Justice for All by God’s Appointed Judge
1. How do you face questions similar to those faced by some people in the first century?
HOW important is justice to you? How much effort would you put forth to be assured of receiving true justice and even of living when it prevails earth wide? You owe it to yourself to think about those questions, as did some prominent men and women in Athens, Greece.
2, 3. (a) What led to Paul’s call for his Athenian listeners to repent? (b) Why would repentance sound strange to that audience?
2 They heard a memorable speech by the Christian apostle Paul to the famous court of the Areopagus. He first reasoned on the existence of one God, the Creator, to whom all of us owe our life. This led to the logical conclusion that we are accountable to this God. At this point Paul declared: “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance [as of men’s worshiping idols], yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.”—Acts 17:30.
3 Frankly, repentance would be a startling concept for that audience. Why so? The ancient Greeks knew of repentance in the sense of feeling remorse over some deed or statement. As one dictionary points out, however, the word “never suggest[ed] an alteration in the total moral attitude, a profound change in life’s direction, a conversion which affects the whole of conduct.”
4. Paul’s comment about repentance was supported by what logic?
4 Yet, you can no doubt see why such profound repentance is fitting. Follow Paul’s logic. All men owe their life to God, so all are accountable to him. It is, then, only right and just for God to expect them to seek him, to find knowledge of him. If those Athenians did not know his principles and will, they needed to learn these things and then repent in order to bring their lives into line with them. This would not depend on just how convenient it was to do so. We can see why from Paul’s forceful climax: “Because he 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.
5. How did the audience react to Paul’s speech, and why?
5 That verse, so packed with meaning, so cogent, deserves our careful inspection, for it stirs up hope for perfect justice in our time. Note the expressions: “set a day,” “judge the inhabited earth,” “in righteousness,” “by a man whom he has appointed,” “furnished a guarantee,” “resurrected him.” Those words “resurrected him” brought a strong reaction from Paul’s audience. As Acts 17 verses 32-34 show, some mocked. Others just left the discussion. Yet, a few became repentant believers. Let us, however, be wiser than the majority of the Athenian audience, for this is of utmost importance if we long for true justice. To get the most meaning out of Acts 17 verse 31, first look at the expression: “He purposes to judge the inhabited earth.” Who is that “he,” and what are his standards, especially as to justice?
6. How can we learn about the One who has set a day for judging the earth?
6 Well, Acts 17:30 shows whom Paul was referring to—the very God who is telling all to repent, our Life-Giver, the Creator. Naturally, we can find out much about God from his creative works. But his standard of justice is especially evident from another source, the Bible, which contains the record of his dealings with men such as Moses and of God’s laws for Israel.
What Sort of Judging and Justice?
7. Moses provides what testimony as to Jehovah and justice?
7 You may be aware that for decades Moses had close dealings with Jehovah God, so close that God said that he spoke with Moses “mouth to mouth.” (Numbers 12:8) Moses knew how Jehovah had treated him, as well as how God had dealt with other humans and with entire nations. Near the end of his life, Moses offered this reassuring description: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.”—Deuteronomy 32:4.
8. Why should we take note of what Elihu said on the matter of justice?
8 Consider, too, testimony from Elihu, a man noted for his wisdom and perception. You can be sure that he was not a person who reached hasty conclusions. On the contrary, in one case he sat for over a week while he listened to lengthy oral arguments from both sides. Now, from Elihu’s own experience and from his study of God’s ways, what conclusion did he reach about God? He declared: “Therefore, you men of heart, listen to me. Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly! For according to the way earthling man acts he will reward him, and according to the path of man he will cause it to come upon him. Yes, for a fact, God himself does not act wickedly, and the Almighty himself does not pervert judgment.”—Job 34:10-12.
9, 10. Why should God’s standards for human judges encourage us? (Leviticus 19:15)
9 Ask yourself: Does that not describe perfectly what we would like from a judge, that he treat each person according to his acts, or deeds, with no partiality or perverting of justice? If you had to face a human judge, would you not feel relieved if he was like that?
