In recent days, Christians have been discussing the role of judgments in the New Testament age. Judgment is a gloomy topic, so not many people study the topic, but it is important for understanding how God works in the world.
A common view is God's judgments ceased with the cross. We are living in the age of grace when God works to transform nations by the gospel and the spirit. He will not judge nations until the great tribulation just before Jesus returns. The real judgments are stored up for the Last Judgement at the end of the age. I believe that this view is wrong and confused. To get to the truth we need to a clearer understanding of role of judgment in the scriptures.
The Old Testament describes to different types of judgment. These two types continue into the New Testament. Distinguishing these two types of judgment is really important.
When God made a covenant with the people of Israel, he told them what he required of them in the law given through Moses. God promised to bless the people if they fulfilled the conditions of the covenant.
All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God (Deut 28:2).
These blessing are spelt out in detail. Moses also warned that failure to keep the covenant and trust in God would bring them under a curse.
However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you (Deut 28:15).
Deuteronomy lists the curses in even greater detail than the blessings. When left the true part and forgot about God, when these curses were fulfilled, they were referred to as the judgments of God.
You will be judged according to your conduct and your actions, declares the Sovereign LORD (Ezek 24:14).
I judged them according to their conduct and their actions (Ezek 36:19).
God is Israel's King and Judge. The covenant made them accountable to him for their behaviour. When they broke the covenant, he judged their actions and pronounced judgment against them. By disobeying God, the people of Israel placed themselves under the curse of the covenant.
The main role of the prophets was to be guardians of the covenant. Whenever, Israel broke the covenant, the prophets would challenge them and warn in advance of the judgments that would inevitably come, if they continued in disobedience. The prophets called the people to repentance and obedience, to prevent their warnings from being fulfilled.
Most of the prophecies in the Old Testament were warnings of curses/judgments that would come upon Israel, if the continued to reject God. Israel broke the covenant again and again, so the prophets had a consistent message. They often seemed to be full of doom and gloom because Israel was mostly living in disobedience. They could not be nice, because the prognosis for Israel was usually bad.
A few prophecies were declarations of judgment against local nations attacking Israel. These judgements were fulfilment of the blessings of the covenant (Is 14:29).
They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven (Deut 27:8).
The role of prophesying to the people of the old covenant was curtailed by the cross. Jesus took over the role of guardian of the that covenant and gave a final prophesy to Israel warning of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 23:33-24:2). The people of Israel were about to place themselves under the curse of the covenant by rejecting their messiah and handing him over to the Romans to be killed.
Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matt 23:38).
They were coming under a curse that would last for a long time.
There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:23-24).
This judgement announced by Jesus will last until the Times of the Gentiles are complete. Israel will not come back under the blessing of their covenant until they believe in Jesus, so this is a long judgment.
Jesus warned the people of Jerusalem that they would not get another prophetic word for a long, long time.
For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Matt 23:38-39).
Being left without prophets is part of their desolation. All future prophets will be Christians, so if the Jews will not accept those who come in the name of Jesus, they will have no prophets (Micah 3:6). NT prophets will only get to speak freely to Israel when the Times of the Gentiles are coming to an end.
A new covenant was established when Jesus died on the cross. The benefits of this covenant are received by faith and the Spirit is given to enable those who trust in him to hear his voice and walk in obedience to him. They Holy Spirit is able to convict believer of sin and teach them how to serve God, so he generally does not need to send judgements to teach us how to live in the fullness of the covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, the people of Israel could assess how they were going with God by reviewing their external circumstances. Peace and prosperity were signs that they were obeying God. Poverty and war were signs of disobedience. The prophets just amplified these signals to the people.
The pattern is totally different under the New Covenant. The Sermon on the Mount warns that external circumstances are poor indicator of our spiritual state. Christians who are slack in following Jesus will often have a more comfortable life.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort (Luke 6:24).
Those who follow Jesus seriously will often be persecuted.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Matt 5:11).
