I frequently hear expressions of concern over the implications of the West’s progressive repudiation of all things Christian. Inevitably, such concerns are centered around the judgment that must follow such sin.
It is not surprising Christians would be concerned with judgment. Unruly children do not think of punishment and are often unfazed by its threats; generally well-taught children who understand the consequences of bad behavior are, on the other hand, most sensitive to its threat. My siblings and I would burst into tears when our father so much as walked toward the “red paddle” that was kept conveniently located on top of the Frigidaire. The approach of judgment was as frightening as its delivery.
When we correct our children, we hope that it is conducive not only to justice but also to their restoration to proper behavior and attitude. Likewise, the judgment of God represents both justice and salvation.1 This is most obvious in the final judgment, which is an eschatological event in that it will be the end point of sin and rebellion but also the culmination of the salvation of the people of God in the perfect justice of His eternal Kingdom.
The believer can, by grace, see “the day of the Lord” as representing the coincidence of salvation and judgment (Isa. 2:11–12; Joel 1:15–16, 2:1ff; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:13–19). The unbeliever, however, cannot see any upside to judgment, and his final judgment will result only in reprobation.
The judgment of God within time and history also represents His salvation. Like a parent who corrects his children for the purpose of disciplining their character toward right behavior, our Heavenly Father periodically frustrates our rebellion and precipitates its failure in order to force us to rethink our course.
The exodus from Egypt was the supreme example of God’s salvation before the advent of Christ. It was immediately preceded by the first Passover, where the judgment on Egypt’s firstborn is juxtaposed with the salvation and blessing of those Hebrews who obeyed God. Shortly thereafter, the judgment of God fell on the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Their death was, however, called by Moses “the salvation of the LORD” (Exod. 14:13, see also 15:1–19).
The ultimate coincidence of judgment and salvation was Calvary. We must see the judgment and justice of the cross, not just the grace. The death of Christ was the death penalty, the judgment, God’s perfect justice demanded. Christ was judged in our place (in the sense of receiving our judgment, not in being adjudicated guilty; He bore our sin and death, not our guilt). In this age of false gospels that really represent little more than messages of positive thinking, it needs to be emphasized that there is no true Christian conversion without repentance and faith. First, a man must repent of his sin and acknowledge that he is guilty before a Holy God and deserving of damnation. Second, a man must have faith specifically in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.
There is no cheap salvation. Our judgment fell on Jesus Christ. God’s grace provided the payment of our penalty in Christ’s death in terms of His eternal law and justice. Our eternal salvation thus involves justice and judgment, so much so that “every idle word” will be judged (Matt. 12:36); God’s final judgment will see all vestiges of sin resolved in the perfect justice of God. The false dichotomy of law versus grace perverts both because both law and grace are God’s and come from His perfect nature. Those who hold to such a view do not rightly consider Christ’s words that “judgment, mercy, and faith” are “weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23). We falsify both Scripture and its revelation of God when we juxtapose what it does not.
A further example of the coincidence of justice and salvation in the person of Christ is clearly in view in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem one week before His crucifixion (Matt. 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–10; Luke 19:29–40; John 12:12–19). The city was packed with crowds of pilgrims for the annual Passover celebration, and they were excited at the reports of the raising of Lazarus (John 12:17–18); Jesus was a celebrity and they wanted to see Him “for all the mighty works” attributed to Him (Luke 19:37). They wanted Jesus as a savior king (John 6:15), not as a savior priest and sacrifice.2
The crowds loved Jesus as a miracle-worker, but the miracles they sought were those that glorified them, not God. A miracle-worker could rescue them from Roman political control. One who could feed multitudes with five loaves and two fishes could create economic prosperity. A healer of the sick could cure all the social and physical ills of the people. They saw Jesus more like the crowds at a modern political rally see their candidate, as the one ready to usher in peace and prosperity if only they give him the power. They accepted the miracles of Jesus Christ as something of value to themselves, not for what they represented about Jesus Christ. At the triumphal entry, they cheered the Messiah they desired, not the one God intended.
The miracles of Christ the crowds so admired were, in fact, brief pictures of Christ in the fullness of His glory, ruling His Kingdom. We think of miracles as aberrations because they transcend the laws of our creaturely existence. Christ in the fullness of His person and reign transcends those laws that He created (John 1:3). They are not aberrations for the Lord of Creation, but very simple representations of who He is.
