I once served on a jury and, to my surprise, was voted foreman. The accused was charged with manslaughter, a serious crime with quite a harsh penalty; while driving an aged-care minivan filled with pensioners, he’d hit and killed a pedestrian. The defendant was a facility volunteer who had been taking a group of pensioners shopping. His vehicle collided with the deceased in close proximity to a pedestrian crossing, when the man darted onto the road from between parked cars and into the path of the van.
The prosecutor briefed the court on what was alleged to have happened, then called on the police officer who’d attended the accident to detail the facts of the matter. I was surprised by the superficiality and brevity of the process. There was no heavy cross-examination in the TV courtroom style, no calling of a range of witnesses for either prosecution or defence, and the judge’s instructions to us, the jury, were clear. Then the court adjourned and we retired to consider a verdict. Sure, he killed someone; he should have kept his eyes open, especially in a busy shopping area; what about justice for the victim’s family?—and it was so close to a zebra crossing . . .
But reflecting on what was rather nuanced evidence given by the police officer, along with the seemingly empathetic approach of the prosecutor, I suspected they were signalling to us, a bunch of courtroom novices, the innocence of the defendant. We talked for what we thought a respectable amount of time, then filed back into the court.
“The defendant will stand . . .” growled the judge.
“And how do you find the defendant?” he asked, looking at me.
As the foreman, I stood, cleared my throat, and in a confident tone that surprised me, delivered the verdict: “Not guilty, Your Honour.”
Everyone in the courtroom that day, not least the worried defendant, wanted a not-guilty verdict. And it was our pleasure to give it. And it’s that way with God when He looks at our world. He sees the death and terrible things that go on here, some of the worst carried out in His name, yet “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
His desire is for everyone “to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). So when He says that every human being must at some point stand before Him and be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10), it is our innocence that He would prefer to hear declared, not our guilt: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17, 18). Of course, as sinners we are condemned to death in the absence of confession, forgiveness and the grace extended to us in Christ’s name. And before God’s judgement seat, Christ as our Lawyer—“an Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1), as it were, pleads our case on our behalf. (Which is comforting given the poor choices that all of us have made at one time or another.)
According to the Bible, there is a definite day of judgement (Acts 17:31) and according to Revelation 14:7, which describes a time at the end of the Bible’s longest prophetic time period, that “hour has come”. The judgement takes place in heaven, while God’s people are still on earth, according to the prophet Daniel, who saw this event in a vision
(Daniel 7:9, 10). And according to the apostle Peter, the judgement begins with the investigation of the lives of those who, over the centuries, have committed their lives to Christ. It doesn’t forensically review every deed or misdeed—just if the blood of Christ covers the defendant. And if they have claimed His covering, then, like that hapless driver cleared of wrongdoing in the courtroom, they are declared innocent and worthy of entry into heaven, despite their actions.
The Bible refers to the judgement more than a thousand times, so it is important. It’s also largely ignored by humankind. But not by the rest of the universe. Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven for their rebellion. Before the entire universe began Satan charged God with being a tyrant; so before the entire universe the charges must be judged: “The question goes to His character,” a lawyer might argue before the jury. And the question is, Is He indeed a nitpicking and merciless tyrant?
To vindicate Himself, God permitted Satan his way and let the rebellion play out, its rules rigged against Him, to its natural conclusion. The rebellion is in its final stage, and it is now that the works of Satan and works of Christ are before the universe for their adjudication: Was—and is—God fair? So while we are being judged for our participation in sin, Satan is being judged for causing sin.
Satan doesn’t play the game fair. But no matter, we need not fear him as our accuser, for between him and us stands Christ. “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5). That’s His promise.
So facing the inevitable judgement doesn’t have to be intimidating. As the Bible says, “let us . . . come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV*).
There is no need to be fearful of God’s judgement. Rather, it is good news for those who seek justice.
And if my worried courtroom defendant had only known that, from judge to jury, forgiveness and mercy were his, how different those stress-filled months leading up to his trial might have been.
* New King James Version © 1982, Thomas Nelson. Used with permission.
What the Bible says about God's judgement
Every human—saint or sinner—must undergo judgement before God. It is a solemn event, but we need not be afraid of it, because our judge is Jesus.
God has made a time for the judgement. There is a definite time when it begins.
In the last days of Earth’s history, just before Jesus comes again, the first angel of Revelation 14 announces to the world that judgement begins.
Daniel 7:9, 10
In vision, Daniel saw the judgement taking place in heaven at the end of time.
Revelation 11:18, 19
The judgement takes place while there are still people living on the earth.
Revelation 20:11, 12
We are judged by our deeds as recorded in God’s Book of Life.
It is possible that some individuals who have had their names recorded in God’s Book of Life will have their names blotted from its pages because ultimately they turned away from Him.
God’s Law is the standard of the judgement (see also Ecclesiastes 12:13).
1 Peter 4:17
The judgement begins with the investigation of the lives of God’s people.
Nothing will be missed or overlooked (see also Matthew 12:36, 37;
1 Corinthians 4:5).
All of us are guilty of breaking God’s Law (see Romans 3:23; 6:23), so our only means of salvation—attaining eternal life—is to hide our lives in Christ. His righteousness (and death) will cover us.
Revelation 3:5, 20
Jesus appeals to all to accept Him and His sacrifice on our behalf—before the verdict is brought down on us.