Our situation does not provide a reliable indication of our spirituality. We need to to the witness of the Holy Spirit to know how we are doing. The peace that surpasses understanding is the best indicator that we are fulfilling the covenant. If we have fallen into sin, the conviction of the Holy Spirit should turn us Back to the right path. We will sometimes need a jolt from a prophet to confirm his witness, but that should be quite rare. God should not need to send judgments to keep us on track.
In New Testament times, the church is the people of the new covenant. The prophetic role of watching over the covenant continues, but the focus has shift from nation to church. New Testament prophets are primarily responsible for watching their church, rather than their nation. Agabus, Judas and Silas are New Testament prophets who watched over their church to ensure that its leaders fulfilled their covenant with Jesus (Acts 11:28; Acts 15:31). This is not a doom and gloom ministry.
When a church loses the plot and persists in disobeying God, the Holy Spirit will be forced to withdraw. This is a new covenant judgment. These judgments should usually be called in advance by the prophets. They will warn of the consequence for the church and explain must be done to return to blessing. John's letters to the seven churches are examples of a prophetic challenge to a church that has lost the plot. John explained what was wrong and where this would lead. He also told each church what it must do to Return to blessing.
New covenant prophets watch over the church. They will not need to prophecy judgment against a church very often, because in contrast to OT Israel, the victory of the cross and the gift of the spirit means that most churches will mostly walks in blessing. More often they will need to encourage the church through the troubles that often arise when it obeys Jesus voice.
Judgments under a covenant follow a standard pattern.
The church or nation has a made a covenant with God.
The terms of the covenant are clearly understood.
The people of the covenant know what is required of them.
The covenant spells out the consequence for disobedience.
When the covenant is broken, God send prophets to challenge the disobedience and warn of the consequences.
The prophets call the people to repentance and explain what they must do to Return to blessings.
The prophets are required to pray for the people
If the people repent, the judgment will be averted.
Covenant judgments are redemptive, not destructive.
The scriptures record a different type of judgment that does fit within a covenant that spells out the conditions and consequences of obedience. The purpose of these judgments is not to strengthen a covenant, but to prevent evil from expanding and spreading. God has committed to preventing evil from taking hold on earth through a powerful nations and empires. He will sometimes send judgment to destroy the source of the evil, before it does too much harm. These judgments are not redemptive. Their purpose is to destroy evil, before it gets out of control.
If an evil nation or evil empire gets too powerful, a protective judgment against it to prevent evil from growing too strong. Protective judgments prevent evil from dominating on earth.
Protective Judgments began during the time of Noah. When God created the world he gave dominion over the earth to man (Gen 1:26). This bold act transferred authority over the earth from God to man. This is confirmed in Psalm 115:16:
The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth he has given to man.
God has control over the heavens, but he has given full control of the earth to man. This means that God cannot act on earth without human permission. When humans sinned and let evil take hold on earth and got caught up in evil, God had the power to put things right, but he did not have authority to act, because he had given authority over the earth to humans. God could not just intervene to put things right, but had to wait until he is invited by the people on earth.
By the time of the flood, life on earth had gone on for nearly 2000 years. That was a long time, almost as long as the time from the time of Jesus until now. The population had grown and humans would have developed in many amazing ways. Unfortunately, for most of this time very no one knew God and served him. Things were so bad that hen Enoch began to walk with God, he had to be from earth, before he was destroyed by evil men (Gen 5:24). Everyone ignore or hated God, so he received no invitations to act on earth. With no one praying, the Holy Spirit was entirely shut out of the earth.
Under these conditions, evil advanced in a terrible way. All human developments were twisted for evil purposes.
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time (Gen 6:5).
The situation on earth was abysmal.
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways (Gen 6:11-12).
The Hebrew word translated "corrupt" is "shachath". This word is used through the record of Noah's covenant. It means "destroy" or "ruin". God looked upon the earth and saw that it was being ruined by the evil in human hearts. When Noah's prayers gave him permission to act, he was able to destroy (shachath) the people of the earth by water to prevent the earth that he loved from being totally ruined (shachath).