10 The Bible refers to Jehovah as “the Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25) Sometimes, however, he used human judges. What did he expect of Israelite judges who represented him? In Deuteronomy 16:19, 20 we read God’s directions that amount to a job description for judges: “You must not pervert judgment. You must not be partial or accept a bribe, for the bribe blinds the eyes of wise ones and distorts the words of righteous ones. Justice—justice you should pursue, in order that you may keep alive.” Modern statues portraying Justice may wishfully depict her as blindfolded to signify impartiality, but you can see that God went far beyond that. He actually demanded such impartiality of human judges who were to represent him and enforce his laws.
11. We can conclude what from reviewing this Biblical information about justice?
11 These details about God’s view of justice bear directly on the climax of Paul’s speech. At Acts 17:31 Paul declared that God “has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness.” That is exactly what we can expect from God—justice, righteousness, impartiality. Still, some people might be concerned because, according to Ac 17 verse 31, God is going to use “a man” to judge all humans. Who is that “man,” and what assurance do we have that he will hold to God’s elevated standard of justice?
12, 13. How do we know what “man” God will use to do judging?
12 Acts 17:18 tells us that Paul had been “declaring the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.” So, at the end of his speech, the audience knew that Paul meant Jesus Christ when he said that God would ‘judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and God resurrected him from the dead.’
13 Jesus acknowledged that God had appointed him as a judge who met the divine standard. At John 5:22 he said: “For the Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son.” After mentioning a coming resurrection of those who are in the memorial tombs, Jesus added: “I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear, 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 5:30; Psalm 72:2-7.
14. What sort of treatment can we expect from Jesus?
14 How well this assurance harmonizes with what we read at Acts 17:31! There Paul too gave assurance that the Son would “judge the inhabited earth in righteousness.” That certainly does not suggest any rigid, inflexible, and unfeeling justice, does it? Rather, righteous judgment involves tempering justice with mercy and understanding. Let us not overlook this: Though Jesus is now in heaven, he has been a human. So he can be empathetic. At Hebrews 4:15, 16 Paul touches on this in describing Jesus as a high priest.
15. How does Jesus differ from human judges?
15 While reading Hebrews 4:15, 16, think of the relief we should feel to have Jesus as Judge: “For we have as high priest [and judge], not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin. Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.” In courtrooms today, it is often frightening to be called before the Bench. Yet, in the case of Christ as Judge, we can ‘approach with freeness of speech that we may find mercy, undeserved kindness, and help at the right time.’ Regarding time, however, you have good reason to ask, ‘When will Jesus judge mankind in righteousness?’
“A Day” for Judging—When?
16, 17. How do we know that judging from heaven is going on now?
16 Recall that Paul said that God “has set a day” to judge the world by His appointed Judge. In anticipation of that judgment “day,” Jesus is doing a vital judging work today, yes, right now. Why can we say that? Not long before he was arrested and unjustly condemned to death, Jesus gave a historic prophecy that involves our day. We find it in Matthew chapter 24. Jesus described the world events that would mark the period termed “the conclusion of the system of things.” The wars, food shortages, earthquakes, and other distresses that have occurred earth wide since World War I bear out that Jesus’ prophecy is now being fulfilled and that shortly “the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3-14) Jehovah’s Witnesses have for decades been explaining this from the Bible. If you would like more evidence as to why we know that we are in the last days of this unjust system, Jehovah’s Witnesses can supply such.
17 Examine, though, the latter half of Matthew chapter 25, which is part of Jesus’ prophecy about the last days. Matthew 25:31, 32 applies during our time: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne [in heaven]. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Now look down to where Jesus tells the outcome of his separating, or judging, work. Mt 25 Verse 46: “And these [people whom he judges to be like goats] will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones [the sheep] into everlasting life.”
