I once served on a jury, and for some reason, I was voted foreman. The accused was charged with manslaughter, a serious crime with quite a harsh penalty. While driving a senior-care minivan filled with nursing-home residents, he’d hit and killed a pedestrian. The defendant was a volunteer for the facility; a family man who was simply taking a group of elderly people shopping. He struck the deceased in close proximity to a pedestrian crossing when the man he hit darted onto the road from between parked cars and into the van’s path.
The prosecutor briefed the court on what was alleged to have happened, then called on the police officer who responded to the accident to ascertain the facts of the matter. I was surprised by the superficiality and brevity of the process. There was no heavy cross-examination like we see on TV courtroom shows. There was no calling of a variety of witnesses for either the prosecution or the defense, and the judge’s instructions to the jury were clear.
Then the court adjourned, and we retired to consider the case and reach a verdict. Sure, he killed someone; he should have kept his eyes open, especially in a strip mall with people about; what about justice for the victim’s family? And it was so close to a crosswalk.
But reflecting on what was rather nuanced evidence given by the police officer along with the seemingly empathetic approach of the prosecutor, I suspected they were signaling to us, a bunch of courtroom novices, that the defendant was innocent. We talked for what we thought a respectable amount of time, then filed back into the court.
“The defendant will stand,” the judge growled.
“And how do you find the defendant?” he asked, looking at me.
I stood, cleared my throat, and with a confidence that surprised me, delivered the verdict: “Not guilty, Your Honor.”
Everyone in the courtroom that day, not least the worried defendant, wanted a not-guilty verdict. And it was our pleasure to give it.
And it’s that way with God when He looks at our world. He sees the death and terrible things that go on here, some of the worst carried out in His name, yet “he is patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). His desire is for everyone “to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
So when He says that every human being must at some point stand before Him and be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10), it’s our innocence that He would prefer to hear declared, not our guilt: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17, 18). Of course, as sinners, we are condemned to death in the absence of confession and forgiveness, and the grace extended to us in Christ’s name. And before God’s judgment seat, Christ is our Lawyer—our “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1), pleading our case on our behalf. And that’s comforting, given the lives that some of us have lived!
According to the Bible, there’s coming a day of judgment (Acts 17:31); and according to Revelation 14:7, which describes a time at the end of the Bible’s longest prophetic time period, that hour “has [now] come.” According to the prophet Daniel, who saw this event in a vision (Daniel 7:9, 10), it takes place in heaven, while God’s people are still on earth. And according to the apostle Peter, this judgment begins with an investigation into the lives of those who have committed themselves to Christ over the past millenniums. It reviews every deed or misdeed in light of whether the blood of Christ covers them. And if it does, then, like that hapless driver of my jury experience, the individuals who committed those deeds are declared innocent and worthy of entry into heaven despite their sinful acts.
The Bible refers to God’s judgment more than 1,000 times, so it’s obviously important. Unfortunately, it’s also largely ignored by humankind. But not by the rest of the universe. Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven for their rebellion. Satan charges God before the entire universe with being a tyrant. Therefore, the charges must be judged before the entire universe. “The question goes to His character,” a lawyer might argue before the jury. And the question is whether He’s loving and fair.
To vindicate Himself, God permitted Satan to have his way for a time and let the rebellion play out to its natural conclusion, its rules rigged against Him (God). The rebellion is now in its final stage, and the works of Satan and the works of Christ are being presented to the universe for their evaluation. The critical question to be decided is whether God is fair. And while you and I are being judged for our part in the results of sin, Satan is being judged for his part in causing sin.
Satan doesn’t play the game fairly. But we need not fear him as our accuser, for between him and us stands Christ, who promises us sinners that He will never blot out the names of His faithful people from the book of life but will acknowledge them before His Father and His angels (Revelation 3:5).
Since we face the inevitable judgment, let us follow the Bible’s advice to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV*). There’s no need to be fearful of God’s judgment. Rather, it’s good news for those who seek justice. And if my worried courtroom defendant had only known that, from judge to jury, forgiveness and mercy were his, how different those stress-filled months leading up to his trial would have been!
* Bible verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.