The triumphal entry was a specific fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9–10, which declared of this “King,” in part, that “he is just, and having salvation …” Here, in the person of Jesus Christ, we see both justice (which necessitates judgment for sin) and salvation. Kings, in the ancient world and long after, were the final court of appeal for justice, as witness the case of the two harlots before Solomon (1 Kings 3:16–28).
The reference of Zechariah 9:9 to justness is more than to moral righteousness; it refers to this as how “thy King cometh unto thee.” Jesus came as their King, the author and determiner of justice. His miracles revealed the sort of rule He represented: not a legalistic hardship but a reign of peace and blessing “from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (v. 10).
The Jerusalem crowds thought in terms of Judean political, social, and economic blessing; Christ represented His eternal Kingdom and the future of all His people throughout all eternity. In their selfishness they missed the greater Kingdom Christ represented. The crowds at Jerusalem that cheered Jesus’ entry were not unlike many in the modern church. They, too, wanted Jesus to save them and to make their life better, but they were not so eager to see Him as their Lord, the Master, and the source of all justice. The modern church also denies its King His role as judge by rejecting His Word as law, foolishly denying themselves His justice and blessing.
The salvation of Christ is broader than our avoidance of hell; it includes all of our life, present and future, in His lordship over time and eternity. We are, in fact, saved from hell, but we are saved to live as new creations in Christ, in His eternal Kingdom. We thus embrace not only the benefits of salvation, but also the life of the saved. The culmination of the Kingdom of God is pictured in Revelation 21 as the New Jerusalem, not a re-creation of the Middle-Eastern city, but a combination of city and garden, the combined glory of Jerusalem (as the religious center of God’s people) and Eden (as the paradise God made for man’s ideal home). As a city it shall be the perfect community; as a garden it shall be the perfect home. It will be a place without time, tears, pain, or death. All this is because the Lord God “shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).
God will no more let us have salvation without justice and judgment than He did Jerusalem, which was totally destroyed within a generation of the crucifixion. Its people wanted the salvation of God Zechariah promised, but not the justness, the reign of righteousness, Christ the King represents. We destroy the meaning of the cross when we avoid the fact that it was the outworking of the divine judgment on sin, a legal act of justice. We likewise cannot properly warn men of their total accountability at the final judgment if we negate the necessity of God’s absolute justice. The God of our salvation is the God of justice and judgment.
Returning to our concern for the sin and rebellion we see in our culture, we must, likewise, think in terms of both judgment and salvation. God is merciful, but He is also a God of truth who stands in terms of His perfect justice. All sin is subject to judgment. What we cannot know is the timing of God’s judgment, or even whether it will be in this life or in the last judgment. Ultimately, judgment is God’s and represents our final moral accountability to Him in terms of either reprobation or atonement. Scripture is also replete with examples of judgments, earthly frustrations and punishments on sin; these are at times civil and at times caused by God’s providential government; these latter are the kind we often long for when we see the sins of others but seek to avoid for our own sins.
Moreover, because God is not mocked, there are also consequences for sin. If I surreptitiously throw a brick through your window, I am guilty before God of theft even if I am never held accountable in this life. Regardless of whether or not I am caught, however, you still have the consequence of my sin, a broken window. The consequences of war include not only death but the transfer of productive capital to nonproductive pursuits. Just one direct economic consequence of abortion is the loss of labor and an aging population that consumes rather than produces (as witness the developing crisis in China from their one-birth policy). Some of the consequences of inflation are the reallocation of wealth, the removal of incentives to thrift, and ultimately, the destruction of the means of exchange and the breakdown of commerce.
If we have a sense of Biblical justice, we are sensitive to both the moral rebellion of our times (and the ultimate judgment of God) as well as the certainty of consequences that are sure to follow certain actions. In that sense, the godly are like well-taught children who are very sensitive to the mere possibility of the paddle coming down from its usual place of rest.
We must, however, avoid being like a Sid, anxious to see Tom Sawyer get a lickin’ from Aunt Polly. Our warnings of judgment must be in the vein of proclaiming its origin in God’s justice. Likewise, we are called to be not prophets of doom, but of repentance and faith so that men might live in terms of the Word of God and His Christ, who is both “just and having salvation.” Proclaiming God’s justice and the certainty of judgment should be the basis for proclaiming His mercy and salvation.
1. For a discussion of this subject, see R. J. Rushdoony, “Salvation and Judgment” in Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004), 21–29, which I used in preparing this article.
2. Christ is prophet, priest, and king, but these roles are all based on His role as being the sacrifice, the Lamb of God, and presenting this finished work, as a priest, to the Father.