Relevant Passages: Daniel 7-8; Revelation 14:6-12
Judgment: The Good News and the Bad. In contrast with our modern era when the thought of judge and judgment is rarely a sign of joy, judgment in the Old Testament was a message of good news to the oppressed. But if judgment is a source of joy to the oppressed, it strikes fear to the hearts of the oppressor, at least it should! How does that positive and negative potential relate to the judgment at the end of time? Several factors are worth pondering:
1. Judgment in Ordinary Life: The Good News Perspective. The “shoot from the stump of Jesse” promised in Isaiah 11, would come “with righteousness” to “judge the poor” and to “decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Just like the king, the judge was to defend the weak, poor, and defenseless members of society. The God who is the “father of orphans and protector of widows” (Ps. 68:5) appoints kings and judges to care for his vulnerable children. Where in our modern world does “judgment” play such a positive role?
2. Judgment in Ordinary Life: The Threatening Perspective. If the “judge” in the OT was a welcome and enthusiastic deliverer, “judge” in our modern western world suggests a cool, dispassionate dispenser of punishments. That picture may be implied in the judgment scene of Daniel 7:9-14 where “the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” Yet even in Daniel 7, judgment is given for the saints and they receive the kingdom. What factors have shaped our thinking about judgment to give it such a dominant tone of threat?
3. Judgment at the End of Time. Our experiences in daily life often shape our thinking with reference to biblical images and stories. Given the more sobering image which the English word “judge” implies in our modern earthly experience, is it possible to re-shape the images to make the results more positive? Are the books of Daniel and Revelation frightening or encouraging to believers? Which “should” they be?
4. Judgment: A Pastoral Perspective. The two polar positions which the judgment brings up in the human heart are both powerful motivating force: a judge who calls us to account for our evil; a judge calls to judgment those who oppress us. But there is still the question the damage which our thoughts or acts may do to others or to God’s honor. As Romans 7 testifies, Paul was tormented by his inner tensions; yet the parable of the judgment scene (sheep and goats) in Matthew 25 speaks only of deeds, not of thoughts. Furthermore, that judgment addresses only issues of neglect. In other words, the final judgment looks at what we could have done to be helpful rather than what we did that was evil? Does that up the ante in judgment or make it more manageable? Or is there nothing at all that can make the judgment manageable, only the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf? To what extent is it our responsibility to shape the right message to the needs of those with whom we come in contact?