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Justice is defined by God’s law, which in turn is an expression of His nature. Justice is not distinct from grace and mercy, because these characteristics are also part of God’s nature.
We are usually accustomed to thinking of justice and judgment as being synonymous with condemnation. But the fact is that divine judgment includes all decisions and verdicts in the divine court. Of necessity, each verdict acquits the innocent and condemns the guilty. Justice is based on truth, whether it works for or against a man. Jesus claimed to be “the truth” (John 14:6).
The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat. Strong’s Concordance defines it as “a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree.” So the word is usually translated judgment, which is based on justice when applied correctly (by the mind of Christ).
The law of God instructs us in the ways of righteous judgment. For example, Lev. 19:15 says,
15 You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly [sedek, “righteously”].
Again, we read in Exodus 23:6-8,
6 You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
Bribery is as common today as it was in biblical days. In many countries, it is a way of life. Anyone who is given authority to grant privileges is tempted to demand a bribe for their services. Even Christians who do not have the law written on their hearts have been caught up in bribery as if it were expected and acceptable in their society. But this is not justice. It is a sin.
The prophets were often executed by the religious leaders of their day. Jesus Himself condemned the religious leaders in Jerusalem, saying in Matt. 23:29-33,
29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell [gehenna]?
In other words, they had killed the innocent and the righteous in violation of the law in Exodus 23:7. God says of this, “I will not acquit the guilty.” Christ’s righteous judgment is recorded in Matt. 23:34, 35,
34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you [Jerusalem] may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
The murder of Zechariah is recorded in 2 Chron. 24:20-22. Jerusalem’s apostasy brought the condemnation in Jer. 19:2, 10, 11 in the valley of Ben-hinnom (gehenna). In the end, Jerusalem became comparable to Sodom for its immorality and Egypt for its oppression (Rev. 11:8). It is also said of Mystery Babylon in Rev. 18:24,
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.
Here John confirmed Jesus’ condemnation of Jerusalem in Matt. 23:35. No doubt this will be fulfilled when Jer. 19:10, 11 will be fulfilled. Jerusalem is the great harlot of Babylon that pretends to be the bride of the Messiah. In fact, it is “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 24:6), where the prophets were murdered. It is the city that is held accountable for all such bloodshed going back to Abel.
Exodus 23:9 says,
9 You shall not oppress a stranger [gar, “a guest; by implication, a foreigner”], since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger [gar], for you also were strangers [gar] in the land of Egypt.
It was common to oppress foreigners and then withhold justice from them. The Israelites experienced this during their sojourn in Egypt. God reminds the Israelites of their own bitter experience in Egypt and admonishes them not to repeat the sin of the Egyptians.
The law of the Kingdom of God says in Num. 15:15, 16,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien [gar] who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien [gar] be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien [gar] who sojourns with you.
Hence, if an Israelite judge were to show partiality to an Israelite and pervert the justice that was due to an alien, he must be called an unrighteous judge who fails in his duty as a judge.
In the New Testament, James comments on the principle of justice, telling us in James 2:1-4, 9,
1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, as say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? … 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James focuses on justice between the rich and the poor, who are to be treated impartially. I have seen cases today where ushers were instructed to seat poorly-dressed people in the upper balconies where they are hidden from the video broadcasts. This is done to project an image of prosperity and success, but it is a blatant violation of biblical justice. In such cases, those preachers openly reject even the words of James and will receive their reward accordingly.
Paul, too, comments on the law of impartiality in Eph. 2:13-16,
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 … so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
The “dividing wall” was erected in the outer court of the temple in Jerusalem, although there is no Scripture that supports such a barrier. Non-Jews and women were forbidden on pain of death from crossing that barrier, thus establishing partiality in the very worship of the temple. This violation of the law was corrected by Christ Himself who “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” For this reason, Paul could write in Gal. 3:28, 29,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Paul understood racial and gender distinctions, of course, but he was telling us that everyone has equal access to God. There is no “dividing wall” in Christ’s Kingdom which tells women and gentiles that they must remain “far off” in their approach to God. They are all one body, and all are subject to “one law and one ordinance” (Num. 15:16), applied equally and impartially according to the law of impartial justice.
