The Appointed Judge
By David Feddes
Appointing a judge is a big deal. The higher the court, the bigger the deal. Some of the nastiest political quarrels in the United States have taken place over Supreme Court appointments. Why such a big deal about appointing judges? Well, judges interpret and apply the law. Sometimes judges decide questions which determine who goes to prison and who goes free. They may even determine whether one person lives and another dies. And judges affect more than just individual cases; they also help shape society. When a court rules in favor of same-sex marriage or strikes down an abortion law or declares that a corporation is violating the law or makes a decision about the death penalty or declares what is allowable in public schools, their decisions can affect millions of people and shape the future. Different countries have their own methods of appointing judges, but no matter what country you’re from, judges are important, and appointing a judge is a big deal.
Whatever we think of court decisions and judges, we need to keep in mind that the most important court appointment has already been made. It’s not up for grabs. The Bible says, “God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Maybe you’ve never connected Jesus’ resurrection with him being appointed as judge, but the Bible makes that connection over and over. Jesus himself said, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:21-22). After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter declared, “God raised him from the dead… He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:40-42). The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living… we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:9-12). God hasn’t left us wondering who will be the supreme judge. He has already made the appointment and confirmed it. He raised Jesus from the dead to show his approval of his own Son’s perfect justice and supreme qualifications to preside as judge.
Jesus’ appointment can’t be undone by political wrangling or filibusters. His appointment doesn’t depend on the approval of politicians and voters. Jesus’ position is not a popularity contest. It’s a matter of justice and ability. Jesus is smarter and wiser than anyone else. Jesus is more just and fair than anyone else. God has selected the one best qualified to understand God’s law and judge the world with justice. God the Father appointed his Son Jesus, and when he made his appointment public, he didn’t just issue a press release or hold a news conference. He did something far more impressive: he defeated death and raised Jesus to life, giving proof positive that Jesus is the appointed judge.
Something to Sing About
Judgment isn’t a very popular idea these days. Talk of judgment tends to make us gloomy. Many people don’t like the word judgment, and some preachers never talk about it. But the Bible says plenty about judgment, and not just in a grim, threatening way, either. Often the Bible treats judgment as good news, as something to sing about. The Bible’s songbook, the books of Psalms, often sings of judgment. For example, Psalm 96 says that all creation “will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth. Psalm 98 sounds the same note: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… for he comes to judge the earth.”
Why would anyone sing and shout for joy about judgment? Why would anyone dance about a day in court? Well, judgment isn’t good news for everybody, but it’s good news if you need justice and the judge rules in your favor. It’s good news if you’re tired of twisted laws and wrong judicial decisions. It’s good news if you need to be rescued from corrupt oppressors and set free from unjust systems. It’s good news if you want a new world where war and poverty cease, where peace and prosperity prevail. Judgment sets things right.
The biblical prophet Micah speaks of a day when God will reign supreme, when God’s Word will be the law that nations love to live by, when God’s perfect law will be applied by the perfect judge. Prophesying of Jesus, Micah says,
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)
Peace, prosperity, and freedom are the fruit of justice. Only after Jesus judges the world can there be world peace. Only after Jesus settles disputes and removes injustices will all weapons of destruction be remade into tools for good. Only after Jesus destroys evil and liberates from oppression will every one of his people flourish, free from fear. The perfect judge will right all wrongs. That makes judgment something to sing about.
The state of Illinois where I live is notorious for politicians caring more about money than what’s right. In once recent scandal, many public officials were involved in a bribery scheme. They gave drivers licenses to unqualified drivers in exchange for payoffs. Some deadly highway accidents involved people who got their licenses through bribery. Meanwhile, the money from the bribes was not used for the public good but to pay political campaign workers and enrich corrupt individuals. Even the former governor was charged in the scandal and sentenced to prison. How did these corrupt politicians get away with this for so long? Well, anyone who objected was ignored or fired, and if they tried to tell investigators, it did no good because those in charge of justice were mostly pals of people being bribed. Only after the appointment of a new official from outside the state, who didn’t owe anyone in the system, were the corruption charges taken seriously and exposed. It took judgment based on truth.
