The idea of judgment is involved in that of government: a ruler, if he is to assert his authority and maintain order, must call recalcitrants to account. Since the Deity has always been thought of as exercising some kind of sovereignty, the idea of judgment may be said to be co-extensive with that of religion.
1. The OT conception.-Long before the days of the great prophets, Israel worshipped Jahweh as a God of judgment. Jahweh avenged not only insults against His own honour, but also deeds of violence and wrong (Genesis 4:11, Judges 9:56
f.). Justice was administered in His name, and as the supreme Judge He saw that right was done. It would, however, be too much to say that His actions were regarded as invariably regulated by a regard for justice. He had His favourites among individuals, and Israel was His favourite nation (1 Samuel 1:11, 2 Samuel 12:24
). In the exercise of His despotic power, He could act in a certain way simply because it so pleased Him. For His rejection of Saul and His surrender of Israel into the hand of the Philistines the older tradition knew no reason. Not till we come to the great prophets do judgment and justice appear as equivalent terms.
The prophetic conception of Divine judgment can be summed up in a few sentences, Jahweh is the World-ruler and Judge: not only Israel but all nations of the earth stand at His bar (Amos 1:2
). His judgments rest on purely moral grounds and are absolutely just (Isaiah 28:17
; Isaiah 45:21
). Even in the ease of Israel, Justice must take its course (Amos 3:2
). Though individuals are occasionally spoken of as suffering for their private sins, in the main it is not with the individual but with the nation that Jahweh reckons. The individual is merged in the State and shares its fate. The theatre of judgment is this earth: of reward or punishment beyond death the prophets know nothing. Good and bad alike descend to Sheol and share the same bodyless, pithless existence in separation from Jahweh (Isaiah 14:4-18, Psalms 6:5
). Judgment, at least so far as Israel is concerned, never appears, except perhaps in Amos, as an end in itself and the ultimate law of Jahweh’s working. Israel has a worth in Jahweh’s eyes; He refuses to give her up; and, when His judgments have accomplished their disciplining work, salvation will surely follow (Isaiah 40:1-2
). That the correspondence between desert and lot in the existing order is but imperfect, and salvation an object of hope rather than of experience, are facts to which the prophets are keenly alive. But their faith finds refuge in the conception of a great day in the near future, ‘the day of the Lord,’ in which Jahweh will interpose in a decisive way in human affairs, to overthrow His enemies and inaugurate a new and happier era. For Israel this day will be one of sifting and purging, for her oppressors a day of terror and anguish (Isaiah 2:17-18, Joel 2:14-16
). To this conception, as we shall see, the subsequent development attached itself.
With the Book of Daniel a new chapter opens in the history of Hebrew eschatology. ‘I beheld,’ we read, ‘till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit.… Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set and the books were opened.… And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Daniel 7:9
; Daniel 12:2
). Compared with the outlook of the great prophets, this conception of a resurrection of the dead for judgment and sentence is something altogether new. Written in the crisis of the Maccabaean struggle (165 b.c.), the Book of Daniel forms the first of the long series of Jewish Apocalypses. For an understanding of NT eschatology these writings are of such cardinal importance that it is necessary to give some account of their leading ideas.
