Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Father Judges No One -- 1

Adapted from Chapter 3 of “Heaven for Skeptics” © 2009 by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing

Will the Father judge me?

Arguably the most shocking thing Jesus ever said was . . .

John 5:22 “The Father judges no one . . .”

Let that sink in. When the reality of it hit me a few year ago, it kicked me in the teeth. Hard. What was I feeling? Befuddlement? I’d been told all of my life that God is my judge. If God is my judge, then how can he not judge? What Jesus said didn’t make sense. The Father judges no one?

Really reading it for the first time and realizing what it said made me feel stuck. A Christian for decades, and apparently I didn’t understand judgment. Worse, I was sure that I had God wrong. Who is Jesus’ Father if not my judge? What does he do if not judge me? And if he doesn’t judge me, who does? What is judgment? And how does it work?

I think it’s fair to say that we Christians tend to see God as a distant watcher and judge who will determine—based on individual human performance at being good and praying “the sinner’s prayer” with sincerity—who will get to “go to” heaven or hell when we die. My sense is that modern evangelicals everywhere believe and preach and teach this. (Am I wrong?) Yet, there is this verse. There is this claim Jesus makes about his Father in John 5:22 that is clear and uncompromising. This question still haunts me: Why is it so difficult to see God as anything but a judge?

Perhaps we should read the rest of the verse. Maybe that will fix things.

John 5:22 “The Father judges no one . . . but has given all judgment to the Son . . .”

Jesus claims, via John’s Gospel, that the Father has given away his intention to judge. Obviously he has the power to judge, and the right to judge. After all, he’s God the Father! But apparently he has neither the desire nor the intent to judge directly. Yes, the Father could judge, but he decided not to handle it himself. He emptied himself of that power, handing it over to his Son completely. This humble transfer of power—from Father to Son—is consistent with the character of the Father, showing his humble, deferential nature. The Father confidently and entirely entrusts to the Son all matters concerning judgment. That task has been delegated, so say the Scriptures, and not just John’s Gospel. In the Book of Acts, Paul concludes his sermon to the intellectuals in Athens by saying,

Acts 17:31 “[God the Father] has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (italics mine)

Will the Son judge me?

So obviously you are considering now the possibility that the Son, rather than the Father, will judge you. Millions of Christians would likely agree with you. But John again tells us that’s not quite right. Yes, the Son is the one who had the authority to judge. But what does the Son do with all that power given him by authority of his Father? He does the same thing that his Father did. Jesus says that he will not judge you directly either.

John 5:45 “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father.”

John 12:47a “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them . . .”

John 8:15 “I judge no one.”

John 12:47b “. . . I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”

Jesus gives away the power to judge just as his Father did. It seems that he and the Father are on the same page. Judgment is a power that neither the Father nor the Son intends to exercise directly. It is not their nature, their will, or their way.

A little legalist that lives in a dark, cold corner of my heart objects to this strenuously. If there’s no judge, how can people be held accountable? Without a judge where is the moral deterrent to keep people from rampant sin and evil? There is no reason to be good if there is no consequence for being bad.

If that’s what you believe, I understand. But first rest assured, biblically speaking, there is a judge. It’s just that judgment is not implemented directly by the Father or the Son. And second, let me answer the accountability question with a question. (Jesus often answered questions with questions; I enjoy trying to do the same.) Assuming that you are married, is the only reason you don’t cheat on your spouse that you’re afraid you’ll get caught? Hopefully not. If you are blessed with a good marriage, hopefully the reason you don’t cheat is because you love your spouse in a relationship based on trust. The Scriptures are telling us something similar about God and judgment. The Father and Son that John wrote about are not interested in using threat of judgment to deter bad behavior. They’re interested in a relationship of love based on trust. As author Wayne Jacobson wrote:

“Trust is not a choice (or decision). It is the fruit of your growing confidence in Father’s love for you.”

We’ve established biblically that the Father refuses to judge you and has passed on the power to judge to his Son. And we’ve established that the Son, having received that authority does as his Father did; he passes on that power. So you’re probably asking yourself, Who is the judge then? That’s the wrong question as it turns out. Ask instead, What is the judge? Ask, What is biblical judgment?

What is biblical judgment?

