The judgment

The covenants God established with Abraham and his descendants were divine pledges to be Israel’s God as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny with one condition “Israel’s total consecration to the LORD as His people (His kingdom) who live by his rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament). The covenant between God and Israel was initiated at Mount Sinai and was an outgrowth and extension of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants 600 years earlier (note on Exodus 19:5). At the time the Sinaitic Covenant was initiated, Moses was given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and other laws that were to govern the Israelites’ behavior. Afterward, Moses affirmed the covenant when he “took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

Jesus’ arrival on Earth marked a transition from the Sinaitic Covenant to the New Covenant which was “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ – a covenant of pure grace” (Covenants of the Old Testament). Jesus parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought about a new approach to salvation. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:15-16). The point Jesus was making was that John the Baptist concluded the ministry or work of the law and the prophets. From that point forward, God’s grace was being made available to everyone and people were eagerly receiving it.

As he concluded his three-year ministry on Earth, Jesus prepared his disciples for what still lay ahead of them in their mission to save the world. Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents there would be a period of time when he would be absent from the world, but his work of salvation would continue. Then, he would return and establish his kingdom on Earth. According to the book of Revelation, there will be two separate judgments that will take place after Jesus returns. The first takes place before the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4), and the second judgment takes place afterward. Revelation 20:11-12 states, “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 God; 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 book, according to their works.”

Jesus’ description of the judgment that will take place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory” (Matthew 25:31), could be one or the other of the judgments that are mentioned in Revelation 20, or a different one altogether. It seems likely that Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment because it signifies the ultimate completion of his work on Earth. Jesus said “before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:32-33, 46). The basis of this judgment could be the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples (John 13:34) or the great commandment that was summarized in Mark 12:29-31. Either way, the central focus of Jesus’ judgment will be the love that is shown to others based on the example he gave during his three-year ministry on Earth (Matthew 25:34-40).

Hypocrites

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they pretended to be servants of God, but were actually agents of Satan. Jesus used the word hypocrites eight times in Matthew 23 to describe their behavior. He said, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). When Jesus said, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” he was basically saying that the scribes and Pharisees were closing the door to salvation. Because of them, no one was getting saved. Jesus went on to say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were winning souls for the devil and his kingdom rather than for God.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated hypocrite, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) refers to a stage player, “an actor under an assumed character” (G5973). The word hypokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which means to decide (speak or act) under a false part (G5971). You could say that a hypocrite is a false believer, someone that calls himself a Christian, but is actually not saved. One of the characteristics of the scribes and Pharisees was that their behavior appeared to be consistent with the Mosaic Law. They seemed to be doing everything the law said they were supposed to. Jesus said of these men, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye ar full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28). The implication being that the scribes and Pharisees were intentionally deceiving people into thinking they were model citizens.

On a previous occasion, the scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman to Jesus that they said was “taken in adultery” (John 8:3). John’s account of this incident suggests that the woman’s accusers had caught her in the act (John 8:4). After hearing their accusation, John said, “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lift up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:6-7). The problem with the situation Jesus was dealing with was that only the woman was brought to him for judgment. According to the reference note on John 8:3, “The incident was staged to trap Jesus (v.6), and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her, since they could have kept her in private custody while they spoke to Jesus.” The scribes and Pharisees apparently thought Jesus would be willing to condemn the woman based only on their testimony.

When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” he knew these men were guilty of breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. His strategy was to get them to see that they were no better than the woman they were asking him to punish. John said, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9). No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground, but I’ve heard it suggested that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments or perhaps, the specific commandments that each of the scribes and Pharisees had broken. Of course, they were all guilty of some crime and may have even committed adultery themselves. Therefore, Jesus’ strategy was effective in exposing their hypocrisy and getting them to realize that they also deserved to be stoned.

Guilty conscience

While Jesus was teaching in God’s temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him that they said, “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus in a situation where he would say or do something that contradicted his own teaching and make himself out to be a hypocrite like they were. The men that brought the adulteress to Jesus suggested that she should be stoned according to the Mosaic Law, but Jesus’ compassion for the woman caused him to say to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). The phrase “without sin” means without any sin. In other words, Jesus was making sinlessness a requirement for executing judgment against the woman that had committed adultery. It says in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Jesus used the example of these men’s guilty consciences to teach the Pharisees a lesson about his divine purpose as the savior of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Pharisees were used to condemning others for their sins against God, but Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessary for them to judge lawbreakers. God was able to bring conviction of sin, or give someone a guilty conscience, through the love and compassion of his son Jesus Christ. The two Greek terms Jesus used, phos (light) and scotia (darkness) were meant to show the contradiction between love and hate in our actions toward others. Scotia (skot-ee’-ah) is used of secrecy and describes a condition of moral or spiritual depravity. The men that condemned the adulteress might have been guilty of adultery themselves or some other crime that could be punished by death. It may have been their own guilty consciences that caused them to lash out at this woman and expose her to public humiliation.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) was a declaration of his ability to expose the inner thoughts and feelings of people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. It says in John 8:9 that the men that wanted to stone the adulteress were convicted by their own consciences when they heard Jesus say, “He that is without sin among you.” The human conscience is a mechanism by which God is able to reveal his will to us (4893). The Greek word suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) means “co-perception.” Another way of saying it would be to see both sides of the story. We are usually aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but not those of others, and in particular, the thoughts and feelings of God are typically hidden from us or outside of our awareness, but our conscience enables us to see what God thinks about our behavior. After the men that were convicted by their own consciences left the scene, Jesus asked the adulteress, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). The woman’s response acknowledged her submission to Jesus’ authority. She said, “No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).