18. To what will the judging in our time lead?
18 We are thus living in a crucial time of judgment. Those ‘seeking God and really finding him’ today will be judged as “sheep” in line to survive the end of the present system and to enter into the new world that will follow. Then 2 Peter 3:13 will be realized: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” That will be the “day” when Paul’s words at Acts 17:31 fully apply, the time for the earth to be judged in righteousness.
19, 20. Who will be affected by the coming Judgment Day?
19 That Judgment Day will encompass far more than just the surviving “sheep,” who will already have been judged worthy to enter the new world. Recall that after saying that his Father had committed judging to him, Jesus spoke of a coming resurrection. Also, at Acts 10:42, the apostle Peter said that Jesus Christ “is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.”
20 Consequently, that ‘set day’ mentioned at Acts 17:31 when God through Jesus Christ will “judge the inhabited earth in righteousness” will be a time for dead ones to be raised. What a joy it will be to see divine power exercised to overcome death, the meting out of which has often been the greatest injustice. Some people, as with Jesus himself, have unjustly been executed by governments or invading armies. Others have lost their lives to unforeseen occurrences such as tornadoes, earthquakes, accidental fires, and calamities of that sort.—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Past Injustices Solved
21. How will past injustices be overcome in the new world?
21 Imagine being able to see our loved ones brought back to life! Many will thus have their first opportunity ‘to seek God and really find him’ and will then have before them the “everlasting life” that can be the reward of “the sheep.” Some resurrected ones, as well as survivors of this unjust system, have been victims of apparent injustices such as congenital deformities, blindness, deafness, or speech impediments. Will such things fit in a ‘new earth in which righteousness is to dwell’? Jehovah used Isaiah to present various prophecies that will have a grand literal fulfillment during the coming Judgment Day. Notice what we can expect: “At that time the eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.”—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
22. Why is Isaiah chapter 65 so encouraging regarding justice?
22 What about other injustices that now cause so much misery? Isaiah chapter 65 contains some delightfully encouraging answers. A comparison of Isaiah 65:17 with 2 Peter 3:13 indicates that this chapter also points to the time of “new heavens and a new earth,” a righteous new system. Still, what will prevent a few wicked ones from spoiling the peace and justice? A bit further on, Isaiah 65 puts to rest what might seem to be a problem.
23. For some individuals the Judgment Day will have what possible outcome?
23 During this ongoing Judgment Day, Jesus will continue his work of judging individuals, whether they qualify for everlasting life. Some will not. After being given ample time, maybe even “a hundred years,” to seek God, some will show that they refuse to practice righteousness. Justly they will lose life in that new world, as we can see from Isaiah 65:20: “As for the sinner, although a hundred years of age he will have evil called down upon him.” Such ones judged unworthy of life will be in the minority. We have every reason to expect that we—and most others—will be delighted to learn and to practice righteousness.—Isaiah 26:9.
24. What will the situation be as to economic injustice?
24 Does that mean that there will be no ongoing injustices, not even economic injustices? Exactly! Isaiah 65:21-23 points to that fact: “They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating. For like the days of a tree will the days of my people be; and the work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full. They will not toil for nothing, nor will they bring to birth for disturbance; because they are the offspring made up of the blessed ones of Jehovah, and their descendants with them.” What a change from today! What a blessing!
25. What is your hope and determination respecting justice from God’s appointed Judge?
25 Hence, all who long for lasting justice can take courage. It is sure to come—soon. Now, during the brief time left in this time of judgment, is the time to join with Jehovah’s Witnesses in seeking God and really finding him, with everlasting benefits.
Questions for Review
□ What evidence do we have as to God’s standard of justice?
□ How will Jesus be involved in the coming Judgment Day?
□ Why is ours a critical time with respect to divine judgment?
□ How will past injustice be corrected in the new world?
[Picture Credit Line on page 15]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.