophecy it seems to be natural for us, and for all humanity, to be impatient and to expect things to be done more rapidly than they usually come to pass.” So said The Watch Tower in its May 1, 1910, issue, adding: “This is a delay as respects our expectations, but we may be sure that there is no delay in the matter as respects the divine intention . . . We have no doubt that the results will be attained in the fulness of time—God’s time.”
In retrospect, faithful Christians living today can see good reasons why God’s judgment has not yet been executed. In fact, they rejoice that it has not. Our next article explains why.
a A detailed explanation can be found in chapters 16 and 18 of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, published in 1982 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Many of the generation of 1914 hope to see “all these things occur”