The appointment of Jesus as judge guarantees that abuse of money and power is bound to fail and that justice is sure to prevail. Bribery won’t win in the end. Jesus is one with the divine Lord of whom the Bible says, “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes (Deuteronomy 10:17). That is wonderful good news.
In many countries, states, provinces, cities, and villages, the most potent force in politics and the justice system is money. Influence can be bought and sold legally through lobbying, political patronage, and government contracts for companies that contribute millions to political campaigns. Much of this may be legal but it’s wrong. There will be a day in court with Judge Jesus, and the question won’t be whether something was legal but whether it was right.
Of course, much corruption doesn’t even try to be legal. In some places, payoffs and bribery are a way of life. It may be against the law, but it’s common practice. Many go into politics or seek to be judges not to serve the public good but to increase their own power and fill their pockets with money. If you’re too poor to pay a bribe, these officials won’t help you. If you’re too honest to pay a bribe, these officials won’t help you. Threats and extortion are common. Bribes and protection money are seen as part of the normal cost of doing business, and if you won’t play that way, you’re out of the game.
In the Bible God orders judges to be fair. He says, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). To the corrupt, God says, “You oppress the righteous and take bribes, and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12). This damages individuals and harms the whole society. Honest leaders strengthen a society; corrupt rulers and judges wreck it. Scripture says, “By justice a king gives a country stability, but the one who is greedy for bribes tears it down” (Proverbs 29:4).
The Bible tells of corrupt judges and rulers, but it also tells of good ones. Godly King Jehoshaphat of Judah devoted his heart to God, and he devoted his reign to justice. When he appointed judges, King Jehoshaphat told them:
“Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).
What would happen if every government and every judge took that approach? What if they saw themselves as responsible to God and to his standard of justice? What if they knew God was in the court every time they made a ruling or gave a verdict? Would any judge take a bribe if he knew Jesus was beside him? Would any citizen dare to offer a bribe to Judge Jesus?
When Jesus comes again to judge the world, there will be perfect justice, and he will take no bribes. Meanwhile, even before he comes, those who know the Lord will seek to uphold justice. With God beside us and the Holy Spirit within us, Christian officials and citizens can make justice our priority. Christian citizens, don’t offer bribes. Christian officials, don’t take bribes. Otherwise you disgrace yourself and dishonor the name of Jesus.
If you believe that doing right is doomed to failure, if you think lies, crooked business practices, dirty politics, bribes, intimidation, and violence are the way to succeed in life, you’ll see no reason to do right and seek justice. But if you know that justice is bound to win, that standing on the side of right will be rewarded, that in the end wrongdoers will always be caught and punished, you won’t be so tempted to do wrong or play along with a corrupt system.
Is there any way to know that justice will win? There certainly is. We can be sure that justice will prevail and that the divine judge will preside because of Jesus’ resurrection. Just think of what happened to Jesus. Wicked officials committed a terrible injustice in killing him, but God reversed that injustice by raising Jesus from the dead, showing him to be God’s Son and appointing him as judge over the entire world. Judge Jesus has endured horrible oppression and injustice, and he has overcome it by rising again. His resurrection encourages us never to give up on justice but to believe that the Lord will always have the final word. If you know that Jesus lives and that he is the appointed judge, you know that justice will triumph and that injustice will be overturned and punished.
It makes a big difference to know that everything you do will be reviewed by Judge Jesus. Suppose you’re a judge in a lower court, and you know that if you make the wrong decision or issue the wrong ruling, it will be appealed to a higher court. If you don’t want your decision overturned, you try to make the right decision. In a similar way, if you know that the supreme court above all courts, the judge above all judges, Jesus Christ, will review your actions and consider appeals from anyone you’ve wronged, you will be more eager to do justice.
In Isaiah 11 the Bible describes what sort of judge Jesus will be:
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Jesus has the divine Spirit of knowledge, so it’s impossible to fool him. He doesn’t need to study evidence to figure out what happened or who is guilty. He doesn’t go by appearances. He doesn’t depend on hearsay or even on sworn testimony. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him what happened. He already knows. He doesn’t need to hear people blame each other or try to explain their behavior. He knows the exact degree of responsibility. He doesn’t need a jury to decide whether someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. He already knows without any doubt at all. High-powered lawyers won’t help the guilty. Lack of lawyers won’t hurt the innocent. Money won’t buy Jesus off, and lack of money won’t matter. He will judge rich and poor alike according to his justice, not according to their wealth or influence.
