- The meaning of judgement
- Judgement as a process of creation of man on God's image
- The Judgement Day
- The judgement of the Church
The meaning of judgement
In English, the term judgment primarily refers to the final statement. Therefore, when we speak about God's judgement over man, a severe Tribunal comes to mind, before which we will have to explain ourselves from our imperfections. However, because we expect this event after death, while we live and are good, the prospect of judgement seems to be quite distant and as if not entirely real. The basic question therefore concerns the definition of judgement and whether limiting the sense of judgement solely to the final statement is biblically justified. In the Old Testament, judgement is mish'path [H4941] and the related verb shakahath [H8199]. In the New Testament we find the Greek verb krino [G2919], which two nouns come from: krisis [G2920] and krima [G2917]. The Hebrew and Greek verbs have four meanings: 1) teach, instruct, 2) try, 3) punish to improve and 4) issue the verdict. Nouns have the same meanings, only in the noun form. The exception is krima, which has only the meaning of the final statement. Below I give a few examples of how the word 'judgement' is used in the Bible:
Judgement as instruction: "I have not departed from Your judgments [misz'path], For You Yourself have taught me. (103) How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! ... (106) I have sworn and confirmed That I will keep Your righteous judgments [misz'path]" (Ps. 119:102,103,106 NKJV); "No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead [szaphath] for truth [literally: nobody teaches the truth]. They trust in empty words and speak lies; They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity ... (8) The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice [misz'path] in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace. (9) Therefore justice [misz'path - truth] is far from us, Nor does righteousness overtake us; We look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness!" (Isa. 59:4,8,9 NKJV); "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (8) And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment [krisis - truth]" (Jn. 16:7,8 NKJV).
Judgement as testing: "Vindicate [szaphath] me, O Lord, For I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. (2) Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. (3) For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth" (Ps. 26:1-3 NKJV); "But, O Lord of hosts, You who judge [szaphath] righteously, Testing the mind and the heart, Let me see Your vengeance on them, For to You I have revealed my cause" (Jer. 11:20 NKJV); "so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, (5) which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment [krisis - testing] of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer" (2 Thess. 1:4,5 NKJV).
Judgement as punishment for improvement: "With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early; For when Your judgments [misz'path] are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9 NKJV); "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged [krino]. (32) But when we are judged [krino], we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:31,32 NKJV).
Judgement as sentence: "Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge [szaphath] righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him'" (Deut. 1:16 NKJV); "Judge [krino] not, that you be not judged [krino]. (2) For with what judgment [krima - sentence] you judge [krino - issue], you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Mt. 7:1,2 NKJV).
Judgement as a process of creation of man on God's image
The above examples more directly illustrate four listed meanings of judgement, although not always the choice of one precise meaning must be as unequivocally obvious. Clearly, however, one can see what the common denominator of the mentioned meanings is: it is the ability to distinguish, generally speaking, good from evil. The basis for the distinction between anything is knowledge, which is why the basic meaning of judgement is instruction. We read especially about the Lord's judgements/ instructions in Psalms. What God judged - defined as good or bad - is then expressed in the form of the law. That is why the judgements of the Lord are primarily rules of conduct and these judgements the worthies of the Old Testament want to hold. Although in translations of the Bible, misz'path is usually translated as judgement, it can also be translated as law, order, and even custom, which further underlines the immutability of the elementary ethical structure created by God (2 Kings 17:26; 1 Chron. 6:32; Ps. 119:132; Jer. 32:7).
Very clearly the bearing of knowledge on the distinction skills can be seen in Heb. 5:11-14. The apostle Paul regrets here on the spiritual condition of the recipients of his letter, to whom he cannot convey deeper teachings, but only the 'milk' of God's Word. "But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (NKJV). There is therefore a certain relationship between development in understanding and developing the skills of distinguishing ethical categories. Hebrews need the milk of basic science to develop the ability to evaluate. Deeper knowledge, in turn, is for those who "have their senses exercised", and so they study the Word of God and teachings served by other members of the Church continually to properly determine their direction to God. Therefore, the indispensable element of judgement is not only learning, but also distinguishing - by testing - teachings and attitudes that are presented to us (Phil. 4:8; 1 Jn. 4:1).
