Judgment and Mercy in the Old and New Testament
By Ronald Graham
“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power” II Thessalonians 1:8-9.
Critics of the Bible say there are many inconsistencies between the Old Testament and the New. They say God in the Old Testament is vindictive, judgmental, and harsh. Whereas in the New Testament God is only grace and love with no judgment. Careful study shows us that there are no inconsistencies. Various scholars point to what they perceive as discrepancies as if there are two different Gods of the Bible. As Christians, we know there is only one God, Triune in nature – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews says “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Hebrews 13:8. God has not changed.
The fact is, however, that the Old Testament contains numerous testimonies of the love and merciful loving-kindness of God. The Psalms are filled with praises to God for His mercy and love. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with livingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:2-5. David, praises the LORD for all the kindness He shows. In another Psalm we read “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 89:1. Still another Psalm of David says “Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” Psalm 36:5. These Psalms, and many more, sing praise for God’s kindness and mercy. If God had revealed Himself in Old Testament times as only angry and ready to dole out judgment these praises would be in vain.
The story of Ishmael is sordid. God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son. They were both old and Sarah was well past childbearing years. So, they decided to help God make this miracle happen. They decided that Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, would lay with Abraham and the child she bore would be Sarah’s. This is a strange custom that the Jews had, but Hagar did bear a son and his name was Ishmael. This was not God’s plan. Did He get angry and judge them? No, He didn’t. He did continue with His original plan and many years later Sarah did bear a son and his name was Isaac. Ishmael mocked Isaac and trouble was brewing, so Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away. He gave them bread to eat and water to drink, but soon the water was gone. Death was upon them, but God showed mercy. “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.” Genesis 21:18-19. God’s mercy abounds. By and large the descendants of Ishmael are Muslim. They did not appreciate God’s kindness and turned their backs on Him and now worship a false god.
God’s judgment comes when whole groups of people turn against God and are given over to all out sin. Let’s look at Lot. He chose to live in Sodom. This city was completely given over to sin, yet Lot chose to live there and raise a family. God was soon to send judgment upon Sodom because of their total depravity, but individually each person there could have turned from their sin and been saved. As the two angels sent by God to rescue Lot from the destruction entered the city, Lot saw them and invited them to his home for their own protection. The men of the city were completely given over to sin, homosexuality in particular. Those men saw the angels had gone into Lot’s house and lust filled them. “And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night: bring them out unto us, that we may know them.” Genesis 19:5. Judgment came upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but not until Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were removed. “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;” Genesis 19:24. God showed mercy to Lot who had not participated in the evils of Sodom, but He judged the sin in Sodom harshly.
There are many examples of God’s mercy in the Old Testament, but I will choose one more. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden because they chose to eat the forbidden fruit. God was specific when He told Adam not to eat it, so Adam was without excuse. After they were expelled from Eden they began to have children, first Cain (who grew to be a farmer) and then Abel (who grew to be a shepherd). Both brought offerings to the LORD, so we can be sure that their parents had told them about the LORD and the evils of sin. Abel brought an offering that was acceptable to God, but Cain did not. “And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” Genesis 4:6-7. Cain’s anger grew and he committed the first murder by man. He killed his brother, Abel. When the LORD asked him where Abel was, he lied. “And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9b. The LORD could have rightly brought horrendous judgment upon Cain right then, but He chose to send him out as a fugitive. Cain felt the weight of his punishment and was concerned for his own safety; He was worried that he too would be murdered. The LORD showed mercy to him “And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” Genesis 4:15. Yes, God showed great mercy toward Cain.
In the New Testament we read of tremendous mercy and love from God. Jesus is God in the flesh and He came to give us the only way of salvation. Throughout His time on earth He healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raised the dead. His love was without bound. It was the Scribes, Pharisees, and all who were ungodly who brought out His anger. “And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? But ye have made it a den of thieves.” Mark 11:15-17. This is just a hint of the judgment in the New Testament.
The most striking and fearsome warnings and prophecies of judgment to come are found in the New Testament. The verse first cited above from Second Thessalonians is an example. It tells of the coming eternal separation from God for all who reject Christ and His saving gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself uttered more warnings of future hell than anyone else recorded in either Testament. For example, in a parable regarding the end judgment of those who reject Him “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:” Matthew 25:41.
Paul talks of God’s judgment in his letter to the Romans. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;” Romans 1:18. It is interesting to me that people can gather around a television set, cheering on their favorite sports team. Football, baseball, basketball, or whatever happens to be in season. If the other team breaks the rules and is penalized we cheer, but we aren’t so happy if our team receives a penalty. The rules of the game are known and must be followed or else a penalty will be given. On the other hand, when it comes to something really important, like avoiding the wrath of God, people just don’t seem to care. If we break God’s rules and suffer consequences we blame God.
As we move closer and closer to the end of time, secular man moves farther and farther from God. Around the world we see sin abounding, yet we don’t expect God to judge us. In truth, God is judging all of mankind. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.” Romans 1:24. Homosexuality is abominable to God, read again about Sodom and Gomorrah and the judgment there. Because of deviant sexual practices and rejecting God’s “rules” they brought judgment upon themselves. Today we see a worldwide trend to glorify deviant sex. Do you think God will soon judge all nations? I do. “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Romans 1:26-27.
God does not wink at sin. His wrath is swift when it comes, but He is very explicit in telling us how to avoid wrath. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:” Romans 1:28-31. Do you see anyone you know listed there? Are you in that list? We certainly see the embodiment of these evils everyday on the news and in our entertainment. Is God’s judgment coming, even in this time of the New Testament grace? Yes, it is. Here’s a reality check. Not only is God angry with those who fall into an ungodly lifestyle, but if you accept these things as “a matter of personal choice” then you are also a part of the problem. “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” Romans 1:32. Yes, God’s judgment is near…and it isn’t going to be pretty.
The Apostle John, who stressed God’s love in his other writings, penned the Book of Revelation which focuses on the time of God’s major judgment on a rebellious world. He tells of a man of pure evil who will rule the world. People will want to die but will not be able to. The fire and brimstone judgment in Sodom and Gomorrah look mild compared to the wrath poured out during the Great Tribulation. The horrors of that wrath are unimaginable to us even now as we are moving towards that time. The climax of these warnings is revealed: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14-15. Is that where you want to spend eternity? There is only one way to avoid eternity in the lake of fire, and that is to accept the free gift of salvation paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Prior to the wrath of God being poured out upon a God-rejecting world, Christ will remove His Ekklesia and take us Home. “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.” Psalm 103:17-18. In other words “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23. God’s grace and full forgiveness are free to all who receive Christ, but certain judgment will come to all who refuse His gift. If you are feeling a tug to turn to Jesus and repent of your sin, don’t wait. Obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ today…tomorrow may be too late.
God bless you all,
All original scripture is “theopneustos” God breathed.