Capital punishment has become the epicenter of enduring confusion in our world, particularly among the Christian ranks…not because the scriptures are in any way unclear on the issue, but because religious leaders, their followers, and civil legislators have chosen to exalt personal preferences for the rules of crime and punishment above the written laws of God. Unfortunately, this is done all too often in a spirit that is disparaging – even hostile – toward those who wish to take the words of Jesus at face value and obey them.
“The American public has consistently backed capital punishment. In a Gallup Poll in 1976, 65% approved of it. But between 1966-76, no executions occurred in the U.S. The Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, abolished capital punishment in June 1972. However, since the Supreme Court’s decision most of the 50 states have voted to restore the death penalty.” (Source: Bible Background Commentary).
Few dare to argue that capital punishment was “against the will of God” in the Old Testament. Those who contend such an argument willfully ignore a veritable landslide of scriptural proofs that say otherwise. That said, the position against capital punishment, which is unfortunately common today among the ranks of those who profess Christianity, is a position that suggests, in some way or another, “Mosaic law, that for many centuries commanded the establishment and implementation of capitol punishment, was annulled through the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary”. In much simpler terms, they are basically saying, “Jesus died on the cross, so society would be softer on crime.” Or even worse, they indirectly suggest that God the Father was, in some implausible way, Jesus’ first convert to the fresh ideas of post-modern Christianity. Wow! What a dangerous theological position! Somehow or another, we are led to believe that God the Father was too harsh, and He apparently needed Jesus to teach Him how to be more merciful…
The logical end to this type of thinking forces us to conclude that Christ died to change God’s attitude toward sin rather than ours. The root of this mentality should not surprise those who live in the 21st Century, for it carries the easily recognizable stench of post-modernism.
Allow me to state this unbendable edict: Jesus died to change man – not God! God has not changed His attitude toward either sinners or their sin. God loved men in the Old Testament as much as He does today. The cross of Calvary has simply provided mankind with an opportunity, among many other wonderful things, to REPENT of their sins. Why? Because if you don’t repent, Jesus has promised to execute the ultimate “capital punishment” upon you (the unrepentant), which is eternal death in the lake of fire! Many scoff at this statement of biblical fact. Be warned! To scoff at this is to call Jesus a liar. This is what He stated on many recorded occasions, too numerous to list. For example, let us first put into context how our Lord answered a great political controversy in His day; one that might remind us Americans of the tragedy of 9-11.
Pilate, the procurator of Judea, moved his armies into Jerusalem in order to abolish the Jewish system of laws. (Incidentally, one law that the Jewish nation was forbidden to obey was the Mosaic command for capital punishment – a right reserved only for Roman authority. This was one issue which inflamed the Jews against Pilate when he initially refused to grant them the death of Jesus.) As a statement of Rome’s dominance over the militarily defeated Hebrew nation, by cover of darkness, Pilate erected the pagan idol gods of Caesar in the central place of Jewish worship. The next morning, when the Jewish people discovered his blasphemy against their religion, they began to publicly protest Pilate’s policies with outrage. For this, Pilate befell the hatred of the Jews, and they did not refrain from insulting him in the streets continually.
No doubt, Pilate began to feel he could do nothing right in their eyes. Shortly after this, in an attempt to improve the Jewish community and with the hopes of reversing their hatred of him, Pilate went to great expense to divert a river and bring in fresh water to the residents. In a fuss over the use of what the Jews believed to be “sacred money” from their treasuries, the mob of people who gathered in the place of the idols cast great insults toward Pilate. Pilate rose up from his throne in their midst and commanded them to be quiet and go home; instead, they protested louder and cast even greater insults. Finally, at the end of his patience, Pilate gave a signal for the army to destroy them. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed that day. (See Josephus’ Antiquities Book 18:3.)
This brings us up to speed on the question posed to our Lord Jesus in the thirteenth chapter of Luke. Jesus is asked to give His opinion of Pilate’s handling of this matter. Christ responds by reminding them of another tragedy where a tower fell and crushed 18 persons to death. It reads as follows:
Luke 13:1-5: “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Did Jesus really die so that society would be softer on crime? Was God the Father Jesus’ first convert? Humor me for a moment and imagine Jesus being interviewed with CNN after the September 11th crisis. In reaction to the reporter who has just asked Him, “What do you think about the destruction of these innocent people in New York?” Jesus offers this statement, “If you don’t REPENT you’ll perish just like they did.” Wow! You know it as well as I do, Jesus would be rebuked by almost every politician in congress, and probably the majority of today’s milk-toast “Christian” leaders! Would He not?! I can almost hear the protests from Howard Dean, “What a fanatic! This is the same kind of religious fanaticism that we are fighting to quell in the war on terror!”
Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus was not the effeminate pushover the artists of antiquity have portrayed! He was the son and apprentice of a stone-mason builder, and He delivered the same weighty power of words that He displayed in power of body, when, on at least two separate occasions, He drove hundreds of people from the large outer court area of the temple at Jerusalem in a righteous fit of anger. (See Matthew 21:12-13 and Mark 11:15.)
Did Jesus really die so that society would be softer on crime? Was God the Father Jesus’ first convert? Let us further explore this paradoxical – perhaps heretical – pseudo-logic, but not before we carefully and honestly examine the direct statements of Christ on the subject of the institution of civil government. After all, if it is true that Jesus intended for civil government to absolve the practice of capital punishment on behalf of His doctrine and unjust murder, we MUST explore Jesus’ comments which deal directly with the subject of crime and punishment. Transversely, as we explore these teachings, let us refrain from the temptation to pull His words from their context, misusing His statements in a way they were never intended to be used.
For example, when we have several instances where Jesus spoke directly to the subject of crime and punishment, we need go nowhere else than those particular statements in order to understand His views of crime and punishment. You should not have to say this, but you do, because so many Christian “authorities” have put forth so much effort to “read between the lines” of Jesus’ words, while simultaneously ignoring the words Jesus plainly stated on the subject. By avoiding the obvious, do we not prove that we are in possession of a shameless desire to twist the scriptures in order to better accommodate the god of our own human opinions?
Consider Jesus’ parable of the angry king, as it is delivered in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. In this teaching, Jesus endorses the RIGHT of civil government to severely punish all criminal activity.
Matthew 18:23-35: (KJV) “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
Jesus endorsed the RIGHT for civil government to severely punish all criminal activity in this previous passage, when He compared the angry king to the righteous judgment of Father God!
Consider Jesus’ teaching on the parable of the vineyard, as it is delivered in the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel. For it is here, again, where Jesus’ doctrine clearly recognizes and endorses the Hebrew precedent of capital punishment:
Mark 12:1-9: (KJV) “And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.”
Here, Jesus endorses the RIGHT for all families victimized by the brutal murder of a loved-one to receive proper justice on behalf of their dead. Clearly, the teachings of Jesus indicated that civil authorities had both the right and mandate to severely punish all criminal activity. In this previous passage, Jesus compares the vengeful “lord of the vineyard” to the righteous judgment that will be carried out by Father God!
The Apostle Paul echoed Christ’s clear and unmistakable doctrine when he recognized the RIGHT for civil authorities to thrust the sword in Romans the 13th chapter, as follows:
Romans 13:4: (KJV) “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
As Leonard and Thelma Spinard once wisely said, “One of the key elements of justice is the promptness with which it is dispensed. There are two kinds of justice—that which prevents wrongs and that which remedies them.” Along these same lines, the Complete Book of Everyday Christianity states, “While murder by an individual or group is prohibited in all of its forms, including physician-assisted death, execution by the state or nation (as a just penalty for a grievous sin) was prescribed by the Old Testament. Some Christians arguing from both testaments claim that capital punishment is state murder, though in contrast to this view, Luther maintained that even the hangman is God’s servant bringing God’s justice into this world.”
Those who espouse the idea that the requirement of capital punishment was annulled by the cross of Calvary – being affirmed by God in the Old Testament, but no longer acceptable AFTER Calvary – have a great deal of difficulty reconciling their belief to the final act of Jesus Christ recorded in the Bible. This act, of course, takes place a great deal of time after Calvary. It is listed in the Book entitled, “The Revelation of Jesus.” It has this title because these are the opening words of John as he penned according to the command of Jesus. In other words, by reading this book, the elder prophet John believed we would gain great insight into the person, perhaps even the personality, of Jesus Christ the King of kings! What does Jesus do? Let’s read:
Revelation 19:11: (KJV) “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.”