A natural consequence of judgement understood as teaching and trying is punishment for improvement. This is clearly visible in the already cited 1 Cor. 11:31,32. If we judged ourselves - i.e. if we were able to see where we stray in thought and deed - we would not be judged - i.e. would not be corrected with unpleasant experiences. "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (NKJV). And here comes the fourth meaning of judgement because at the end of this correction process it is God who will judge people by Jesus Christ - i.e. separate those who have done their job from those who have neglected it. Plainly speaking, he will separate good from bad. The Bad will be sent to death, the good to life. Therefore, we first judge ourselves in the sense of learning the Word of God and self-assessment so that the Lord does not have to judge us with correcting experiences and that the final senstence may be positive for us, "that we may not be condemned with the world."
The judgement process is therefore a complete process for human shaping in God's image, the development of character to the standard required from the creatures endowed with life. Our forefather Adam did not have this standard in his character. Contrary to what is commonly repeated in churches, Adam was not created perfect and was not created in God's image, but only in God's likeness (Gen. 1:26,27). He did not have a character developed enough to oppose sin, and this would be expected from the morally perfect. However, this goal will be achieved because the process of creating man has not finished; God rested when he created Adam to his likeness, but two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ started his mission to create man in God's image (Rom. 8:29). The process that leads to this end is judgement - not only in the sense of final verdict, but first as 1) teaching, then 2) trying whether this teaching is well understood and grounded within character, 3) correcting experiences, if one lacks in understanding or character, and only then 4) verdict/ final judgement.
The Judgement Day
The purpose of judgement is clearly described in Ps. 76:9 - "God arose to judgment, To save all the meek of the earth" (ASV). God arises to perform full judgement on humanity: teaching, trying, punishing and eventually verdict. The purpose of judgement seen as a reform of character is salvation - bringing man to such a degree of compliance with the principles of justice, so that it is possible and justified to end the process with a reward of eternal life. However, this result will be possible to "all the meek". In other words, man must submit to this process, must show willingness to cooperate in the direction of change. God will not finish judgement with a verdict for eternal death without performing its all elements. In this sense, the view presented by many churches that people who will not believe today will perish forever, is unbiblical. If someone does not believe and does not repent from sins, there is no way for him to be submitted to any of the listed elements of judgement, beginning with teaching and ending with sentence.
Therefore, the current Gospel Age is a time of calling for repentance (Acts 17:30). Man must humiliate before God so that he can start to accept instructions and that judgement can start in this way. The majority of people, however, do not react to the word of the Gospel in the time designated by God, which is why the next step of 'softening' humanity will be the Day of the Lord and the end of the current age (Rev. 9:20,21). The major part of the said Psalm 76 also speaks of this. Some people will believe and will repent under the influence of events that will happen then. Some people who will nonetheless refuse to bend their necks, will be carried through the experience of death. In it, they will experience God's existence in a way that will not allow them to doubt when they arise to live in the Kingdom of Christ. The prophet Zechariah describes other disasters, which will be experienced by the unbelieving humanity to bring them at least to external obedience (Zech. 14:17-19). The effect of all these events will be as described in Phil. 2:10,11 - every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Ps. 22:27-30).
Then the Biblical Judgement Day will begin (Mt. 10:15; 2 Pet. 2:9). This will be a thousand years in which humanity will receive a full opportunity to repair the character and return to God; not only the verdict, but a full process of reform. When the basic condition is met, i.e. the human heart will be softened to accept the terms of judgement, according to Joel's prophecy God's spirit will be poured "on all flesh" (Jl. 2:28,29 NKJV). However, this will not be the earnest, as is the case currently (2 Cor. 1:21,22), which we are to develop in the knowledge of God. The spirit that humanity will receive on the Day of Judgement will be the spirit of wisdom and understanding (Eph. 1:16-18). According to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9 NKJV). All conditions conducive to repair will be created. In the same verse the prophet states that 'They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain' (NKJV). The opponent of God will be bound for this time, so there will not be any harmful spiritual factors (Rev. 20:1-3).
