The Saints will
Judge the World
We begin with a story.
Jim and Joe were new Christians. Enthusiastic, learning the Bible fast, they gave the elder at their church great joy, until.., until they fell out, when Jim sold Joe his car. The elder did not know the details of the quarrel, but it was serious. They avoided one another, did not attend the midweek Bible study, kept at opposite ends of the congregation at the worship service. Then, worst of all, it became known that Joe was suing Jim in the County Court. The elder had to do something ‑ he called them together, and very seriously read to them the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 6. "When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (vv. 1,2)...To have lawsuits at all with one another is a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong?"(v.7)
Afterwards, Jim and Joe looked one another in the eye. "Well, that's told us, hasn't it?" After all, they were sincere believers. "But what did he mean, the saints will judge the world?"
"Sounds a bit ambitious, doesn't he?"
"Who are the saints, anyway?"
We can imagine that this was the beginning of a considerable Bible study.
What follow are thoughts that Jim and Joe might have found stimulating.
Who are the saints referred to here? One might quote Vine: "as used of believers, saints designates all such and is not applied merely to persons of exceptional holiness, or those who. having died, were characterised by exceptional acts of saintliness". In 2 Thessalonians 1.10 "glorified in his saints" is put alongside "marvelled at in all who believe" and the passage goes on with Paul praying for all the Thessalonian Christians that God would make them worthy of His call. According to this, 'saints' does not refer only to special Christians ("She's a real saint!"); not only to those special people whom the church canonises after their death (St Mary, St John, St Benedict...); and not only to any group who for whatever reason consider themselves to be a superior sort of Christian, because of knowledge perhaps, or believing that God has specially called only them: but includes all those whom God has set on one side for His use simply through believing in Christ. Like Jim and Joe. So are Jim and Joe, two fairly ordinary young men, to be part of a body who are charged with judging the world? If so, when, and how, and in what context? And what is meant by 'judging'?
They had of course already in their dispute been engaged in judging one another in the precise sense that Jesus had told His disciples not to judge. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get.... first take the log out of your own eye" (Matthew 7.1ff). Jesus was talking of not being condemnatory. He also required self examination and proper humility before making up your mind about someone's deficiencies. Both are qualities very necessary in someone who has been given the task of judging others. Paul told the Corinthians not to jump into forming judgments about other Christians, when that is really for God to do. "Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God" (1 Corinthians 4.5). So Joe and Jim were debarred from 'judging' each other or the Christians in the next street/church/ denomination.
If Jesus separates judgmentalism from judging, what next? There is a parallel with the 'judges' of the Old Testament. They dispensed justice, punishing the evil doer and vindicating the righteous. A judge might be the one who saved the nation from its enemies, led them in battle and ruled them in times of peace. It makes one think of Christ as The Judge. He administers justice, defeats His enemies, saves His people. This is way above anything that Jim and Joe might expect to do, except as junior assistants.
When are the saints to judge'? There has been real benefit for the human race when genuine Christian believers have acted as judges, magistrates, teachers, police, soldiers, matrons, politicians.... Our society has in the past been thought of as a 'Christian' one, and still enjoys the benefit of Christ's ethical teaching so far as it is followed. On the other hand, there has been the real danger of corruption when 'the church' judges and controls 'the world'. 'Christian' prelates poisoning their rivals, 'Christian' crusaders slaughtering the infidel, 'Christian' hypocrites teaching a morality they do not themselves follow ‑ the world can multiply instances of where Christians in authority are no different from the rest. It is in a future age that Scripture in fact looks to the rule of the saints with Christ. "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" 1 Corinthians 15.25. Is this the same thing as Christ acting as judge? There are two senses in which Jesus is spoken of as judging. Revelation 19.11 has it: "in righteousness he judges and makes war". Perhaps this reflects and amplifies the work of an Old Testament judge. Isaiah 2.4 speaks of the Lord: "He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." This judging is control and administration.
(Revelation 19.15): "He rules the nations with a rod of iron." He is the root of Jesse (Romans 15.12) who rises to rule the Gentiles.