Revelation 19:15: (KJV) “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
Bringing finality to this subject, so far as the doctrines of Jesus are concerned, the previous citations from the 19th chapter reveal Jesus utterly massacring evil men with His own sword at the battle of Armageddon. The war He wages and the angry judgments He renders against mankind are said to be done “in righteousness.”
In defiance to a biblical worldview on this issue, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic Party’s presidential contender for the 2004 elections, said the following: “I’m opposed to the death penalty in the criminal justice system because I think it’s applied unfairly, as even Republican governors have determined, and because I’m for a worse punishment. I think it is worse to take somebody and put them in a small cell for the rest of their life, deprived of their freedom, never to be paroled. Now, I think that’s tougher.” (Source: Meet the Press, December 1, 2002)
In agreement with a biblical worldview on this issue, Republican President George Bush said the following: “I was the governor of a state that had a death penalty and, as far as I was concerned, I reviewed every case and I was confident that every person that had been put to death received full rights and was guilty of the crime charged.” (Source: Bush press conference, May 11, 2001)
In summary of what has been explained thus far, the popular catchphrases “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” were NOT Jesus’ and Paul’s advice to the fallen world for fighting crime. Doctrines that suggest otherwise remain irreconcilable with a sane and reasonable interpretation of Jesus’ own teachings. Additionally, they linger incoherent with the Apostle Paul’s proclamations in the 13th chapter of Romans. What DID Jesus and Paul mean by these dreadfully abused statements so often used to cast aspersions against the intelligent concepts of governance, truth, and justice?
Matthew 5:39: (KJV) “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
First, I should point out that this statement has nothing to do with the subject of what is or is not criminal. It was very much accepted in the culture of Christ, that if a Jew showed, what the Romans viewed as insubordination, he might well be slapped across the face. Humiliating? Yes. Unkind? Yes. Insulting? Yes. Criminal? No. And what might happen to the Jew that retaliated against an agent of his conquering nation? Needless death anyone?
In a very practical sense, Jesus was offering some wise advice to the Jewish people who very much hated their Roman conquerors and had often made the poor choice, to their own hurt, to rebel. The phrase “resist not evil,” as it is phrased in the Shakespearean tongue, should not be confused with: “through your ‘godly’ passivity, enable and encourage the workings of Satan.” No! This phrase is best transliterated, “do not repel one outrage with another outrage.”
And what of the Bible’s other statement that has been turned on its ear as yet another trite, abused, and pandering slogan of the perpetually mushy? The Apostle Paul penned an infamous statement in the 12th chapter of his letter to the Romans: “Do good unto your enemies.” Paul, also the author of the 13th chapter of Romans, where capital punishment is clearly endorsed as a New Testament precedent of civil governance, is, ironically, the same who says the following:
Romans 12:20: (KJV) “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
Unless we believe that the Chief Apostle was suffering from schizophrenia, we cannot believe this to be either Jesus’ or Paul’s advice to the fallen world for fighting crime! No, Paul simply builds upon the principle demonstrated in the life of Jesus. When we are attacked, in any way, economically, socially, or physically, as the direct result of our Christian testimony, we are to follow Christ’s example and make no defense of ourselves. In other words, when sharing Christ with one on the street and he responds to our witness by spitting in our eye, we are not to punch him in the nose according to 1 Peter 2:23.
This in no remote way does away with the mandate for strong civil government and the unfortunate necessity of capital punishment. The final nail is put into the coffin of this argument when one realizes that the verse above, Romans 12:20, is a direct quote of Proverbs 25:21 – a verse written in the Old Covenant, several hundred years BEFORE Calvary, in a nation that actively obeyed God’s command for capital punishment as it was ordered in Genesis 9:6 and Numbers 35:31. We conclude, then, that it is quite possible to obey both Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:21 without eliminating the mandate, in both the New and Old Testaments, for capital punishment.
Consider the law of first-mention as God introduced capital punishment to Noah and his family:
Genesis 9:6: (KJV) “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
Did you ever stop to think about the fact that if God had not ordered men to carry out capital punishment in Genesis chapter 9, then Pilate would have NEVER been justified to carry out such a practice in the first place? Well, of course not, right? Think with me here… Why did God command, in Genesis 9:6, for fair men to put evil men to death, after they had committed murder? Because, in God’s view, that was and is the only way to properly judge the murderer! Simple logic dictates that if it was UNJUST for Jesus to be a recipient of capital punishment, having done no wrong, then it must have been a JUST punishment in the case of those who had committed murder! This is why the delivery of capital punishment upon Jesus was so significant! Because THAT WAS UNJUST, in that those who condemned Him to death had found NO GUILT!
