“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostles’ Creed)
The just judgment of God on sinful humanity is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. It is found again and again in Scripture, and is featured prominently in three of the four great ecumenical Christian creeds.
The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed all explicitly state that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will come again “to judge the living and the dead.” (Chalcedon being the only exception, which was not a broad summation of the faith like the other three, but was primarily written to state and defend the orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ.)
And yet the popular misconception has seemingly always persisted that God will not surely judge sinners. Rob Bell (in his book, Love Wins) is certainly no innovator in that regard. In fact, the idea that God will not judge sinners is practically the original lie of Satan himself. In Genesis 3:1 the serpent questioned the Word of God (specifically the commandment against eating the forbidden fruit, which certainly also implied the punishment threatened for transgressing that commandment – death), and then in v.4 flatly denied the just judgment of God, saying, “You will not surely die.”
That lie has been repeated in one form or another again and again throughout history, with deadly results.
J.I. Packer writes,
“People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the Old Testament to the New, the theme of divine judgment fades into the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified.” (Knowing God, p.140)
God does not change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). The idea that God is somehow different now than He was during the Old Testament is simply untrue. The idea that the God of the Old Testament was the harsh God of wrath and judgment, while the God of the New Testament is the nice God of love is simply untrue. God was gracious in the Old Testament, and God is still the righteous Judge of all the earth in the New Testament.
The gospel comes to us and says not “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), but rather that Jesus has died in the place of sinners. The good news is not that the judgment of God has somehow been done away with or abrogated, but that it has been propitiated – God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus Christ on the Cross! A sinless substitute has been fully punished for our sins in our place!
We are not only saved from judgment, but saved through (or by) judgment – through the Son of God Himself (the Judge!) taking the punishment for our sins! So if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you no longer need to fear the final judgment, for the Judge of the living and the dead is the One who died for your salvation! As Paul writes in Romans 8:31-34,
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect when the Judge Himself is the One who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, and is also the One who ever lives to intercede for His people at the right hand of God the Father!