Jesus - The Judge
Fr. Thomas Hopko · September 27, 2009
God does not want to condemn anyone, but his judgment is a merciful judgment, and God's divinity is revealed through his Son, Jesus. Learn more in this episode of the Names of Jesus series.
In reflecting on the names and titles of Jesus, we thought a bit about the fact that in the Scripture, Jesus is called “the righteous one”: “We have an advocate before God, Jesus, the righteous, if we have sinned” (I John 2:1), and the servant of the Lord [in] Isaiah: “He is my servant, the righteous one” (Isaiah 53:11). When we’re reflecting on Jesus as the righteous one and on righteousness, I suggested to you listeners that you should go through the psalter. We should all be very familiar with the psalter. But to read in the psalter about how many times that term, “righteousness” and “the righteous one,” is used.
And I would say now [when] we want to meditate on Jesus as the Judge, I would suggest the very same thing: Go through the psalter and see what it said there about God and the Lord as the Judge, and about judgment, that is [found] in the psalter, just so many references. And in general, in Holy Scripture, you have the teachings about Jesus—excuse me: in the Old Testament about God as the Judge, the righteous Judge, the Judge who judges with equity, the one who judges in righteousness, the one whose judgment is totally fair according to reality. And this is something that we should definitely pay attention to.
As we do that, we have to again realize the problem with words, because [sometimes] when the Scripture says “judge,” another term is used, like “vindicate” or, how can you say: “advocate on behalf of the servant,” because a servant is calling on God’s judgment, because the person thinks that they are being badly treated, that they are innocent, that they need someone to come to their defense. And it’s interesting that even the term “advocate”—or “paraklētos” that is also applied to Jesus; we’ll talk about this later—it’s like a lawyer in the court of law. You need someone to plead the case.
But then the believer in the true God would say, “Well, I don’t need anybody to plead my case. God himself is going to plead my case. God is the Judge and he judges justly, and as long as I have nothing to fear, as long as I am not guilty, so to speak, of what I am being accused of, then God will finally vindicate me.” And it is a definite teaching of the Holy Scripture that God vindicates the righteous, the meek; God vindicates those who want what is just and true and good. And then he judges the whole world.
And this leads to another problem with words, because the term “judge”—in virtually all languages, by the way; not only in English, but it’s in Greek and in Church Slavonic at least; it may be the same in Latin; I’m not sure—but the term, that word can also be translated as “condemn.” To condemn someone is to judge them. So you have Jesus teaching not to judge anyone, or the measure that you judge, you’ll be judged.
So judgment is sometimes considered an antonym to being merciful. “Don’t judge; be merciful. Don’t judge others.” But we have to understand that, first of all, that does not mean that we don’t discern things. It does not mean that we don’t name evil for evil. It does not mean that we just sort of fluff over things and deny evils and say, “Well, it’s okay,” and being merciful means [letting] people off the hook and not really calling them to account for their behavior—well, that is certainly not the case. According to the Scripture, everyone is going to have to give an account for their life and their behavior before God who is the Judge, and, as we’ll see, before Jesus Christ as the Judge.
But not condemning anyone, being merciful, that is certainly a teaching of the Holy Scripture, including the Old Testament, not just the New. And in general, very few of the teachings of Jesus, in fact, none of them, are new. Jesus gives them new meaning. Take love, for example. The commandment to love God with all your mind, whole self, heart, and strength; to love your neighbor as yourself—that’s in the law of Moses. But then Jesus says, “Who is my neighbor?” and then Jesus says, “Love the way I love,” and then Jesus says, “I’ll give you the Holy Spirit so you can love with God’s love.” It’s magnified; it’s intensified; it’s deepened; it’s widened. But basically, it’s still there.
And in the Old Covenant, it’s certainly the teaching that God does not want to condemn anybody, even when he judges the people of Israel, and in the Old Testament the claim is that God is just in all his judgments. The three boys in the fiery furnace, they say, “We are here because of our sins. There is no priest, no prophet, no king, no nothing. We are here and we say to you, O God: ‘O God, you are just in all that you have done for us.’ ” And the claim of the Holy Scripture is that at the end of the world, every single human being, whoever that human being is, will actually cry out to God, if they see who God really is and how God really acts, they will say, “You are just in all that you have done for us.”