Everything on earth will perish (Gen 6:17).
Prior to the cross, a protective judgment was the only way to destroy rampant evil and prevent wicked men from destroying the earth.
God did not just destroy evil people. He also took the opportunity to lock up some of the evil spirits that had gained freedom to work on earth. When the people they worked through died God shut them away where they could do no harm (1 Peter 3:19; 2 Pet 2:4-5).
God wanted to restrain evil on earth, but he had given authority over the earth to man. To implement a strategy of protective judgments against evil, he needed permission from people on earth. He raised up the prophetic ministry to give him authority to send these judgments on earth. When the situation turned sour and God needed to take action, his prophetic would proclaim God's condemnation of the evil. This prophetic declaration would give God permission to send a protective judgment against the evil that the prophet had pronounced judgment against. The prophet's declaration expresses God's judgment/verdict on the evil. God's action against the evil represents his sentence against the evil.
Prophets and judgments go together. Without the prophets, God does not have authority to bring preventive judgments against evil. Unless God sends judgments against emerging evil, the prophets would be just crying in the wind. Prophets and protective judgments were God strategy for constraining evil in the world.
The first prophecy recorded in the Old Testament was spoken by Lamech when he named his son Noah.
He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed (Gen 5:29).
This was an important prophecy, because it opened the way for Noah to enter into a prophetic ministry that would begin to roll back the effects of sin and the curse. Noah was the first prophet. James called him a herald of righteousness (2 Pet 2:5) His proclamation that God would send judgment on the evil of the earth gave God authority on earth.
Abraham was the next major prophet to emerge on earth (Gen 20:7). He heard God's voice and moved to Canaan, where God was planning to establish an oasis of peace in a hostile world. His prophetic voice gave God authority to remove the serious evil that was emerging in Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Rainbow Covenant was the first crack in the wall of the defence that the powers of evil had placed round the world. They had shut God out of his creation, and stuffed it up. Noah opened the door a chink, and let God back in.
God used Noah to make put in place this important tool for dealing with evil. The covenant that God made with Noah allows him to bring protective judgments on earth, during times of serious evil, without getting permission from a prophet. This allows God to act against evil in a season when there are no prophets.
This rainbow covenant is different from other covenants, because it was not exclusive, but applies to all people and animals on the earth.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth (Gen 9:16).
The rainbow reminds us of covenant with all people forever. The rainbow covenant is unconditional. No conditions are specified for fulfilling the covenant. No consequences were specified for failure to keep the covenant. The covenant with Noah is and unconditional promise to all the people of the earth through all time.
The common understanding is that God was promising not to destroy the earth by another flood. This does not seem very likely anyway, so this view makes the covenant seem irrelevant. We do not see a rainbow and think, "Wow, I am glad that God is keeping his covenant". Christians assume we have a better covenant and do not need this old one, but we have missed the significance of God's promise. God was not promising there would never be another flood. He was actually promising that he would not need to send another flood, because he would never let conditions get so bad on earth that it needed to be destroyed. God promised to prevent evil from getting so strong that it has potential to destroy the entire earth.
God was able to make this promise, because the covenant with Noah increased God's authority on earth. God had given authority over the earth to man, so he could not intervene on earth without getting permission. The Rainbow Covenant God gave him permission to intervene on earth when evil was getting out of hand. This covenant was a serious crack in the wall of the defence that the powers of evil had placed round the world. They had shut God out of his creation, and stuffed it up. Noah opened the door a chink, and let God back in.
Noah was the father of all who would live on earth after him, so his covenant binds everyone on earth. Speaking on behalf of his descendants, Noah gave God permission to intervene when evil is rampant. The Covenant of the Rainbow gave God long-term permission to act on earth, if things got really bad. This was not much of a constraint on human authority on earth, because it does not apply most of the time, but it give a God authority to act on earth, if becomes strong and destructive. This permission still applies several thousand years later.