The original language of the New Testament is Koine Greek. The Greek New Testament word kri,sij krisis (pronounced KREE-sees) means judgment. The English word crisis is obviously derived from krisis. Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Let’s look at the most important biblical verse for understanding the meaning of judgment. The key verse of Christian Scripture containing this word is:

John 3:19 And this is the judgment (krisis), that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (italics mine)

Jesus’ presence (not his direct pronouncement), John says, is the crisis, the judgment. I know the popular bumper sticker says, “Jesus is the answer,” but that is not a biblical quote. Biblically, Jesus is the crisis. And the 4th Gospel is saying that Jesus was not only a crisis during his ministry, but that he is a continuing crisis today. And moreover, not just a crisis of the past and present, but he will always be a crisis, even until krisis day—judgment day (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17). How so?

A roach scurries into the cracks when you turn on a light. I’m trying to illuminate John’s analogy with light. He is asking us to consider that Jesus’ truth is painful to humans, too painful for some. The exposure of their lives in the light of truth hurts like hell. Thus the crisis.

John 3:20-21 “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Either you can stand the truth of the light and let it expose you, or you can run for cover. You can either stay in the light to walk through the pain to the point that you are willing to look at your secrets and grudges and faults and bitterness and brokenness and, for lack of a better word, sin so that you can experience healing and forgiveness. Or, like most of us probably most of the time, you can strap on your fig leaf and hide from him, from yourself, from everyone.

Jesus said he was the truth. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:3) John’s point is that the truth is fine when it works in your favor or exposes someone else. But when it exposes your dirty laundry---not just to others but to you yourself? Well now, that’s not fun. When the light of day finds your hideaway, do you know what you’ve got on your hands? Exposure---a crisis of major proportions. Now that’s biblical judgment (krisis). But there’s a little more to it.

The high priest in the Jewish Temple, on the Day of Atonement, slaughtered one goat and drove an identical goat out into the wilderness. The second of the two, the one driven away, is called the scapegoat (Azazel). This two-goat ritual may have been practiced by Jews for over 1000 years. (Leviticus 16:15-22) Do you see how this is connected to judgment?

John 12:31 “Now is the judgment (krisis) of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (italics mine)

By “now” Jesus meant “his hour” was at hand. Jesus was seen by the early church as the true High Priest who drives out the old goat, Satan. The judgment, in John’s Gospel, is certainly the presence of Jesus’ exposing light of truth. But judgment is concentrated on the hour of the Passover sacrifice itself, which is simultaneous with Jesus’ crucifixion. This is the hour of crisis, says John. Not just any hour, but the hour that the liar, Satan, is exposed by the truth, Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ Passover sacrifice of himself is referred to repeatedly as “the hour” or “his hour.”

John 7:30 Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. (italics mine)

John 12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (italics mine)

John 13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. (italics mine)

John 17:1 "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, . . .” (italics mine)

He called it “my hour.”

John 2:4 And Jesus said to [his mother], "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." (italics mine)

Here the Fourth Gospel claims that Jesus’ “hour,” the time for his sacrificial death, is both the judgment/crisis of the whole world, and the driving out of the ruler of this world (the adversary, the accuser, the evil one, the liar and the father of all lies, Satan). Here is another key passage:

John 12:31-32 “Now is the judgment (krisis) of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (bold underline mine)

The “now moment” of krisis/judgment IS the crucifixion of Jesus. And the cross of Christ has a double effect, says John.

1. It draws all the children of the world unto Jesus (12:32).
2. It drives the ruler of this world out (12:31).

Let’s have a go at what this cross crisis really means.

First, by drawing all people unto him, Jesus presents each person with a crisis. There is no neutrality. Either you like being near a God who takes away everybody’s sin Scott free, or you think that’s horribly misguided. Either you want to dance at the universal atonement party to which all manner of reprobates are invited (Not universalism. See my blogs: You're Saved and A Country Fried Parable.”), or you’ll simply refuse to have fun with all those filthy sinners around. There’s your krisis/judgment.

Second, and at the same critical moment, by driving the evil prince out, people no longer have an accuser. (The name Satan means adversary. Revelation 12:10 calls him the accuser of humanity.) So simultaneously, now with no accuser and with the sin of the world taken away, there is nothing separating humanity from the Father but death. But, of course, the Scriptures show that the Father thinks of everything. There’s a plan to defeat death too. The image of the evil one being driven out will be joined with the grave being driven out.

1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

It is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (as a promise of our own resurrections) that accomplishes the destruction of death, which brings us to the subject of life.