Though many in the church today have reconstructed this dividing wall by claiming that Jews are “chosen” by virtue of their race and are therefore given special privileges that others are not given, the day will come when Christ again destroys this dividing wall in the minds and hearts of the church. The Age to come will not be ruled by those who claim biological or racial descent from Abraham but by the saints of the Most High who share Abrahamic faith.
This is biblical justice.
Micah 6:8 tells us,
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice [mishpat], to love kindness [hesed, “mercy, kindness”], and to walk humbly with your God.
This defines righteous judgment. Justice is not mere condemn-nation; justice seeks restoration, because the mind of Christ is also “to love kindness” (mercy). God is good, and He built goodness into everything in nature (Gen. 1:31). Sin brought about unjust traditions, but the justice of God has never changed.
The goal of justice is to restore that which has been lost or damaged, so that no one loses anything. Hence, justice is not done until all the victims have been restored fully to their original state. When a thief steals from his neighbor, justice is there to recompense the victim. At the same time, justice is there to restore the sinner by teaching him the lawful way to accumulate wealth—through his labor. Justice seeks to impart the mind of Christ to the sinner.
God set up earthly courts for this very purpose. However, earthly judges are limited by the carnal mind, and so their ability to do justice is also limited. Evidence is often lacking, and so the guilty often go free, because it requires two or three witnesses to confirm any sin (Deut. 19:15). This limitation can be overcome by divine revelation and the spirit of prophecy, such as we see with the prophet Samuel, who judged the people. 1 Sam. 7:15-17 says,
15 Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 He used to go annually on circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then his return was to Ramah, for his house was there, and he judged Israel; and he built there an altar to the Lord.
Not all prophets were judges as such, but to be judged by true prophets who understood the law of God and possessed the mind of Christ was as close to the ideal as a nation could get insofar as justice is concerned. Such judges, wielding the sword of the Spirit, could discern the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
By knowing the good purpose of justice, they could seek to restore sinners along with their victims, though in different ways. They would understand that even when a sinner is found guilty, his time spent “under the law” was temporary and was ultimately to cause him to repent and to restore him to a place of righteousness and forgiveness.
I pray for the day when our own earthly judges will be schooled in God’s law and will put on the mind of Christ, so that they may judge the people as prophets who can discern the heart. I pray for the day when the prison system is replaced by work programs to pay restitution to victims for their losses, as prescribed in Exodus 22:3.
Every believer should seek to establish the laws of God in place of man’s laws (or “traditions”). Unfortunately, many have been taught to think that God’s law is merciless and cruel. Such a view blasphemes the very nature of God. How can such people put on the mind of Christ when they think that the law works against God’s nature? Will they not think that injustice is godly? We see too that most Christians support the current prison system, which is clearly an ungodly system.
God’s law prescribes the death penalty for crimes that make it impossible to restore justice to the victims. Where no restitution is possible, the sin (crime) is beyond the power of earthly courts to do justice. This is seen in the case of premeditated murder. If the murderer cannot restore life to the dead, then he is in danger of forfeiting his own life (Num. 35:30).
Kidnapping is another sin worthy of the death penalty, because no one can repay double restitution (two lives) without compounding the sin. So Exodus 21:16 says,
16 He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.
It is important to note that one who has been pronounced guilty and sentenced to death in a court of law is then at the mercy of the victim, who retains the power of forgiveness and mercy. The victim has the power to forgive the sinner, even as Joseph forgave his brothers for kidnapping him (Gen. 50:17-21).
If, however, the death penalty is actually carried out, it is not the end of the matter even then. Executing a criminal lacks the power to restore the victim to a place of wholeness. The death penalty is actually a way of appealing to the Divine Court at the great White Throne, in order to allow the heavenly court to take the case at the end of the age. This principle of a higher court was established in Deut. 1:17, where Moses told the judges,
17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring it to me, and I will hear it.