But God does not want to condemn anybody. As Ezekiel says, “He desires not the death of the sinner, but that he would turn and live.” In all the chastening of his people in the Scripture, even the wrath of God upon the people, it’s to purify them; it’s to get them to repent. It’s ultimately an act of mercy. But then the teaching will also be that God’s judgment is a merciful judgment. “The Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy.” That sentence is found in the law of Moses, it’s found in the Prophets, it’s found in the Psalms, it’s found all over the place, that the Lord is eleēmōn, oiktirmōn, longsuffering, dolgolterpeliv in Slavonic, makrothymion, I think it is in Greek.
In any case, God is merciful. You can’t say the Old Testament God was a strict judge and had a harsh judgment and just wanted to condemn everybody. That’s just not true. And the same thing would not be true about the New Testament. It isn’t that in the New Testament there’s just mercy to everyone and God makes nice with everybody and he’s a smiley face on a bumper sticker and so on. No. According to the New Testament, there will be a judgment. And, in fact, the judge will be Jesus himself.
What we want to see before we get to Jesus is that in the Old Testament, it is certainly the teaching that God himself is the Judge. Just like God is the Lord, God is the Judge, God is the King. But what we have revealed in Jesus is that the divinity of God is revealed through Jesus. He is God from God. Jesus is also the Lord. “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” Jesus reveals the lordship of God, his Father. Jesus is the King; the King of the kingdom of God is Jesus, who is the king who sits upon the throne.
The same thing is true about judgment, that God gives Jesus the authority to execute judgment. We will see that in a minute. But what we want to see in the Old Testament is that certainly God is the Judge and he’s going to judge the world, and he will judge the world, and he judges the nations, and he judges his own people, but that judgment is just. That judgment is fair, and, ultimately, even, that judgment is merciful. God wants to be merciful.
It’s already shown in the Old Testament that in some sense, human beings are judging themselves. It’s how they respond to God, how [they] react to God is what the judgment upon them will be. In the psalter, for example, you have the faithful people singing out to God to judge them. For example, one of the prokeimena of vespers in the Orthodox Church for the Wednesday evening says, “Save me, O God, by your name.” “Your name,” that means “your presence, your being,” and of course, Jesus has the name above every name, and at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow on heaven and on earth and under the earth, and God reveals his name to Moses: “I am who I am, the Lord Yahweh” and so on. But it says, “O Lord, save me, O God, by your name.”
And then it continues: “And judge me by your might.” Judge me by your power. So it’s funny: the people pray to God to be judged. They say to God, “Please judge us. You judge me, O Lord. We want yourjudgment.” And anyone who loves truth and reality and goodness wants the judgment to come from God, because God can be trusted to judge justly. And this is said in the psalter all the time also: “The Lord judges with equity; the Lord judges with perfect justice; the Lord is perfectly fair; when you stand before him, things are revealed as they really are.” And the believer wants that to happen.
They will say, “Judge me, O Lord. Arise, O Lord, judge the earth.” You have so many sentences like that, and I will just ask you yourself to read them. Read the Holy Scripture. Read the Prophets. For example, Isaiah, it says that the Lord God is judging with righteousness, that he looks for justice, he looks for righteousness, he executes justice upon the people, that he is just in all of his judgments. Probably among the most famous Old Testamental lines, beside the three boys in the fiery furnace who say to God, “You are just in all that you have done for us,” is the psalm that’s the Paschal psalm.
At the Great Paschal Vigil at the [Vesperal Divine Liturgy] of St. Basil the Great on the Eve of the Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, because at that Divine Liturgy, there’s a very spectacular moment that all Orthodox Christians, when they have the opportunity to participate in that service—and sadly, not many… I shouldn’t say “not many,” but there are enough churches who don’t do this service and the people never experience it—but everyone who ever has experienced it will never forget it.
That is at that vigil of Pascha, at that vespers, the seventh day, the Sabbath, when the Lord lay dead in the tomb, and you hear the reading of the three boys in the fiery furnace: “Thou art just in all that thou hast done for us,” and “if we come to you with a meek and contrite heart, you will not condemn us, but you will save us, and your judgment will be mercy upon us” and so on, there’s 15 readings from the Old Testament that show the healing and saving power of God himself.
