Jesus Christ Has the Power to Judge

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 30 September 1987, the Holy Father reflected on Jesus' power to judge as linked to His power to grant life.

God is the judge of the living and the dead—the final judge, the judge of everyone. Already in the catechesis preceding the descent of the Holy Spirit on the pagans St. Peter proclaimed concerning Christ: "He is the one set apart by God as judge of the living and the dead." This divine power (exousia) is, according to Christ's teaching, connected with the Son of Man. The well-known text in St. Matthew's Gospel on the last judgment begins with the words, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, he will sit upon his royal throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. Then he will separate them into two groups, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats" (Mt 25:31-33). The text then speaks of the unfolding of the process and foretells the sentence—that of approbation: "Come, you have my Father's blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world" (Mt 25:34); and that of condemnation, "Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41).

1.  Linked with the power to grant life

Jesus Christ, who is Son of Man, is at the same time truly God because he has the divine power to judge human works and consciences, and this power is definitive and universal. He himself explained why he has this power, saying, "The Father himself judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all men may honor the Son just as they honor the Father" (Jn 5:22-23).

This power is linked by Jesus with the power to grant life. "Just as the Father raises the dead and grants life, so the Son grants life to those to whom he wishes" (Jn 5:21). "Just as the Father possesses life in himself, so has he granted it to the Son to have life in himself. The Father has given over to him power to pass judgment because he is Son of Man" (Jn 5:26-27). Therefore, according to this assertion of Jesus, the divine power to judge has been linked to Christ's mission as Savior, as Redeemer of the world. Judgment itself belongs to the work of salvation, to the order of salvation; it is a definitive salvific act. The scope of the judgment is the full participation in the divine life as the final gift made to man—the definitive fulfillment of his eternal vocation. At the same time the power of judging is linked with the external revelation of the Father's glory in his Son as Redeemer of mankind. "The Son of Man will come with his Father's glory...and he will repay each one according to his conduct" (Mt 16:27). From the very beginning the order of justice has been inscribed in the order of grace. The final judgment is to be the definitive confirmation of this bond. Jesus said clearly that "the saints will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom" (Mt 13:43). But he no less clearly announced the rejection of those who have done evil (cf. Mt 7:23). As is evident from the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), the measure of judgment will be the cooperation with the gift received from God, cooperation with grace or its rejection.

The divine power to judge each and every person belongs to the Son of Man. The classical text of Matthew's Gospel emphasizes the fact that Christ exercises this power not only as God the Son, but also as man. He exercises it—and pronounces sentence—in the name of solidarity with every person, who receives from others either good or evil. "I was hungry and you gave me food" (Mt 25:35), or "I was hungry and you gave me no food" (Mt 25:42). The works of charity in regard to one's neighbor are a fundamental element of the judgment. Christ identifies himself precisely with this neighbor. "As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 25:40); "As often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me" (Mt 25:45).

According to this text of Matthew we shall all be judged according to love. But there is no doubt that we shall all be judged also on our faith. "Whoever acknowledges me before men—the Son of Man will acknowledge him before the angels of God" (Lk 12:8). "If anyone is ashamed of me and my doctrine, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father's glory" (Lk 9:26; cf. also Mk 8:38).

We learn from the Gospel this truth—which is one of the fundamental truths of faith—that God is judge of all humanity in a universal and definitive way, and that this power has been assigned by the Father to the Son (cf. Jn 5:22) in close relationship with his mission of salvation. Jesus attested this during his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17).

If it is true, as we learn especially from the Synoptics, that Christ is judge in the eschatological sense, it is also true that the divine power to judge is linked to God's salvific will, which is manifested in the whole messianic mission of Christ. This is especially underlined by John, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind" (Jn 9:39). "If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I am not the one to condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save it" (Jn 12:47).

Without doubt, Christ is and presents himself especially as Savior. He does not regard it as his mission to condemn people according to merely human principles (cf. Jn 8:15). He is, first of all, the one who teaches the way of salvation, and not the accuser of the guilty. "Do not imagine that I will be your accuser before the Father; the one to accuse you is Moses...for it was about me that he wrote" (Jn 5:45-46). In what then does the judgment consist? Jesus replied, "The judgment of condemnation is this—the light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were wicked" (Jn 3:19).

It must therefore be said that, in the presence of this light which is God revealed in Christ, in the presence of this truth, each one is judged by one's own deeds. The will to save humanity on God's part is definitively manifested in Christ's word and work, in the entire Gospel up to the paschal mystery of the cross and resurrection. It becomes at the same time the deepest foundation, so to say, the central criterion of the judgment of human works and consciences. Especially in this sense "the Father...has assigned all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22), offering in him to everyone the possibility of salvation.

In this same sense man is already condemned, when he rejects the possibility offered him. "Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned" (Jn 3:18). Not to believe means precisely to reject the salvation offered to man in Christ ("He did not believe in the name of God's only Son," Jn 3:18). It is the same truth foreshadowed in the prophecy of the ancient Simeon reported in Luke's Gospel when he announced of Christ: "He is destined to be "the downfall and the rise of many in Israel" (Lk 2:34). The same can be said of the reference to the "stone rejected by the builders" (cf. Lk 20:17-18).

It is a certitude of faith that "the Father...has assigned all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22). Now then, if the divine power to judge belongs to Christ, it is a sign that he—the Son of Man—is true God, because judgment belongs to God alone. Since this power of judgment is deeply united to the will to save, as is seen from the Gospel, it is a new revelation of the God of the covenant, who comes to mankind as Emmanuel, to liberate people from the slavery of evil. It is the Christian revelation of the God who is Love.

This corrects the too human way of viewing God's judgment as a cold act of justice or some kind of revenge. In actual fact, this term, judgment, which is clearly of biblical derivation, is the last link in the chain of God's love for all of us. God judges because he loves and in view of love. The judgment which the Father entrusts to Christ is according to the measure of the Father's love and of our liberty.