Apocalyptic had its roots in the hope held up before Israel by the prophets of a glorious day in the future, ‘the day of the Lord,’ when her oppressors would be overthrown, and she, purified by her sufferings, exalted to a position of unparalleled splendour and power. Through her fidelity to God and her supremacy among the nations God’s reign on earth would be visibly realized, and Nature itself would be made fairer and more generous to grace the new order. This national hope proved itself vital enough to survive the most disillusioning experiences, but somewhere in the dark days of Persian or Greek ascendancy it was subjected to radical modification, and fitted into a world-view widely different from that to which it originally belonged. The new development was characterized in the first place by a thorough-going pessimism. In the eyes of apocalyptic writers the existing world or age is incurably evil, incapable of being transformed by any conceivable process of moral renewal into a kingdom of God. Human beings are in the mass hopelessly corrupt, and wicked men occupy the seats of power. And this is not all. A portentous development of the belief in evil spirits lends to apocalyptic pessimism a still darker hue. The world is the haunt of throngs of such spirits, who, under Satan their head, form a demonic hierarchy. With unwearied activity they prosecute their hellish work, thwarting the will of the Almighty, hounding on the heathen persecutors of His people, inciting men to wickedness and smiting them with disease. To these sinister figures God, by an inscrutable decree, has surrendered the government of the world. Satan is the world’s real master. But, despite this pessimism with regard to the existing order, apocalyptic writers have no thought of surrendering their faith in God or in His promise to Israel. Only, their faith, finding nothing in the present to which it can attach itself, takes refuge in the future and becomes eschatological. The present world is given up to destruction, and religions interest transferred to the new and glorious world which God will reveal when the old has been swept away. With passionate eagerness the great catastrophe that shall open the way for the Kingdom is anticipated, and the horizon scanned for signs of its approach. When it arrives, its opening scene will be one of judgment. To the bar of the Almighty the whole world, Jews as well as Gentiles, and-what is still more significant-the dead as well as the living, will be gathered to answer for the deeds they have done. The fate of each soul having been decided, sentence will at once be executed. For the righteous there is reserved a blessed and deathless life in the presence of God; for the wicked, everlasting destruction.
Before leaving Jewish apocalyptic, two points must be more particularly noted as bearing on questions that will emerge later. The first relates to the personality of the Judge. In most writings it is God Himself who is represented as occupying the throne (Daniel 7:9-10, En. 1:3-9,
90:20, 2 Ezr_6:6
; 7:33). Sometimes, however, the Messiah or Son of Man appears as conducting the Judgment in God’s name (En. 51:1,
2, 69:27; Apoc. Bar. 72:2
). There was no fixed doctrine on the subject; the one matter of importance was that the Judgment was a Divine Judgment. The second point relates to the fate of the wicked. Here again we find no uniform view, except that their fate involves final and irretrievable ruin. Many passages assume that only the righteous will be raised from the dead. For the sinner death will be the end (Ps.-Sol. 3:13-16,
Apoc. Bar. 30.). Sometimes, however, Sheol, into which the dead descend, is itself transformed into a place of punishment, so that to be left there does not mean annihilation (Eth. En. 98, 99, 104.). We have also passages in which Sheol is the abode of the lost only until the Day of Judgment, when they are thrust into Gehenna or hell, to suffer eternal torment, with devils for their companions (En. 53:3-5,
liv. 1, 2).
This belief in a resurrection of the dead and a universal judgment forms a landmark in the history of Hebrew religion. We see in it the victory of individualism. It is no longer the nation but the individual that is the religious unit. The worth of the individual is recognized, and he is set solitary before God. How is the rise of the apocalyptic conception of things to be explained? Partly, no doubt, by the calamitous situation of the Jewish people under Persian and Greek rule. A fulfilment of the prophetic promise through the means that the prophets had in view-inner reform, political revolution, a victorious leader-no longer seemed within the range of possibility. God had ceased to speak to the people through the living voice of prophecy, and a feeling was abroad that He had forsaken the earth. This explanation is, however, only partial. The pessimism and dualism of the apocalyptic world-view, its demonology and angelology, its conception of a death-struggle between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God, its conception of a resurrection from the dead and a Final Judgment, can be accounted for only on the hypothesis of Persian Influence.