But then there comes a moment in that vespers service, vesperal vigil, Eucharistic Liturgy, where the Epistle is read, and it’s the epistle that is used also at baptisms, where it says, “Do we not know that as many as have been baptized into Christ were baptized in his death? We’ve been buried with him in baptism, and we’re going to rise up with newness of life” and so on. It’s [Romans 6:3-11]. You can read that for yourself, too.
But then, after the reading of the Epistle, the Royal Doors of the altar area are closed, the curtain is pulled, and then the singers in the church sing the psalm, “Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth, for to you belong all the nations. Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth; to you belong all the nations.” And this line of the psalm, the whole psalm is sung, and during that time, the clergy change their dark-colored vestments into bright-colored vestments. Usually it’s black or purple into bright, shiny white.
And then all the covers are changed in church, and the candles are changed, and at that very moment, with the singing of this song, the transition takes place, into the celebration of Pascha. Then the doors are opened, everything is white, the priest comes out, the deacon, and reads the Gospel about the Resurrection of Christ, and moves into the celebration of Holy Pascha.
But what is sung at that moment, what is sung in the church is the psalm that says, “Arise, O God, and judge the earth, for to thee belong all the nations.” All the nations are [God’s], and God is going to judge them all. God sits in the council of the judges, and he judges over all. This is what the psalm says. I’ll read it from the first verse (Psalm 82):
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of gods he holds judgment.
So God is judging over all the false gods, all the idols, all the gods of the nations. He is over them all. Then it says:
How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
Because the kings and the rulers of this earth very often, for the most part, are judging unjustly. They’re not just judging with righteous judgment. Jesus says, “Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by righteous judgment. Judge by true judgment.” But people are not judging by true judgment. We know well even in our courts today how much hanky-panky is going on with plea bargaining and payoffs and all this kind of stuff.
Is there really justice? Can you get justice? The Scripture would say you can’t get justice from anybody except God himself. There may be a few righteous judges around, but God himself is the one we want to judge us, so we say to him, “Judge us! How long will the rulers of this earth judge unjustly?” And they even show partiality to the wicked, or to the rich, or to the powerful. Then it says:
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right (the justice) of the afflicted and the destitute.
So God is going to vindicate, in that sense, his justice is going to vindicate the weak, the fatherless, the orphans, the afflicted, the destitute. Then it says:
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
So all the weak and the needy who are in the hands of the wicked, God is going to judge the earth and they’re going to be vindicated, and the evil is going to get what’s coming to it. Maybe the evildoer will repent; we pray for that. God wants to show mercy, even on the evildoer; but if they don’t, then the mercy and the love of God, the truth of God, the light of God is going to be a judgment upon them in the sense of a condemnation. They’re going to be condemned by their own activity, by not being open and desiring and loving the truth and the beauty and the goodness and the glory of God. Then it says:
The peoples of this earth have neither knowledge nor understanding. They walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Then you have this famous line:
I say: “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”
It’s a fantastic sentence. The Lord God says to all the human beings: “You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High, all of you.” And Christians would say, “Yep! That’s the absolute truth. In Jesus Christ, we all become gods. We all become christs. We all become sons of God. We all become sons of the Most High.” All of us are given a divine life, all of us. And that’s the deification in the Orthodox Tradition. We are really made, as the Holy Fathers say, to be gods by grace, to be by grace everything that God is by nature, as the Holy Fathers say. To really have a divine life.
So the Lord says in the psalm: “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’ ” And in St. John’s Gospel, by the way, Jesus quotes this sentence when he says, “The Father is working and I am working,” and they pick up stones to [stone him for blasphemy] and say, “Who are you, a man, making yourself to be God?” and then Jesus says, “If the Scripture calls those to whom the word of God has come, those who receive it, gods, why are you so upset and scandalized that I say that I am the Son of God?”—because he is—“and God is my Father.” This is a fantastic line: “You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.”
But then it continues:
Nevertheless, you shall die like men and fall like any prince.
Because of our wickedness, we die like men and we fall like any prince, and all the princes of this world, they all fall. They all fall. It even says, another translation might be: “O princes of the earth, you will fall, like all people fall.” Everybody falls. Only God does not fall, and as we know, the servant of God does not fall; the Son of God does not fall. He takes on the sin of the world, but he is vindicated.