The other sense of judging is expressed in such scriptures as: 1 Peter 4.5 "Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." Acts 17.31 ‑ "(God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed..., raising him from the dead." Acts 10.42 ‑ "(Jesus) is the one ordained by God to judge the living and the dead." John 5.27 ‑ "(The Father has) given him authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of man." Revelation 20.12 ‑ "I saw the dead... the book of life..., the dead were judged by what they had done." John 12.47-8 - "If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him - for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.... He who rejects me has a judge - the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day." This sort of judging involves delivering a verdict following an opportunity for life.
The scripture which so startled Jim and Joe was "the saints will judge the world" ‑ not Christ, but the saints. A further group of texts indicates how this fits in. "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the Sons of God" (Romans 8.19). John's vision in Revelation: "I saw thrones.., seated on them those to whom judgment was committed." These were Christian martyrs who came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20.4). The courts of heaven proclaim: "Thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and has made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on earth" (Rev.5.9,l0). Paul encourages Timothy: "if we endure we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2.12). Christ tells the churches: "he who overcomes shall rule the nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 2.27). Paul tells believers: "Would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you" (1 Corinthians 4.8).
Thinking through all these texts, Jim and Joe might conclude (1) that the time to be judges is not this present time, but when Christ's people come alive from the dead; (2) that it is Christ Himself and His message who judges in the sense of passing a verdict on men and women; (3) that there is to be a period for believers of ruling or reigning with Christ, which is when they 'judge the world'.
As a result of their studies, we wonder what Jim and Joe will do next. They may be staggered at the high destiny in a future age that they expect as believers. Meanwhile, they have to settle down to living ordinary lives in our ordinary world. Will they be humble, helpful and loving to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and try to do some good in the world around them?
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THE CHURCH'S FUTURE MINISTRY
St. Paul's words regarding the "saints" who shall "judge the world" will find substance in that wise, just and inherently benevolent Administration which, under the direction of the Lord Christ, will take over this well-nigh ruined world at the end and introduce what Peter called "a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3. 13). The whole object of that Administration is to evangelise the world, to preach Christ and assist all who are willing to overcome their ingrained habits of wrong and build up characters strong for righteousness. It will be a day of self help. We are familiar in our own time with Alcoholics Anonymous and Smokers Anonymous and so on, organisations of men and women, slaves to some habit that they wish to break, banded together for the purpose of helping each other by encouragement and example to achieve their objects. We may see, in that Age, a Wrong-doers Anonymous, the membership of which extends to practically the whole world ‑ for it is not probable in practice that a very great proportion of humanity prefers sin for its own sake. The programme is a very extensive one; the saints may be appointed to rule the world but they are going to have to work very hard in doing it.
There is a great deal of ignorance and prejudice and selfishness to dissipate and much instruction in the principles of right living to be inculcated. The sights are set high-nothing less than the conversion of "whosoever will" to the service and worship of the Lord Christ. That in itself implies unequivocal harmony and co-operation with one's fellows in every affair of life.
It is evident that this rulership must come to an end when men reach full maturity. There is and can be nothing permanently immature or incomplete in Divine creation. The necessity for the Messianic reign and the ministrations of the Church in that reign lies in man's own immaturity and failure to develop along right lines without such ministrations. The day must eventually come when each man has taken the final and irrevocable decision ‑ for Christ or against, for the principles of righteousness or evil. Since life comes only from God, and evil is inherently destructive, it follows that at the end the only ones who continue into enduring life are those who have accepted Christ and attained harmony with God. And at that point the saints who until then have ruled the world must step aside and leave all men in possession of their maturity in Christ, fully fledged citizens of Divine creation. That is what Jesus meant in his parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where the King is depicted as saying to those who have thus attained, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matt. 25. 34). That is what St.Paul meant when he said of that same climax, "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father... that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15.24-28). The Millennial reign of Christ over the earth is an event in time, the final phase in man's preparation for his destiny. At the end of that reign man steps into eternity; he needs the ministration of the Church no longer. The grand design is completed; man, at long last, has attained the full image and likeness of God.