Sharing the Gospel of God – Bible based answers to life’s greatest questions
Romans 2:1-29 – God’s Righteous & Impartial Judgment toward Jew & Greek
Part 1 - The Hypocrisy of the Self-Righteous [Jew] – Inexcusable Hypocrisy & Impartial Justice vs 1-16
1. The Hypocrisy of the Self-Righteous [Jew] vs 1-16
a. Inexcusable Hypocrisy vs 1-5
1. Their Self-Condemnation vs 1-2
a. A Shared Guilt v 1
b. A Deserved Judgment v 2
2. Their Wrong Thinking vs 3-4
a. A Challenge to Faulty Reasoning v 3
b. A Challenge to Wilful Ignorance v 4
3. Their Hard Heartedness v 5
b. Impartial Justice vs 6-16
1. A Day of Recompense for Deeds Done vs 6-11
a. The Basis of God’s Judgment v 6
b. The Recompense of God’s Judgment vs 7-10
c. The Impartially of God’s Judgment v 11
2. A Day of Judgment for Secrets Concealed vs 12-16
a. The Law and Judgment vs 12-15
1. The Jews and the Law vs 12-13
2. The Gentiles and Law vs 14-15
b. The Day of Judgment v 16
1. The Purpose of the Judgment v 16a
2. The Identity of the Judge v 16b
1. The Hypocrisy of Righteous [Jew] vs 1-16
How the Different Themes Relate
Paul is writing in chaps 1 and 2 to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles ‘are all under sin’ (chap 3 v 9), that is under God’s condemnation because of their sin. He has dealt with the Gentiles in chap 1 and now in chap 2 the Jew comes into particular focus. The overarching theme of both chapters is divine judgment. In chap 1 vs 18-32 he has emphasised the present revelation of wrath against ‘all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ In chap 2 vs 1-16 his emphasis is upon the future revelation of the righteous judgment of God according to the works of men. To have a proper understanding of this difficult chapter we must keep in our minds this theme – God’s impartial judgment according to works. Paul deals first with the certainty of God’s judgment in vs 1-16 and then he focuses on the failure of the Jew and how he is deserving of God’s judgment in vs 17-29.
In chap 1 vs 18-32 Paul’s pronouncements against the Gentiles are entirely negative, however in chap 2 vs 1-16 in remarks directed toward the Jew he writes concerning the revelation of the righteous judgment of God not only as being retributive toward the unrepentant, but also as rewarding ‘eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality’ (v 7). That God will reward those who ‘do good’ (v 10) along with the idea that ‘the doers of the law will be justified’ (v 13) might seem to conflict with what he writes in chap 3 vs 9-31. The key to avoiding confusion or misunderstanding is to distinguish what is different. Paul’s sweeping statements of the universal guilt and condemnation of mankind in Romans 3 vs 9-20 sum up what he has previously proven in chaps 1 and 2 that man, both Jew and Greek, naturally and wilfully without God is a wretched sinner and this reality demonstrates, as Paul shows, that the only possible means of righteousness is by grace through faith – ‘There is no difference’ between Jew and Greek ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3 vs 22-23 KJV). However, what Paul states in relation to the universal guilt of men and the just condemnation of God upon the world does not negate nor diminish the works of the righteous to which Paul refers in chap 2 vs 7, 10 and 13. He is recognizing in chap 2 that there are those who have turned to God in repentance and faith as opposed to those, no doubt the majority of people, who persist in wilful rebellion against God. Paul quotes in chap 3 vs 10-18 from the writings of the Old Testament penned by righteous men concerning the wicked as proof that man by nature and practice is a sinner. The idea in light of these statements of chap 3 that the references in chap 2 vs 7, 10 and 13 must suggest only an ideal standard unreachable and unrealized by any is not borne out by the testimony of the saints from Abel on. It should be obvious that ‘there is none righteous’ (chap 3 v 10) by nature and practice, but there certainly are and have always been those declared righteous by grace through faith. This is made evident in chap 4 vs 1-8.
