Moderns of whatever generation are not comfortable with the idea of judgment with some exceptions. When judgments are made, another cries out, “Judge not.” Of course, without judgment we could not have a court system or a church. Criticism of judgments usually has to do with those made in reference to sex. Our modern American culture is allergic to limits on sexual behavior except that pertaining to minors. It is to be greatly feared that strictures in this regard will eventually fall. Then, there will be no limits. America needs to change direction in terms of its attitudes about this matter. We need to teach our children that sex should remain within the bounds of the marriage covenant. People will fall short, but this failure is no excuse for changing the rules.
In Matthew 18 Jesus warns those who would corrupt children. “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18: 4-7 ESV) Little ones, mentioned here, can also refer to adult Christians as well as children.
“Judge not, that you be not judged,” Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. What does this mean? It can not mean that all judgment is suspended. Jesus teaches procedures for excommunication in Matthew 18 where he explicitly mentions the church as the agent of judgment on behalf of the Lord. Jesus says to Peter and the other disciples here,” . . . whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18: 18 ESV) This same command, described as the giving of the keys of heaven, is addressed to Peter and the other disciples at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16: 19. It is interesting to note that the word church, not used in any of the other Gospels, is used in both Chapters 16 and 18 of Matthew. Christ gives the church the power of judgment against sin.
“Judge not that you be not judged.” What Jesus means in this command is that one who judges will be judged in the same way. The passive voice here refers to God. God will judge us in the same way that we judge others. Further we are to be aware of our own sins and shortcomings when we judge. The speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye (members of the church) is matched by the log in our own eye. We are to take the log out of our own eye before we attempt to take the speck out of another’s eye. In other words, we are to be aware of our own sin and take the recourse of repentance. Any judgment must include judgment of ourselves.
So far, we have been talking about judgment among humans and in the church. Let’s proceed to the judgment of God. God judges through the church. He will judge at the end of time when the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus mentions the final judgment several times. In the mission discourse in chapter 10 Jesus tells the disciples that judgment in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will be more bearable than for that town that rejects them. Similarly, the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida where Jesus performed miracles will be judged because the people did not repent In Tyre and Sidon the people would have repented long ago if they had seen the miracles of the Lord. On the day of judgment it will be more bearable in Tyre and Sidon than in those towns. The people of Nineveh “will rise up with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12: 41 ESV)
In Matthew 19 the apostles are given the task of judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Responding to Peter’s exclamation, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19: 27 ESV) Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19: 27-28 ESV)
In Matthew 24-25 we find parables about judgment and a grand judgment scene. The parable of the ten virgins is about readiness. Five of the virgins had their lamps filled with oil; five do not. When the coming of the bridegroom was announced, those who did not have oil went to buy some. When they returned, the bridegroom told them that he did not know them. The moral is, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25: 13 ESV)
The parable of the talents follows. In this story the individual given by his master only one talent does not produce more, that is fruit, and is thus thrown into outer darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25: 30b ESV)
In the last section of chapter 25 Jesus describes a judgment scene where the sheep and the goats are gathered before the Son of Man, that is Himself. The sheep reached out to those in need; and, therefore are invited into the kingdom; the goats, who were not obedient to the Lord, are sent to the eternal fire. Jesus told both groups that when they served or did not serve those in need they served or did not serve Him.
In Chapter 24, just previous to the one we have been considering we read a version of what is commonly known as “the little apocalypse,” found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) with variation. Jesus’ disciples ask Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24: 3b ESV) The age is this time before the full coming of the kingdom; the age to come will occur when the kingdom of heaven comes in its fulness. Jesus describes the signs of the end, the beginning of the birth pains, and warns against false Christs. He tells them of the persecutions against disciples that are coming.
In this time, “. . . many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24: 10-14 ESV) While we await the end, our task is to extend the kingdom, commanded by the resurrected Jesus at His parting.
Natural signs in the heavens will bespeak the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. The elect will be gathered from all over the earth. Disciples must be ready at all times, for we do not know the day and hour when Christ will return (See Matthew 24: 42-44 ESV) Like the wise virgins, we are to have our lamps full of oil when the bridegroom comes.
Disciples, committed to a defense of the faith and witness to others, learn from these texts of judgment that we are to witness to the Gospel right up to the end of time. We need to pray for endurance to outlast persecution because of our commitment to Christ. We are to anticipate an increase of wickedness and less commitment to the good. We are not to predict when the end will occur, yet pray for its coming. We are to serve people in need, especially brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is to render judgment toward those who live in persistent and unrepentant sin while members need to be very aware of their own sins and repent.
Our faith is one of the eschaton and telos, that is, we believe that history will end with the last things and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. We believe in a judgment of sin and wickedness and the gathering of those chosen who have been faithful in word and deed, a faithfulness empowered by the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Michael G. Tavella
January 6, 2020