John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

So how does biblical judgment really work?

The Father will not judge you. And the Son will not judge you. Perhaps you’ve already guessed who, or I should say what will judge you, biblically speaking. It’s the presence of life. Life eternal is the final judgment (krisis). Let’s lay it out.

Jesus is recorded as saying that “the word” (he calls it “my word”) he spoke will be your judge on the last day:

John 12:48b “. . . on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, . . .” (italics mine)

No need to wonder if Jesus is going to explain what the mysterious “word” is that will stand in for the Father and him on judgment day. He comes right out and tells us what it is, as recorded again by the author of John’s Gospel. It’s a word he says is directly from the Father. I suggest you read this and ponder it before you continue.

John 12:49-50 “. . . for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me." (italics mine)

That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

  1. The Father will not judge you directly.
  2. The Son will not judge you directly.
  3. On the last day the word that the Son spoke will judge you on behalf of the Father and Son.
  4. The Father commanded that the Son should speak that word.
  5. The word the Father commanded the Son to speak is eternal Life.
From here on out I will capitalize Life when the word refers to the Life that Jesus gives and the word of Life that judges. Jesus was commanded by his Father to proclaim Life that is eternal, and that word—Life (Jesus called it “my word”)—serves as final judge. It’s as if Jesus is saying, For judgment now and on the last day, I’m just going to keep letting you bump up against Life and see what it does to your circuits.

Life eternal

OK. So what, you may be wondering, is eternal Life? Is it living forever? Is it an afterlife destination? The way the concept is often misused has left a lot of people confused. So let’s define the term before we look at how it works.

“Eternal Life” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles, especially modern evangelical circles. It seems to be assumed by those who use it that they know what it means. And it is biblical. All four gospels and the Book of Acts use the expression. You’ll find it in five letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:22, 6:23; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12; Titus 1:2, 3:7). It’s also found in 1 John (1:2, 2:5, 3:15, 5:11, 5:13, 5:20) and in Jude 1:21. That’s a lot. So, yes, biblically speaking, eternal Life is important. But what does it mean?

I’ll wager that the most common belief among Christians is that eternal Life is our future existence in heaven when we die. This definition has been ingrained in me from pulpits and Sunday school classrooms, by TV evangelists and everyday use of the phrase. What else could eternal Life be but a reference to the afterlife? It seems everyone assumes that that is what it is. It’s the place you go when you die.

Are you convinced?

I’m not.

In spite of the previous assumptions you might have, there’s a lot more to this “eternal Life” biblically speaking. We should begin with that---the Bible. Jesus defined it:

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Knowing the Father and the Son is eternal Life. It’s a relationship. How much clearer could Jesus have been?

Another real clarifier of this whole issue is this quote from the lips of Jesus, again from the Gospel of John:

NET John 5:28-29 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out--the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.”

The New Testament insists there is a final day of resurrection when all people are raised, and some of those people will have Life. But note that everybody is raised on the last day. That’s what Jesus said.

Are all these terms starting to run together? That’s because it’s all of one piece! “Eternal Life” is used alternately with the phrase “inherit the kingdom” and the term “resurrection.” For example, in the Parable of the Talking Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the sheep are said to inherit the kingdom and enter eternal Life:

Matthew 25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand (the sheep), 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom . . .

Matthew 25:46 . . . the righteous (the sheep) [enter] into eternal life."

Let’s keep it simple. There are three things that are really important if you want a biblical understanding of the kingdom of heaven, eternal Life, and resurrection.

First, there is a now-ness and a not-yet-ness to all three, biblically speaking. The kingdom of heaven is among us and within us here and now, and yet it won’t come in its fullness until the last day. Eternal Life is ours already here and now, and yet we have not yet inherited it in its fullness and won’t until the last day. The human race is already dead and risen and ascended with the Son, and yet we have not and won’t rise completely (bodily) until the last day.

Second, these three are inseparable. The kingdom of heaven that comes in its fullness on the last day equals eternal Life given in its fullness on the last day, which itself equals resurrection of everyone bodily from the dead. On the last day the forgiven who want to be forgiven (more on that coming up) are raised bodily for Life eternal in his coming heavenly kingdom.

Third, these three are present now and forever in Jesus. Life was his message, yet he said that he is the Life. Because he is Life, he speaks Life. He is his message. The gift of Life isn’t given because of or from Jesus. The Life he gives is not distinct from his person. He is what he speaks. He is Life; Life is in him.

