A Biblical Theology of Judgment and Mercy: The End

salvationGod’s mercy abounds to us. He reveals himself as gracious and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (Ps. 145:8). Yet the Scriptures also speak of a “Day of the Lord” which will bring to an end His patience with sinners. Yet even in the end of all things God’s judgement of the wicked is a communication of His grace to those who belong to Him.

Throughout the Scriptures God foretells of the “Day of the Lord.” The exact phrase is used nineteen times in the Old Testament. It was intended to refer to a historic future date when God would restore His people and judge His enemies (Isaiah 13:6-22; Ezekiel 30:2-19; Joel 1:15, 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18). Sometimes the references were used as a warning against Israel to realign itself with Yahweh; other times the prophetic predictions were an eschatological promise of hope (Joel 2:30-32; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:1, 5). In the New Testament the phrase is only used five times ((Acts 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:14). In each case the fear of judgment and hope of salvation are intertwined. God’s final judgment will bring an end to wickedness, idolatry, and evil. It will also be the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue His people.

The dual accomplishments of the day of the Lord use judgment to produce hope. It does this is several key ways: (1) it reminds us that wickedness will not endure forever; (2) it expands our vision of God’s grace. The first point is clear enough. The continued existence of evil in the world is a problem. It often causes us to doubt God or be troubled by His lack of action against evil. The prophet Habakkuk certainly felt that way (Hab. 1:13;

The apostle Paul makes this point most profoundly. In writing to the Romans he communicates how God’s glory is seen even in the damnation of sinners (to quote Jonathan Edwards). Paul writes:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)

These verses are packed with deep meaning and embedded in a theologically rich chapter. There’s much to say about them, much even that is controversial. We will focus our attention, however, on Paul’s contrast between the “vessels of wrath” and the “vessels of mercy.” The passage reveals that God is patient with the “vessels of wrath” in order that when he finally does “show his wrath” and makes “known his power” the “vessels of mercy” will marvel. Making wrath known, after such a long season of patience, to the one group, reveals the “riches of his glory” to the other. In other words when God’s justice is displayed I marvel at what I deserve but have been spared. I marvel at His mercy because I know I deserve that same judgment. Even in the end God’s judgment is pointing to His mercy.

This is a difficult concept for us to wrestle with because, after all, involves the condemnation of those who have not repented and turned to Christ for salvation. None should take delight in that. Yet, even the damnation of sinners testifies to the glory of God. And in this we ought to be humbled and grateful for the mercy we have been given. God’s judgment points to His mercy all across the Scriptures, even at the end. Rejoice in the mercy you have been given friends, or turn to it today if you find it missing in your life.

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