Judgment according to works in no way contradicts or negates the absolute need for justification by faith. The reason God judges and will judge men according to their works is because man is always morally accountable before Him. Sinners who are never justified are responsible for their sins. Having a fallen nature as a descendant of Adam is not my fault, but persistence in sin is. Therefore the disobedience and works of the unrighteous prove the depths of their rebellion against God and their deservingness of His wrath. However, in contrast, the obedience and works of the righteous prove the reality of their justification by faith. As James wrote: ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2 v 26). Paul never says that works don’t count with God, they absolutely do, but he does say that the idea of meriting or earning righteousness through works apart from faith is impossible. So let us keep clearly in our minds as we proceed these two themes; God’s impartial judgment according to works and God’s free gift of righteousness according to faith which, is always the foundation of works that please God.
Another important thing to remember is that God’s revelation to man of the truth of redemption has been progressive over time as scripture demonstrates. The Bible records, as the title of William Scroggie’s book indicates, the Unfolding Drama of Redemption. It was only ‘when the fullness of the time had come’ and God had ‘sent forth His Son’ who was ‘born of a woman’ and ‘born under the law’ (Gal 4 v 4) that the full revelation of His divine plan and purpose became clear and the promise of the gospel was fulfilled (Rom 1 vs 1-4). However, that ‘the just shall live by faith’ has ever been the way of acceptance with God in every dispensation, but the how and why of this was not fully made known until the Gospel of God fully revealed it. Paul’s letter to the saints in Rome is the definite explanation of that gospel. Therefore in light of God’s full gospel revelation the statements of Paul that ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ (Rom 1 vs 16-17) and that ‘the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Rom 3 vs 21-22) are no surprise. Justification has always been by faith as the many saints before the Cross and Resurrection of Christ show, but the how and why were not fully made known until the full revelation of the gospel.
Issues of Identity & Style
In chap 2 Paul now turns his attention toward the person rightly identified as the ‘moralist.’ This was the type of individual who with an air of moral superiority and an attitude of self-righteousness readily agreed with Paul’s indictment against, and God’s wrath upon those who were guilty of such a flagrantly corrupt lifestyle as described in chapter 1. The problem was – such moralists were hypocrites. Paul now confronts this arrogance and exposes such blatant hypocrisy. He destroys the moralist’s ‘fortress’ of self-righteousness showing it to be nothing more than ‘a castle of sand.’ According to Paul, those who judge others hypocritically must also face the reality and consequences of their own sinful duplicity and stupidity.
The first issue to address before proceeding is – to whom is Paul speaking specifically? Who is this ‘man’ in vs 1 & 3? R.C.H. Lenski in his commentary entitles this chapter – ‘the self-convicted moralist’ while John A Witmer writing on Romans in The Bible Knowledge Commentary
(BKC) summaries the two classes of moralists he considers being addressed by Paul:
In any generalization such as the preceding blanket indictment of pagan humanity (1:18–32) exceptions to the rule always exist.
Obviously some pagans had high ethical standards and moral lifestyles and condemned the widespread moral corruption of their
contemporaries. In addition the Jews morally stood in sharp contrast with the pagan world around them and freely condemned the
Gentiles. Both groups of moralists might conclude that God’s condemnation did not apply to them because of their higher planes of
living (BKC Vol 2 p 444).
Similarly, Alva McClain in his commentary suggests that the ‘man’ Paul is addressing could be either Jew or Gentile. He writes:
Precisely to whom is the apostle referring, and who falls beneath this ban of judgment? Some commentators and expositors declare that
the apostle is talking to the Jew here, but they say that the apostle was approaching the subject very carefully and therefore does not
name the Jew until the seventh verse. Let the Word settle the identity of those to whom God is speaking here through Paul: “O man,
whosever thou art that judgest.” Then to whom is he talking? Any man (it does not matter who he is) who judges … this passage is
addressed to any man, whosoever he may be (Jew or Gentile) in the whole world that judges’ (The Gospel of God’s Grace – Romans pp 69-