This is reaffirmed in Deut. 17:8, 9,
8 If any case is too difficult for you to decide… then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 9 So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days…
Moses was a type of Christ. Moses was the Supreme Court Judge under the Old Covenant; Jesus Christ is the Supreme Court Judge under the New Covenant (John 5:22). In the ultimate sense, all death penalty cases are “too difficult” for earthly judges, because it is beyond their power to restore the losses to the victims. The best they can do is to appeal to the great Judge of the whole earth, who alone is capable of administering true justice.
Christ will then judge all cases at the White Throne (Dan. 7:9, 10; Rev. 20:11, 12). By the power of the Sword of the Spirit, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Having the power of life and death, He has the ability to restore all things and to bring justice wherever earthly justice has failed.
Where earthly courts fail, the heavenly court succeeds in bringing true justice to all the victims of injustice. We have faith that the heavenly court has the power to fulfill the purpose of justice and will actually do so. The court will not only bring justice to the victims, but it will also cause every knee to bow and confess (profess) that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). Everyone in that day will “swear allegiance” to Christ (Isaiah 45:23, 24).
When I was a child, I asked my teacher in the Mission School what would happen to those sinners who finally bowed and confessed Christ. I was told that after they were forced to bow and confess, then that they would be tortured forever in the lake of fire. In other words, their forced confession would serve no other purpose than to make them admit, “Ok, God, You win.”
But does that really bring glory to God? Does that serve the purpose of justice? Is there any mercy in such judgment? I think not. Furthermore, because mercy is established in the law of victim’s rights, are we to believe in merciless justice? Are we to believe that God is so compelled by His holiness that it is impossible for Him to show mercy? If that were the case, then how can we ourselves rest assured that God will show mercy to us?
Those who confess Christ, bow to Him, and swear allegiance to Him in that day will do so on the same grounds that the believers have done today. This idea that sinners cannot be saved after they have died comes chiefly from a misunderstanding of Heb. 9:27,
27 and inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.
But where does it say that no man can repent and be saved at the judgment? The verse only tells us the order of events. We all agree on this order of events. It does NOT say, “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this he has no further opportunity to be saved.” Such is a man-made extrapolation that is not there. In fact, such an interpretation ignores the mercy factor that is built into the law as an expression of God's nature.
The law itself teaches us that there is more than one opportunity to be justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb. Justification is established in the feast of Passover. Yet if one was unclean and was thus ineligible to keep the regular Passover, there was a second Passover that he was to keep. Num. 9:10, 11 says,
10 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord. 11 In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it…”
Applying this law in a New Covenant manner, we see that those who are unclean through death and those who are afar off from God are not justified by faith in the Lamb of God. Nonetheless, “they shall observe it” in the time of the second Passover.
This is how every knee will bow and every tongue will profess Christ to the glory of God the Father. It is not about a “second chance.” It is about being compelled to come to the great White Throne, where every knee will bow. Why will they bow? It is because they will then see the glory and majesty of Christ. They will see the truth that was not revealed to them during their previous life on earth.
Every time the law says, “you shall” or “they shall,” it is a command under the Old Covenant and a promise under the New Covenant. As believers in Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant, we are the “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Our faith is in the promises of God, not in the promises of men. So when God says in Num. 9:11, “they shall observe it,” we see this as a promise that will surely come true. It is therefore a prophecy.
The entire law is prophetic. That which it prophesies will surely come to pass. When the law is fulfilled, then the former sinners will become subject to Christ and His “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2 KJV; Dan. 7:9, 10; Rev. 20:15) until the final Jubilee sets all men free to return to the inheritance that they lost through Adam’s sin.
This great Jubilee will fulfill “the anxious longing of the creation” (Rom. 8:19, 21) to be “set free from its slavery to corruption and into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In that day, the law of the God of love will fulfill its purpose, and both justice and mercy will be accomplished.