Divine Judgment

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Because we are born in sin and therefore cannot live up to God's righteous standards, condemnation (damnation, the older synonym, has other connotations today) hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles (II Pet. 2:3; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:5-6; Col. 3:5-6). God himself is the one who condemns (Job 10:2; Jer. 42:18; John 12:48). His condemnation is based on his justice, and such condemnation is deserved (I Kings 8:32; Rom. 3:8; Gal. 1:8-9). Condemnation comes to the wicked and unrepentant (Matt. 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32; John 5:29; Rom. 5:16, 18; II Thess. 2:12; Rev. 19:2) and results in eternal punishment (Matt. 23:33), but no OT believer who trusted in God (Ps. 34:22) or NT believer who trusts in Christ (John 3:18; 5:24) will be condemned. Jesus came to save rather than to condemn (John 3:17), and he frees us from final condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2).

Conscience may cause us to condemn ourselves (I John 3:19-21), but no one can justly condemn the righteous if God is on his side (Isa. 50:9; Titus 2:7-8). In fact, the Lord prevents or reverses unfair condemnation by our enemies (Pss. 37:33; 79:11; 102:19-20; 109:31). Self-righteous people should avoid condemning others (Job 32:3; Luke 6:37; Rom. 8:34; 14:3) because quickness to condemn may recoil on their own heads (Job 15:6; Ps. 34:21; Luke 6:37; Rom. 2:1; Titus 3:10-11). Needless to say, it is the height of arrogance and folly for sinful people to condemn a just and omnipotent God (Job 34:17, 29; 40:8).

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Divine judgment is God's method of displaying his mercy as well as his wrath toward individuals and nations (Exod. 6:6, 7:4; Eccles. 3:17; 12:14; Dan. 7:22; Joel 3:2; II Cor. 5:10). As God is the one who condemns, so also he is the true and only Judge (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 82:1; Eccles. 11:9), an office and function shared by the Father (Gen. 31:53; John 8:50; Rom. 3:6) and the Son (Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16). Retributive or negative judgment is a direct result of sin (I Sam. 3:13; Ezek. 7:3, 8, 27; Rom. 2:12; Jude 14-15) and is therefore both just (Ezek. 33:20; II Tim. 4:8; I Pet. 2:23) and deserved (Pss. 94:2; 143:2; Ezek. 18:30). Rewarding or positive judgment relates to the believer's stewardship of his talents and gifts and is therefore characterized by divine compassion (Matt. 25:14-23; I Cor. 3:12-15; I Pet. 1:17). Although we experience judgment initially in this life, all of us are judged ultimately after death (Isa. 66:16; Jer. 25:31; Joel 3:12; John 12:48; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16; Rev. 20:12-13) at the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10) or Christ (II Cor. 5:10). Self-judgment, another manifestation of the same activity, is brought about by rebellion and willfulness (Rom. 13:2; I Cor. 11:29; I Tim. 5:12).

It is not only human beings who are judged, however, God also judges other gods, real or imagined (Exod. 12:12; Num. 33:4; Jer. 10:14-15), and angels as well (II Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). The devil himself is not exempt from such judgment (I Tim. 3:6). And although in the final analysis God is the only judge, he has chosen to allow us to participate with Christ in judging the world (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; I Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4), including the angels (I Cor. 6:3).

The story of Noah's flood contains several principles concerning divine judgment that are worth careful consideration. (1) God's judgments are never arbitrary. Man's sin is God's sorrow (Gen. 6:5-6). The Lord is not capricious when he judges. He makes a considered and deliberate decision before unleashing his punishment. (2) God can be counted on always to judge sin (Gen. 6:7). No sin escapes his notice; his judgment on sin is inevitable (Rom. 2:3; Heb. 9:27-27). (3) God always announces judgment beforehand (Gen. 6:13). He informs us that our evil deeds are condemned by him and will be judged by him. (4) God always gives sinners an opportunity to repent before judging them (see Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). There was a period of 120 years of grace for the people of Noah's day (Gen. 6:3). (5) God always follows through on his decision to judge (cf. Gen. 7:4 with vss. 12 and 23), once he has announced it and once people have had an opportunity to repent. His judgments are irreversible. (6) God's judgments always lead to death (see Jer. 51:18; Hos. 6:5). Gen. 7:17-24, the only paragraph in the flood narrative that does not contain the name of God, reeks with the smell of death. When judgment results in death, God is no longer there.

But the flood story teaches us also that (7) God's judgments always include elements of both justice and grace. Though the story of the flood begins with judgment, it ends with redemption; though it begins with a curse (Gen. 6:7), it ends with a covenant (9:11). If judgment always issues life. Judgment is never God's last or best word to those who believe in him, because "mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).

R Youngblood
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

L. Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment; R. Youngblood, How It All Began; F. Buchsel, TDNT, III, 921-54; W. Schneider et al., NIDNTT, II, 361-71.

Divine Judgment

Catholic Information

This subject will be treated under two heads:

I. Divine Judgment Subjectively and Objectively Considered;

II. Pre-Christian Beliefs Concerning Judgment after Death.

Particular Judgment and General Judgment will be treated in separate articles.


Divine judgment (judicium divinum), as an immanent act of God, denotes the action of God's retributive justice by which the destiny of rational creatures is decided according to their merits and demerits. This includes:

God's knowledge of the moral worth of the acts of free creatures (scientia approbationis et reprobationis), and His decree determining the just consequences of such acts;

the Divine verdict upon a creature amenable to the moral law, and the execution of this sentence by way of reward and punishment.

