An ancient patriarch once asked God: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Would you have had the courage (or the foolhardiness) to ask God such a seemingly presumptuous question? The truth is that a very good friend of God's did, indeed, ask him that very question! And believe it or not, God wasn't at all upset with this righteous man. But my point is this: the Bible leaves no doubt that God is indeed the Judge of all human flesh (Ps. 75:7; Gen. 18:25; Ps. 96:13).
Christ Will Judge
One of the most basic biblical teachings is that Jesus Christ will return to this earth and establish the government of God to rule all nations. The prophet Isaiah wrote: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:4). This hasn't happened yet, but it is going to — and very possibly in our generation (see Matt. 24:3, 21-22, 30). Isaiah's prophecy continues: "Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.... And I [God] will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible" (Isa. 13:9, 11). "The day of the Lord" refers to the time when Christ returns with fierce anger to rebuke the nations. We are admonished: "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come..." (Rev. 14:7). Why fear God? Because "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl. 12:14). Isaiah also declares: "... For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3).
Righteous judgment takes into consideration the knowledge and understanding a person possesses. It is fair, just, impartial judgment — one standard for all — considering attitude, ability, and any number of other factors.
At Christ's return, the laws and principles of the Bible will be His guide for judgment — the standard of truth and righteousness (Ps. 119:142, 172; John 17:17).
How Christ Will Judge
Jesus Christ of Nazareth said: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). What is "righteous judgment"? Samuel, who judged Israel, wrote: "... For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (I Sam. 16:7). Righteous judgment takes into consideration the knowledge and understanding a person possesses. It is fair, just, impartial judgment — one standard for all without respect of persons — considering attitude, ability, and any number of other factors. The apostle Paul explained: "For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law" (Rom. 2:11-12). He is explaining here that those who know the law shall be judged by it when Christ returns. But, those that "have sinned without [knowledge of the] law shall also perish without [being judged by the] law." They will be resurrected to physical life later in God's plan, be given the knowledge of God's law and then "judged according to their works" (Rev. 20:12).
Is God Fair?
Even though all people will not have the knowledge of God's spiritual law at the time of Christ's return, they will still be dealt with "everyone after his ways" (Ezek. 33:20) — according to how they have lived by what they understood. "He will punish sin wherever it is found. He will punish the heathen when they sin, even though they never had God's written laws, for down in their hearts they know right from wrong" (Rom. 2:14-15, The Living Bible). God is fair! When Christ returns, each person will be dealt with justly and honestly according to how he has lived. Jesus said: "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes...." (Luke 12:47-48). So even those who have not yet been called to know the will of God when Christ returns shall be punished for the things they did wrong — but with fewer "stripes" than those who knew God's will and didn't do it. Christ will deal with all people according to what they know and understand and how they act upon it. The New Testament emphasizes three main principles of judgment which Christ will use to judge those of us who know His will.
1) Judged According to Our Works
The first principle of judgment is that "we shall be judged according to our works." Peter wrote: "And if ye call on the Father, who-without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (I Pet. 1:17). And Jesus said: "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27). This is repeated many times in the New Testament (see Rom. 2:6; I Cor. 3:8; James 2:14; Rev. 2:23; 11:18; 20:12). Our "works" means our "way of life" — our Christian overcoming, growing, serving — or lack of it. Our "works" also includes our part in helping do the Work of God today. We are all privileged to have the opportunity to assist Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong in doing the true Work of God on earth. It should be very motivating to realize that we shall be judged and rewarded according to how well we do in our Christian efforts! However, we are not saved by even our good works (see Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:5). The difference between being saved by grace and rewarded according to our works is explained in our booklet What Will You Be Doing In The Next Life?
Christ will judge each one of us according to what we accomplished with all we have been given. But if we don't grow at all, we will be rejected and our reward given to someone who did overcome and grow spiritually.
2) Judged According to Our Ability
The second principle of judgment is explained in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19. Jesus explained: "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two" (Matt. 25:14-17). The words "traded with" in the original Greek language imply "working with" or "using." Jesus continued: "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them" (verse 19). When Christ returns, He will call all of us to Him to find out how much we have grown or increased the "talents" He has given us. To those who have used and increased their God-given abilities, He will say: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (verse 21). The servant who did not use or develop his one "talent" made excuses and said: " I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth: 10, there thou hast that is thine" (verse 25). He knew Christ expected him to grow and bear fruit (verse 24), but he was lazy and didn't do it. In Luke's account of this same parable, Jesus said: "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow.... And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.... For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:22,24,26). So the second principle of judgment is: We shall be judged according to what we do with what we have been given. Christ will consider everything when He judges us — our heredity, environment, upbringing, educational opportunities, etc. Everyone is different. We all have different abilities and varying amounts of education. Some have inherited more "talents" than others. Some have had better and more opportunities in life. This is why Christ said: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required..." (Luke 12:48). Christ will judge each one of us according to what we have accomplished with all we have been given. But if we don't grow at all, we will be rejected and our reward given to someone who did overcome and grow spiritually (Matt. 25:29-30).
3) Judged As We Judge Others
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7:1-2). In other words, "You shall be judged as you judge others." James wrote: "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment" (James 2:12-13). If you are not merciful and forgiving toward others, God will not be merciful toward you in your day of judgment. All of us need to remember these words of Jesus Christ: "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses,. neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). Do you want to be forgiven your sins and mistakes and be judged with mercy? Then overlook the faults and mistakes of others and be merciful, humble and forgiving in dealing with others. Finally, remember Paul's inspired words to the Christians in Rome: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:10-12).
A Merciful God!
Especially as we are merciful to others, God Almighty and Jesus Christ will be merciful in judging us. Jesus promised in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7). God says: "For I am merciful" (Jer. 3:12). Anyone striving to do his Creator's will can count on the mercy of God. Many patriarchs, prophets and kings in past ages have experienced the incredible, almost unbelievable mercy of their Maker. The Almighty God forgave Abraham of his foibles in the flesh; He forgave David, upon real repentance, of the capital sins of adultery and murder; He forgave even the wicked king Manasseh when he finally came to himself. There is no sin bigger than the mercy of God, so long as the real desire to repent is present within the sinner. Read Psalm 136. You can be sure that God, in judgment, will take everything possible into account on your behalf. Never take yourself out of the realm of His mercy. God will never leave you or forsake you. Guard against ever forsaking Him and His way of life. Don't you want to hear the words: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy lord"? How will God judge you?