Yet there is another paradigm from Heaven’s view which made Jesus’ death appropriate and JUST. It is upon this concept that the entire justification of man through the death of Christ rests. Read carefully. God the Father decided, after Jesus “became sin, sickness, and poverty” according to 2 Corinthians 8:9, that the only JUST punishment for this man, seen by God the Father as GUILTY of all crimes, was CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. So from the paradigm of earth to heaven, Christ was murdered unjustly; for before that time, He had done no wrong. But from the paradigm of heaven to earth, Christ was executed FAIRLY for being GUILTY of all crimes.
Colossians 1:19-20: (KJV) “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
The good news is that Jesus did create a new covenant based upon better promises according to Hebrews 8:6. Jesus did amend the mentality of His contemporary culture by revealing a better motivation for obedience to the immutable laws of God. He did cancel many of the man-made religious ordinances because their purpose had been completed through His arrival as our Messiah. Christ introduced whole new doctrines and basically founded a new agreement between God and man, but Christ did NOT come to do away with the eternal and inspired basis for righteous civil ordinances handed to Moses by Father God at the top of a mountain. It was still wrong to kill, steal, covet, dishonor parents, etc. Christ followed and taught other to follow the Ten Commandments. He emphatically stated that He did NOT come to do away with the Ten Commandments and that their purpose would not end until Heaven and Earth themselves passed away, in Matthew 5:17-18. The Apostle Paul echoed that reality in his letter of 1 Timothy 1:8-10.
So what did change, if anything, to the institution of capital punishment? This is a fair question, and its answer inevitably ends-up pointing in the direction of Jesus’ handling of the woman caught in adultery. By Jewish law, her offense was punishable by death. She was, for all practical purposes, guilty of the crime. Yet, Jesus utters those powerful and timeless words, “He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The opponents of modern-day capital punishment suppose this act of Christ to be the “proof-text” of their stance.
Allow me to explain. But first, let’s read the story:
John 8:3-11: (KJV) “And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Following the defeat and subservience of the Jewish nation by the Romans, Roman authority denied the Grand Sanhedrin the power to execute Mosaic civil law without their approval. Specifically, the Jewish nation was denied the authority to execute their own criminals. This is why Jesus was brought before Pilate, and the angry Jewish crowds demanded that His life be taken.
John 19:6-7: (KJV) “When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, we have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”
So now, in John 8:3-11, Jesus is confronted with the command of Mosaic Law to stone the woman caught in adultery. But notice the motivation of their question as it is described in verse six:
John 8:6: (KJV) “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him…”
The motive of their question was not driven by a desire to please God through obedience to His just laws. Their motive was to attempt to provoke a statement of usurpation and treason against the authority of Caesar who forbade the Jews from obeying Moses’ law. On the other hand, if Jesus did not agree with them and tell them that she should be stoned, they would accuse Him of a statement of usurpation and treason against the authority of Moses. What is one to do? Only Christ would do so well: “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” In this statement, Jesus shows honor to the God-given mandate for capital punishment delivered by Moses, He remains perfectly free of any fault against the Roman government, and He manages to show amazing mercy on behalf of the guilty whom He commands, “Go and sin no more.”
To understand what has just happened, one must first comprehend that all sins are not the same to God. Though this is a popular cliché in the modern church, it is out of line with Judeo-Christian writings. For example, murder and willfully chewing gum in school when it is against the rules are both sins, but it is utterly preposterous to claim they are “equal in severity” in the eyes of either God or man!
Jesus taught that there would be different levels of rewards in heaven based upon how we live our lives here on earth. (See Matthew 6:1, 18, and Matthew 10:41-42.) Jesus also taught that there would be different levels of punishment for people in hell. Moreover, He taught that those levels of punishment would be determined by how they lived their lives on earth. (See Matthew 11:20-24.) It stands to reason, that if men are rewarded as differently as they are punished, neither all sins nor all good deeds could be equal.