The rainbow covenant was a huge step in the battle against evil. Until the time of Noah, God was shut out of the world and could do nothing to prevent evil from destroying the world. The rainbow covenant did not give God a free hand on earth. Most of the time, it does not apply, because the situation is not bad enough. However, it does give God permission to intervene on earth when evil gets really bad. This is a great improvement over the situation that existed before the Flood.
Establishing Israel did two things to constrain the growth of evil in the world.
God gave Israel the law to constrain personal and social evil. God intended that other nations to copy Israel and get a similar reduction in personal and social evil by applying God's law. Unfortunately, Israel chose to copy the nations and have a king, so they never demonstrated the benefits of God's law to the nations. The law should have constrained personal evil in Israel and throughout the world.
God planted Israel in the playground of empires in the middle of the world to provide himself with a prophetic voice to announce protective judgments against emerging evil in the surrounding empires and nations. The strategic position of Israel in the Middle East meant that any emerging empire would eventually pass through it on the way to do battle with its enemies. The rampaging of the empires gave the prophets of Israel authority to speak God's judgments against them. When the empires took people from Israel into captivity, they bought prophets into their midst and strengthening the power of the prophetic voice. Joseph and Daniel are prophets who ended up within the empires that God planned to destroy. Protective judgments and the prophets constrained political evil.
These two solutions were not perfect, because only the cross and the spirit can fully deal with evil. However, this two-pronged strategy for dealing with personal and political, should have kept the world from totally going to the dogs.
The Old Testament records a number of situations where God sent a protective judgment to prevent the advance of evil in fulfilment of the rainbow covenant.
The disruption of the tower of Babel was the first protective judgment recorded in the scriptures. When the people of the world got together to expand their power, God sent confusion among the people, because he could see that it would lead to terrible evil (Gen 11:5-6). The prophetic voice is not identified.
Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when evil was rampant and threatened to spill out across the Middle East (Gen 18:20-21). Abraham was the prophet who released God's power to act ((Gen 20:7). The faithfulness and righteousness of Abraham gave God to his prayers. His prayers protected Lots and his family, but they also gave God authority to remove a serious evil from the earth authority to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Kings of Canaan were destroyed by and invading army when their evil began to get out of hand (Gen 15:16; 17:8). Moses was the prophet who pronounced judgment against the sin that had taken control of Caanan.
God destroyed the armies of Pharaoh to set the children of Israel free from their captivity in Egypt. Moses was the prophet who made this protective judgment possible (Deut 34:10). He prophesied specifically by holding out his staff and releasing the power of God against the army of Egypt.
The Assyrian empire was destroyed by God when it Got out of hand. This event was prophesied by Isaiah (Is 14:25).
God used Babylon to smash the power of Egypt. This event was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 19:1-4) and Jeremiah (Jer 46).
The Babylonian empire collapsed when it was invaded by Darius Mede. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel were the prophets who made this possible (Is 13:17-22; Jer 50-51). Daniel was on the spot giving precise warnings (Dan 5).
In each of these situations, a powerful forceful for evil was emerging in the world. If these had been left to grow, they could have produced tremendous evil. God cut them down before they got big enough to ruin the earth. God has been faithful to the promise of the rainbow. Evil has never been able to take control of earth as it did before the flood, because God's judgements have kept evil in check.
Isaiah described some of the methods God uses for protective judgments.
Natural events. The river Nile was dried up to constrain Egypt.
The waters of the river will dry up, and the riverbed will be parched and dry (Is 19:5).
Confusing leaders. God sometimes causes confusion or foolishness among the leaders of the evil nation. This happened in Egypt.
I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian-brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom (Is 19:2).
Invading nation. God often raises up another nation to destroy the an evil one. Babylon was destroyed by the Medes and the Persians.
See, I will stir up against them the Medes Their bows will strike down the young men; Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms will be overthrown by God (Is 13:17-19).
An invading nation was the most common form of protective judgment.
