The Consequences of Sin--Part 5
In order to really understand the judgments of God by means of the "lake of fire," one must know the divine law. It is the "fiery law" (Deut. 33:2) by which God judges all mankind. Without some knowledge of the law, all one is left with is a vastly simplified and carnalized "fire" that judges all unbelievers equally and eternally, with little or no regard for the circumstances behind their non-belief or their particular sins.
Such lawless judgment, if implemented, would be unjust to virtually everyone, and hence does not reflect the character of God at all. The judgment always fits the crime in biblical law. That is the cardinal rule, and every biblical judge had to know this. It is the meaning of Exodus 21:23-25,
(23) But if there is any further injury; then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, (24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25) burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
This does not mandate that someone's eye must be put out if he puts out his neighbor's eye. The mandate is that there must be equal value paid to the victim. Only if they cannot agree on a settlement might the literal application of the law take place. This is evident from the next two verses in Exodus 21,
26 And if a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. (27) And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.
In this case the price of the lost eye or tooth is the slave's freedom.
So how might the law judge mankind at the Great White Throne? First of all, there is a huge distinction between those who never heard the name of Jesus and those who rejected Him. Those who never heard the name of Jesus are most likely people who never had access to the divine law (Scripture) and so were ignorant of it. Of such people, Paul says in Romans 2,
(11) For there is no partiality with God. (12) For all who have sinned without the Law [anomos] will also perish without the Law [anomos], and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. (13) For not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
The law of God is impartial to "Jew or Greek" (vs. 10). Both parties will be judged, but the standard of measure is different for those who had no knowledge of the law. In Paul's context, the Jews will be judged by the law; the Greeks will be judged "without the law" (anomos). This Greek word anomos means "apart from the law." The term is unique, appearing only in this verse. So Paul explains the meaning in the next verses:
(14) For when Gentiles [ethnos] who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, (15) in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, (16) on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
First, it is clear that these ethnos are presumed to be ignorant of the divine law, "not having the Law." The Law was given at Sinai, where only a small fraction of the earth's population had opportunity to hear God's voice and receive this divine revelation.
Second, Paul makes it clear that the ethnos all had a prior knowledge of God's law since the time of Adam. Every tribe and nation had moral values, and even though these had often become corrupted or distorted by carnal minds, nonetheless, they all retained some measure of responsibility toward the divine law. In fact, Paul says, the Law of God was "written on their hearts," so they cannot be excused completely, nor can it be said that they were totally ignorant of the divine laws revealed at Sinai.
Third, Paul says that these ethnos "are a law to themselves." What does that mean? How can men themselves BE a law? To the extent that the law of God was written in their hearts, they WERE the law. As believers, we should understand that Jesus Christ was the Word (John 1:1), and that as the Word (law) is written in our hearts, we are also becoming the Word as part of His Body. That is, we eat the Word, and we are what we eat.
So also is it with all men who retain some portion of revelation regarding the moral character of God. While their moral systems may have been corrupted by the carnal minds of men over the centuries, most still have some degree of moral sense, along with a conscience to guide them. And so God will judge them according to their level of knowledge.
It is NOT the case that only Israel received the divine law, and all others have no accountability toward it. The character of God was revealed through Adam, and all mankind has a residual knowledge of His law. The law was revealed in a greater way through Moses (and put in writing), but because the law was an expression of God's character and will, it is plain that God's character did not suddenly change or come into existence with Moses.
With much knowledge comes much responsibility. Luke 12:48 says, "And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required." And so, the Judeans, whose rabbis studied the law daily but misunderstood it and nullified it by their traditions, had far more accountability than did the Greeks who knew little of the divine law. Likewise, Christian leaders who have cast aside the law also will be held more accountable than the unbelievers who know little.
All will be held accountable by the law, but only to the extent that they had opportunity to know the truth. God will judge all mankind righteously.
So at the Great White Throne, when a man who had six Bibles in his home for 50 years stands before God, God will judge him according to his level of knowledge and opportunity to know the mind and character of God. He may receive "many stripes." If he had been a careless believer, or one who abused the authority that he had (as in Luke 12:45), he will be "saved yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15).
But when a man from Kenya, living in the 8th century stands before God, having never heard of Jesus Christ, he will be judged according to how he treated his family and neighbors by the light that he had at the time. Having had no opportunity to become a believer in his life time, he will become a believer at the Great White Throne. He will "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11), along with everyone else.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3 that "no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." And Paul says in Rom. 10:9, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."
This indicates that most men will be "saved" at the Great White Throne judgment. This is their Passover experience (justification). I believe they will also be filled with the Spirit (Pentecost). But yet they will still be required to undergo the "baptism of fire" and be tested and tried, even as Israel was tried in the wilderness, before receiving the Promise.
The story of "the church in the wilderness" makes it clear that one must go through the training of Pentecost to learn obedience before one can enter the Promised Land. No one can avoid this, not even by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord at the Great White Throne judgment. The path is the same for all men.