 

Conversion

Jesus told his disciples, “Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated converted in this verse, strepho (stref’-o) is typically translated as turn or turned. Strepho means “to turn quite around or reverse” (4762). At the time when Jesus spoke these words, there was a little child standing in the midst of his twelve apostles and they were discussing who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus likely meant by becoming like little children was the reversal of his disciples spiritual development. He wanted them to start from the beginning and learn all over again what they knew about God.

Jesus said emphatically, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The word humble had a specific connotation to God’s people because of their history as slaves in Egypt. The Greek word Jesus used, tapeinoo (tap-i-no’-o) is used figuratively to express humiliation and it suggests that he wanted his disciples to be willing to humiliate themselves in order to please God. Mark’s record of this conversation indicated a responsibility on the part of Jesus’ disciples to keep themselves from leading others into sin by way of their bad behavior (arguing about who was the greatest Mark 9:34). Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believeth in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). This may have been a picture of the typical burial of a worthless servant.

Jesus’ lesson about true discipleship was an extension of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in which he warned against anger, adultery, and divorce. Jesus was intentionally reminding his disciples that the slightest infraction of the law was considered to be enough to bring judgment against an individual. Jesus said about the sin of adultery, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:28-29). Jesus’ repetition of this illustration (Matthew 18:9) of the drastic measures that needed to be taken in order to avoid sin in his lesson about true discipleship was no doubt meant to jolt his disciples back into reality and make them aware of the fact that their status in God’s kingdom was not based on spiritual accomplishments. Conversion, “turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us” (7725) is a lifelong process that ultimately brings us to the conclusion that our only purpose as members of God’s kingdom while we are alive on earth is to preach the gospel to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Witnesses

Jesus responded to the Jews rejection of him as their Messiah by first letting them know that they would be jusged for their choice (John 5:22) and then, explained to them that there would come a day when everyone would be resurrected from the dead, but rather than entering into the presence of God and living with him for eternity, those who rejected Jesus would spend eternity in hell (John 5:29). Jesus intentionally made a point of declaring the truth about God’s judgment early in his ministry, and also talked about it often, so that no one could say, I didn’t know about that. Comparing God’s judgment to a legal case in which each person would be charged with some offence, Jesus said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45). Jesus said this because his “listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, the great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say Moses himself would accuse them before God” (note on John 5:45).

Thinking about the evidence required to convict someone of a crime in a court of law, Jesus identified four witnesses that could testify that he was in fact the Jews’ Messiah. The first witness Jesus called to their minds was John the Baptist (John 5:33). The Jews were familiar with John’s message and many saw him baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16). During his first encounter with Jesus, John stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus told the Jews, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus was referring to his works of salvation. The Messiah’s mission was to save God’s people and Jesus intended to finish that assignment through his death and resurrection. Ultimately, there was no better way for Jesus to prove he was who he said was than to resurrect himself from the dead. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus added that God himself had testified to his identity (Matthew 3:17) and the Scriptures also testified of him (John 5:39).

The test

The prophet Malachi is believed to have delivered the last message from God to his people before their Messiah was born. Malachi’s book is filled with numerous rhetorical questions that were meant to convey the doubt that existed in the Jews’ hearts. The topic that was most important to them at that time was the coming of their Messiah or Saviour. Malachi spoke of this when he said, “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17). God’s response reiterated the purpose of his Messiah’s mission, to fulfill the covenant he made with King David. He said, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).

We know now that the messenger referred to in Malachi 3:1 was John the Baptist. His ministry preceded Jesus’ and made a way for the concept of repentance to be better understood. John’s announcement of Jesus’ arrival is recorded in John 1:29 where it says, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The idea that sins could be removed completely was new to believers. Even though the Jews knew that their sins could be forgiven, they didn’t expect God to wipe them away to the point that there was no record that they had ever been committed. Jesus’ ability to purify those that believed in him was beyond the Jews wildest imaginations. Malachi fortold of Jesus, “For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).

Malachi’s twofold message of purification and judgment was somewhat like a good news, bad news scenario. Although the Messiah would purify God’s people, he was also coming to judge them (Malachi 3:5). God said, “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them” (Malachi 3:7). One of the arguments God’s people made was that it was useless to keep God’s commandments because there was no reward for their good behavior (Malachi 3:14). God proposed a test to show whether or not he was faithful to his commandments. He said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). God had been faithful to his people, but there was little evidence that anyone had ever taken him up on his promise to bless his people. God’s final statement about his Messiah’s entrance into the world can be found in Malachi 3:18 where it says, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

Too late

On August 14, 591 B.C., “certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:1). At that time, the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and king Zedekiah’s plan to escape into the desert was most likely already in place. The elders of Israel may have been hoping that Ezekiel would give them an alternative to what they had already heard from the prophet Jeremiah. The fact that they went to see Ezekiel while he was being held captive in Babylon suggests that the elders of Israel were expecting Ezekiel to be aware of the current situation in Jerusalem and was able to tell them what to do even though he had been in captivity for more that seven years. Otherwise, there would have been no point for the elders to travel such a long distance to get his advice.

Unfortunately, the elders of Israel were disappointed when they arrived. Instead of receiving the latest news from God’s appointed messenger, the elders of Israel were told it was too late for them to seek God’s counsel, their judgment was already sealed and God would not reconsider his sentence against them (Ezekiel 20:31). Ezekiel was instructed to pronounce sentence against them and was told exactly what to say so that the elders of Israel would realize time had run out and Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

The seriousness of Israel’s wrongdoing was such that God had Ezekiel recite the history of their idolatry from its beginning in the desert outside of Egypt before the people ever entered the Promised Land. Several times, God wanted to pour out his fury, but spared the people for his own name’s sake. Eventually, God gave up on his effort to change the Israelites’ behavior and let them have their own way. He explained to Ezekiel, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore, I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:24-26). In other words, God let them do what they wanted to so that they would become aware of their own sinful way of life.