It is clear, of course, that the judgment, as it is in God, cannot be a process of distinct and successive acts; it is a single eternal act identical with the Divine Essence. But the effects of the judgment, since they take place in creatures, follow the sequence of time. The Divine judgment is manifested and fulfilled at the beginning, during the progress, and at the end of time. In the beginning, God pronounced judgment upon the whole race, as a consequence of the fall of its representatives, the first parents (Genesis 3). Death and the infirmities and miseries of this were the consequences of that original sentence. Besides this common judgment there have been special judgments on particular individuals and peoples. Such great catastrophes as the flood (Genesis 6:5), the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 28:20), the earthquake that swallowed up Core and his followers (Numbers 16:30), the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 12:12), and the evil that came upon other oppressors of Israel (Ezekiel 25:11; 28:22) are represented in the Bible as Divine judgments. The fear of God is such a fundamental idea in the Old Testament that it insists mainly on the punitive aspect of the judgment (cf. Proverbs 11:31; Ezekiel 14:21). An erroneous view of these truths led many of the rabbis to teach that all the evil which befalls man is a special chastisement from on high, a doctrine which was declared false by Christ.

There is also a judgment of God in the world that is subjective. By his acts man adheres to or deviates from the law of God, and thereby places himself within the sphere of approval or condemnation. In a sense, then, each individual exercises judgment on himself. Hence it is declared that Christ came not to judge but to save (John 3:17; 8:15; 12:47). The internal judgment proceeds according to a man's attitude: towards Christ (John 3:18). Though all the happenings of life cannot be interpreted as the outcome of Divine judgment, whose external manifestation is therefore intermittent, the subjective judgment is coextensive with the life of the individual and of the race. The judgment at the end of time will complement the previous visitations of Divine retribution and will manifest the final result of the daily secret judgment. By its sentence the eternal destiny of creatures will be decided. As there is a twofold end of time, so there is likewise a twofold eternal judgment: the particular judgment, at the hour of death, which is the end of time for the individual, and the general judgment, at the final epoch of the world's existence, which is the end of time for the human race.


The idea of a final readjustment beyond the grave, which would rectify the sharp contrast so often observed between the conduct and the fortune of men, was prevalent among all nations in pre-Christian times. Such was the doctrine of metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls, as a justification of the ways of God to man, prevailing among the Hindus of all classes and sects, the Pythagoreans, the Orphic mystics, and the Druids. The doctrine of a forensic judgment in the unseen world, by which the eternal lot of departed souls is determined, was also widely prevalent in pre-Christian times.

The Egyptian idea of the judgment is set forth with great precision of detail in the "Book of the Dead", a collection of formulae designed to aid the dead in their passage through the underworld (EGYPT). The Babylonians and the Assyrians make no distinction between the good and the bad so far as the future habitation is concerned. In the Gilgames epic the hero is marked as judge of the dead, but whether his rule was the moral value of their actions is not clear. An unerring judgment and compensation in the future life was a cardinal point in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. But, while these mythological schemes were credited as strict verities by the ignorant body of the people, the learned saw in them only the allegorical presentation of truth. There were always some who denied the doctrine of a future life, and this unbelief went on increasing till, in the last days of the Republic, skepticism regarding immortality prevailed among Greeks and Romans.

With the Jews. the judgment of the living was a far more prominent idea than the judgment of the dead. The Pentateuch contains no express mention of remuneration in the future life, and it was only at a comparatively late period, under the influence of a fuller revelation, that the belief in resurrection and judgment began to play a capital part in the faith of Judaism. The traces of this theological development are plainly visible in the Machabean era. Then arose the two great opposing parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, whose divergent interpretations of Scripture led to heated controversies, especially regarding the future life. The Sadducees denied all reward and penalty in the hereafter, while there opponents encumbered the truth with ludicrous details. Thus some of the rabbis asserted that the trumpet which would summon the world to judgment would be one of the horns of the ram which Abraham offered up instead of his son Isaac. Again they said: "When God judges the Israelites, He will stand, and make the judgment brief and mild; when He judges the Gentiles, he will sit and make it long and severe." Apart from such rabbinical fables, the current belief reflected in the writings of the rabbis and the pseudographs at the beginning of the Christian Era was that of a preliminary judgment and of a final judgment to occur at the consummation of the world, the former to be executed against the wicked by the personal prowess of the Messiah and of the saints of Israel, the latter to be pronounced as an eternal sentence by God or the Messiah. The particular judgment of the individual person is lost sight of in the universal judgment by which the Messiah vindicate the wrongs endured by Israel. With Alexandrian Judaism, on the contrary, with that at least of which Philo is the exponent, the dominant idea was that of an immediate retribution after death. The two dissenting sects of Israel, the Essenes and the Samaritans, were in agreement with the majority of Jews as to the existence of a discriminating retribution in the life to come. The Essenes believed in the preexistence of souls, but taught that the after-existence was an unchanging state of bliss or woe according to the deeds done in the body. The eschatological tenets of the Samaritans were at first few and vague. Their doctrine of the resurrection and of the day of vengeance and recompense was a theology patterned after the model of Judaism, and first formulated for the sect by its greatest theologian, Marka (A.D. fourth century)

Publication information Written by J.A. McHugh. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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Last Judgment

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