God “is going to judge the world in righteousness!” (Acts 17:31). Those are Paul’s words, spoken in Athens during his second missionary journey.
That God will judge the world shouldn’t be surprising. He’s been doing it since Eden. Before Adam and Eve rebelled against God, the first family had free reign of God’s creation, and an intimate, unending, unbroken, unbridled relationship with Creator God, often “walking (together) in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Genesis 3:8). God is perfectly holy! His righteousness demands justice. He can’t leave sin unpunished, so acting as the Omnipotent and Righteous Judge, God handed down the sentence: Physical death and separation from His holy presence! “The Lord God sent (Adam and Eve) away from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23) where they were destined to die.
Repeatedly, the Old Testament pictures God as Judge. God sentenced Sodom and Gomorrah to utter destruction due to their gross wickedness (Genesis 18-19). “Out of the sky the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah burning sulfur from the Lord. He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:24–25). It appears to me that America is no less guilty and deserving of God’s judgment.
God judged the Egyptians for their cruel oppression of the Israelites by pouring out His just wrath (Exodus 7-14) in the form of ten terrible plagues that utterly devastated the land and its national economy, leaving multitudes of Egyptians dead.
One might think that the Judge of the Old Testament is replaced by the Loving Father in the New Testament. But no, God is unchanging. He is still Judge. When Ananias and Sapphira lied, claiming that they had sold land and given the proceeds to the church, God, the Righteous Judge, handed down His just justice. Death! “Ananias dropped dead” (Acts 5:5). Later that day, Sapphira “dropped dead” (Acts 5:10).
After King Herod executed James, the son of Zebedee, God’s retribution was meted out on the proud monarch. “Dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a speech to them. The assembled people began to shout, ‘It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!’ At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:21–23).
Listen up! “Christ Jesus ... is going to judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1). God has warned, Christian and non-Christian, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account” (Matthew 12:36, ESV).
God has promised that there will be “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), that there is nothing that can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39), and that “Jesus became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). My salvation will not be judged on my merit, but on Christ’s righteousness, but remember, we’ve been saved by grace through faith “in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). We will “appear before the judgment seat” to give an account of our works.
“If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15).