Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1–2)
Within the biblical record we find a concept called middah k’neged middah, or “measure for measure,” quite frequently. The book of Genesis is filled with examples we can clearly see. For instance, just as Jacob used deception and disguises himself in order to receive the blessing from his father Isaac, he is deceived by Laban and Leah is substituted for Rachel. Just as Jacob used the skin of a goat to deceive his father, the skin of a goat is used to deceive him into believing Joseph has died. Just as Judah lead his brothers in selling Joseph, making his father believe he is dead, both Judah’s sons Er and Onan were taken by the LORD allowing Judah to feel the pain of his father’s loss. Just as Pharaoh threw the Hebrew babies into the Nile, the Egyptian army was destroyed by the waters of the Red Sea. The list goes on and on.
We also have this principle explained to us in the light of the compensation for damages within the Torah with the expression “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” If a person is responsible for damaging another’s property, he is liable for restitution to the degree of damage.
In light of these two concepts working together, it is not a wonder that the concept of divine judgment would be central to doctrine of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The difference between the two lies in its interpretation. The Sadducees believed in the immediate payment of rewards and punishment, whereas the Pharisees believe in deferred payment which will take place at the resurrection. Yes, the Pharisees did believe that in some ways there was immediate payment for both righteous deeds and sins, but the primary instant in which justice would be made known would be in the resurrection. The reason for this belief was the result of both scriptural precedent and personal observation. The Scriptures recognize that many times the wicked prosper as if God is for some reason blessing them. The prophet asks, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jeremiah 12:1). The Psalmist declares “the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish” but resolves the problem by saying the reason for this is “they are doomed to destruction forever” (Psalm 92:7). In other words, their prosperity is only temporal; their judgment will come at a later time. Since Divine Justice requires there to be retribution for the wicked and reward for the righteous, reward and punishment must come at a time other than in this life. Therefore, the doctrine of the Last Judgment became a hallmark of Pharisaic doctrine which was critical to upholding the integrity of a righteous and just God. Being the forerunners of Rabbinic Judaism, it should not surprise us to find that rabbinic sources are filled with references to divine judgment in relationship to the last days. For our purposes we will only explore a few references which have a bearing on our subject.
First, Nittai the Arbelite warns us, “do not abandon belief in retribution” (m.Avot 1:7). What does this mean? Just as we discussed above, sometimes the seeming prosperity of the wicked and the tribulation of the righteous cause us to lose hope in Divine Justice. Surely, if God is all-loving, we wouldn’t be in our current condition. He has seen our hearts, seen our deeds, but yet we toil to eke out a living, maintain good health and close relationships. Judah the Prince proposes a solution to this doubt. He says,
Reflect on three things and you will never come to sin: Know what is above you—a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds recorded in a book. (Avot 2:1)
This teaching reflects the understanding that all of our deeds will come into account one day. According to both rabbinic and Apostolic teaching this day is called the Great [or Final] Judgment.1 With prophetic insight Daniel tells us:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
Rabbi Eleazar ha-Kappar expounds upon this by saying:
Let not your Evil Inclination assure you that the grave will be your escape: for despite yourself you were fashioned, and despite yourself you were born, and despite yourself you live, and despite yourself you die, and despite yourself you are destined to give account and reckoning before the King Who rules over kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Avot 4:29)
But what does this mean for the Believer? Why is this considered an “elementary doctrine of Messiah?” Remember, Yeshua is not only the Savior of the world, but one day he will also be the Judge of the world. We learn this from Yeshua’s encounter with Nicodemus. Although many of our Bibles have these words being the words of Yeshua, it is most likely a notation by John. He says:
Whoever believes in him [Yeshua] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:18–21)
Later, Yeshua himself tells us that we will be judged according to our obedience to his teachings. He says:
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:47–48)
When Peter presents his Gospel to Cornelius, he testifies to this fact by saying,
“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).
Paul confirms this and charges Timothy to not be swayed by false teaching, because one day all will be revealed by the light of Messiah., “who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1).
Peter connects the suffering of the Messiah with the command for his disciples to live a life of purity. He tells his audience that all who practice wickedness and indulge in fleshly desires “will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).
The author of the book of Hebrews connects Messiah’s atoning death and resurrection to the subjugation of sin, and reminds his readers that one day all will come into the light of divine judgment saying, “… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
In each of these cases, the atoning work of Messiah is connected with the concept of his role as the Divine Judge. It is precisely his suffering, the laying down of his life and his victory over death which give him the authority to judge both the living and the dead. Everything is now subject to the one who has conquered death, because “God has put all things in subjection under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27). He will one day judge both the living and the dead with righteous judgment. May our hearts be purified before the Righteous Judge before that final hour.
Editor’s Note: These articles merely scratch the surface of the information needed to adequately address these topics. A forth-coming work on this subject will address many of the things not addressed in these articles. Please pray for this endeavor.