( From Chapter Six (Part 2B – The Last Judgment ): The Judgment of God from Life, Death and Destiny)
THE LAST JUDGMENT
The doctrine of final judgment is neither a primitive notion to be discarded in the name of progress, nor a mythological symbol for something else. It is an absolutely essential feature of biblical Christian faith, on the same level as creation and the atonement. And it is a matter, not merely for dread, but also for the utmost celebration:
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.1
First, it will be the conclusive revelation of the righteousness of God; the final vindication of God as Creator and Sovereign of the world; the decisive, universal assertion of His right and His mercy, of His Kingdom: “the Lord will become king over all the earth”.2
(a) This is God proving to be God by setting the world right before Him.3 A God who will not judge the world is inconceivable, not God at all (Rom. 3:6). A God who does not judge in righteousness is not worthy (Habakkuk 1:13)! God will not deny Himself! God will prove to be God, and to be worthy, as indeed He already has proven to be, through Jesus Christ.4
(b) This is God standing by His commitment, in free grace, to the salvation of humanity in and through Jesus Christ. God will not abandon His creation! The commitment God announced by raising from the dead the One who took the part of sinners on the cross, God will see through by vindicating and glorifying all who belong to Christ and renewing creation itself in Him.5
Second, the prospect of the last judgment gives final seriousness, value and meaning to human life.
(a) Good is good, finally, because God owns it as such, and evil is evil because God opposes it as such.6 Good and evil really matter. Our sense of moral responsibility is not self-imposed, and thus ultimately empty, but God-given, and therefore a pointer to ultimate reality. For we exist “in God’s image”, in personal relationship to Him, for good or ill.
(b) Being created in God’s image, we are personally accountable to Him. That is the essence of our dignity as human beings.7 Our lives mean something, in the end, because they mean something to God. What our lives truly amount to will be revealed at the Last Judgment, in the light of Jesus Christ, God’s true Image, our Judge and Saviour.
We can be absolutely certain we have a Judge, because God has already revealed His judgment against sin, for righteousness, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.8 At the same time, because God has already judged sin at the cross, we can find grace in Christ to face final judgment. Nothing in life is so important as being fit for God’s judgment. The way to be fit, is to respond to God’s salvation and will in the present: to rely wholly upon His mercy and power in Christ, while at the same time facing up squarely to His known will of holiness and love; to be sincerely committed to His demand, while casting ourselves wholly upon His grace.
- Ps. 96:12-13
- Zechariah 14:9
- E.g. Ps. 9:15-20, Ps. 10, Rev. 15:1-4; contrast Job 24:1-12, where the present unrighteousness of things and God’s failure to judge are lamented.
- Ps. 50:6; Is. 5:16; Rom. 2:1-18, 3:21-26
- John 17:24, I Thess. 5:9-10, Heb. 9:27-28, Rom. 8:18-21
- I John 1:6-7
- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, contrast v8
- John 16:8-11, Acts 17:30-31