5. Justice Beyond the Present
Even though neither science nor our position with God provide any expectations from a God beyond what we can readily see, the Bible does provide more answers. The book of Daniel talks of a time when there would be dramatic changes on the earth.
Daniel 12:1.: "At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. 2. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. NKJV
This passage relates closely to the one in Zephanaih. Both talk of a day of God's anger when justice would be dispensed.
Zephaniah 3:8.: " Therefore wait for Me," says the LORD, "Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All my fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9. "For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord. NKJV
In Daniel 12:1, four categories of people exist:
- Those people who are alive at the time of the event.
- Those who are dead and stay that way. The use of the word many implies that not all are raised.
- Those who receive everlasting life.
- Those who receive everlasting comtempt.
The justice that is performed seems to enacted in three different ways. Some people are apparently ignored. Others are given a reward, while the final group are punished.
Reward of the Wicked
The rewared of the wicked is a theme that spans the Bible, and there are many references to this. The psalms include quite a number of these. In Psalm 37, king David goes into some detail about future rewards of the wicked and the righteous. This chapter speaks of a time when justice will be done by God, which is a concept closely linked with the times in the prophecies of Daniel and Zephaniah above.
Psa 37:18.: The LORD knows the days of the upright, And their inheritance shall be forever. 19. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. 20. But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the LORD, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. NKJV
Here it is stated that the wicked will perish, and the enemies of God will vanish. Verse 28 further adds to the contrast,
Psa 37:28.: For the LORD loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. 29. The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever. NKJV
Psa 37:37.: Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; For the future of that man is peace. 38. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; The future of the wicked shall be cut off. 39. But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble. 40. And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, And save them, Because they trust in Him. NKJV
The emphasis of these passages is that the wicked are to be destroyed, while the righteous receive a salvation. In particular there is a contrast in the term of existance. There is an end to the wicked through destruction, not an ongoing punishment.
Know not God
The justice and punishment shown in 2 Thess 1 is decisive.
2 Thess 1:6.: since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7. and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8. in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, NKJV
This again speaks of a day of judgement, and closely parallels the alternative accounts above. This description adds the the colour of the vengeance being taken out in flaming fire. This shows severe action, but again the punishment is destruction.
The people receiving the destruction are those that “do not know God”. Though other use in the Bible, this does mean simply an absense of knowledge about God, which is understandable as many wicked may well know about God. As an example, the sons of the priest Eli would well know about God and his laws, but the criticism of the was that they didn't know God,
1 Sam 2:12.: Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD. NKJV
Similarly of the people of Israel in Jeremiah,
Jer 9:6.: Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit; Through deceit they refuse to know Me," says the LORD. NKJV
Evil upon themselves:
Isa 3:8.: For Jerusalem stumbled, And Judah is fallen, Because their tongue and their doings Are against the LORD, To provoke the eyes of His glory. 9. The look on their countenance witnesses against them, And they declare their sin as Sodom; They do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves. 10. " Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him. NKJV
Anther aspect of God's justice that is brought out in the Bible, is the level of responsibility. Jesus showed this in a parable.
Luke 12:42.: And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43. "Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. NKJV
The blessing of the faithful servant is clear and straightforward. It then talks of an unfaithful servant, who would be punished as a result of his actions,
Luke 12:45.: "But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46. "the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. NKJV
In the conclusion, he described the different possible punishments:
Luke 12:47.: "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48. "But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. NKJV
In this case, the type of punishment depends on the knowledge and responsibility of the person involved. This is consistent with the principles that humans have developed over the years.
One concern that people can have with the justice of God is that is can be too harsh and sudden on an unknowing victim. In particular the condemnation of an unknowing person to eternal torment is something that comes to peoples' minds. This example shows that that need not be a concern because God considers responsibility. Even more importantly, this concern can be dispelled when the judgement of God is better understood.
Reward of the Faithful
Justice is not just about the punishment of the wicked. It also encompasses the rightful reward of the faithful. This aspect of God's justice is shown in Isaiah 30.
Isaiah 30:18.: Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him. 19. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; You shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; When He hears it, He will answer you. NKJV
So indeed, the justice of God is a comfort to those who receive his Grace. The beauty of this is portrayed in 1 Corinthians,
1 Corinthians 2:9.: But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." NKJV
So God's justice is not only to be feared, but something to be hoped for.