Those who are wicked and won’t turn to God from their evil ways are doomed. That part of the judgment is often seen as bad news, but it’s necessary for what comes next: a world of perfect harmony. After telling how Jesus will judge in wisdom and destroy the wicked, Isaiah 11 says,
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
It’s this magnificent future that makes God’s people sing about judgment. Final judgment is the step that will take this world beyond injustice and bloodshed to a flourishing new creation. The triumph of justice will mean the triumph of joy.
The Crown of Righteousness
If you benefit from corruption and cruelty, just judgment is the last thing you want, and Jesus as the appointed judge is the last thing you want to hear about. But if you know Jesus as Savior and stand for what is right, you are eager for him to judge the world and to make things right once for all. Since Old Testament times, the Lord’s people, have called on God the judge to decide their case. In Psalm 7, David prayed, “Let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (Psalm 7:8). This is not a way of bragging and saying, “Look at me, God! I’m perfect.” David is just saying that he belongs to God and that even though he sins at times, he remains faithful to God and sincere in his desire for the right to prevail.
Revelation 6:10 envisions the souls of people murdered for their faith, crying out, “”How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” These murdered martyrs know Jesus has been appointed judge, and they want the day of judgment to come soon. Does it sound wrong for them to use the word “avenge?” Well, the souls who say this are in heaven and no longer have any sin, so it’s not wrong at all. Evil deserves to be punished, and something is out of balance in the world until the punishment comes.
Deep down we all know evil ought to be avenged. That’s one reason we like movies where the bad guys get crushed in the end. It’s not just a lust for violence that makes us like movie endings where the bad guys get what they deserve. We feel satisfied when justice is satisfied, when evil is conquered and punished. The book of Revelation says that when the Lord judges the world and punishes his enemies, God’s victorious people will sing, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments… He has avenged… the blood of his servants” (Revelation 19:1-2).
The greatest joy, though, is not seeing God judge evil but receiving his reward for good. This reward is not because any of us is perfect but because we belong to Jesus by faith, we’re counted righteous for his sake, and by his Spirit we keep striving for what is just and right. The certainty of the reward empowers us to keep faith until we meet the appointed judge. As the apostle Paul put it shortly before he died, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8). If you trust Jesus as Savior and Judge, don’t fear judgment. Look forward to it. The righteous Judge will give you the crown of righteousness, the reward of being right with God and in line with his justice.
In these days following Easter, we need to let the truth sink in that God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Jesus’ resurrection identifies him as the supreme judge, and it points to the fact that you and I will be resurrected in order to be judged. “A time is coming,” says Jesus, “when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29). The final judgment will bring either total loss or a crown of righteousness.
Politicians and voters can debate over court decisions and justice and what kind of judges should be appointed. Those are important debates, and whatever country we live in, we should pray for our political rulers and judges, and we should strive to do right ourselves and work for a more just society. Where we have opportunity, we must stand for the disadvantaged and oppressed and stand against corruption and wrong. Even if our efforts to improve our society and system seem unsuccessful at times, let us never despair or sell ourselves to corruption and evil. No case is truly lost if it can still be appealed to a higher court. The supreme court above all supreme courts, the judge above all judges, is going to rule on our case. If he rules against us, nothing can save us. But if he rules in our favor, nothing can rob us of our crown.
Do you long for a time when swords become plowshares, when missiles become toys, when wolves and lambs lie down together, when children can play with cobras, when every person and family can enjoy their own orchard or vineyard without fear of attack or loss of property, when the faithful and forgiven are made perfect and crowned with blessing? Then look to Jesus. He has risen from the dead, the firstborn of a new creation. As the appointed judge, he will correct all that is wrong in the world and banish to hell all that refuse to be corrected.
Don’t resist Jesus. Trust him to forgive you, transform you, and save you. Say with the Bible and with all God’s people, “The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).
PSALM OF PRAISE
“He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. … In his days the righteous will flourish, prosperity will abound … Long may he live! … May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed… Praise be to the Lord God… Praise be to his glorious name forever and ever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.” (Psalm 72).
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.