God judges the world, and he seats the Son of God, the Savior, his servant, on the throne to judge the whole world, and all those who are together with him sit on the thrones with him, judging the whole world. That’s what it says in the New Testament. Jesus says to the apostles, “Don’t you know that you will sit on the thrones, judging all the tribes of Israel, all the nations who have come before you?”
And then you have the last line of the psalm, which is the refrain:
Arise, O God, and judge the earth. To thee belong all the nations.
“Everything belongs to you.” So in the psalter, we are praying for God to judge us. We want God to judge us.
When we get to the New Testament, when Christ comes, what does it say about him? What does he say about judgment? What does he teach? What do the Holy Scriptures teach? Well, one thing’s for sure. It’s taught very clearly; it’s said very clearly in the Book of Acts, which becomes part of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, actually the part written in Constantinople, where, in the Book of Acts, this is what it says. I’m going to read the whole thing, because it’s so beautiful (Acts 10:34-43). It’s so beautiful. Peter opens up his mouth and he says,
Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching the Gospel (the good news) of peace by Jesus Christ—he is the Lord of all—the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
And we are witnesses to all that he did, both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, and they put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and who drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God…
And here you have the sentence:
...to judge (to be judge) of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, and everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through him.
So it says that Christ commanded the apostles to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. So in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, we say we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified, who was buried, who rose again on the third day, who ascends into the heavens, who is seated at God’s right hand, enthroned on the judgment seat, the kingly and royal throne, the judgment throne.
And in St. John’s Gospel, by the way, according to St. John’s Passion story, Pilate even sits Jesus down on the judgment seat, on the Gabbatha, on the stone, at the pavement. He is dressed up like a king with a crown of thorns and a purple robe and a mocking reed in his hands, and Pilate says, “Behold the man; behold your king,” and he sits him down on the judgment seat, as a part of the mockery. But he didn’t know he [wasn’t] mocking, because that man really was the king. He really is the Son of God. He is really crowned with glory and honor and majesty. He has all power, and he will sit in judgment when he is vindicated and raised from the dead.
So it says in the Creed, “And he will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” That’s a quotation of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus was being born: “He will be the Son of the Most High and be called the Son of God and of his kingdom—he will have the kingdom of David the king, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” So we have this in the Book of Acts, that Jesus Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead.
But in the Gospels, we ask the question: What did Jesus teach about judgment? What did he say about judgment? And here, it’s very important to be careful. It’s always important to be careful. But he uses sometimes the term “to judge” as a synonym of “condemn.” So he says, like in the Sermon on the Mountain: “Judge not, that you be not judged; with the measure you judge, that’s the measure [by which] you’re going to be judged.” And he says, “Don’t condemn anybody.” Don’t judge anybody in the sense of condemnation, but he doesn’t tell his people that they should be fools. He doesn’t tell them that they should not name evil for evil and see what it is. He just says, “Do not condemn,” and, of course, that’s God’s business.
The Apostle Paul will insist on that. He says, “If your enemy’s hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him to drink. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord. ‘I will execute judgment.” So God is going to do the judgment, and so Jesus is making that very point. He says, “There will be the judgment, and God will do the judgment,” but—and this is particularly the case in St. John’s Gospel—Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel, makes it very clear that his judgment is all according to what he says and does. And in that sense, he will say, “I don’t judge anybody.” In fact, he will say very, very clearly, “I have come not to judge the world, but to save the world.” He says that in so many words in St. John’s Gospel.
He says… These are the words themselves here. Let me be sure I find my right text here. Yeah. It’s in John 12. He says: Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me.” That means God the Father. “And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” So if you want to see God, the face of God, you can only see it in the face of Christ; he is the icon of God. Then he says, “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him.’” Listen to that: “If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
So he comes as the savior. But then he makes the point that his coming as savior is the judgment. He says, “I don’t come to judge; I come to save, but the fact that I come to save is a judgment.” So it continues:
I do not judge. If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge: the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
So he says, “I’m not judging you. I’m just giving you the word of truth. That will judge you.” Whether you accept it or reject it, that is going to be the judgment. Then he says:
For I have not spoken on my own authority. The Father who sent me has himself given me commandments: what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.