Millions of people who have died in the current world without the experience of God's judgement in all four previously mentioned elements, will be resurrected on the Judgement Day so that they can experience full process. Those who have undergone judgement in the present Gospel Age, will be resurrected to life - they will not need to take it for the second time. Our Lord speaks about it in Jn. 5:28,29. The resurrection of those "who have done evil" - who did not repair their characters at the present time - will give them chance to reform. On the other hand, those "who have done good" - who have learned the truth and justice and reformed their characters to the required standard - will be andowed with life without any further conditions. The Judgement Day will include all activities: instruction, trying (including final trial at the end of judgement), correction (hence the symbol of the iron stick in the hands of the Lord - Ps. 2:8-11; Rev. 19:15), and the final verdict (Rev. 20:7-10).
The judgement of the Church
The present Gospel Age is not a time of the general judgement of mankind. Time when "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess" has yet to come. However, the current age has its special task, namely the completion of the class of kings and priests who will receive immortal spiritual nature and will judge humanity on the approaching Judgement Day (1 Pet. 1:3,4; Rev. 20:4-6). This also does not mean that everyone who will now be repentant, will be in heaven. First of all, this is an offer for the elect - for those who have been chosen by God as possible candidates (Eph. 1:3-6). Such chosen candidates, if they take repentance (and not all take it, see the chosen nation of Israel), they are gifted with the spirit of love for the truth and experiences the new birth (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). The Bible calls the Spirit of the new birth the earnest because the aim of new creatures is to develop it into mature knowledge of God's Word and, consequently, the maturity of character on the image of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:9-12; Eph. 1:13,14, 4:20-24).
This is a significant difference between the judgement of the elect today and the general judgement of mankind. Today we are instructed the same as people in the millennium will be instructed. Then, however, the truth about God will be generally available. "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord" (Jer. 31:34 NKJV). Today, the truth is a deficit and hard-to-reach commodity. Obtaining it requires from the elect dedication of time, effort and perseverance. However, this is an absolutely necessary condition for our development, as well as our judgement. The apostle Paul does not doubt that the judgment may only apply to those who have achieved an adequate degree of knowledge. As far as judgment to death is concerned, no one will receive it who has not been sufficiently notified of divine requirements (Heb. 6:4-6, 10:26). On the other hand, also the highest award of glory in the Divine nature will not be received by someone who in terms of understanding was more convenient to remain an infant (1 Cor. 3:11-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Very clearly this element was emphasized by our Lord in his sermon on the mount - all zeal will not be effective if it will not know which direction to take (Mt. 7:21-23).
The judgement of mankind begins therefore with the judgement of the Church (1 Pet. 4:17). The elect who were born of the Spirit, are judged today in a full range of experiences: they are instructed by the Word of God and the spirit of love for the truth; they are tried whether development in knowledge is accompanied by the development in character; correction that reveals defects requiring repair and also at the end receive a verdict with the indication of a relevant position in the kingdom. The winners of the calling will constitute the anti-typical temple with its high priest, priests and Levites in the spiritual nature. The non-elect believers of the current age, who will not receive the highest glory, will be resurrected in the upcoming Judgement Day to embrace the earthly phase of the Kingdom of God as a fulfillment of the parable of sheep and goats: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt. 25:31-46 NKJV).
In summary, it is worth emphasising that God's judgement is not the implementation of God's revenge on man for being weak and sinful. On the contrary, the goal is to create moral beings, excellent on its level. Unfortunately, God's calling does not realize the principles of social justice. "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor" (2 Tim. 2:20 NKJV). Who will turn out to be what vessel, it will be the result of one's own work in consecration, but also the result of God's choice (or its lack). And no one can have a grudge against this (Rom. 9:20,21). In the parable of talents, the Lord showed clearly that God does not give away talents equally - one got five talents and another one (Mt. 25:14-30). Correction did not occur because the one who had little got little, but because he did not try to get anything. So let us work so that talents invested in us will have brought profit. And let it be suitable for our conditions, and the settlement with the Lord will certainly bring a fair result.