So many parts of the church still struggle to come to terms with the fact that the Bible describes God both as saviour and judge. We like the saving part – a good God who saves people and “takes them to heaven” – but struggle with the judging part – a good God who destroys evil people and systems and will condemn them to hell.
This is one area where we quickly use the favourite weapon in our arsenal when we are uncomfortable with what the Bible (clearly) says – “my own God will not do XYZ” or “my own God is not like that”. It seems we are all creating our own gods now and that our monotheism has finally succumbed to polytheism. By the time we all have our own gods, the Romans and Greeks would even envy us.
But is there a contradiction in the fact that God is both saviour and judge? If we don’t think that the justices sitting on our supreme courts are inherently bad people for judging other people, why do we think that God sitting as a judge somehow compromises his goodness? I guess the reason is that our justices only pronounce verdicts while God, in the fullness of his holiness, carries out his verdicts: he destroys evil people.
So, more specifically, does God’s destruction of evil people (past, present, and future) undermine his goodness? Do we need to fall back to a covert polytheism to become comfortable with a God that saves and judges?
The early chapters of Genesis set a good foundation that will help us answer these questions.
In Genesis 3:1-13, sin entered into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The immediate “reaction” of God’s holiness is to pronounce judgments on all the actors (verses 14-19).
However, amidst those judgments, we find God’s grace as manifested in his redemptive plan. For example, in Genesis 3:15, we have what the church has considered the first announcement of the gospel (protoevangelion): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Here we have the ultimate destruction of the instigator of evil, Satan (Rev 12:7-9 identifies the serpent as Satan). Note that the redemption of humanity will not take place apart from the destruction of Satan (“he will crush your head”). Unless there is a final defeat of Satan, the promise to put enmity between humanity and the devil cannot be ultimately fulfilled.
Therefore, God’s judgement against the serpent was a manifestation of his mercy to humanity.
We see this again in the latter part of Genesis 3. God sending Adam and Eve out of Eden was a decisive act of judgement. As the author puts it, “the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden” (3:23).
However, we see in this section that this judgement was designed to prevent man from living forever in his fallen, corrupt state (with all the consequences of sin, including moral and physical evil). “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). This tree “produces fruit that leads to immortality” and it was an act of mercy that God prevented Adam and Eve from living forever in their fallenness.
The tree of life will once again appear in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-3). By then, sin, evil, and death have been defeated and God’s people will live eternally in a redeemed heaven and earth.
Again, God’s judgement was a manifestation of his goodness to humanity.
Once man was out of Eden, moral evil engulfed the world. It started with Cain killing his brother, Abel. God responded to this moral evil by placing a curse on Cain and on the ground for his sake (Genesis 4:6-14).
By the time we reach Genesis 6, moral evil became ubiquitous. Again, the holy God judged the world through a flood, destroying man and animals (Genesis 6:9 – 7:24). However, in mercy, God spared Noah’s family and some animals.
In Genesis 9 we see many similarities with Genesis 2 that suggests that it was a sort of new creation: the command to be fruitful, increase in number, and fill the earth; the dominion of man over the rest of creation. (Peter uses the flood as a metaphor for baptism, the initiation rite into the new creation – 1 Peter 3:18-21).
The object lesson here is that God’s new creation will not arrive (Genesis 9) apart from God’s judgement against evil (Genesis 6-8); God’s righteous people will be spared from destruction while those who cling to evil will be destroyed so that the new world will be devoid of sin, evil, suffering, and death.
But Genesis 9 was only a type, God’s new creation (the antitype) was still in the future. By Genesis 10-11, the defiance of God had already become widespread again, leading to another act of judgement (Genesis 11:8-9).
Nevertheless, we see in Genesis 9 that God is committed to sustaining this world until it gives way to the renewed one. First, he established principles of justice administered by human governments as a way to check the evil of men (vs. 5-6). By God’s common grace, evil will be checked and restrained. Second, God made a covenant with Noah and the whole creation never to destroy the earth with a flood (9:11). Rather, God will providentially sustain the earth as seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night endure (8:22).
God’s plan to rid this world of evil and bring about a new creation continued with Abraham. God promised him an offspring/seed (echoing Genesis 3:15) through whom he (God) will bless the whole earth (Genesis 12-22).
He also promised to make a nation out of Abraham, descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:4-5). In the course of history, the nation of Israel came through Abraham.
In the deliverance of these people from Egypt, we see a manifestation of God’s judgement. God hardened the sinful and rebellious heart of Pharaoh and sent numerous plagues on the Egyptians. What was the effect of these judgements? To free the children of Israel, the people through whom his redemptive purposes would be accomplished.
Again, we see how God’s judgement (against Egypt) was a manifestation of his goodness to redeem the world through a nation that came from Abraham.