70. Alva J. McClain).
Ben Witherington III makes a good case that it is judgmental Gentiles Paul is addressing in vs 1-16. He suggests two categories of Roman Gentiles that would fit this identity: ‘God-fearers who had already imbibed the usual Jewish critique of pagan idolatry and immorality before becoming Christians, and Romans who had absorbed the philosophy of self-mastery’ (Paul’s Letter to the Romans - A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary p 78. Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt)
Over against this view James Stifler writes: ‘In this second chapter Paul has no one but the Jew in view. He does not mention his name until the discussion has advanced some distance’ (The Epistle to the Romans p 28 – James Stifler) and as C.E.B. Cranfield points out: ‘There are weighty reasons for thinking that Paul had the Jews in mind right from 2:1’ (Romans. The International Critical Commentary [ICC] Vol 1 p 138). It is certainly true generally that what Paul writes applies to anyone then and indeed now who hypocritically judges others with an attitude of moral superiority, but it does seem that the one who naturally best fits the description of the ‘man’ of vs 1-5 and is particularly the target of Paul’s remarks in vs 6-16 is the self-righteous Jew who he goes on to specifically identify at v 17. Indeed, the distinction Paul emphasis between Jew and Greek from chapter 1 v 16 to chapter 3 v 31, though it doesn’t definitively prove the point, gives good reason to consider that it is the Jew who is being addressed in this chapter and the conclusion he reaches at chap 3 v 9 – ‘we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin’ – further supports this. Therefore it is reasonable to suggest that Paul’s first concern in chap 2 is to confront the hypocrisy of the Jew in light of the impartial judgment of God (vs 1-16) and then his second concern is to challenge the unfaithfulness of the Jew with regard to keeping the law (vs 17-29).
Paul uses in vs 1-5 and again in vs 17-29 as well as elsewhere in the epistle a form of dialogue or discourse known as ‘diatribe.’ This form of address was used in the ancient world particularly for ‘moral lectures and discussions’ given in ‘the philosophical schools’ where the teacher taught his student or students after this manner. In such discourse ‘rhetorical techniques’ were used in order to communicate effectively and persuasively. The common feature of a diatribe was the use of an imaginary opponent or ‘discussion partner’ with whom the speaker or author interacts as he addresses his audience. This of course was done for the benefit of the listeners with the purpose of speaking convincingly and giving clarity to the topic under consideration. The dialogue of a diatribe could take several different forms such as the one employed by Paul in chapter 3 vs 1-9 where a series of short questions are raised and answered. Also within the dialogue the speaker or author would at certain times address his audience directly or, as Paul does here in Romans chap 2, turn from his ‘real’ audience to address the imaginary individual directly in a short speech identifying them in a certain way just like Paul does first by the use of ‘O man’ (vs 1, 3) and then with ‘thou art called a Jew’ (v 17). Along with the specific identification the second person singular pronoun is also used to address the discussion partner. This form of direct address was ‘typically, but not always … sharp censorious words which rebuke the interlocutor for some vice or pattern of behavior’ (The Anchor Bible Dictionary – ‘Diatribe’ by Stanley K. Stowers).
The individual is only imaginary in the sense that it is not an actual individual who is being addressed, but a category or type of persons. Thus Paul’s uses ‘O man’ and ‘a Jew’ as a representative person from the category of those who were self-righteous Jews. He employs this style of confrontational address in order to challenge, convict and instruct.
The fact that Paul is writing to the saints in Rome makes this approach at a first read somewhat strange, but his evident purpose is to teach them the truth of the gospel in the clearest and most impactful way possible. As Ben Witherington III points out: ‘The careful and competent use of rhetoric and the diatribal style is part of his means to establish his authority and ethos in relationship to an audience that lives in a rhetoric-saturated environment and so persuade them on a whole variety of things ranging from his gospel to his mission to the collection, and also in regard to their own beliefs and behavior. Paul thus believes that to be an effective communicator and apostle in relationship to Romans, one must do as the Romans do’ (Paul’s Letter to the Romans - A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary pp 75-76. Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt). Thus believers needed then, even as they do now, to learn and understand Paul’s teaching here in Romans chapter 2 as to themselves. Christians live by God’s moral standards as revealed in scripture and correctly speak and preach about what is right and wrong, but they are not and ought not to be ‘moralists’ who sit in judgment upon others and condemn their sinful lifestyle while forgetting, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ Also, and of equal importance, the believers needed to learn the truth of the gospel. It is through knowing the truth of the gospel that we will have stability in our own souls and will also be able to intelligently communicate and share it with others. It has been well said that any preacher and particularly any young man aspiring to preach should have a working knowledge of the first three chapters of Romans. If our gospel is not undergirded by sound theology, it is deficient. Any building is only as good as its foundation and a sound gospel foundation is essential for a wholesome Christian life.
