Forerunner, "Ready Answer," July 1996

In Paul's letter to the church of God in Rome, the apostle describes how the called-out brethren must conduct themselves in a way acceptable to God. We are not to allow ourselves to conform to this world's ways of doing things, but instead, we are to be transformed into a different kind of person by way of a new mind that thinks on a higher, godly plane (Romans 12:2). We are to "let this mind be in [us] which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5).

As Romans 12 continues, Paul presents a list of guidelines that true Christians need to follow. "Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good" (verse 9). "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (verse 14). "Repay no one evil for evil" (verse 17). "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, . . . for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (verse 19).

These last words were first spoken by the One who became Jesus Christ, known in the Old Testament as the LORD, Yahweh: "Vengeance is Mine, and recompense" (Deuteronomy 32:35). However, we do not see God's vengeance upon all the unrighteousness on earth. God does not seem to be punishing criminals and sinners today; murderers, thieves, rapists, molesters and liars all appear to go unpunished—in spite of the world's systems of justice. With the courts backlogged, the police undermanned and the prisons overcrowded, crime continues unabated.

Most people in this world are just as concerned about crime as we are. Many "get involved" politically after falling victim to crime, and they use their experiences to crusade for stricter, more punitive laws. Neighborhoods band together to patrol their streets to deter crime. Some communities have adopted neighborhood policing, where one or more officers conduct most of their duty time in a particular area.

Other people urge the public to strengthen the country's current justice system. They lobby the legislature and the courts to use the laws already on the books to punish criminals and deter further crime. Another way they try to "get tough" on crime is to educate and encourage juries to uphold the law.

America's system of justice uses juries to decide many civil and criminal cases. The government summons citizens to serve in the trying of a particular case, and the jury, after hearing all the evidence, renders a verdict of innocence or guilt. However, the system is terribly flawed. Jurors, though carefully screened by the trial lawyers, have prejudices and tendencies that the lawyers exploit. In many cases, jurors are also woefully ignorant of the law as well as their powers and responsibilities. How often have we heard the jury's verdict from a prominent case and disagreed vehemently with their conclusion? According to God's laws revealed in the Scriptures, we see little truly righteous judgment.

God's Prerogative

What should we answer when summoned to serve on a jury? Our Savior's answer is, "Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged" (Matthew 7:1-2), or as we might say in modern language, "Don't convict others of sin." Christ's disciples should not engage in the trying, judging, sentencing or punishing of others. Under the New Covenant, God clearly states that He reserves these duties to Himself.

People, though, think that God is not doing His job; He appears to be letting criminals literally "get away with murder"! Thus, people conclude that since God does not care, they can continue their crimes and sins. Solomon noticed this among the people of his day: "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

How men deceive themselves! A number of scriptures prove that God will yet carry out vengeance upon those who mock Him and break His laws, but two will suffice:

» Say to those who are fearful-hearted, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you." (Isaiah 35:4)

» God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; the LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; the LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. (Nahum 1:2-3)

Though the time of God's vengeance upon transgressors is not yet, it is coming (Isaiah 63:4; Luke 21:22)!

When is the time of God's judgment? It begins when Christ returns to earth, as prophesied in II Thessalonians 1:7-10:

. . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 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. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe.

The day is coming soon when God will punish those who break His laws and reject His Word. When Christ returns to stand upon the Mount of Olives, He will begin settling accounts (Matthew 25:19), bringing with Him both punishment and reward (Isaiah 61:2-3; Matthew 25:31-46).

Christ did not come to judge the world when He was born, lived and died as a human 2,000 years ago. "He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42) "will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" (II Timothy 4:1). When confronted by the scribes and Pharisees with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus does not condemn her, but instead tells her to "sin no more" (John 8:1-11). His time as Judge of all had not yet come.

Later, He plainly tells the Pharisees, "I judge no one" (verse 15). Though they were guilty of hypocrisy and many other sins—which He severely castigated them for—He does not judge the Pharisees either. He made no move to stop them from continuing in their evil ways.

The Pharisees completely misunderstood His mission. They did not interpret the prophecies in Isaiah 61:1-3 and Malachi 3:1 to mean that Messiah must make two appearances on earth—at two different times, for two different reasons. When Jesus came the first time 2,000 years ago, He made it very clear that He would come again (Matthew 16:27; Luke 21:27; John 14:3).

In His first appearance, He came to deliver a message from His Father, the good news of the coming Kingdom of God on this earth (Mark 1:14-15). He also came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for our sins and make eternal life possible for us (I Peter 2:21-24). During this appearance, He refrained from judging the world before its time. At His second coming in power and glory as King of kings, one of His major responsibilities will be to judge the world and take vengeance, as we have seen. Notice the words of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 11:17-18, when an angel proclaims the establishment of God's Kingdom:

We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the [nations, ethnos], that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants . . . and should destroy those who destroy the earth.

A Time for Judging

What does this have to do with jury duty? The apostle John writes, "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:6). Just as Jesus Christ refrained from judging the world until the proper time, so also the brethren of God's church must not render judgments on men until God's appointed time.

When is this appointed time? The same as Christ's time to judge! Daniel writes, "[The false church persecutes the saints] till that the Ancient of Days hath come, and judgment is given to the saints of the Most High, and the time hath come. . ." (Daniel 7:22, Young's Literal Translation). This squares perfectly with Revelation 5:10: "And [You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." When our Savior returns and grants us jurisdiction over the world, we will judge it!

In obedience to Christ, the saints must restrain themselves from passing judgment on the world until the time set by God. The saints have no authority or power at this time to sit in judgment over others' lives. But when the time is right, they will judge.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (I Corinthians 6:2-3)

Paul castigates the Corinthians for taking each other to court for matters they should be learning how to judge and resolve among themselves. Yes, he says, we should be learning to judge now because we will one day make far greater judgments, but we have no power to do so now: "For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside [the church]? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges" (I Corinthians 5:12-13).

The future kings and priests of God must learn judgment in their own lives and inside the body of the church. Paul writes, "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged [by God]" (I Corinthians 11:31). God is judging those in His church today: "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God" (I Peter 4:17). He is also teaching us how to judge: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24; see Matthew 7:1-5). But He has given us no permission or commission to judge the world—those who are outside the church—at this time. That time will come soon enough if we learn to judge ourselves now.

Therefore, the church has traditionally taken the stand that we will leave the matter of judging people for their crimes in the hands of the world's governments. God has allowed men to set up various governing bodies, and they have jurisdiction for now (Romans 13:1-4). Though we live in the world, we are not of it (John 17:11, 16), so we should not become involved in its judgments.

God commands His church to stay separate from the world: "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord" (II Corinthians 6:17). Like dedicated soldiers during wartime, we have no time and it is not our place to become entangled in the affairs of civilian life (II Timothy 2:4). Like representatives of a heavenly government (II Corinthians 5:20), we have no business involving ourselves in matters of a foreign state, though we live here and enjoy its benefits.

Our commission is to pursue perfection in the sight of God during the short span of years allotted to us (Matthew 5:48; II Corinthians 7:1). We should be busy striving toward becoming "a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Christ, when He walked this earth, leaving us an example, did not judge the world. Neither should we.