The idea that “all sins are the same to God as any other” is often errantly founded upon the following verse:
James 2:10 “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
Since James says, “he is guilty of all,” many have believed this to mean that one sin is the same to God as any other; yet in the light of the evidence we have already viewed, we know this to be inaccurate. Picture a man hanging over a very high, steep cliff, grasping a chain. The chain is fastened to the base of a tree on the edge of the precipice. Imagine further that there are 10 links in this chain—some large and some small. James, in the previous verse, merely points out that only one link in the chain needs to break in order to fall into death. The power of the smallest sin can send a man to hell outside of repentance. One might not ever commit murder or adultery (the larger links in the chain), yet if even one small link breaks, the whole chain, in a sense, is broken, even though the other nine links have remained intact. James understood very well that certain sins were worse than others, as should we.
Modern believers must learn the difference between what God deems “trifling” and what He views as “transgression.” We must learn how to judge, if you will, between specks and beams. Jesus, our example, did this masterfully in His handling of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus also knew that the same Mosaic law being used as a means to kill a woman allegedly caught in adultery also required witnesses for an execution. All the witnesses walked away leaving no legal grounds to kill her. Jesus also understood that Mosaic law left discretion to the magistrate hearing a case. It was not a one-size-fits-all death sentence for the allegation of adultery. Evidence was to be considered and the judge knew that the maximum sentence available to him was execution. Jesus further warned the lady that she had better change her ways and stop sinning to avoid future consequences. Those who commit criminal offenses against Mosaic law are warned by Jesus to cease, and His words carry the understanding that a sinner should not assume he will go unpunished eventually without true repentance. There is an eternal death, a heavenly capital punishment to come for those who do not repent.
Clearly, there are two sides to the person of Jesus Christ. He is not entirely a person of gracious and merciful acceptance without the willingness, when necessary, to show justifiable rejection. On the other hand, He is not entirely a person who reveals justifiable rejection without the willingness, when appropriate, to extend gracious and merciful acceptance. He is love…love in its fullest and most balanced sense. He is the perfect personified balance between rewards and punishment. Not only is He the perfect example of love; He has left us instructions on how to walk in obedience to the law of love, depositing the capability to do so within each of our souls.
Romans 5:5 “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
When we embrace the truth that the very love of God has been deposited within our hearts through the new birth, we must equally accept that we are capable of accurately walking the line of righteous judgment. It is impossible to walk in obedience to the law of love without an active use of righteous judgment on our parts. I realize that this statement begs for controversy as many have so often misquoted Jesus in the ever-famous verse of Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” It appears in our society that few comprehend the context of this statement so beloved of sinners. I am told that at one time in America the most notable verse of memory was John 3:16. Today, John 3:16 has given way to a new front-runner of biblical memorabilia. This particular passage, Matthew 7:1, has found admiration even among those who claim no affinity with Christianity, other than the occasional misapplied verse of convenience when confronted with their own sin.
Only five verses after Jesus states, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” He says, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” This verse results in the question, “How am I to determine which persons in this world qualify as ‘spiritual dogs’ and ‘spiritual pigs’ if I am not allowed to judge other people?” The answer does not require a PhD in theology; it is actually rather simple. Jesus’ entire message in the seventh chapter of Matthew deals with learning to judge other people. His opening remark, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is put into context when we recognize that He was referring only to UNRIGHTEOUS judgment. On the contrary, Jesus goes on to express how righteous judgment should take place between men; and recognizing that some, for fear of making a mistake, might decide to show no judgment at all, He warns that any unwillingness on our part to use righteous judgment will result in our own destruction. In verses 15 and 16 of the same chapter, He says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” What is most interesting about Christ’s warning is that the proverbial wolf is a “murderer” of the sheep.
The most popular argument offered by those opposed to capital punishment is, “What if we make a mistake?” Jesus clearly answers with the prediction that those who refuse to show proper judgment, for fear of making a mistake, will reap the destruction of the murderous wolf that, ironically, they – the victims – have enabled through willful refusal to do justly. In the context of chapter seven’s King James semantics, what I am calling “injustice” in this article is the “unrighteous judgment” of those who disobey Christ’s opening command to “[unrighteously] Judge not, lest ye be [unrighteously] judged.”