One other thing worth considering before moving on. When Paul’s letter arrived with the Roman saints it would surely have been read multiple times in their gatherings with other copies eventually being made. No doubt present in their meetings would have been unconverted Jews and Gentiles. What Paul writes and the style he adopts would have surely impacted and convicted such people?
a. Inexcusable Hypocrisy vs 1-5
Paul then begins addressing his opponent – ‘Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judgest.’ By the use of ‘therefore’ Paul is making clear in light of God’s revealed wrath and righteous judgment upon those who practice and promote the sins listed in Romans 1 vs 28-32 which characterize the abandoned and base lifestyle described in Romans 1 vs 18-27, that those who do ‘the same things’ can most certainly expect the same outcome – God’s judgment. The position of the ‘man’ addressed by Paul is in a sense more serious because behind a veneer of respectability he is doing the very same things, yet assuming because he’s a privileged Jew he’s exempt from God’s judgment! Paul challenges this ‘man’ and therefore those he represents as to their hypocritical judging v 1, irrational thinking v 3, wilful despising v 4, finally warning them that they are treasuring up wrath for themselves v 5.
1. Their Self-Condemnation vs 1-2
It is a trait of the deceptiveness of human nature that we will condemn in others what we are guilty of ourselves. Those like the privileged Jew or sophisticated Greek with a veneer of respectability and professed adherence to religious precepts and moral values actually consider themselves better than people whose sinful lifestyle is blatant and obvious and so they freely point the finger of scorn, yet all the while are equally as guilty because under the cloak of professed righteousness they practice the ‘same things.’ This is all part of how the ‘deceitfulness of sin’ operates in our hearts (Heb 3 vs 13; Jer 17 v 9). The Lord Jesus once told a parable ‘to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others’:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself
– ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give
tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,
saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” - Luke 18 vs 10-14.
The Pharisee was a prime example of a self-righteous unrepentant hypocrite whom Paul is addressing here in Romans 2. Another story that illustrates this truth is when King David heard the Prophet Nathan’s parable about the rich farmer with his abundant livestock who took his poor neighbour’s one cherished lamb to serve it as a meat dish to his travelling guest; David’s immediate response to such injustice was: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” Nathan quickly reminded David: “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12 vs 1-15). David had taken another man’s wife, caused the death of her husband and deliberately covered his sin. Yet, he would unreservedly judge another for what he was guilty of himself. Paul says – ‘for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things’ (v 1).
But what are we to understand by this expression – ‘the same things’? (Vs 1 & 3). Clearly they point us back to the vice list of chapter 1 vs 29-31. Note the corresponding references that make the link – chap 1 v 32 ‘such things,’ chap 2 v 1 ‘same things,’ chap 2 v 3 ‘such things’ and ‘do the same.’ It is though important to observe that the specific sins listed in chapter 1 vs 29-31 are what characterize those of a reprobate mind, a state reached by the wilful abandonment of God the process of which Paul describes in chapter 1 vs 18-28. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the ‘same things’ not only include sins from the list of vs 29-31, but also embrace the same attitude of rebellion, ingratitude, and self-will which marked the Gentiles. It is not that the Jews were guilty of the same external lifestyle as the Gentiles. Jewish rebellion, ingratitude and self-will was in a different context with a different manifestation, but while the Jews were not exactly guilty, Paul’s point is that they were equally guilty. This then is to suggest that they did the same things not only from the vices listed (vs 29-31), but also with the same rebellious attitude toward God. The heart of the self-righteous Jew was too hard toward God, their worship was vain and their lives hypocritically sinful.
The Jew in his prideful heart rebelled against his knowledge of God received through covenant revelation. Yes, an outward veneer of acknowledgement remained accompanied with a self-righteousness, but within was the reality of an uncircumcised heart of which Stephen charged his killers before his stoning:
You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the
prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become
the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it - Acts 7 vs 51-53.
