The Good News of Eternal Judgment
OUR MASTER said, "For judgment I came into this world" (John 9:39). Many people view God's judgment as consisting of a severe condemnation of human kind. But if such were true, why do frequent prophetic visions represent that day as a favorable time of rejoicing? God "hath given assurance unto all men" in regard to that "day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by" Jesus because "he [God] hath raised him [Jesus] from the dead" (Acts 17:31). When God's judgments "are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice:...because he cometh to judge the earth" (1 Chron. 16:31-33). "And he shall judge among the nations, and...nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:4). We shall see that God's judgments really afford a gracious opportunity for salvation to every person who ever lived.
Of Jesus it is written, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). That Light was to have far-reaching effects, for "whatsoever doth make manifest is light" (Eph. 5:13). His message would make manifest the thoughts and intents of the heart. Not only would that Light affect the Jewish world of His day; it would affect all men of all time. God's loving Son came to reveal the Father. He declared His Father through what He taught, and by the way He lived, as well as by the way He died. "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."--John 1:9
It must not be assumed from His statement, "For judgment I came into this world," that there was no judgment in the earth before Jesus came. Quite the opposite is true. There had been many divine judgments prior to the appearance of our Savior--judgments determined and executed--severe and far-reaching in their accomplishment.
Most significant among them was the judgment of Adam. Speaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God had clearly warned, "In the day thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die" (Gen. 2:7, margin). The consequence of his disobedience was the death penalty, which has passed upon all men (Rom. 5:15-19). Consistent with the penalty was the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.--Gen. 3:22-24
Our Master's statement that He had come into the world "for judgment" followed the miracle of giving sight to the man born blind (John 9:1-39). The Pharisees were already intensely opposed to Jesus and his ministry; they desired to kill Him even before the blind man was made to see (John 8:40,59). That manifestation of "good works...from My Father" (John 10:32) continued the conflict (John 9:14, 10:21). Jesus may have had in view his entire ministry when He testified, "For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind." He spoke here, not of literal seeing, but of spiritual sight, of discernment in the heart. Jesus affirmed that the truths and healings which were seen and heard from Him would be a test upon them. Their favorable or unfavorable judgment depended on how they reacted to His message and His healings: did they accept and rejoice, or reject and oppose.
Relationship of Sickness to Sin
God's governing law over Israel promised temporal blessings to those who served Him with good hearts. The LORD's promise was, "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee" (Exod. 15:26). David, too, wrote of this aspect of God's care for Israel, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases" (Psa. 103:3). Because of the manner in which Scripture relates sin with sickness, Jesus realized that it was appropriate for Him to say to one of those whom He healed, "Thy sins be forgiven thee."--Matt. 9:2
From the conversation just noted, the Jews would relate sin with physical infirmity. It was not unreasonable, therefore, for his disciples to inquire as to whose sins were responsible for this man's blindness. Jesus replied, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:2,3). His answer does not suggest that all three were without sin of any kind, for such could not have been true. But His answer does imply that the man's blindness was not the result of either his nor his parents' sin. Rather, his blindness was but one of the many regretable consequences of the inheritance of imperfect and dying life.
Jesus saw the man's infirmity as an opportunity to manifest God's power, with Himself the agent to direct its working (John 9:2-5). When Jesus spoke about the judgment for which He had come into the world, "that they which see might be made blind," the Pharisees took note. They asked if He had them in mind: "Are we blind also?" Jesus responded: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." This then was the judgment which His ministry brought upon that world of Israel, whose tutelage under the law brought some to an awareness of their personal sins and to subsequent repentance.
Our Master's ministry revealed the unsatisfactory condition of the hearts of many in Israel: those who were content with themselves and with their relationship to God. On one occasion Jesus said, "They that be whole [in their own opinion] need not a physician, but they that are sick." Inasmuch as there were none 'whole'--none that were without sin and infirmity--"they that be whole" referred to those who saw in themselves no need for the truth and light which came from Him. So He explained what He meant. "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:12,13). This said that those who claimed to be whole and righteous lacked the honesty and humility of heart which Jesus was seeking, for He knew that among mankind "there is none that doeth good, no, not one."--Psa. 14:3, Rom. 3:10
Jesus Came to Save
The divergent results of the ministry of Jesus upon those who heard Him is illustrated in John 1:9-13. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he authority to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Those among Israel who received His message of truth and hope into good and honest hearts were greatly blessed; but the majority were blinded and did not enter into His blessings.
