The Hebrew term mispat [f'P.vim] is an important Old Testament concept and one closely linked with God. It may denote the process whereby a verdict is reached or the verdict itself; it is bound up with the notions of justice (modern translations often have"justice" for mispat) and righteousness and it is of fundamental importance for biblical religion. Thus Abraham could ask, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do mispat[f'P.vim]?"( Ge 18:25 ); it is fundamental that God engages in judgment. Indeed, God is the God of mispat [f'P.vim].Judgment is essentially his own activity. Nobody taught him ( Isa 40:14 ), and"all his ways are just" ( Deut 32:4 ). Judgment is linked with righteousness as the foundation of his throne ( Psalm 97:2 ).Judgment is as natural to God as the movements of the birds are to them ( Jer 8:7 ).
We should be clear that judgment is of great importance for biblical religion. The gods of the heathen were capricious and unpredictable; their worshipers could never know what they would do next, nor whether what they themselves did would be pleasing to their deities or not. The Hebrews knew that God is righteous and that he demands righteousness of his people.
Sometimes God's judgments are seen in the present life, but often it is the future judgment that is in mind. "For he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth" ( Psalm 96:13 ). This tells us something important about God. All people, and not only Israel, will answer to him. And it tells us something important about the way people live. Somewhere among the many gods he acknowledged the polytheist would come across a deity who was not too demanding and he could live his life accordingly. But the pious Hebrew knew that in the end every human work would be judged by the all-holy and all-powerful God. There was no escape. And while he had opportunity it was important that the Hebrew should right wrongs, overthrow the oppressor, and deliver the oppressed.
In the New Testament the Old Testament thoughts about judgment, both present and future, are continued. But there is a striking new thought, namely, that judgment is connected with the cross of Christ. As he drew near to his death Jesus said, "Now is the time for judgment on this world, now the prince of this world will be driven out"( John 12:31 ).And in the upper room as he spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit, he said that the Spirit would convict the world of judgment, "because the prince of this world now stands condemned (lit. is judged)" ( John 16:11 ). The use of the judgment terminology in connection with the defeat of Satan is important, for it shows that this was no arbitrary happening. Nor did it mean simply that God is stronger than Satan. That is true, but the manner in which Satan was defeated was righteous.
God's present judgment of people is forcefully brought out in Romans 1 with its threefold "God gave them over" (vv. 24, 26, 28). God is hostile to every evil and this is made manifest in his judgments here and now. An interesting aspect of present judgment is brought out in the words of Jesus: "This is the verdict (krisis [krivsi"]):Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" ( John3:19 ). The love of darkness is itself judgment (cf. the words of a poet, "For thirty pieces Judas sold himself, not Christ"). Paul sees a present judgment in the punishment of the Corinthian church ( 1 Cor 11:29-32 ).
That there will be a final judgment is regarded as axiomatic ( Rom 3:5-6 )."Eternal judgment" is one of the "elementary teachings about Christ" ( Heb 6:1-2 ), and all face it ( Heb12:23 ). It is as inescapable as death ( Heb 9:27 ). Even"the family of God" is included and indeed judgment begins with them ( 1 Peter 4:17 ).Sinners may not trust that somehow their worst failings may be hid for God will judge our secrets ( Rom 2:16 ).All evil will be reckoned with for on the day of judgment "every careless word"will be called to account ( Matt 12:36 ).Judgment will be on the basis of works ( Matt 16:27 ). An important passage is that in which Paul makes it clear that salvation is on the basis of Christ's saving work and that alone, but what we build on that foundation will be tested"with fire" ( 1 Cor 3:10-15 ).Believers will be saved by Christ, but their work will be judged on judgment day.
See als o Judgment, Day of; Judgment Seat of Christ.
Bibliography. H. Butterfield, Christianity and History; L. Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Judgment'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".