Judgment Day – Good News, Bad News

Judgment is certain – how we face it all depends:

What do you think of when you hear the word “judgment”? It will normally depend on who you are and the actual context. If for example you did some heroic or brave or sacrificial feat for another person, you might at one point have a day of reckoning. There might be a public award ceremony where your valiant efforts are recognised and rewarded.

Or you might have been caught out doing something wrong, and you know a day of reckoning is coming, and you do NOT look forward to that. Payday is coming, and you know you do not want to be there. We all likely have experienced both scenarios.

Let me offer one example of the latter, going way back when I was quite wrong. I had gone to a nearby small shop, and for some reason, decided I would snatch some candy or something. The gal there caught me. She took my name and phone number (I was not smart enough to come up with fake ones), and I was in great fear as I walked home.

When I got home, the phone did ring. But my mom was having a shower, so it never did get answered. So I missed out on my mini-judgement day way back then. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved. Judgment was avoided – at least on that occasion.

But there is of course a full and final judgment day coming, one that we ALL will be involved in. None of us will miss out on it. And of course there will be only two options available to all of mankind. Either you are right with God through Christ, and he has taken the judgment we deserved, or you are not right with God, and your judgment awaits.

We make that choice now. If we do not say no to sin and self now, and cast ourselves upon the mercy of Christ and his substitutionary atonement for our sins, then the day of judgment is coming, and NO one will want to be there. But if we have availed ourselves of the forgiveness of sins through faith and repentance, then we can indeed look forward to that day. So it all depends on which camp you happen to be in.

I want to tease this out just a bit further by discussing a few passages I have once again come upon in my daily Bible reading. I am once more back in the Old Testament prophets, and three similar and familiar passages can be discussed here. All three have to do with eschatological judgment.

As mentioned, for those who are his, it will be a day of real good news. For those who are not his, it will be a day of real bad news. The three texts contain a very familiar phrase, but two of the passages use it in quite a different manner than the third one.

We have all heard about beating ‘swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks’. Both Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 have this. And the larger context of the two is nearly identical (Is. 2:1-5 and Mic. 4:1-5). Both of course refer to the coming day of the Lord when weapons of warfare will no longer be needed.

However, consider an interesting reversal of all this as found in Joel 3:9-10:

Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

For the full context, see Joel 3:1-16. This too is a prophetic text about eschatological judgment, but with striking irony. Not only is it a full-tilt reversal of what is found in the other two passages, but it is a call to the pagan nations to arm themselves and get ready to meet Yahweh in battle. And that of course cannot end well.

So here we have two differing sets of people (God’s own people, and those people who reject God and his people) both facing a future day of reckoning, and even with similar imagery employed. But the two outcomes of course could not be more different.

God WILL vindicate his people and fight for them. God will fight against his enemies and he will prevail. So everyone faces this coming day of judgment, but depending on who you are and where you stand with your Creator will fully determine how you stand before him as Judge.

Are you ready to meet him?

A brief word on war and peace

My mini-sermon on two main responses to future judgment is sufficient as is. However, it might be worth going just a bit further with these passages. That is because for some folks (pacifists of both the religious and secular variety), two of these three texts are fave verses that they so often use as they seek to make their case.

They believe God is fully against all war and violence, and God’s people should be as well. This has always been a minority position throughout church history, and folks are welcome to hold to it if they must. But latching on to two of these three verses as if that is all we have in Scripture about these matters is not all that helpful.

Obviously the Joel passage offers a counter text. But the truth is, military imagery is used throughout Scripture of both God and his people. If war and killing was always and only evil, then it would be quite amiss to keep running with such imagery. But that is just what Scripture does.

As to God and his people in the Old Testament, here is just a small sample of what is said:

Exodus 15:3 The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

2 Samuel 22:33-34 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    and my fingers for battle;

Jeremiah 20:11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
    so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
    their dishonor will never be forgotten.

Jeremiah 51:20-21 You are my war club, my weapon for battle — with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms, with you I shatter horse and rider, with you I shatter chariot and driver.

And as to Christ and believers in the New Testament, often our lives are described in terms of battles, wars and military images, while the book of Revelation does not present us with a pacifist Jesus. Here are some passages:

Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

1 Corinthians 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?

2 Timothy 2:3-5 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.

Revelation 19:11-16 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

This is not really the place to debate pacifism, and much more on this topic can be found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/war-and-peace/

I simply shared a few verses to remind us that the ‘swords into plowshares’ texts need to be seen in light of all of Scripture. And as already mentioned, along with the counter-text from Joel, all three have to do with the future day of judgment.

Yes, thankfully, one day war will be no more, and that will indeed be a welcome permanent reality. But until Christ comes again, the uses of force (as ordained for example in Romans 13) will have to be with us. Police forces and standing armies will be a necessity in a fallen world. This was true of ancient Israel and is true of nations today.

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