Friday, November 12, 2010

The Theme of Judgment in the Gospel of John

The theme of judgment is a theme of medium priority in John’s Gospel overall, but the amount of space devoted to the theme of judgment is surprisingly large all the same. Of greatest polemical significance is the idea that Jesus has a special role to play in God’s work of judgment. Even though the Father is both King and Judge, he has “given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). This corresponds to Paul’s teaching that on the day of judgment each person will be called to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of what they have done (2 Cor 5:10).

According to John 5:27, Jesus has received this “authority to execute judgment” from the Father, because he is the Son of Man in fulfillment of Dan 7:13–14. This judging function would not, however, be taken up in earnest until the day of judgment. Before this time, Jesus’ role is to bring salvation more than judgment per se. Thus, John’s Gospel teaches that “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:18). Jesus himself teaches that he “did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47). Even though Jesus’ primary purpose for coming into the world was not that of judgment, nevertheless Jesus also taught that he had come into the world “for judgment … that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). In other words, even though Jesus primary purpose in his first coming was that of salvation rather than judgment, because judgment is the flipside of salvation, we can say that Jesus also came “for judgment.” Jesus denied that he would judge the person who heard his sayings yet did not keep them, but at the same time this person will be judged “on the last day” in relation to the words of revelation that Jesus had spoken while in the world (John 12:47–48). Jesus also taught that through his death and glorification “the judgment of this world” had already come (John 12:31).

Also of polemical significance in the historical context of John’s day is the idea presented forcefully in the Gospel that a person’s faith in Jesus determines whether or not he or she will be condemned in the day of judgment. The person “who believes in [Jesus] is not condemned,” but “he who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). Those who reject Jesus will be judged for loving darkness rather than the light of Christ (John 3:19). Jesus taught that “he who he hears my word and believes him who sent me … does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Such people will participate in “the resurrection of life” rather than “the resurrection of judgment” that is reserved for “those who have done evil” rather than “good” (John 5:29).

The theme of judgment also applies in John’s Gospel to the issue of Jesus’ identity, which was a matter of serious debate between Jesus and his Jewish opponents. Jesus occasionally talked of his witness about himself as being his “judgment” (John 5:30). Jesus made the claim that “[his] judgment is just” in his opinion about himself, for he was only following his Father’s will in so judging (John 5:30). Jesus said to the Pharisees that he had “much to say about [them] and much to judge” (John 8:26). On another occasion, when debating with the Pharisees, Jesus said that he “judge[s] no one” (John 8:15). At the same time, however, Jesus’ judgment is not his alone but also the judgment of the Father who sent him (John 8:16). Thus, Jesus’ judgment or opinion about himself is not ultimately his but his Father’s.

John’s Gospel is also concerned with the issue of right judgment. Jesus accused his opponents of judging “by appearances” (John 7:24) and “according to the flesh” (John 8:15) rather than “with right judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus was judged by the Jews according to the Mosaic law but unfairly so (John 7:51; 18:31). Pilate adjudged Jesus to be innocent of crime (John 18:38; 19:4, 6), but he nevertheless delivered Jesus over to be crucified (John 19:16).

John’s Gospel also speaks of a role for the Holy Spirit in the work of judgment. The Spirit would “convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). This is best understood as a kind of argument based on the order of events in salvation history. The coming of the Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost implies the fact of Jesus’ ascension, which in turn proves the truthfulness of Jesus’ claims about himself. This argument is similar to Peter’s salvation-historical logic in Acts 2 (see especially Acts 2:32–33, 36). In this way, the coming of the Spirit would convict the world of the sinfulness of rejecting Jesus Christ (John 16:9), vindicate Christ by proving his righteousness in all that he said and did (John 16:10), and prove that through Jesus’ death and resurrection “the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11) and “cast out” (John 12:31–32).


sujomo said...

Thanks for the thought provoking post.

John 2:25 is also relevant to your discussion: "He knew what was in a man".

cheers, sujomo

Steven Coxhead said...

My pleasure, Sujomo.

Yes, there is a tragic play on the concept of faith in John 2:23-24. Many believed in him, but Jesus effectively did not believe in them, because he knew the fickleness of their faith. Knowing the Father's plan, Jesus knew what was coming.