The purpose for which Jesus was sent into the world is explained in John 3:17. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." From that testimony it is understood that Jesus did not come to undertake mankind's individual eternal judgment at that time. But other of His teachings indicate that His message would effect a harvest, a separation, with a consequent scattering, and that the majority of the people of Israel would, as chaff, be burned up in a symbolic fire.
That Messiah would appear as a divinely-authorized teacher in Israel was prophesied by Moses. "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;...And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him" (Deut. 18:15,19). This foretold of judgment on those who would not hear Messiah. God intended that His people be built up in faith through fellowship, and through study of the teachings received from that 'greater than Moses.' Association with unbelievers or opposers would be detrimental to the spiritual progress of new creatures in Christ Jesus. Unbelievers were not to share in the sacred and holy things until their search after God and His truth brought them to accept Jesus as their Savior and receive the cleansing power of that truth.
Peter brought this prophecy into his message at the Pentecost season after the holy spirit had been received by the waiting disciples. His instruction contains the New Testament's only use of the Greek word #1842, exolothruomai, translated 'destroyed' (Acts 3:23). Strong's Dictionary says this verb means "to extirpate," for which Webster's first definition is "to pull up by the root." It is not one of 7 other Greek words used in the New Testament which mean 'destroyed.' Peter said, "For Moses truly said, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet [raised up unto you of your brethren], shall be extirpated from the people."
Truth Presented for Acceptance
The truths Jesus taught required those who claimed to be God's people to declare themselves regarding that Light. The Apostle's teaching in 1 Pet. 4:17 is in harmony with that: "Judgment must begin at the house of God."
But the ministry of Jesus did not add condemnation to unbelieving fleshly Israel of that time, nor to the mass of unbelieving mankind since. Nor did His ministry worsen the present status of the unregenerate. They were already under judgment of death. The record is directly to this point. "The one believing in Him is not judged; the one not believing has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."-- John 3:18 Marshall
In other words, unbelievers already under the Adamic death sentence who take no steps of belief leading to escape from that judgment, remain under it. This seems the only reasonable conclusion. The Apostle Paul explains that such is the status of each person before one believes in the redeeming blood of Christ Jesus: "the judgment was by one to condemnation...Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation..." (Rom. 5:16,18). Such condemnation through Adam remains until one believes in the name of Jesus. "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for the works of them were evil" (John 3:19). Jesus, having come into the world, did not condemn mankind, but the light He brought so contrasted with the existing darkness that in an increased way it made manifest sin, which leads to death.--Rom. 8:3, 1 Cor. 15:55
Judgment of Unbelievers Future
Our Master repeatedly emphasized the Father's hand in His ministry. Belief in Him reflected belief in the God who sent Him. "Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:44-47). The teaching in that last part of verse 47 is precisely the same as that in John 3:17.
Next Jesus said more about the judgment of unbelievers. He would have them know when and by what instruction those would be judged who now did not receive His testimony. His teaching related to individual eternal judgment, in which all must appear--not only the chaff of His generation but also the unregenerate of all mankind. "He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgest him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."--John 12:48
"The last day" in that verse refers to the time of resurrection and judgment of which He taught previously. "Marvel not at this, because comes an hour in which all the ones in the tombs will hear the voice of Him and will come forth, the ones having done the good things to a resurrection of life; the ones having done the evil things to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29, Marshall Interlinear). This establishes that upon their resurrection unbelievers enter a period of learning and testing, while faithful believers, having already grown and matured under God's judgment process, enter directly into life at their resurrection.
Resurrection and Judgment--When and Why
This suggests that those who do not participate in the "first resurrection" will yet have an opportunity to hear the gospel and, believing, attain to life. To sentence these to eternal destruction without the benefit of individual eternal judgment, would be contrary to the promises of our Master, and would imply no purpose in their resurrection.
