Episode 33: Judge
Judge or Judgment
The use of the verb, to judge, provides what may be the most difficult theme within the Gospel of John today–primarily because it seems to run counter to our modern view of a loving God. When we encounter the variety of sayings by Jesus using this word, understanding this term can provide seriously difficult mental gymnastics. Much of our present challenges to this word have to do with popular connotations rather than the word’s definition itself. A popular online dictionary provides one description for the verb: to form an opinion or conclusion about. Popular opinion pairs the biblical word “judge” with the related word, condemn, which is described as: to express complete disapproval of. While seven different meanings are provided for the Greek word, krinō, only one mentions the idea of condemning. How should one understand this theme in the Gospel of John?
In the Old Testament
In the book of Leviticus, considered by many as central for understanding God’s holiness, the word krinō occurs on only one occasion. Leviticus 19 begins with a call for the congregation to listen. Moses then provides instruction from the LORD which includes many of the 10 commandments: You shall be holy, Do not worship idols, honor your father and mother, do not steal, do not lie, do not take the LORD’s name in vain. Included in this series of instructions one finds the warning to cause no injustice when making judgments. The Church Father, Jerome, who translated the Scriptures into Latin, has this to say about Leviticus 19:15.
For each individual is to be judged not by his personal
importance but by the merits of his case. His wealth
need not stand in the way of the rich man, if he makes a
good use of it; and poverty of itself can be no
recommendation to the poor if in the midst of squalor
and want he fails to stay away from wrongdoing.
(Letter 79, NPNF 2, 6:163)
The judgment God provides, as well as the judgment he instructs us to practice, does not show partiality when determining opinions and making decisions regarding others. This reality of God’s activities receives additional support in Proverbs. “One who proclaims the unjust person, “just,” or the just person, “unjust,” before God, this one is unclean and detestable.” (Proverbs 17:15 LXX)
Elsewhere in John
Following Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3 one finds an extended discourse that continues until John the Baptist appears on the scene once more. The point of this section is to clarify Jesus’ role as more than merely a “teacher sent from God.” (John 3:2)
God loved his own in this fashion, he sent his unique Son
with the intent that everyone who is trusting him should
not perish but have the life of the ages. For God did not
send his Son to his own to judge them, but so that his
own might be delivered through the Son. The one
believing in him is not being judged; the one not
believing in him has been judged already, because he
has not believed in the name of the unique son of God.
This is the judgment, namely Light has come into the
world and humanity loved the darkness more than the
Light; for the things they do are evil. (John 3:16-17)
Much attention is often given to John 3:16 and God’s love even while disconnecting it from the following verses. God’s purpose and intent for sending “his unique Son” concerns deliverance. The act of judging is distinctly separate from the act of deliverance, even though both are related to the act of believing.
The confusion in understanding Jesus’ position in the judgment arena arises when he engages in vigorous discussion with religious officials at the Temple. In one segment of the conversations Jesus says this.
For as the Father raises the dead, giving them life, so
too the Son gives life to whomever he desires. For the
Father makes decisions regarding no one, rather he has
given all decisions to the Son, so that they might honor
the Son just as they honor the Father. So, whoever does
not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent
him. (John 5:21-23)
These words appear to indicate that Jesus was sent with the purpose of judging or, as it appears in this translation, making decisions. Yet, these words appear within a conversation with a much broader context–the giving of life and the subsequent honor due only to God the Father and God the Son.
Jesus’ final message to the broader assembly gathered to celebrate Passover is found in John 12. After some Greeks petition one of his disciples to meet him, after the voice thunders from heaven, and after the Evangelist comments on a prophecy from Isaiah, Jesus takes center stage. His opening words call on his audience to believe in the One Who Sent Jesus. Jesus affirms what the Prologue stated about the Word at the Beginning with God, that he is the Light for humanity and that darkness cannot overwhelm this light. Within this setting Jesus revisits the theme of judgment.
If anyone hears my words yet does not keep them, I am
not judging him; for I did not come in order to judge the
world but to deliver the world. Anyone rejecting me by
not receiving my words has his own judge; the very
words I spoke will judge him on the last day.
The Gospel of John is specific regarding the main purpose for Jesus’ Incarnational life, death, and resurrection. God sent Jesus to deliver the world from darkness. God creates the opportunity for humans to believe in Jesus and become children of God. However, this purpose contains an auxiliary theme: judgment. The question should not be asked, “Will Jesus judge the world?” Instead, the better question is “What does it mean for Jesus to hold authority to judge the world?”
The Gospel of John indicates a decision will be made, but it will be made on the basis of one’s response to the words of Jesus, the Word at the Beginning with God, who speaks the words of the One Who Sent Him. At the last day, when judgment time arrives, the words of Jesus do not reside in the distant past but still exist with power. These words provide life. Anyone who rejects them rejects the life of the ages. As Peter said earlier, “Lord, whom would we go to? You hold the words of eternal life, we have believed and known that you are God’s Holy one.” (John 6:68)
God’s words, the words Jesus speaks, these words call for a decision on the part of those who encounter them. Only by keeping them can their life producing power be revealed in the one who hears. When I reject these words, when I reject the Word with God, I reject the life they freely offer. Jesus came to deliver the world, yet the world rejects this deliverance. The decision is made.
Take 5 Minutes More
Two narratives dominate the perspective modern Americans have toward God: God judges the world and God loves the world. These two thoughts are difficult to hold in harmony with one another. Because of this difficulty, we normally rank them in our mind, with one message receiving the more prominent position in our thinking. Which one dominates your thinking? At those points in life when tragedy strikes, when something wrong seems to happen, when your mind responds instantaneously; at that point in time, which narrative comes forth and blossoms in your mind?
Since immediate fixes aren’t possible in our thinking, it is likely that you will respond quickly with the same narrative. Yet, as we have seen, judgment does not equal condemnation. Judgment means that a decision is made. What decision will you make concerning Jesus’ life-giving words? Will you echo Peter or follow those who left Jesus because of the difficulty?