Once they left Egypt, the Israelites began a journey to possess Canaan, the promised land. Here too, God judged the original inhabitants of Canaan because of their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) and in this act of judgement, he constituted his people as a theocratic nation.
In the rest of the OT narrative, we find God judging various evil people, especially the enemies of his covenant people, Israel. We find stories about the destruction of Babylon and other evil nations (Isaiah 10, 13-26) as well as individual evildoers like Haman and Belshazzar, among others. In one of the popular instances, we read that “the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp” (2 Kings 19:35).
However, we also notice another thread where God’s distaste for sin and evil led him to judge faithless people within the covenant who sinned grievously. We all know the stories of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16 [verse 30 is clear that it was God that killed them]) as well as Achan (Joshua 7 [verse 25: “The LORD will bring trouble on you today]), among others.
We also find God disciplining people who had genuine faith in him when they sinned. In 2 Samuel 12, he disciplined David by taking his son.
In essence, God continued to manifest his holiness by judging sin and evil temporally even as he advances his redemptive plan through the nation of Israel.
However, the Israelites looked forward to the day of the Lord (Mal 4:1-3; Isa 24:21-22, Zeph 1:14-18; Daniel 7:9-14, Ezekiel 30:3-4) when God’s redemptive purposes would have been fully accomplished: vindicating his righteous people, destroying the wicked, finally ridding the world of sin and evil, and bringing about the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65-66).
To take an example: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 4:1-3).
Notice again that the judgement of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous are placed side by side. In fact, the redemption of God’s righteous people cannot be consummated except sin and evil (including the men and angels who cling to them) are fully destroyed.
The picture in the NT is not different. In fact, when Christ was born, Simeone described him as “destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).
Let’s consider how the NT continues the themes of the OT.
First, we find God’s temporal judgements of evil men. The popular one is the death of Herod (Acts 12:19-23) whom an angel of the Lord struck down.
Second, we see the theme of God judging faithless people within the covenant who did evil in his sight. Christ pronounced judgements upon the Pharisees (Matthew 23) and prophesied the destruction of the temple which happened in AD 70 (Matthew 24:1-3). The death of Ananias and Saphira at the hand of the Spirit of the Lord also belongs to this category (Acts 5). The parables of Matthew 21 also explicate this theme.
Furthermore, Peter warned about judgement starting from the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). The author of Hebrews also warned apostates in the covenant against “fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:27). Those who have heard God speak and still reject him will find that he is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:25-29).
Third, we see God disciplining his true covenant people for the sake of their holiness and righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-12). Those who failed to discern the body of Christ in the Eucharist were judged with weakness, illness, and death so they won’t be finally condemned with the unbelieving world (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Paul himself was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:6-10).
Fourth, we see the same expectation of a coming day of judgement when God will vindicate his righteous people and destroy the wicked (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:10-12, 2:1-16, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, Matthew 25, Mark 9, etc.), a judgement that will be conducted by Christ himself (Acts 10:42, 17:31, John 5:22).
This judgement will lead to the destruction of all sin and evil so that God’s redemptive purpose to bring about a new heaven and earth can be actualised (2 Peter 3:1-13). Again, the destruction of sin and evil (and all the men and angels who cling to them) is a manifestation of God’s goodness because it is a prelude to his remaking and renewing of the universe. The children of God cannot enjoy the new creation apart from the destruction of all sin and all evil. As Desmond Alexander, a biblical scholar puts it, “To establish the reign of God on the earth it is necessary for the Evil One and those siding with him to be defeated.”
And God’s temporal judgements are anticipations of that ultimate judgement, proofs that God will destroy evil and renew the universe.
The redemptive purposes of God pointed to one person – Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, the offspring of Abraham, the true Israel, the Davidic King, the servant of the Lord.
He is the one who brings God’s redemptive purposes to their final actualisation.
Before going to the cross, he informed us that the prince of the world has now been driven out (judged/condemned – 16:11) and that through that very same act, he will draw all people to himself (John 12:30-33). We see again that God’s judgement (the casting out of Satan) manifests his goodness – it led to the drawing of all people to him.
When he went to the cross, he bore the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28); our sins were judged in him as our substitute (1 Peter 3:18). And by enduring that judgement, God’s goodness was manifested, the goodness that has procured our salvation.
Also, when Christ went to the cross, all the evil of the world (personal, political, moral, natural) was arraigned against him. It was fittingly the hour of darkness (Luke 22:53). Commenting on this verse, N.T Wright, a NT theologian, writes: “‘The power of darkness’ to which Jesus alludes immediately before his betrayal (Luke 22:53) indicates an awareness that on that night in particular evil was being given a scope, a free reign, to do its worst in ways for which the soldiers, the betrayer, the muddled disciples and the corrupt court were merely long-range outworkings.”