So the words that Jesus speaks that come from God—and he says,“My words are not my words; they’re the words of the Father who sent me”—this is the judgment. You have the same thing in the eighth chapter. It begins with the same reference to light (John 8):
Again Jesus spoke and said to them, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pharisees then said to him, “You are bearing witness to yourself. Your testimony is not true.”
Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know whence I have come and whither I am going, but you do not know whence I come or whither I am going (where I came from and where I am going to). You judge according to the flesh. I judge no one.”
Isn’t that amazing? “You judge according to the flesh. I judge no one.”
“Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two men are true. I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.”
So there you have your two witnesses.
They said to him, therefore, “Where is your father?”
Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
These words he spoke in the treasury. Now, what Jesus is saying is, again, “Light has come; I come to save with that light. I come not to judge or condemn in any way, but my coming, my light, my saying, my word, it’s of God, and that is what is going to be the judgment.” Then he says the very same thing in the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.
In the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, you have that famous line that’s known all over America, on the billboards:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16, which is at the heart of the Eucharistic prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Orthodox Church: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Then it says:
For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world…
And there, actually, it would be the same word that’s often translated “judge”: not to judge the world, not to condemn the world.
...but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned. He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So a person who would have an encounter with Jesus and not believe him: that would be the judgment. The judgment is the encounter. And this is the judgment, and he says it in so many words:
And this is the judgment: that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
Or we might say, “It may be clearly seen that the deeds have not been wrought in God.” But again you have this reference to light. In the three passages that I just read, it begins with light: “I am the light; the light is shining; the light is coming; the light’s in the darkness.” But if people love darkness more, then that’s the judgment. If their deeds are evil, that’s the judgment. Jesus himself is not consciously condemning or judging anybody; he is simply shining there as the light of the world, bringing the mercy and truth of God, and that is itself the judgment. And he says it: “And this is the judgment: that light has come into the world”—and he is that light that came into the world. It’s in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel. He is the true light that enlightens every man; he was coming into the world; and if people cling to the evil, cling to the darkness, then that very light judges them.
St. Gregory the Theologian will even say that that very light tortures them; it torments them. And the Fathers, like Gregory, like Isaac of Syria and others, they will say: Those who reject God are tormented by his light, so that the fires of hell, of Gehenna, at the end of the ages, if there are those who do not love God and do not show the love of God by loving their neighbor and doing acts of love, then the very presence of that light is a judgment upon them, and we will see this very strongly in one second here, when we go to the parable of the last judgment in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
But, sticking for now with St. John’s Gospel, we also have in St. John’s Gospel the teaching of why it is that Jesus is the Judge. Why is it that Jesus sits on the throne? Why is it that everyone comes before him, and that God has given him this authority? Well, it’s very interesting: in the Orthodox Church again, the ancient Church tradition of Orthodoxy, what I’m going to read to you now is actually the Epistle reading at a funeral service. If you go to a funeral service at an Orthodox church, this is what you will hear read at that particular service of commending a person who has departed this life into the presence of God. This is what is written. It’s coming from the fifth chapter of St. John’s Gospel (John 5:24):
Truly, truly, I say to you: He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
So anyone who believes in God the Father who sent Jesus, and believes in the Gospel, God’s Gospel in Jesus Christ, has eternal life. And he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Then he says again: “Truly, truly, I say to you.” And we remember that that expression—“Truly, truly; amen, amen”; “amēn, amēn, legō ymin” in Greek—it means: “This is not negotiable. I’m not asking for your ‘Amen.’ I say ‘Amen’ first. This is the teaching. There’s no discussing it.” He says:
Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…
And then listen to this:
...and has given him authority to execute judgment…
So God gives Jesus the authority to execute judgment; he makes him the Judge. That’s the point. “God has made me the Judge,” Jesus said. God has given the Son of man the authority to execute judgment. And then he gives the reason.
...because he is the Son of man.
Jesus has the authority to make judgment because he is the Son of man. Isn’t that amazing? He’s given the authority to have judgment as the human, the Son of man, the man from heaven, not as Son of God, so to speak. Now, of course, the Son of God and the Son of man is the same Son; it’s Jesus Christ, but the nuance here, the teaching here, is very, very important, because some people will say, “Oh, who is God to judge me? God doesn’t know my sorrow. God doesn’t know my affliction. God doesn’t know my trouble. God doesn’t know my pain. God is up there on a cloud somewhere, and yet he dares to judge me!? Come on. How can that be?”
