What does the Bible really say about the judge and his judgment? Let’s do an old-fashioned biblical word study.
Let’s start with the Old Testament and then move to the New Testament.
It was written in Hebrew, and here are two key verbs and one noun (among others not analyzed here).
1.. The noun mishpat (pronounced mish-pat and used 425 times) has a legal and judicial connotation, often in the context of disputes, whether between God and humans, God and Israel, or human against other humans. Israelites had to act justly by obeying the decrees and judgments of the Lord (Exod. 21:1; Deut. 5:1),
2.. The verb yakaḥ (pronounced yah-kakh and used 59 times) and is found most often in legal contexts. It can mean “judge, correct, punish, or argue” (Mounce, p. 369).
3.. The verb shapat (pronounced shah-pat and used 204 times) and means “to judge and govern” (Mounce pp. 369-70). Kings and national leaders are supposed to establish and maintain justice for the people (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:16; Ps. 72:4; Prov. 29:14). If they fail to do this, they are rebuked (Ps. 82:2-3; Is. 1:23; Jer. 5:28). Judges are appointed to do this as well (Exod. 18:22, 26; Deut. 1:16). Sometimes entire assemblies of God’s people can judge (Num. 35:24). The Lord is the divine ruler over the universe and earth (1 Chron. 16:33; Ps. 96:13; 98:9. He is the judge of the earth (Gen. Ps. 94:2; Is. 33:22). Earthly judges can judge unjustly, and God has the right to judge them (Jer. 5:28-29; Ezek. 7:3; 34:17). God will judge the nations on the day of the Lord (Joel 3:12), which has Messianic significance, who will judge the world with justice (Acts 17:31; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5).
The New Testament was written in Greek, and here are six key nouns and verbs.
1.. According to the Greek Lexicon of the NT BDAG (pp. 567-69), the Greek verb krinō (pronounced kree-noh and used 114 times) means these definitions: “To engage in a judicial process, judge, decide, hale before a court, condemn, also hand over for judicial punishment.”
Two courts: earthly and heavenly.
(a) Human court (Luke 12:57; Luke 19:22; John 7:51, John 18:31; Acts 13:27, Acts 23:3, Acts 24:6, Acts 24:21, Acts 25:9, Acts 25:10, Acts 26:6; 1 Cor. 5:12ab);
(b) Divine tribunal (Matt. 7:1b, 2b; Luke 6:37b; John 5:22, 30, John 8:15b, John 8:16, John 8:50; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Tim. 4:1; Jas. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:5; Rev. 6:10, Rev. 11:18, Rev. 20:13); tribunal may be occupied “by those who have been divinely commissioned to judge: the twelve apostles judge the twelve tribes” (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30); the uncircumcised judges the circumcised (Rom. 2:27); believers are judges of cosmos (1 Cor. 6:2ab)
2.. The noun bēma (pronounced bay-mah and used 12 times) literally means “a step or footsteps, space to set one’s foot on; an elevated place ascended by steps; a tribunal, throne” (Mounce, p. 1048). It is an official’s place or seat of judgment. Think of a judge sitting behind his “bench” today.
Therefore it is often means “judgment seat.” Paul uses it in Rom. 14:10 for God’s judgment seat, and in 2 Cor. 5:10, for Christ’s judgment seat. It is clear where he got the image from—right here in Acts 18:12 (and other places). In Acts 12:21, it is used of Herod’s throne, where he delivered a speech. Also see Acts 25:6, 10, 17.
3.. The verb katakrinō (pronounced kah-tah-kree-noh and used 18 times) means “‘to condemn, judge someone guilty.’ It involves passing judgment or condemnation on someone (or something) because of a declaration of guilt” (Mounce pp. 130-31). Jesus asked the gathering crowd if anyone dare to condemn the woman caught in adultery. No one did, and neither did he (John 8:10-11).
Jesus was about to be condemned by the chief priests and teachers of the law, but he understood that this condemnation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Matt. 20:18; Mark 10:33).
Jesus told the Jews of his generation that the people of Nineveh and Queen of Sheba would rise in judgment and condemnation over them because they did not receive someone (Jesus) who was better than Jonah and Solomon (Matt. 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32).
God condemns sin (Rom. 8:3), the unbeliever (Mark 16:16), the world (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 11:7), and Sodom (2 Pet. 2:6). However, no one can condemn believers who are in Christ (Rom. 8:34). Self-condemnation is possible, when someone eats food without faith that says all foods are clean; his conscience condemns him because he doubts his unkosher eating habits (Rom. 14:23).
4.. The noun anathema (pronounced ah-nah-theh-mah and used 6 times) means “‘curse, accursed, condemned’” (Mounce p. 152). It is used for something or someone doomed to destruction (Mounce adds eternal destruction or doom). The related word anathēma (pronounced ah-nah-thay-mah) means a consecrated gift or votive offering. And the meaning evolved to something that is dedicated or devoted to evil or cursed. Then God cursed people with judicial wrath. In Rom. 9:3, it means someone who is cut off from Christ. In Gal. 1:8-9 Paul declares that the gospel he preached is the only way of salvation, and anyone who preaches another gospel is accursed. In 1 Cor. 16:22 Paul says that anyone does not love the Lord should be accursed. “Come, Lord!” Paul apparently believed that the present age was drawing to a close—the door to Noah’s ark was about to slam shut (so to speak). Finally, in 1 Cor. 12:3 no one can say “Jesus is cursed” by the Spirit of God, but by the Spirit he can say “Jesus is Lord.” How does this relate to final judgment? Eventually anyone outside of Christ will be doomed to destruction.
5.. The noun krima (pronounced kree-mah and used 27 times) means judgment, and for our purpose here “final judgment.” God passes eternal judgment on people (Heb. 6:2; Acts 24:25). But God’s people must undergo judgment first even down here on earth. Judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). Those who reject faith in Jesus will go through judgment in the sense of condemnation (1 Tim. 5:12), as will those who oppose God (2 Pet. 2:3; Jude 4) and persecute people (Rev. 18:20).
6.. The noun krisis (pronounced kree-seess and used 47 times) means primarily judgment on the final day, when all will rise and everything made known (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:41-42). The final judgment will determine everything there is to know about people (Heb. 9:27). The noun can mean a negative judgment or condemnation on all who disbelieve and disobey God (Matt. 23:33; John 5:22). Jesus is the one who passes judgment, which is committed to him by the Father (John 5:22, 27), and his judgment is right and just (John 5:30). Also, the judgment of God is just and right (2 Thess. 1:5). Most importantly krisis can be positive, a blessing to the nations (Matt. 12:20, but it was denied to Christ (Acts 8:33) and to many Jews by the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Luke 11:42).
How does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God?
There is no doubt that God is concerned with earthly justice. God put justice and rightness and fairness into the minds of humanity. When there are disputes over those great personal and social virtues, he established law courts for people, overseen by men and women who have a deep sense of justice. The earthly courts are designed to reflect the heavenly court. This leads us to the wrath.
God’s wrath is judicial and logical because it is based on law. God sizes up each person who has ever lived, is living now and will ever live. When they continually disobey the law, they must be punished. That’s punishment of sin and unrighteousness is called wrath—judicial wrath. At the same time, God calls people to repent and receive his love and mercy. He is willing to forgive—eager to forgive.
Let’s end with these two images of God’s judgment and wrath, one inaccurate, the other accurate:
God’s judgment is not like this:
But like this:
This picture of an English judge in full regalia is an (imperfect) representation of God in judgment, showing his protective wrath and love over his people.