But Christ went through the hour of darkness and was victorious over all evil. He died and resurrected, burying sin and evil and rising up to actualise the new creation (1 Cor 15:45, Gal 6:16, 2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ, the new creation dawned. Devil, evil, and sin were judged and God’s redemptive purposes were accomplished.
“Christ’s death on the cross appears to be a decisive victory for Satan over the Son of God, Yet, although Christ’s crucifixion has every appearance of being a triumph for Satan – the Son of God is overcome by death – the Gospel account does not end there,” said Desmond Alexander. “Apparent defeat is dramatically turned into victory with the resurrection of Jesus.” Through death, Christ has defeated him who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). 
Though Christ’s death and resurrection achieved and inaugurated the new creation and the final destruction of sin and evil that is integral to it, we still await the consummation of that new creation. Sin and evil still exist; evil men still rebel against God; the devil, though bound, is still active in the world (Revelation 20:1-3, 1 Peter 5:8-9).
In Revelation, we see that the consummation to which we look forward will come. Christ, the Lamb, will also be the warrior-king, who will destroy the beast and its associates (the allies of Satan and enemy of God), according to chapter 19. In Revelation 20, we see that Satan himself and all humans that side with him will be devoured, cast into the lake of burning sulphur. As Alexander puts it, “While Revelation focuses on the defeat of Satan, it also reveals that those who are at one with him in opposing God will share a similar fate.”
Death itself will also be cast into the same lake (Rev 20:14).
Within these two chapters, we, therefore, see the ultimate defeat of all sin and evil.
By the time we get to Revelation 21 and 22, we then realise that the judgements of Revelation 19 and 20 were God’s gracious acts necessary for the consummation of the new creation. As soon as sin and evil are destroyed, the new heaven and earth appear and New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth (Revelation 21:1-3).
In this renewed world, there will be no more evil since there will be no more sin: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away;” “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
It will be Eden restored: God dwelling with his people (Revelation 21:3) with the tree of life present (Revelation 22:2). But it will be beyond anything that we can imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). The rule and dominion that we have failed at will be restored to us as we reign with the triune God forever and ever (22:5).
The only way to get around the truth that God judges (pronounces and executes judgements) is to remove a large swath of the Bible.
But this is even so unnecessary when we realise that God’s judgements, though they are primarily the manifestation of his holiness, are also gracious acts by which he rids this world of sin, evil, and corruption and brings about the new heaven and the new earth.
In essence, to deny judgement is to deny God’s holiness and/or his redemptive purpose to bring about a new creation.
There can be no new creation without the defeat of all sin and evil; therefore, to enjoy the fullness of God’s redemption is to affirm his role as judge. What do we want? A new world where evil still resides (in what sense then can we call it new) or one that is rid of evil because the fires of God have removed everything that defiles (2 Peter 3:1-10).
“Since our hope is for a holy garden-city untarnished by evil, it naturally follows that the children of the evil one will be barred from God’s dwelling place … only the holy may live in God’s presence,” said Alexander
God will not suspend his plan because men prefer to reject his forgiveness and grace and cling to their sins. No one will be able to hold him to ransom. He will defeat evil and all who cling to it. As N.T rightly puts it, “just as when we offer genuine forgiveness to someone else we are no longer conditioned by the evil that they have done, even if they refuse to accept this forgiveness and so continue in a state of enmity, so when God offers genuine forgiveness to his sinful creatures he is no longer conditioned by the evil they have done, even if they refuse to accept his forgiveness.”
Therefore, “when God makes the promised new world, there will be no shadow of past evil to darken the picture.” All sin and evil will be gone forever.
Day of judgment! Day of wonders!
Hark! the trumpet’s awful sound,
louder than a thousand thunders,
shakes the vast creation round.
How the summons
will the sinner’s heart confound!
See the Judge, our nature wearing,
clothed in majesty divine;
you who long for his appearing
then shall say, “This God is mine!”
own me in that day as thine.
At his call the dead awaken,
rise to life from earth and sea;
all the pow’rs of nature, shaken
by his looks, prepare to flee.
what will then become of thee?
But to those who have confessed,
loved and served the Lord below,
he will say, “Come near, ye blessed,
see the kingdom I bestow;
shall my love and glory know.”
 T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem (Nottingham: Intervarsity Press, 2008), p. 156.
 Ibid, p. 113
 N.T Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (London: SPCK, 2006), p. 75, Scribd.
 Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, p. 115
 Ibid, p. 118
 Ibid, p. 118.
 Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 132, Scribd.
 John Newton, Day of Judgement, Day of Wonders in Trinity Hymnal (Philadelphia: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1961 ), #387