But the whole point of Christianity, of the Christian faith is this: The Son of God who is Light from Light and true God from true God and the light of the world, the one by whom, through whom, for whom, and in whom all things were made—he becomes a man. He is the Son of man. He is the Son of man who takes upon himself the sin of the world. He was afflicted. He was diseased. He was wounded. He was sick. He bore the pain. He bore the affliction. He was rejected. He was ridiculed. He was whipped. He was scourged. He had a crown of thorns. He was nailed to a cross. He was speared in the side, and he was dead and buried in a tomb.
And it’s because of that that he has the authority to execute judgment, because no one can make a case against him. How can you say, “Who are you, Jesus, to judge me?” And Jesus will say, “I’m the one who bore your sin. I’m the one who became sin for you, who was made sin for you. I was the one who entered into the world and became in the form of a slave, and obedient to God even unto death, death on a cross. And by doing that, I’m not even judging you. I’m showing the love of God to you.”
Even that is not a judgment. In fact, in our Church tradition, we call the Cross of Christ “the balance beams of judgment.” We even claim that the Cross is shaped the way it is because it’s a judgment thing. There’s the right hand, there’s the left hand. But when you stand in front of that Cross, that is the judgment. But it’s a judgment by a non-judgment. God judges by not judging. Jesus judges by not judging. He judges by showing mercy and taking the judgment upon himself and suffering all of our sins in his own body of flesh on the tree of the Cross. And he even suffers from us.
We are the ones who killed him, because it’s our sin that put him on the Cross. It’s for our sin, because of our sin, due to our sin, as Isaiah says, that he is this suffering servant, marred beyond any resemblance and not beautiful to look at and so on. That’s the judgment. We’re judged by the ebed Yahweh, by the suffering servant of God. The Son of man, in Daniel. So it says, “He has given him the authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.” Then it continues
Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and they will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (in the sense of condemnation).
If you are raised by Jesus and you cling to your sin, it judges you; it condemns you. But if you love Christ and confess him, then he raises you to a resurrection to life. Then Jesus continues:
So I can of my own self do nothing.
“I can do nothing on my own authority. God gave me this authority, but I do nothing on my own authority,” he said. And then listen to this. He says:
As I hear, I judge…
Some variants, by the way, say, “As I see, I judge,” but whether it’s “As I hear, I judge” or “As I see, I judge”...
...and my judgment is just.
Because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
So Jesus’ judgment, God’s judgment through Jesus, his Son, is totally just, because it’s a non-judgment. It’s an act of total mercy which then turns into a judgment. And it’s absolutely just: as he hears, as he sees, so he judges. That’s it. He’s not making it up. He’s just pronouncing what the truth is. He’s pronouncing the verdict that we have put upon ourselves. And this is clearly the teaching of the New Testament, of Jesus as Judge.
One last thing for today, and that is the parable of the last judgment in Matthew’s Gospel. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, you have the parable of the last judgment, which is one of the most scary parts and frightening parts of the entire Holy Scripture, certainly of the Gospels. And this is what it says, and this is what is read on the Sunday before the Great Lent starts in our Church, Orthodox Church. It says (Matthew 25:31-46):
When the Son of man…
And again you have that expression, “Son of man.” He’s the one who has the authority to make judgment. He is the judge. We’re judged by our fellow human, Jesus of Nazareth, the human being; he’s the human being that God’s Son has become, but he’s a real human being.
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne…
The throne of royalty and the throne of judgment.
...and before him will be gathered all the nations.
That means all the human beings of the whole world, anyone who [lives] or ever has lived.
And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
We heard about that in Isaiah’s songs about the suffering servant: the sheep and the goats.
And he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left. Then the king…
Who is doing the judgment, and he sits on the throne as the king, and don’t forget: he becomes king through what he suffers, humanly speaking. He is the king before all ages. God has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth through him, but now he as a man is the king sitting on the throne. And [it] says:
And he will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous...
Here we have the righteous; we heard about them last time in our reflection [on] the righteous: those who are righteous because of God’s righteousness in them.
