Over the course of the last few years my understanding of the nature and character of God has really been changed, simply because I have embraced the fact that God is like Jesus. One of the primary revelations that has come to me is the fact that through Jesus we can recognize that God’s sense of Justice is very different from our human sense of Justice. We generally think of Justice in punitive or retributive terms of a Judge delivering a verdict of guilty or not guilty, and of passing a sentence of punishment upon a criminal, whereas Jesus shows us that God’s Justice is entirely restorational in its intent. This comes across in Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:38-48, but it also in the teachings of Jesus throughout the Gospel of John, which I will focus on here. Note that for the purpose of this study I will focus on two Greek words: KRISIS is the noun meaning “judgment,” and KRINO is the verb meaning “to judge.”
In the Gospel of John we find an interesting series of statements given by Jesus that really mess with our ideas of “final judgement” if we insist on understanding it in a punitive/retributive sense, of all humanity standing before the throne, waiting for a final verdict of either redemption or eternal damnation. If that is what you believe then how do you make sense of this?
Jesus plainly says that God the Father judges no one:
“The Father judges (KRINO) no one…” John 5:22a
Now just think how that statement was received by the Jews in His day. Talk about controversy, this was incredible because for the Pharisees God was all about judgment and, given that we become what we worship, “judgment” was exactly what they modeled! Even today a “Pharisee” is a label for someone with a self-righteous judgmental attitude. How in the world could Jesus say that God the Father does not judge? If this was true then the Pharisees were out of a job! God doesn’t judge? That’s inconceivable! What about justice!? What about all those evildoers out there!? This is outright heresy! But then Jesus takes it a step further and goes on to say that the Father has given all judgment (KRISIS) to the Son:
“The Father judges (KRINO) no one, but has given ALL judgment (KRISIS) to the Son.” John 5:22
“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment (KRISIS), because He is the Son of Man.” John 5:26-27
Now it is one thing for me to say that the Father isn’t going to judge anyone, but then another to say that He has GIVEN THAT JOB TO ME! Yet that is the message that Jesus, a simple Galilean peasant, delivered to the Jews in Jerusalem shortly after one of their religious festivals (John 5:1). These are the kinds of things that Jesus spoke that implied that He was equal with God (5:18), that made many want to see Him killed!
So there we have it. Jesus was walking around Israel saying, “I’m the judge now! Do what I say or you will regret it!” And this is how Jesus became the King of the Pharisees… right?
Well, it is true that Jesus promised that those who followed Him would NOT face judgment:
“He who believes in Him [Jesus speaking of Himself] IS NOT JUDGED (KRINO)…” John 3:18a
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and DOES NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT (KRISIS), but has passed out of death into life.” John 5:24
As good Christians we all take a sigh of relief here knowing that because we have prayed the prayer of salvation and follow the bible and trust in our faith, then we no longer face the threat of retribution from God in the afterlife…
Wait, I mean retribution from Jesus, right? Because Jesus said that ALL JUDGMENT was given to Him. Um… I guess that’s right…
Since we love Jesus… He will love us back and… He won’t harm us on Judgment Day…
But for those who don’t love Jesus, who don’t respond positively to His gift of salvation… Well, these people are in terrible danger! Yes, God doesn’t judge, but Jesus DOES! Is that really how it works? Then why does Jesus say that He WAS NOT sent into the world to judge the world, but to save it?
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17
Why didn’t Jesus just come right out and say, “Verily, verily, I say to you, follow me and be saved, but if you don’t follow me I will punish you later. God loves you so much that He has sent me to save you from myself when I come back in the future.”
Really? Is that the Good News that we are called to preach? Jesus came to save us from JESUS?
What if I told you that according to Jesus, He will not even judge those who REJECT Him?
Sounds like heresy, right? Well here it is:
“If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I DO NOT JUDGE (KRINO) HIM; for I did NOT come to judge (KRINO) the world but to save the world.” John 12:47
Now of course some of you sharp biblical minds out there may try to explain this by saying,
“Jesus did not judge THEN, but He will judge in the FUTURE! I have a list of Scriptures for you, Pete!”
Yes, yes, I do recognize that, and I do recognize that this list of statements from Jesus becomes more complicated when read in context, but before we move on let’s just assess the gravity of what we have discovered and allow Jesus to speak in the way that I truly believe that He intended us to “get.”
Concerning the statement about non-believers above, “I do not judge (KRINO) him…” you should know that the verb KRINO is in the future, active, indicative tense. It is not present tense. Jesus is doing much more than saying, “for the present time I will refrain from judging you,” leaving the future open. No, in this short statement He really is re-affirming the fact that He was NOT sent to this world to judge, but to SAVE, now and forever!
So we see that Jesus has taken us on a journey from “God doesn’t judge” to “God has given ALL judgment unto me” to “those who hear and obey my words will not be judged” to “You know what guys, I will not even judge those who reject my words, either now or later.”
Can you see how deliberate Jesus is in distancing Himself from the “high judgmentalism” of the Pharisees? Now we can see that it is EXACTLY like it was at the aftermath of the incident in John 8 with the woman lawfully accused of adultery:
Now there is no one left to judge!
So how does this impact our understanding of Judgment Day? Are we ready to pull out other Scriptures from the New Testament that SEEM to blatantly contradict what Jesus was so eager to teach us about Divine Judgment in John’s Gospel? That’s generally what everybody seems to do, and what happens is that the “outlandish” statements that Jesus makes in John’s Gospel are simply ignored. We develop our theology in such a way that says essentially God shows up at the end of the story as a cosmic omnipotent Pharisee, carrying a big bag of rocks, facing a huddled group of powerless sinners, and then letting loose with retributive punishment that some believe even lasts for eternity.
I don’t think that this picture is true. I think there is a better way to understand God’s idea of Justice while at the same time recognizing that there IS a Final Judgment and ultimately God WILL make everything right, and through Jesus the end result will be the utter defeat of Sin and Death and Hell.
As it says in the Gospel of Matthew (12:18-21), Jesus was sent to announce Justice (KRISIS) and He will ultimately “lead Justice (KRISIS) unto Victory!” However, this victory of God’s Justice comes without breaking the bruised read, or blowing out the dimly burning flame.
There is much more to be said, and many challenges and arguments remain, but for now this short little study is meant to lead into the possibility that, rather than PUNITIVE, the Justice of God is somehow wonderfully, mysteriously, perfectly RESTORATIVE in its final result, which I think is something that is captured and related beautifully here by the Apostle Paul:
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5
Now that is Good News!