It is Time for Judgment: Reflections on 1 Peter

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It is Time for Judgment: Reflections on 1 Peter

Last week’s lesson looked at Living for God, and we specifically focused on suffering. The emphasis was not that Christians live with a martyr complex, but that faithfulness to Christ, worshipping Christ, and spreading the Good News about Christ will inevitably draw the ire of our eternal enemy. While this week’s lesson focuses on Suffering for Christ, Peter introduces a concept that is generally misunderstood about God, the future, and Christians: Judgment. Until the mid-19th century many Christians believed in the theory of predestination promulgated by John Calvin,[1] or some modified form. The defenses and reactions to this view easily lurch into the arguments of academia. One response that spawned a movement during that era that focused (and still focuses) on the imminent Second Advent of Jesus Christ really addresses the end-time focus of what Peter is talking about. Yet, the heart of what Peter was stressing about suffering makes us think about judgment in an uncommon way. I dare say, not many people would make a connection between suffering and judgment, that is unless like many of the Psalmist’s prayers, judgment was to be reckoned on the person causing the suffering! But Peter has something much deeper and introspective in mind.

Peter begins his discourse on the judgment in 1 Peter 4:17 “For, it is time…” What relationship is indicated by ‘for’? This passage is connected to the previous paragraph and explains 1 Peter 4:15–16, that suffering as a Christian really is going to occur. It indicates the reason for the exhortation ‘let him glorify God’ in the previous verse. So, whatever it was that Peter was about to say after “for” must deal with glorifying God as a Christian. The message is positive, in fact, Peter had just stated, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Pet. 4:14). I’m afraid verse 17 has often been used as a prooftext for affirming judgment without any clarification about what Peter was talking about in large picture terms. To address that, we will focus on the beautiful message of hope and encouragement that Peter expresses in his statement, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.”

 

A TIME for Judgment

Regrettably, the English language, even at its most poetic and purist attempts at translation accuracy rarely depicts the nuance of what Peter meant in 1 Pet. 4:17, when He said “For it is time for judgment… Most of us read that and usually assume he means chronological time, chronos in Greek. Considering he was referring to this earlier in vv. 2, 3 when he was reflecting about the quantitative lifespan of human existence in our physical bodies, it’s easy to see why one would come to that conclusion. He further developed that notion by emphasizing that the “lost” will have to “give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (v. 5). However, Peter shifted his focus from the time of life (a focus on the imminent arrival of Christ) to the kind of life (a focus on the quality of Christian life in light of Christ’s advent), and for this he uses the word kairos, the kind of time, a season, an appointed time. Chronos time deals with the reality that Christians must live, despite the suffering that may entail, for as long as human existence in its present condition continues. Kairos, on the other hand, really deals with the qualitative moment in time. For Peter, that kind of time was the Messianic era, where Jesus, the Messiah reigns and is working out the counsels of His will (cf. Mark 1:15).

So why the shift, and why is it important? Well, if Peter were saying the end-time judgment began in the 60’s AD, then more problems would seem to be created than solved. First, the biblical understanding of the prophetic dates concerning that judgment (especially the 2300 days in Dan. 8:14) become problematic at best.[2] Second, almost 2,000 years of judgment would fly in the face of Paul’s statement that God would cut the end-time (chronologically) short in righteousness (Rom. 9:28). So, what was Peter getting at? First, Peter borrows the language of Ezekiel 9:5–6, Zechariah 13:9, and Malachi 3:1–3. So, Peter refers to texts that focus primarily on a sifting process and the execution of judgment secondarily. Ezekiel spoke of those who “sigh and cry for the abominations done in Jerusalem (Ezek. 9:4). In a passage that refers to Jesus’ First Advent, Zechariah refers to the refining process that results from the testing of the people’s faith (Zech. 13:9; Matt. 26:31). Malachi’s word, like Zechariah’s, is understood as a Messianic text pointing to Jesus’ First Advent concerning John the Baptist and the purifying work of the people (Mal. 3:1–3; Matt 11:10). So, Peter uses three texts that provide a conceptual background for understanding the kind of time he is referring to; a time of refining. How is this refining and sifting process undertaken? For Peter’s audience and for us it takes place through fiery ordeals sent by God to test us. So that background sheds light on what Peter meant by judgment.

A Time for JUDGMENT

Now that we have our bearings somewhat on what kind of time Peter is referring to (refining in the Messianic era), now let’s look at the actual refining process. What happens to dross? If refining judgment is like a fire kiln (Ps. 66:10; Ezek. 15:4–5; 22:17–22), then God’s objective is to bring about such purity that God’s name will indeed be glorified. Nebuchadnezzar tried to have a Hebrew barbecue, but Jesus “showed up and showed out” when the Hebrew youths determined that purity of faith in Him was of more consequence than life itself! Peter says it is time for judgment, krima, which commonly denotes the result of an action: the administration of the judge’s verdict.[3] This means that God’s purging of the unclean and unholy recesses of our hearts is His verdict (and sentencing), namely for us to share in the sufferings of Christ and to bring glory to His name! In modern and colloquial discussions of spiritual matters, hardships are seen as “mountains to climb,’ but Peter says hardships are more likely God’s purifying furnace, and the persecution is to develop in us the genuineness of faith (1:7). It is not so much as a foretaste of better things in this life but as a preparation for the life to come. But more than that it is a way to bring us closer to Christ. Paul says it another way in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” What a beautiful message of uniting with Jesus, knowing that He took upon Himself the sin of the world and suffered for righteousness sake. Just to be able to share in His life for righteousness’ sake is the highest form of communion.[4]

A Time for Judgment to BEGIN IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD

This action or function of judgment is the process of God’s decision to put the world through the furnace of trial, it is not intended to see “who is good enough” to be saved. It reveals the depth of our love for Jesus, the sincerity of our commitment to Him, and the holiness God would empower us with to share in His life, so that when He comes back He will find us a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession (2:9). Peter’s point about those who don’t believe the gospel is that just like dross (impurity) which is burnt up in a fire kiln, so to the disobedient, who haven’t received the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf, the Spirit of God, His grace, or His imputed or imparted selfless character. Without these attributes the disobedient will not be able to endure the presence of a holy God. The dross or sin, and those who cling to sin, will be destroyed by the blazing inferno of God’s holiness (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8). Those who suffer now in this present world (Christians) are experiencing what firefighters call a “controlled burn” of God’s will. As a result of this process the Christian will have no need to fear the presence of God. God is the One who purifies us, what a message, what a God!

 

Read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “Suffering for Christ.”

Read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

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Notes.

[1] In theology, it is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, usually regarding the eventual destiny of the individual person.

[2] For a clear outline of the issues involved see Clifford Goldstein, False Balances: The Truth About Judgment, the Sanctuary, and Your Salvation (Boise: Pacific Press, 1992); Idem., Graffiti in the Holy of Holies (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2003).

[3] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 317–318.

[4] Ellen White captures this wonderfully when speaking of Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Through being overcome with sleep, the disciples heard little of what passed between Christ and the heavenly messengers. Failing to watch and pray, they had not received that which God desired to give them, —a knowledge of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” DA, 425. By entering into Christ’s sufferings, we are to understand the depth of God’s love for sinners (us) and the weight and burden that sin is. It helps us to catch the smallest glimpse of what God submitted Himself to on our behalf.

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About the author

Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.