The righteous will say to him (will answer him), “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you: as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal, unending fire (it means everlasting fire), prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry, you gave me no food; I was thirsty, you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not welcome me; I was naked, you did not clothe me; I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison and did not minister to you?”
And he will answer them, “Truly I say to you: if you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal…
Actually, that’s “everlasting, unending, age-long.”
“Torment” or “suffering,” but it’s even not a punishment in the sense that God is punishing them. They enter into the punishment that is self-afflicted, the self-tormenting punishment, because they did not do these acts. And then he says:
“But the righteous will enter into everlasting life.”
And that actually ends the fourth section of the teachings in Matthew’s Pentateuch-type Gospel. In Matthew, the teachings of Jesus are divided into five books like the Law of Moses, and then that ends the one just before the final teaching just before his Passion that [culminates] the entire Gospel.
In any case, what do we see here? Well, St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this, he put it as well as it could be put. He said, “What kind of a trial is this? What kind of a judgment is this?” He says it’s a very strange judgment. In fact, there’s no judge. There’s no jury. There’s no trial. There’s no lawyer. There’s no advocates. There’s no plea bargaining. There’s no putting out the cases. There’s no proofs and demonstrations. He said, “What kind of a judgment is it?” He said, “It’s a kind of judgment that the just Judge does,” that God does, that God does through his Son, Jesus. He doesn’t judge anybody.
He just becomes himself: hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, wounded, homeless, and dead in this world. He identifies with everyone who is: hungry and thirsty and a stranger and naked and in prison and wounded and sick. Jesus identifies with them all. And then he says, “Your judgment is: how did you act to them? Did you love them with the love [with] which God commands you? Did you love them with the love that you’re supposed to have according to God’s commandments? Did you care for them? Did you express this love in concrete actions?”
Because in I John, it says in Holy Scripture (I John 3:18), we don’t love in words and in speech; we love in work, in acts and in truth: [en ergō kai] en alētheia in work, in deeds, and in truth. And we will stand on the judgment according to the Holy Scripture—the Psalms, the Prophets, the Letter to the Romans, the Book of Revelation all say that on the day of judgment we are judged by our works, by what we have actually done. That is going to constitute our judgment. In the Book of Life, it says in the Apocalypse, is written what we have done.
So we come before him and just what we have done is exposed. That’s it. That’s the judgment, right there. Nothing else. He sits upon his throne, and in St. Matthew’s Gospel he even claimed that the Apostles will also sit on the thrones with him, and in fact, according to the Holy Scripture, all who belong to him are going to sit on the thrones with him. All of those who loved with the love, who kept his commandments: they will enter into his glory, and they will be co-enthroned with him.
As the song says in II Timothy: “If we have suffered with him, we will reign with him. If we have died with him, we will live with him.” And if we have suffered and patiently endured with him, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he’ll deny us. He’ll send us into the fire of the angels that we ourselves have prepared with the devils. And then it says, but if we’re faithless, “he remains faithful to himself, because he cannot deny himself.” And being faithful to himself, God judges with righteous judgment, which means he doesn’t judge at all. He sends his Son to save the world, and that constitutes the judgment.
And if people receive the truth and the love and the goodness of God, then they will express it in concrete actions. They will show love in what they do to the measure that they can. St. Symeon the New Theologian, he even said a person might say, “Well, gee, I was poor and needy myself. I was sick myself; I couldn’t go visit the sick. I was poor myself; I couldn’t help the needy. I was naked myself; how could I share my clothes? Does that mean I’m going to hell?” And he’d say, “Absolutely not, because this parable has to do with loving in acts.” Jesus names those acts which are normally capable of being done by people, but the real point is the love.
That’s why Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount even says, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, when the day of judgment comes, not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord!” who claims faith, says, “Oh, I believe. I accept Jesus as my savior.” He says not everyone who does that will enter the kingdom, but “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” who does the work. And the will of the Father who is in heaven is that we would love, that we would show mercy, that we would be kind, that we would share to the measure that we’re capable of doing: our resources, our time, our strength. That’s what God wants from us, and that’s the judgment.
What we have here in the Sermon on the Mountain is not everybody who says it, but the one who does it. And then Jesus says, “And on that day”—meaning the day of the Lord, the yom Yahweh, the ēmera [tou] Kyriou, the day of the Lord, the Lord’s day, when Christ comes again in glory, in the parousia with all the angels and sits on the thrones, judging the whole of creation, all of the nations are lined up him front of him—then Jesus said some people will come to him and they’ll say… “Many will come,” he says.