And the Lord Jesus said of the Jews of His day:
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (Matt 15 vs 7-9)
Moreover, Ingratitude marked the Jew despite God’s goodness – v 4 just as ingratitude marked the Gentiles chap 1 v 21 and the self-will of the Jews is well summed up by Paul in Romans 10 v 3 – ‘For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.’ The climax of their wicked arrogance was the rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah as Stephen stated. Also, while Jewish Old Testament history abundantly demonstrates how they abandoned God for idolatry and immorality, Paul addresses them as he knew them and focuses on three examples of their law breaking – stealing, adultery and sacrilege – vs 21-22. These and other violations characterized the first century Jew to the extent that through breaking the law they, like their fathers, continued to blaspheme the name of God among the Gentiles (vs 23-24). Therefore, just as the Gentiles were guilty of debasing God by exchanging the truth of God for the falsehood of idolatry (Rom 1 v 25) the Jews were guilty of blaspheming God by breaking the law they claimed to uphold (vs 23-24). The result was that false worship characterized both. Idolatry along with unnatural immorality characterized the Gentiles while vain religion along with covenant unfaithfulness characterized the Jews.
As we have already observed, Paul’s first concern in chapter 2 is to confront the Jew with his hypocrisy in light of the impartial judgment of God (vs 1-16). Here at v 2 he inserts a reminder that ‘God’s judgment is according to truth,’ that is to say that God judges neither arbitrarily or unfairly, but according to the facts. His judgment is based on the evidence. Their own actions will convict them in the court of God – man’s ultimate judge – and merit them God’s just punishment. There are four principles stated in vs 1-16 concerning the nature or manner of God’s judgement; in v 2 it is according to truth, v 6 it is according to deeds, v 11 it is impartial, and v 16 it will be administered through Jesus Christ.
2. Their Wrong Thinking vs 3-4
So such people are without excuse and hypocritical because of their own guiltiness. Self-righteous though they think themselves, they stand self-deceived, self-accused and self-condemned and because of this they will share with those they despise the same deserved judgment. Paul asks: ‘And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?’ – Not a chance.
Paul challenges their faulty reasoning – v 3. Then he challenges their wilful ignorance – v 4. He puts emphasis upon the goodness that is the kindness of God (Cp Eph 2 v 7; Titus 3 v 4). It was abundantly expressed by His forbearance and patience toward the Jew with the intent that it should and would lead to repentance. These three words together express the mercy of God and as Douglas Moo points out ‘“Forbearance” and “patience” denote the expression of God’s goodness in his patient withholding of judgment that is rightfully due to the sinner’ (Romans. New Iinternational Commentary NT. Douglas Moo pp 132-133). What was the response to God’s mercy? Contempt! They despised it. As C.E.B Cranfield helpfully states: ‘the attitude described amounts to contempt of God’s goodness in that it is a wilful refusal to recognize … the fact that God’s goodness both affords to those who are its objects the opportunity for, and also a summons to, repentance’ (Romans ICC p 144).
3. Their Hard Heartedness v 5
This ignorance toward God’s goodness was inexcusable because it was not the result of any lack of knowledge, but the outcome of a stubborn and unrepentant heart (v 5). Chapter 1 v 18 states that God’s wrath is being revealed, here Paul points to a future Day of Judgment when it will be revealed very distinctly and specifically as men, Jew and Gentile, are held to account for all their sins. God’s wrath abides on the disobedient presently – Jn 3 v 36 and will be revealed in that day when unrepentant sinners stand in the court of God’s judgment where His displeasure will be revealed and His sentence of judgment rendered. Men commit sin which violates all that God is, but He waits. The wrath that builds up is His, He is the source of it. The reason it builds or is stored up is the actions of men – they are the cause of it. That God waits shows His patience. He is in control. Time passes even thousands of years, but eventually the sins of men will ‘catch up’ with them and for them they will be judged. Thus wrath has to do with God’s anger or attitude at men because of their sin. His judgment is the sentence of condemnation He will render upon the offender both to express His wrath and for the offender to experience it.
Notice that v 5 has reference particularly to the unrepentant sinner while v 6 states the general principle relevant to the believer as well as the unbeliever as vs 7-11 show. It is probably safest to see v 5 as Paul warning the unrepentant of what is ahead for them, there will be a day of wrath and revelation of God’s righteous judgment with v 6 stating the broad principle of how God judges focusing on the fact that He is the one who dispenses recompense for good or ill. What follows in vs 7-10 establishes the central truth of Paul’s argument which he states at v 11.