We conclude, then, that according to the doctrines of Jesus Christ in this particular seventh chapter of Matthew, unrighteous judgment takes place in two ways: 1) Passing judgment upon those who have committed less serious crimes than what we have committed. 2) Refusing to pass judgment upon those who have committed very serious crimes. The two polar extremes are both classified in this record of Matthew as unrighteous judgment.
Again, if what so many have claimed about judgment is true—that we aren’t ever supposed to judge anyone—then it poses the question, “How on earth do we determine who are true and who are false prophets?” Jesus answers this question as He continues, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Having delivered an entire teaching on the subject of righteous judgment and the Christian mandate to use it, Jesus’ sermon crescendos with a beautiful parable where those who use righteous judgment are likened unto a wise man who “built his house upon a rock.”
Matthew 7:24-27: (KJV) “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
What a beautiful transition this teaching makes into the subject of spiritual peace—peace from the storm. What is the result of our unwillingness to judge between good and bad thoughts? A sinking boat full of panicked fishermen. (See Mark 4:39.) Or with regard to corporate (civil government) peace, in this particular parable of Jesus, the result is a house collapsing under the pressure of rain and wind. Moreover, on a corporate (public) level, Jesus suggests that the unwillingness to judge between good and bad people during this life on earth will result in wolves, goats, dogs, and pigs—nearly everything except what is supposed to comprise the flock of God – the most peaceful of all barnyard animals…sheep!
The Bible Background Commentary explains, “Since blood is the source of life and a gift of God, the pollution caused by shedding blood can be wiped away only by the shedding of blood. Thus even the blood of animals must be poured on the altar as a ransom for the person who slaughtered them (see Leviticus 17:11). That is why the convicted murderer must be executed and why the death of the high priest wipes away the pollution of the unintentional homicide. Failure to obey this command corrupts the land. If the land and its people become polluted, God can no longer dwell in their midst. And if He abandons the land, it will no longer yield its covenantal bounty (See Genesis 4:10-12.)
“On this vexed subject the existentialist Albert Camus made a telling point. He argued that capital punishment could be justified only where there was a socially shared religious belief that the final verdict on a person’s life was not given in this life. To condemn a fellow human being to death in this context would not involve divine pretension since the human verdict could be overturned by the only perfectly competent judge, God himself. But in a society that lacked such a religious framework, execution would be a godlike activity since it eliminated a person from the only community that indisputably existed.” (Meilaender, pp. 20-21.)
Adam Clarke, the eighteenth-century protégé of John Wesley, points out: “Reproving a brother who had sinned was a positive command under the law. See Leviticus 19:17. And the Jews have a saying that one of the causes of the ruin of their nation was, ‘No man reproved another.’” If the unwillingness to reprove another could result in the destruction of an entire nation (one that had the greatest blessing of God upon it – more than any other nation before or since, I might add), then what are the chances of a local church surviving such a moral failure? This saying of the Jews was biblically accurate, for the cause of their destruction as a nation is catalogued in the following passage:
Judges 2:18-19 “And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.”
It is remarkable to understand how POWERFUL and GOOD righteous judgment is in the midst of a sinful world. Although the Hebrew people did NOT have a complete understanding of God…did NOT have the Bible we have today…did NOT have a powerful union with the precious person of the Holy Ghost…and did NOT even know the name of Jesus Christ, they WERE STILL ABLE TO CARRY OUT RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS THAT PLEASED THE LORD! They were commanded to execute capital punishment according to their inspired law. When those who carried out such judgment died, the whole nation was corrupted. When the judges lived, the entire nation was saved.
What more must be said, beloved?
We Christians know the living Jesus Christ! We possess the glorious Book of books! We have a union with the third Person of the Trinity! We are the blood-bought church of the redeemed! There can be no more excuses offered against the purity and modern-day necessity of righteous judgment both from and among the people of God. Without it, our churches (spiritual government) will become as corrupt as the secular business and political worlds! And what of civil government? Injustice will provoke the wrath of God and enhance the corrupting power of Satan’s deception in our nation. Let us not be reduced to the prophetic “church of whoredomes” predicted to exist in the last days of man on earth—our days. Let us arise and preserve the standard in our American justice system handed down to us by our founding fathers. Then, and only then, will justice prevail, so that the campaign of evangelism might continue unhindered. May God bless America through His church—a church commanded to be “salt and light”, preserving justice in the light of His truth.