2. In the teaching of Jesus.-So far as its outward form is concerned, Jesus’ conception of judgment and punishment is wholly on apocalyptic lines. The Judgment will come at the end of the world; it will be a judgment of individuals; and it will be universal (Matthew 22:13
; Matthew 16:27
. The sentence pronounced will be final: nowhere do we find a hint of future probation. With respect to the person of the Judge, Jesus follows the tradition that assigns the office to the Son of Man. ‘For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds’ (Matthew 16:27
; Matthew 13:41
; Matthew 25:31
). No particular significance is, however, attached to this fact: the emphasis falls, not on the personality of the Judge, but on the judgment He conducts. What is Jesus’ teaching with regard to the doom of the lost? Uniformly He follows the tradition that regards them as consigned to Gehenna or hell (Matthew 5:22
; Matthew 5:29
; Matthew 10:28
; Matthew 18:9
). And, as in apocalyptic, Gehenna appears as a fiery furnace in which the wicked suffer unending torment (Matthew 5:29, Luke 16:24, Matthew 25:46
). Jesus is no theologian, but something incomparably greater. In the main He appropriates the conceptions of His time, modifying or rejecting them only when they conflict with some vital religious or ethical interest. What is original in His teaching is not the theological conceptions but the new content with which they are charged. If His conception of the Judgment and of punishment is in formal respects that of Jewish apocalyptic, the spirit of which it is the vehicle is all His own. New is the moral earnestness with which He brings each individual soul face to face with the righteous Judge. ‘And be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28
). New also is the moral purity with which the conception of judgment is carried out. Everything national and sectarian falls away. Of a mechanical balancing of good and bad actions we hear nothing. The one test is character, and character in its deepest principle-the love in which lies the root of all morality and all religion. ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.… Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me’ (Matthew 25:35
ff.). And what is true of Jesus’ teaching about judgment is true also of His teaching about punishment. The element of originality is to be found not in the formal conceptions but in the spirit they enshrine. In the descriptions of hell in Jewish apocalyptic embittered national and ecclesiastical feeling is at least as much in evidence as moral hatred of iniquity. Far otherwise is it when we turn to Jesus. What comes to expression in His almost fierce words regarding the fate of the wicked is His burning indignation against all highhanded sin, particularly against hypocrisy and heartlessness, His deep sense of the infinite and eternal difference between right and wrong, His immovable conviction that the first means everlasting life to a man and the second everlasting death. ‘And if thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire’ (Matthew 18:8
3. In the Apocalypse of John.-We begin our study of the apostolic writings with the Apocalypse of John, not because it is the earliest of these writings-in its present shape it cannot be dated before a.d. 95-but because the description it gives of the events of the End is by far the most detailed, and because we are probably justified in regarding it as, in the main, representative of primitive Christian views. In his programme of eschatological events the writer follows closely his Jewish models. At His Parousia, Christ will smite the nations of the earth assembled against Him in battle, and prepare the way for His millennial reign (Revelation 19:11
to Revelation 20:6
). The close of this reign will see a last uprising of the powers of evil, ending in their utter and final overthrow (Revelation 20:7-10
). Then will come the general resurrection and the Judgment (Revelation 20:11-13
). The Judgment, which is universal in its scope, is conducted not by Christ but by God (Revelation 20:11
). Men are judged ‘according to their works,’ and out of certain books, one being singled out by name as ‘the Book of Life.’ The books contain a record of the deeds, good and bad, of each individual: the Book of Life is the list of God’s elect people. Exceedingly brief is the account of the fate of the reprobate. ‘Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire … and if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.’ Though the writer describes this as ‘the second death,’ it is clear that he is thinking not of annihilation but of an eternity of suffering (Revelation 14:10-11
). It must be admitted that the Book of Revelation does not everywhere maintain the high level of the Christian spirit. It comes to us from a time when the Church was passing through the same harrowing experiences as were the lot of the Jewish people in the days when apocalyptic had its birth. And in the one case as in the other persecution has resulted in an exacerbation of feeling and a narrowing of sympathy.