Still, we may ask: when is the ‘day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’? While ‘day of wrath’ here at v 5 and ‘day when God will judge’ (v 16) lack an article in the Greek text, day is still to be considered definite or specific. It is from other scriptures we learn that there is more than one occasion of judgment. Paul does not detail them here, instead he deals with the broad principle of how God will judge. However, considering Paul’s eschatological focus in his epistles, his reference to the ‘day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ probably refers to ultimate judgment ushered in at the second coming of Christ as described in 2 Thess 1 vs 5-10 and at Revelation 19 vs 11-21. Considering that Paul is most likely addressing the Jew it also makes sense to understand ‘the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ to be the second coming of Christ for the coming of the Messianic kingdom was and remains the expectation of the Jew. The Jews anticipated what the Lord Jesus called ‘the last day’ (John 6 vs 39, 40, 44, 54; 11 v 24; 12 v 48) when saints and sinners would be resurrected for reward and judgment (Dan 12 v 2; Jn 5 vs 28-29; 12 v 48). Paul spoke of the ‘resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust’ – Acts 24 v 15 when before the Roman governor Festus (See also 23 v 6; 26 vs 6-8).
According to scripture there is more than one occasion of judgment when people will stand before Him in the person of His Son the Lord Jesus. Ezekiel 20 vs 33-38 prophesizes how those of Israel alive at Christ’s second coming will be brought into ‘the wilderness of the people’ to ‘pass under the rod’ of discipline and the rebels and transgressors ‘purged’ from among them. Paul spoke of the Day God has appointed to judge the world when preaching at Athens – Acts 17 v 31. Revelation 6 v 17 speaks of the ‘the great day of His wrath’ that will be realized on the world during the tribulation while Matt 25 vs 31-46 records the Lord Jesus telling of the Judgment of the Living Nations when He returns in glory and Rev 11 v 18 speaks of the Judgment of the dead and reward of the faithful at Christ’s return, a judgment which must include Old Testament servants and saints as well as the tribulation servants and saints. In 2 Timothy 4 v 1 Paul reminds Timothy that the Lord Jesus ‘will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.’ The saints of the Church age, living and dead shall meet the Lord together and will be judged at the ‘Bema’ – 1 Thes 4 vs 13-18; 2 Cor 5 v 10 while the judgment of the ungodly dead of the ages will be at the Great White Throne – Rev 20 vs 11-15.
As already quoted, Paul’s summary statement in 2 Timothy 4 v 1 concerning ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom’ indicates to us an important point to consider and that is, all of these judgments unfold in relation to the Lord’s second coming and establishment of His kingdom on earth. It is the pivotal event that ushers in final judgment and will bring to pass the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God in the way and on the occasions that the scriptures detail. The saints of the Church age just before His manifestation and in preparation for His kingdom, the living nations at His Return to earth along with living Israel as well as the dead saints of the Old Testament and of the tribulation. Then finally, the ungodly dead at the conclusion of Christ’s 1000 year kingdom reign and the end of earth. Therefore in light of all of this, it is fair to conclude ‘the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds” ’ relates to the second coming of Christ, the great event that will be the catalyst for all judgments just before, at and after it.
The fundamental issue in Paul’s statements in vs 5-11 is that all people will be held accountable before almighty God for how they have lived and will be judged and recompensed accordingly. The unchanging principle by which God judges all men is – ‘according to their deeds’ (v 6 - Psa 62 v 12; Prov 24 v 12). Also, the scriptures solemnly remind us that at death, if we die unrepentant, God’s wrath will be an immediate experience. The Lord Jesus said of the rich man that he ‘died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes’ – Luke 16 vs 22-23. In light of such truth I would remind the listener or reader – make sure you are on God’s side. The world laughs at the idea of judgment and scorns any notion of accountability for sins. Allow for a moment that they are right. A believer in such a scenario would lose their hope in Christ, but nothing else. If they are wrong, and they are, then they lose absolutely everything (Mark 8 vs 36-37). ‘There is no God’ - Psalm 14 v 1 really is the expression of fools.
b. Impartial Justice vs 6-16
In vs 6-11 Paul deals with God’s impartial judgment in terms of its recompense which will be determined by our works. As we have noticed, Paul is not particularly defining every specific occasion of judgment, but the fact of it. He certainly is not saying that there is but one final judgment at the end of earth’s history when all saved and unsaved will appear before God. Neither is there any suggestion in vs 7 and 10 that eternal life is earned by human merit. The foolish idea that if good deeds outweigh or are more than their opposite on the Day of Judgment a person will be accepted with God. Such an idea is foreign to the Bible. The fundamental issue ungirding what Paul says here about works, is repentance and faith. True repentance always includes faith. The presence or absence of it determines the character of our works and their outcome. This ought to be obvious from vs 4-5. Paul is reminding his audience that privilege and the goodness of God experienced are not enough. Repentance is what God looks for, but sadly, hardness and impenitence marked the Jew. If repentance and faith is the key to justification then what the Jew is condemned for lacking must be clearly present in the experience of those referred to in vs 7 and 10.