Hoi polloi—many will come to him and say, “Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name. We did mighty miracles in your name. We prophesied in your name.” We could even say, I don’t know, “I spoke on Ancient Faith Radio in your name. I went to church in your name. I belonged to the philanthropy club in your name. I gave ten bucks to the orphans in your name.” And then Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me, you evildoers. I do not know you.”
It’s in the Sermon on the Mountain. Isn’t it amazing? They say, “We prophesied in your name, we did miracles in your name, and we cast out demons in your name,” and they might even have said, “I fed the hungry in your name. I visited the prisoners in your name,” and he’ll say, “Depart from me. I don’t know you.” Why? Because those acts can be done without love. Those acts can be done without love; they can be done not to the glory of God or for the good of the neighbor. They could be done for one’s own glory, so people would praise us: “Oh, I belong to the prison ministry. I’m going to the prison.” And it profits us nothing.
St. Paul, in I Corinthians 13, he says the very same thing. He says:
I can speak in tongues of men and angels, I can have faith and move mountains, I can prophesy, I can do miracles, I can give my body to be burned, I can give everything I have to the poor, but if I have not the love of God in me, the mercy to others, then it profits me nothing, and I am nothing.
And that’s the judgment. That’s the judgment.
Jesus is the lover. He is the beloved and he’s the lover. He brings the love of God to the world. He brings God to the world, who is love. That’s what he does. He comes to save, not to judge, not to condemn, but his bringing of that love to the world is the judgment. So we believe, according to Scripture, that in the end, when the Lord comes with all his angels and saints and we have to stand before him, that will be the judgment, and we will pronounce the verdict [ourselves], because as he sees, he will judge, and his judgment is just. He doesn’t seek his own will; he seeks the will of the Father who sent him. He didn’t come to condemn the world; he didn’t come to condemn us. He wants nothing more than that all men would come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.
He says it in Timothy, St. Paul says: “The Lord desires that all men would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” All people. So he wants salvation. He doesn’t delight in the death of sinners. He doesn’t want hell. He doesn’t make hell and he doesn’t cause hell. Well, I should put it another way: he’s not a Nebuchadnezzar that burns people in hell. And our Church has no material hellfire; we don’t believe in that. That’s not our doctrine. But he causes hell in the sense that he loves, and he appears, and he’s there, and he brings the mercy. And then he says to us, “What did you do? As I see, I judge, and my judgment is just.” And this is the judgment: that light is shining in the darkness, but some people prefer darkness; they choose darkness, because their deeds are evil.
When we think of Jesus as the Judge, we ask [ourselves]: “Where do we stand?” At every Divine Liturgy, we pray for “agian apologian, a good defense at the dread judgment seat of Christ,” but it’s the judgment seat of Christ, the one who doesn’t judge, who judges by not judging, who judges by showing mercy and love—that’s our faith, and that’s what we’re going to answer for. We will answer for our life before the Son of man who was crucified and bore the sins of the world and died on the Cross.
He is raised and glorified, and his Cross is the balance beam of judgment. We will stand before it, and he will look at us, and he will pronounce what we [ourselves] have decided, according to what we [ourselves] have done. Jesus is the Judge, and what a marvelous Judge he is! He judges by not judging. He judges by showing mercy, and he asks us to show mercy, too: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” But if we are not merciful, then that judges us. If we are not loving, if we don’t love light, if we don’t love truth, that judges us.
Jesus is the truth. He is the light. He is the life. He is risen from the dead. He is raised and glorified. He is the Judge. But as Chrysostom said, he’s not a Judge like [in an] earthly law court. There’s no jury, there’s no lawyers, there’s no plea bargaining, there’s no cases made, there’s no demonstration. There’s just him, sitting on the throne, the one who was crucified, pronouncing the judgment that we [ourselves] have pronounced on [ourselves], and as he sees, he judges, and his judgment is just because he is the Son of man who was crucified and glorified.
Jesus is the Judge, the Judge of the living and the dead, and he judges the same way he saves: by what he has suffered and by the mercy of God that he brings to us, his people.