NET John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

1 John ..5:11.. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

So, eternal Life biblically speaking is bigger than a future end-time destination. Much bigger. You don’t have to wait to die. You can have it now.

John 3:15 “. . . whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (italics mine)

John 5:24 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (italics mine)

John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (italics mine)

John 5:39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (italics mine)

John 6:47 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (italics mine)

So where do we get this eternal Life?

John 6:63 “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (italics mine)

John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (italics mine)

John ..8:12.. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (italics mine)

And why did Jesus say that he came?

John 10:10b “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (italics mine)

John ..10:28.. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (italics mine)

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (italics mine)

Not only is his grace and good will toward you Life, not only does he give Life to everyone who has it, but he is Life. When he gives the kingdom of heaven, he gives Life; when he gives Life, he gives himself. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts ..17:28..). Adventurous Life is in him.

Life then is nothing if not a relational experience, says Scripture. It is a relationship that is Life rich and abundant. Anybody who has experienced relational joy, beautiful and sweet, has tasted eternity. I concur with my long-time friend Cary Stockett who says, “We are hard-wired at the factory for relationship.”

The following verses confirm this, and they summarize the gospel itself:

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (italics mine)

John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (italics mine)

Is it clear enough? Life is something that Jesus is and gives, now and forever. It’s relationship itself. It’s oneness in the one who is Life. By trusting him, according to Scripture, we truly live in the kingdom of God/heaven. Jesus scripturally, as you will continue to see, is the resurrection, the Life eternal, the presence of the kingdom of heaven, the place, Paradise, and home.

So how does Life judge?

Life’s judgment comes not from the Father or the Son, but from our No to Life. To put it personally, it’s as if Jesus is saying, I’m giving you Life, and you keep saying No. If this is the way it is, truly it’s not the Father or the Son that judge you directly. The judgment is in your response to the presence of Life—merciful, honest, revealing, exposing, forgiving Life—given to you up front without strings. Religion is always a deal. Life is always a gift.

I realize that if you wanted to, in your mind you could divorce Jesus from Life. You have Jesus stuff over here, and real life stuff over there. Sunday is divorced from the rest of the week. And church is separated from your office and the ballpark. This is missing the point biblically speaking. What we’re talking about here is Life—the whole shooting match. And the Scriptures say that Jesus can’t be divorced from life because he is Life. All of it.

Where does your passion for your wife or husband come from? What passion are you participating in when you lose yourself in lovemaking or music or dancing or baseball or stock cars or cooking? The Scriptures of the New Testament are clear. It’s Life real, rich, passionate, and abundant. We are all up in his Life already, though we too often fail to recognize it as such. We always have been in him. Where’s the proof of this, biblically speaking? Fasten your seat belt. Here we go.

Check out the first verses of John’s Gospel (immediately below). Life as we know it was created by “the Word,” upper case “W.” John’s Gospel not only declares that Jesus’ message [“the word” (lower case “w”) that he spoke which was Life] is the point here. He also calls Jesus himself the Word of God---the Word that created you and every living and inanimate thing. It’s often assumed that God the Father was the lone creator. What we have missed is that the New Testament insists that the creator of all things is God the Son, the Word of God, Jesus himself:

John 1:1-4 and 14 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (italics mine)

Do you get how radical the Scriptures are? No? Deal with this, then: Jesus made Jews. Jesus made Muslims. Jesus, the creative Word of God, according to the New Testament, made everybody and everything that existed, exists, or will ever exist.

The politically correct folks bristle at Jesus claiming in the Gospel of John that, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) This is misinterpreted by many as meaning that only Christians can be in relationship with God. Wrong. It’s saying that because all people are made in and by and through the Word (Jesus), then whether they consciously know it or not, all people are relating to God the Father, and all are doing so in and by and through Jesus who is the Word of God and God the Son, the one who created everyone, the one in whom everyone lives. It’s not an exclusivist claim. It excludes no one. He created the universe, and his atonement includes the universe. In Jesus, creation and redemption are universal claims:

John 1:4 In him was life, and life was the light of all people. (italics mine)

John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (italics mine)

John ..12:32.. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth (on the cross), will draw all people to myself.” (italics mine)

1 John 2:2 . . . and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (italics mine)

[Continued in “The Father Judges No One - 2”]