1. The Day of Recompense for Deeds Done vs 6-11
a. The Basis of God’s Judgment v 6
Works count with God. How a person lives matters for eternity. The common thread of all of God’s judgment is that it is rendered according to works. What makes the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is not only the character of their works, but the foundation upon which their works are built. There is a cause and effect relationship between attitude and deeds. Therefore, just as disobedience to ‘the truth’ (v 8) undergirds the lifestyle of those who ‘do evil’ (v 9) so obedience to the truth undergirds the lifestyle of those who ‘work good’ (v 10). Paul is in no way contradicting what he writes elsewhere (Eph 2 vs 8-9) by suggesting that good works by themselves earn eternal life – not at all. Rather, and this is always important to keep in mind when reading Romans, he is continuing to expound his Old Testament ‘text’ – ‘the just shall live by faith’ – Romans 1 v 17 and what he states in vs 7 and 10 describe what living by faith looks like in every era. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 also at Hebrews 10 v 38. If in Romans the emphasis is upon the life of the just in Hebrews it is on the life of faith. The writer goes on in Hebrews chapter 11 to give numerous examples of the faithful from Abel on reminding his audience and us that it is the life of faith that pleases God as Hebrews 11 v 6 says.
b. The Recompense of God’s Judgment vs 7-10
Paul’s focus here is upon the character, pursuit and ultimate outcome for the godly and ungodly on their day of judgment. Regarding what he says in vs 7 and 10 we must distinguish between the present possession of eternal life as the free gift of God – Rom 6:23 and the ultimate realization of eternal life to be experienced when the saints of the Church age enter heaven with Christ in glorified bodies or when the kingdom saints enter the literal kingdom in resurrected or changed bodies. The ultimate recompense is what Paul has in view in these verses. The believer in every age, justified by faith, will be marked by ‘by patient continuance in doing good’ and will ‘seek for glory, honor, and immortality’ and for them the outcome of such a life of faith will be entrance into eternal life and the experience of ‘glory, honor, and peace’ not earned by human merit but granted by divine grace for the life that honours God. The believer, as opposed to the unbeliever, seeks to live for God’s glory in order to please Him and in so doing has the incentive of what God has promised to them who love Him. Paul writes for example at chapter 6 vs 22-23: But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. C.E.B Cranfield emphasis the point as follows:
It is absolutely vital to the true understanding of these verses to recognize that the statement of v 6 is not made in a legalistic sense – it
is not an assertion of requital according to deserts – and that it is not implied in vv. 7 and 10 that the people referred to earn eternal
life. The is not regarded as constituting a claim upon God, but as expression of faith and repentance’ (Romans ICC p 153).
So, just as the self-seeking who ‘do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness’ will experience deserved ‘indignation and wrath’ – by their disobedience and deeds they have demonstrated the righteousness of God’s judgment upon them, by contrast, the just will experience promised ‘glory, honour, and peace’ – not earned by their effort or merit, but as the recompense for the life of faith which is a recompense of grace not of debt. Their obedience and deeds demonstrate the righteousness of God’s recompense toward them. Hebrews 11 vs 5-6 speak of Enoch, one of the earliest saints in the Biblical record, and says this concerning him:
By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken
he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that
He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Also, the writer of Hebrews says of Moses:
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with
the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in
Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he
endured, as seeing him who is invisible - Heb 11 vs 24-27.
True are the words of James 1 v 12: ‘blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.’
c. The Impartially of God’s Judgment v 11
God’s judgment is impartial and unbiased; the Jews and Greeks will be treated the same ‘for there is no partiality with God’ v 11 which corresponds to Deut 10 v 17 – ‘For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.’ The Jews though, through whom the Messiah came (Rom 9 v 5) and who had the offer of salvation first (Rom 1 v 16), will be accountable first having had the greater privilege.