Even though John 5:28,29 do not employ the expression "last day," it is obvious that the words "the hour is coming" in verse 28 mark that resurrection work as of a time long future from our Lord's death. It is placed in contrast with activities in process when our Lord spoke and which still continue, described in verses 24,25: "Verily, verily [Amen, amen], I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily [Amen, amen], I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (John 5:24,25). Those who had been dead in trespasses and sins, but who were then hearing, were living by their faith in the Son of God. "The just shall live by faith."--Hab. 2:4, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38
Identification of Symbols Important
A further view of the resurrection of those who have done evil is given in Rev. 20:11-14. The account of this far-reaching vision is exceedingly brief. "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 the throne; 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."
'Heaven' and 'earth' are words often used in Scripture in a non-literal, symbolic or metaphoric sense. Just as the activity and influences of the literal heavens affect the literal earth, so it is in the spiritual sense. Powers of religious influence, the symbolic 'heavens,' have throughout the centuries ordered the course of the people subject to their influence to function in some form of organized society--the symbolic 'earth.' And there has always been 'the sea,' people within that 'earth' who are restless, dissatisfied, and disruptive, just as is the natural sea from the influence of the moon, part of the literal heavens. This prophecy foretells the time when God will bring to an end all confusing, conflicting religious influences and the unsatisfactory societies subject to them.
But this does not imply the dismissal or end of a truly holy, spiritual influence. The next chapter in Revelation presents a new scene, to follow the turmoil described preceding. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the former heaven and the former earth were passed away; and there was no more sea" (Rev. 21:1). Ensuing verses portray the blessed results of the influence of the kingdom of Christ.
The people depicted in Rev. 20:12 are not those who come forth to a "resurrection of life." That verse refers to those who, not having believed during their experience with sin and evil, and thus not having been individually judged, come forth to their promised judgment. They stand before the throne--and they stand before it for judgment. They need this judgment, for through it they will learn of God's wonderful grace of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Both "the books" and "another book" are opened. Consider these as symbols of further opportunity for spiritual instruction, not as a description of literal books in heaven. The "book of life" is the latter, other book, and it is opened that it may receive the writing of the names of all who become obedient during that future judgment activity. The first books 'opened' were previously written, and they are the books from which divine instruction then proceeds on behalf of those then to be judged. These books contain the precepts of which Jesus spoke: "the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."--John 12:48
Since "all things are possible with God," it would not be appropriate to insist that God keeps no record of all the evils of disobedient mankind. However, we know of no Scriptural assertion that God or His angels keep written records of all the evil works of sinners. What an unpleasant task it would be, and what an extensive record it would make: a log of all the crimes, evils, lies, and deceptions committed during the long reign of sin and death. On the other hand, God's purpose in resurrection requires that every person who comes forth from death know who they were and who they are. No lesson learned during man's permitted experience with the exceeding sinfulness of sin will fail to yield its appropriate benefit to each person during their individual eternal judgment. Those whose names do not become written in "the book of life" do not see life in its fulness--eternal life.
Resurrection of the Non-Elect
It is understood that the resurrection pictured in Rev. 20:11-15 pertains to the non-elect. Those who had part in the "first resurrection" are not in view in those verses. "According to their works" refers to the new works of the individuals when they shall be under judgment, after they have come to understand the words of divine instruction made clear to them from the opened books. Surely the closing phrase of Rev. 20:12, "...according to their works," does not refer to the works formerly done by the people when they were in the evil world of which I John 5:19 testifies, "the whole world lies in the evil one"--under the influence of Satan, the devil. Only with the meaning suggested foregoing can the words of Jesus be harmonized regarding the judgment of Israel relative to the judgment of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh and the Queen of the south. See Matt. 10:15, 11:20-24, 12:41,42.
Those whose names are not found written in the book of life will have failed in their time of visitation and full opportunity to come to know God and attain life. They will not be continued in the land of the living to mar the beauty and perfection of God's eternal lovingkindness. "Blessed be the name of the LORD."
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