Please remember that a “word study” must confine itself to passages where the actual word is used. There are other references that may – or may not – bear upon the subject under consideration. It is important to distinguish, for example, between simple cause and effect, and “the judgment of God.” Actions do have consequences: it may be simply a result of the way the world works – do not confuse consequences with overt judgments.
Only in threatening theological rhetoric is talk about the “final judgment” used in an attempt to bludgeon members of an audience into accepting a list of statements about the nature and purposes of God. There is not a single example in the New Testament record of anything similar being primary – or even present!– in the “evangelistic” message.
While classical uses of krino do include the sense of a legal, judicial verdict, there is no sense of divine retribution, and certainly none of “eternal” duration. Although that idea does occur – rarely – in the New Testament, implicit references to judgment are found only in 7 of the 68 uses of aionion (“eternal” or “everlasting”), while all the rest refer to “life” and all sorts of “blessedness.” A related word, krimatos, is only found with one of those seven – Heb.6:2, where it appears on the list of foundational things that need to be “laid aside” in order to move on to maturity (see W.S. #6).
In point of fact, the vast majority of references to the judgment of God are addressed to the faithful, for their encouragement and comfort! Romans 2:16, Gal.5:10, I Pet.2:23 and 4:5, and Rev.6:10, 11:18, 16:5-6, 17:1, 18:8, and 19:2 all speak of the eventual vindication of the faithful and the destruction of their persecutors.
Another large group of references, Rom.2:16, I Pet.1:17, II Pet.2:1, and Rev. 16:7 and 19:11, emphasize that the judgment of God is consummately fair, and therefore greatly to be desired by folks who have suffered unjust treatment. Heb.4:13 does not use the word, but characterizes a situation where the faithful have nothing to fear: “There’s no created thing concealed from him: everything is naked and exposed to his eyes, with respect to whom the Word (evaluates) us.” John 5:22-30 and much of chapter 8 explain that Jesus himself will judge honestly. Here is a judge that cannot be “bought”!
Of course, judgment that is absolutely just and fair can seem like a threat, to anyone who is trying to hide, or get away with something. But for all who have struggled to live faithfully, in a world that does not acknowledge its true King, it presents the joyful prospect of deliverance. I treasure our last conversation with a dear, elderly brother, who, after a lifetime of service to his church, was the victim of vicious false accusations, and had been repudiated by many. He had stood kindly by us, years earlier, when we had been the victims of false gossip. Brother John had been able to retain his radiant love and trust in the Lord’s mercy, and told us: “We can all hold on to this: the Lord knows the truth, and he is the one that is our final judge.” That was a joyful statement of trust – not of fear.
On the rare occasions when mention of judgment is directed to the uncommitted – Mt.12:41-42 and parallels, Lk.10:14, Acts 13:46, 17:31, and 24:25, notice that it is usually to people – often religious leaders – who have already deliberately placed themselves in opposition to Jesus – not to those who are unaware of his ways.
Attention should be given, of course, to the two unique occurrences of solemn warnings directed to people within the brotherhood. The letter to the Hebrews highlights the danger of deliberately ignoring or violating one’s commitment to faithfulness (10:24-31), while urging readers to keep after each other, encouraging one another to “hang in there” in faithfulness, lest any turn and become opponents. James also (2:12-13) echoes Jesus own warning (previously cited) in Mt.7:2, that one will be “judged” with the same degree of mercy that he has extended to his brethren. Both admonitions are intended to motivate caution, not terror.
Finally, it may be instructive to revisit a few of the passages that are frequently (mistakenly) used in an effort to frighten listeners into submission with lurid descriptions of torment.
Look at the “sheep and goats” judgment scene in Matthew 25. Notice the charge brought against the “unfaithful”. Jesus says nothing about what either group “believed,” or to what creed or doctrine they subscribed (or failed to subscribe). He passes judgment on their behavior – their neglect of the needs around them.
The same charge appears in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Actually, that gentleman probably “believed” all the “right things.” He probably even ascribed his wealth to the “blessing of God!” It is his treatment of the beggar that is the focus of his condemnation.
And among those who love to quote the Revelation to strike terror to the hearts of their audience, I have not heard anyone refer Rev.18, the account of the fall of Babylon, to the present economic distress (v.11-19). I’m afraid more who claim the label “Christian” are weeping with the merchants “who got rich off of her luxurious excesses” (v.15) – note that there are few real necessities listed in the account of the collapse – than are heeding the voice from heaven (v.20), “Celebrate over her, heaven, and God’s people, and apostles and prophets! God has passed judgment on her for you!”
There is a way in which it still all boils down to a case of discernment (see W.S.#9)– of choosing sides. Paul’s testimony in I Cor.4:3-5 is a classic example of the confidence that a committed disciple can rightfully derive from the prospect of God’s judgment. “It matters little to me,” he observes, “that I should be examined (judged) by you all, or by any human tribunal. I don’t even keep examining myself! For I am not aware of anything (that is a problem) for myself; but that’s not how I have been made just: the one who examines (judges) us is the Lord. So don’t pass judgment on anything before the time – until the Lord comes. He will illuminate the things hidden by darkness and reveal the plans of (people’s) hearts. And then praise will be given to each one, from God.”
If we are not “hiding anything in darkness,” then there is no cause for panic!
I Jn.3:19-20 seems to anticipate the problem of people being (wrongly) made to feel “guilty”, reminding us that “even if our hearts scold us, God is greater than our hearts” and eminently able to override any criticism.
Our confidence is in the mercy of God, which we have received in Jesus Christ!
Give thanks to the only One we can count on to be consistently merciful and fair!
As in so many other situations, there is only one necessary question:
Whose side are we on? To whom do we belong?