4. In St. Paul.-For St. Paul as for the Christian community in general the Last Judgment is a great and dread fact with which believer and unbeliever have equally to reckon. He knows the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11
). ‘We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 2:3-16
; Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 3:13
; 1 Corinthians 4:5
). In this and in the majority of relevant passages it is Christ who sits as Judge. But that the point is not regarded as dogmatically fixed is shown by the fact that the Apostle can also speak of God as the Judge (Romans 2:6
; Romans 2:11
; Romans 14:10
). What is his teaching with respect to the fate of the wicked? The Book of Revelation gives us two pictures-one of the redeemed in Paradise, the other of devils and condemned souls in the lake of fire. Of the second picture there is not a single trace in the Pauline Epistles. The wicked simply disappear from the scene, the nature and term of their punishment being left shrouded in obscurity. By bringing together a number of scattered indications we may, however, arrive at a fairly certain nation of what the Apostle thinks regarding their fate. That he contemplates a universal restoration is an idea that may at once be put aside. Support has, indeed, been sought for it in certain statements of a general character: ‘As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,’ ‘God hath shut up all unto disobedience that he might have mercy upon all’ (1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 11:32, Colossians 1:19, Ephesians 1:10
). But such statements cannot be pressed in their letter against the multitude of passages that assert in unambiguous terms the final ruin of the ungodly (Romans 2:5
; Romans 2:12, Philippians 3:18, 2 Thessalonians 1:9
). They are but examples of the Apostle’s sweeping and antithetical way of putting things. Quite decisive against the idea of restoration is the fact that nowhere do we find a single syllable that suggests future probation.
One point only is open for argument, whether the Apostle has in his mind annihilation or an eternity of suffering. With regard to this, the words used in describing the fate of the wicked are not in themselves decisive. Of these words the two most important, both from the frequency of their occurrence and from their intrinsic significance, are ‘death’ (θάνατος) and ‘destruction’ (ἀπώλεια). Death is for St. Paul sin’s specific penalty, its wages (Romans 5:12
; Romans 6:21
; Romans 6:23
; Romans 8:6
). What does the term connote? Not necessarily annihilation, since, according to current ideas, the dead descended into Hades to lead there a wretched phantasmal existence. We can take from it nothing more than this-the loss of all that gives to life its value, the loss of all that is signified by salvation. Not materially different is the connotation of the term ‘destruction.’ The wicked are brought to utter ruin, swept from the place of the living and the presence of God. But, if a study of terms leaves the question of annihilation or eternal suffering an open one, the general tenor of the Apostle’s thought points conclusively to the former alternative. Weight must be attached to the fact of an absence of any reference to a place of torment. The tribulation and anguish of Romans 2:9
need refer to nothing beyond the experience of destruction. On two things only does St. Paul lay stress-that the wicked have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God, and that they are cleared off the face of the world. Still more decisive is this other fact-that the universe he contemplates as the goal of redemption is one reconciled to God in all its parts. If the demonic powers are not ultimately reconciled, as in one passage he seems to indicate (Colossians 1:19
), they are abolished (1 Corinthians 15:24
). God becomes all in all. St. Paul leaves us with the vision of a world that is without a devil and without a hell, without a shadow on its brightness or a discord in its harmony.
The Apostle’s allusions to the Judgment are neither few nor ambiguous, yet we have to take account of the perplexing fact that, in those passages where he gives a detailed programme of the End, not only is all reference to the great event omitted, but no place seems to be left for it. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
we read of a resurrection of believers who have died and of a gathering of these and of living believers to meet the Lord in the air and be for ever with Him, but there is no mention of a resurrection of the wicked and a Final Judgment. These events seem to be excluded. So is it also in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28
. Though the picture here is more detailed, the resurrection of the wicked and the Judgment find no place in it. And in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8
and Philippians 1:23
the Apostle speaks as if death at once ushered the believer into the presence of Christ. To depart is to be with Christ. Here not only the Judgment, but the whole drama of the End, including the Parousia, falls away. How are we to account for this perplexing fact? That St. Paul ever consciously broke with the apocalyptic tradition in any of its main features is incredible. In Philippians, one of the later Epistles, he still bids his readers expect the Parousia (Philippians 4:5
). More can be said for the hypothesis that his ardent longing for union with Christ leads him to overleap intervening events and hasten to the goal. This, however, is not the whole explanation. The truth is that there are elements in the Apostle’s thought which, though he is hardly conscious of the fact, are carrying him away from the apocalyptic scheme. In Judaism the Judgment has its main significance as the instrument for effecting a separation between the righteous and the wicked. But for St. Paul this separation has already been virtually effected. By the fact of their unbelief the wicked are already condemned; by the fact of their faith the righteous are already justified. It is true that the Apostle does not think of the believer’s present state of salvation as absolute. But against this we have to set the emphasis which he places on the element of assurance. ‘Who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died!’ Had the Judgment been to St. Paul all that it was to a pious Jew, he could hardly, in his account of the End and in his contemplation of death, have left it unnoticed. In the fourth Gospel, to which we now turn, this drift from apocalyptic is much more pronounced.