One role of the Old Testament prophets was to speak to evil nations and warn them of the approaching protective judgments. Their declarations and intercession gives God authority to deal with political evil when the rainbow covenant does not apply. God's purposes are clearer, if a prophet warns in advance. When the prophets speak clearly, the people of the world see that God is fulfilling the rainbow covenant that he made through Noah.
When announcing protective judgments to the nations, the prophets did not refer to the covenant with Moses, because these nations were not covered by it. The nations had never agreed to the covenant of blessings and curses and blessings made with Moses, so it was not relevant to their situation.
The protective judgments announced by the prophets were not redemptive, so they never gave a call to repentance and conditions for restoration. The situation was so evil that repentance was no longer possible. Protective judgment only occurs when a people or nation has gone so far into evil that it is beyond hope and in danger of becoming a destructive force on earth. The prophets reminded these nations that they had become so evil that God has no option but to bring them down. They had become a threat to God's promise that evil will never dominate the world again.
Nineveh was an exception. Jonah was sent to announce a destructive judgment on a city that had gone too far into evil. Nineveh was so evil that God had to destroy it to prevent evil spreading, so Jonah believed there was not hope for it. This is why he did not give a call for repentance. However, a surprising thing happened. The King of Nineveh did repent and commanded the people to do the same. This caused God to defer the destruction of the city (Jon 3:4-10). Unfortunately, the repentance did not last long and the people returned to evil path that they had been pursuing. God eventually had to destroy Nineveh to prevent evil spreading (Nahum 1:1-6).
Speaking to nations to warn of protective judgment was a minor part of the OT prophet's role. Most of their prophecies were spoken to Israel as guardians of the covenant. Modern prophets should have a similar balance. Announcing protective judgments against the surrounding nations was relatively rare.
Another two thousand years passed between the flood and the birth of Jesus. During that time God fulfilled his rainbow covenant by constraining evil on earth. Some seriously evil nations emerged, but God brought them down, before was rampant in the way that it was before the flood. When Jesus was born on earth, evil nations and empires were still at work, but they had not been able to destroy the earth. The prophets and protective judgments had limited the harm done by evil men.
The rainbow covenant was eternal (Gen 9:12), so God continues to determine the rising and falling of the nations during the New Testament age..
He made all the nations; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands (Acts 17:26).
When nations go sour and begin to magnify evil, God causes them to collapse and die. Sometimes they just collapse in on themselves, but often they destroyed by the armies of other nations.
The big difference in New Testament times is that protective judgment has become Plan B. God's Plan A for dealing with evil nations and empires is the gospel and the Spirit. If Christians take the gospel to the evil nation, the hearts of the people can be changed. If these Christians are willing to suffer in the face of persecution, they can change the direction of the evil nation. If enough people come to faith in Jesus, the leaders of the nation will have to change too. If the church heeds his call, the Holy Spirit can use the gospel to transform an evil nation.
During the gospel age, God only sends protective judgments when the gospel fails. This should be very rare. If the church is doing its job, most evil nations will be transformed by the gospel. Situations where evil gets so entrenched that it begins to threat to the world should not really occur. Unfortunately, the church sometimes gets sluggish and does not fulfil its role, which allows evil nations to expand and grow.
Rome is an example. For two or three hundred years, the church was very effective and nearly transformed the Rome empire. However, after the conversion of Constantine, the church was seduced by political power, which compromised its witness. This left God with no option, but to send protective judgment to destroy the power of Rome. After being invaded by marauding armies, the Roman empire collapsed and disappeared.
During the New Testament age, God is still committed to the rainbow covenant, so he continues to use protective judgements when this is necessary. However, he prefers to work thought gospel and the Spirit to transform evil nations. This is more effective way of dealing with evil, because it gets to the root cause of the problem.
Statements that God has stopped using judgments during the age of grace are wrong.
God's role is clearer, if prophets warn the collapsing nation why it is falling apart. When God is about to send a protective judgment, he needs New Testament prophets to speak to the nations effective. John demonstrated the role of prophet to the nations with his prophesy of the fall of Babylon the Great (Rev 18).
