He commanded us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42, NIV)
If you or I were asked to explain the relevance of Jesus to our world today, where would we start? An example we urgently need to follow? A help in time of need?
Both are wonderfully true, but they’re not where the Apostles started in their preaching about him. In Acts 10, we read of Peter explaining Christianity to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. When Peter moves from the historical facts about Jesus to their relevance for us, the first thing he says is that Jesus will be our Judge (the verse quoted above). He will meet each of us on the last day, and decide our eternal destinies. And this seems to be central to Peter’s account of Christianity.
I have often read this verse, but this past week, reading Acts 10 again, I was sufficiently struck by Peter’s starting-point to spend some time in the four gospels, to see if Jesus as our judge really is a major theme there, too.
The startling answer is that all over the gospels we are being prepared to expect Jesus as our judge. There is much more than I’d realised.
Most obviously, there are the places where he himself tells us that he will do this. For example he says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32) There are several such places. Another: The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27)
But more than that, we find him often speaking as if he knows exactly what will happen on judgment day. The wheat will be separated from the weeds. It will be more bearable for Sodom than for Capernaum. Everyone will have to give account for their empty words. Many times he speaks as one who seems to know exactly what to expect.
Other passages also help build the picture. He teaches as one who has a commanding grasp of right and wrong, which of course a judge needs. He sees into people’s hearts, knowing what they are thinking. He even knows people’s histories (“You have had five husbands”, he says to a woman he’s never met before.)
He acts in judgment, too. The tables of the moneychangers are turned over. He condemns the hypocrisy of the scribes. He commends the widow who gives her mite.
The theme is everywhere, but how easily we miss the wood for the trees!
Are you ready to meet Jesus as judge? Peter goes on to tell us exactly how we can be: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43). We can be saved from judgment by the judge himself! Come to him!
We continue our mini-series in Acts 10 this Sunday at 5pm.