5. In the Fourth Gospel.-No more than St. Paul does the writer of the Fourth Gospel contemplate a formal breach with the traditional apocalyptic ideas. ‘The hour cometh,’ Christ is represented as saying, ‘in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his (the Son of man’s) voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done ill unto the resurrection of judgment’ (John 5:28-29
; cf. John 12:48, 1 John 4:17
). But, if the Evangelist yields this recognition to traditional views, his own peculiar thought moves on other lines. The judgment on which the stress falls is that which Christ accomplished in the course of His earthly ministry and is always accomplishing. While He lived on earth, He was already invested with the sovereign power to judge. ‘For judgment I am come into the world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind’ (John 9:39
; John 5:27
; John 8:15-16
; John 12:31
). If passages appear in which He is made to disclaim the office of Judge-‘I came not to judge the world but to save the world’-they are added in order, by seeming contradiction, to drive thought deeper (John 12:47
; John 5:45
; John 3:17
). His real purpose is, indeed, to save, but none the less His appearance in the world has the inevitable result that a separation is effected between the children of light and the children of darkness. The former are attracted to Christ, to find in Him their salvation; the latter are repelled and driven into hostility. In the attitude which a man takes up towards Christ he is already judged. ‘This is the condemnation that light is come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the light’ (John 3:19
). In the matter of doom we find a similar shifting of the centre of gravity from the future to the present. Sin’s real punishment is not physical death or even suffering, but exclusion from the higher life that comes into being through the birth from above. ‘He that heareth my word … hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgement, but hath passed out of death into life’ (John 5:24
). The popular notion of hell disappears as completely as in St. Paul.
But notwithstanding this spiritualizing train of thought, the traditional apocalyptic notions-the Parousia, a resurrection of the just and unjust, final judgment by Christ and eternal punishment for the lost-succeeded in maintaining themselves in the Church’s faith. Not till the introduction of the idea of purgatory do we meet with any important modification of this scheme. And it was not till the beginning of the 3rd cent., with Origen, Cyprian, and the Gregorys, that the idea of purgatory began to emerge.
6. Only one other point, and that of minor importance, remains to be noted. Not a few early Christian writers speak of a descent of Christ into Hades and a preaching to the dead. In 1 Peter 3:19
ff. it is the disobedient of the days of Noah to whom Christ brings the message of salvation; in Irenaeus (iv. xxvii. 2) it is the Patriarchs; in Marcion (Iren. I. xxvii. 3) it is Cain, the Sodomites, Egyptians, and other heathen. It is improbable that this conception was a creation of the Church; rather have we to think of the adoption and Christianizing of a current pagan myth of a saviour-god descending into the under world to wrest the sceptre from its powers. The mythological details are stripped off, and Christ’s mission becomes one of preaching to those from whom in their lifetime the gospel had been withheld. Also from the ranks of the dead Christ will win His trophies. Judged according to men in the flesh, they will live according to God in the Spirit (1 Peter 4:6
) (see W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 1913, p. 32ff.). See, further, article Descent into Hades.
Literature.-R. H. Charles, Eschatology: Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian, 1899; P. Volz, Jüd. Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba, 1903; A. Harnack, History of Dogma, Eng. translation , i.