Several changes have occurred in the modern world.
During the last few centuries, the church has been effective in taking the gospel to the poorer nations of the world, be it has been less effective in taking the gospel to nations where evil has taken hold. God's Plan A has not been very effective. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, the church was compromised and ineffective. One reason Stalin was able to get control of Russia was that they Russian church had compromised with the Russian emperors.
Christians have lost faith in the rainbow covenant and the protective judgments of God. Christian nations have usurped the role of enforcing protective judgments on evil nations.
The British Empire was the first attempt to use Christian military power to constrain evil in the world. British efforts to play God eventually failed and their empire collapsed.
During the last century, the United States has taken over from Britain as the decider of the rising and falling nations. Instead of allowing God to deal with evil in his way, the United States has usurped this role and how attempts to bring down nations they do not like. Because America does not understand God's plans, it usually makes these situations worse.
The United States took responsibility for bringing down Hitler, without realising that God had raised up Hitler to destroy the power of Stalin's Russia. America provided Stalin with military and economic support against Hitler, allowing him to establish a huge evil empire in Eastern Europe. Fortunately for the world, God destroyed the Russian empire in his own way, without needing to use American military power.
The United States has now decided that Iran is evil and must be destroyed. These efforts will fail, because the United States does not understand that God is raising Iran up to bring down the Western Beast when that becomes necessary.
When the United State decided that Saddam Hussein had become too evil and tried to destroy him, their efforts produced large numbers of casualties and very little peace. If a Christian prophet had pronounced judgement against Saddam Hussein, releasing the power of God to remove him from office, this would probably have been far less painful for the Iraqi people than a ten-year war.
A mature prophet proclaiming a protective judgment would have brought the downfall of Gadhafi of Libya quicker and more effectively than NATO.
Prophetic proclamation of protective judgments is the best way to remove a bad government and evil nations. A militaristic Christian nation dominating the world with the weapons of war is not God's solution.
As we move into the Time of Distress, when the church is weak and the gospel constrained, God will need to use Plan B more frequently. He will need to destroy several nations, to keep evil under control on earth. To accomplish his goals during this season, God will need Christian prophets to work with him and release his power. Many of the protective judgements that occur during this season have already been recorded in the scriptures by the Old Testament. However, their prophecies will need to be given life in their time of fulfilment by Christian prophets moving in the fullness of the Spirit.
Some Christians believe that that world is about to go into a "great tribulation". Their teachers claim that evil is going to control the world for seven years while the Holy Spirit is removed. This teaching is wrong, because if God allowed evil go gain total control the earth, he would be breaking his rainbow covenant. Modern teaching about a great tribulation is wrong, because God has promised that he will never let evil take over the world again.
We are getting close to the end of the Time of the Gentiles and the Fullness of the Jews. The prophetic ministry have a central role in this transition. They will proclaim protective judgments against the nations that are attacking Israel, in fulfilment of Jesus promise recorded in Matt 23:39.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of Jesus.
God seems to be restoring prophets to the church. If he can mature this gifting in the church, he might be able to raise up prophets with sufficient maturity to act as prophets to the nations. This would allow him to use protective judgements more effectively. Mature prophets would be able to release God to bring downs kings and rulers who had lost the plot, but we do not seem to be quite there yet. We really need genuine Daniels and Jeremiahs, who understand God's purposes.
A picture of the prophets who emerge in this time is given in Revelation 10:9-11.
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but 'in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey." I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings."
We should be praying that God will raise up powerful prophets to speak to the nations during this season.
Prophesying protective judgments against the nations will only be a minor aspect of the prophetic role. Most of their activity will be in the church, overseeing the covenant people. If the prophets can stir up the church to take the gospel to evil nations, God's Plan B will not be needed. This means that most New Testament prophets will function within the church. A few of these will speak to their own nation. Only a few of the more mature prophets will be called to the role of prophet to the nations. They will call protective judgments against evil nations, when the church has failed to apply God's Plan A.