Salvation from Judgment: A Survey of John’s “Good News”

eskay-lim-nhPSp2wB5do-unsplashA number of years ago, a church I know purchased something like 100,000 copies of the Gospel of John. Why? So that they could share the message of salvation with everyone in their Chicago suburb. That is to say, by putting a copy of John’s Gospel in everyone’s mailbox, they hoped to share the good news of salvation with all their neighbors.

I don’t know the fruit of that endeavor, but I know it was motivated by a commitment to the Word, a passion to sow the seeds of the gospel, and a prayerful desire to see their neighbors know God and find salvation in the Son. And the use of John makes sense. As John tells us, the Evangelist wrote his book so that his audience would believe in Christ. As John 20:30–31 reads,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

“Life in his name” is another way of saying salvation (John 3:16) or entrance into the kingdom of God (John 3:3–5). And so, John’s Gospel is rightly associated with the theme of salvation. And more, it is usually not associated with judgment. Jesus even says as much. “For I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47).

Case closed. Jesus has come to save, not to judge, and so let’s print up the Gospel of John and send it to everyone who needs salvation. So good, so far. Except, we haven’t answered the question: Saved from what? Saved from death? From sorrow? From sin? From what? Well, that’s what brings us back to judgment—a theme ignored or despised by many who offer Christ today.

The answer to the question about salvation in John’s Gospel is inextricably related to Jesus’s testimony regarding his judgment and the role of the Spirit who brings to completion the judgment of Christ reigning in glory (cf. Psalm 110). To show this, and to better appreciate what salvation is, I will show from John’s Gospel how the theme of judgment develops. And in its development, it may be surprising how prominent judgment is and how important it is for John’s message of salvation.

Judgment in John: A Necessary Backdrop to God’s Salvation

1. Judgment is the Natural Condition of the World (John 3:18–19)

If we trace the word judge (krinō) / judgment (krisis) through John, we find its first use in John 3:18–19.[1]

Whoever believes in him is not condemned (krinetai), but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment (krisis): the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

Here, judgment is related to rejecting Jesus. Only, it does not say that unbelief causes condemnation (judgment). It says that those who reject the Son of God are condemned already. In other words, the status of the world remains the same, even after the light of the world enters the scene. Judgment, as Genesis 3 explains it, is the natural condition of the world. In Adam, all have sinned, died, and entered into judgment (Rom. 5:12, 18–19), so that now we (humanity) are objects of God’s wrath by nature (Eph. 2:1–3). Importantly, such judgment is what Jesus has come to bring for all those who will not trust in him for salvation (see Acts 10:42; cf. Revelation 2–3).

2. Judgment is the Work of the Triune God (John 5:22–30)

The next time we find judgment in John (5:22–24, 27, 30), Jesus is explaining how the Father has entrusted judgment to the Son, and how the Son executes judgment according to the will of his Father.

For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. . . . 27And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. . . .  I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

From a cursory reading of these verses we learn something of the economic trinity, that the Father has sent the Son to judge (v. 22). This does not mean that the Father is not judge, as God’s works are always inseparable, but it does mean that when judgment comes, Jesus will judge as God the Son Incarnate. In other words, his judgment will come as the resurrected the Son of Man, just as verse 27 indicates.

Indeed, in verses 27–30, we find a description of two resurrections—one spiritual and present; one bodily and future. And in both, Jesus is the one who has authority to raise the dead and to judge the living and the dead. This is how God will judge. The Father will send the Son (v. 22); the Son will obey the Father (v. 30); and both will send the Spirit to judge—but the mention of the Spirit is getting ahead of ourselves. Jesus will explain the role of the Spirit in judgment in John 16.

For now, it is enough to say that John’s Gospel is unequivocal in its message that “God is Judge.” And more than that, he is the true judge. As God the Son, Jesus judges as the perfect expression of God’s will. But as the God-man, he does not judge from heaven, he judges from the earth. And this will be an important step, as he ascends to heaven and sends his Spirit to earth, who will do his bidding on the earth. In all the point is simple: Judgment is the work of the triune God.

3. Everyone Judges, But Not Everyone Judges Rightly (John 7:24, 50–51)

If God judges, it follows that those made in his image will judge. In our world, judgmentalism is often condemned. Yet, how ironic that those who are most opposed to judgmentalism in one way are equally judgmental in another. The intolerance of the tolerant is legion, and to deny judgment is only to walk in ignorance of how to judge justly. Indeed, part of what it means to be human is to live by rules and to make judgments. Even those who deny God and his law, turn around and make laws of their own liking. As a result, they judge others by their own self-indulgent, fleeting determinations.

By contrast, Jesus addresses the phenomena of false judgments when he commands the Pharisees to judge rightly. Confronting them during the Feast of Booths, he declares, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (7:24). His statement comes after he healed a man on the Sabbath, and compares his whole body healing to that of circumcision. Both acts purify the man, or the child, respectively. And so Jesus challenges the Pharisees who have decided to condemn him.

A few verses later, Jesus’s challenge is joined by another, and this from an unlikely source. Nicodemus speaks up among the chief priests and Pharisees and asks, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (v. 51). In response, he receives a nasty-gram, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

This dialogue reveals the unbelief of the Pharisees and the subterranean stirrings of Nicodemus’s faith. And in the debate, we can see that both sides are judging the claims of Jesus. But only one side is correct. In the moment, Nicodemus has not rendered his final decision, but he is exercising due process as he considers who  Jesus is. By the time John’s Gospel is done, we will see that Nicodemus does render a verdict; instead of rendering Jesus unclean, he removes his body from the cross and lovingly places it in the tomb (John 19:39–42). Such an action show his trust in Christ, and John, led by the Spirit, commends him. Nicodemus has judged Jesus with right judgment (i.e., with Spirit of truth), and so he will not be condemned by God. By contrast, others will judge Jesus by outward appearances (i.e., by the judgment of the flesh), and as a result, they will not stand in the final judgment (cf. Ps. 1:4–6).

4. Jesus Judges Rightly (John 8:15–16, 26, 49–50)

Picking up the theme of right and wrong judgments, we turn to John 8:15–16. “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”

Here, Jesus returns to the source of the Pharisee’s judgments (the flesh). And he compares that errant source of judgment that leads to blindness and wrong judgment with his own judgments that arise from the Father. To be more explicit, verse 15 does not deny Jesus’s judgment; it denies Jesus judging others according to the flesh. What Jesus affirms is that he does not judge by himself, but that he judges in perfect harmony with the Father. Though the Spirit is not mentioned here, the contrast with the flesh points towards the Spirit—a point Jesus will develop in John 16. Until then, Jesus proceeds to judge rightly, as demonstrated by a few more verses in John 8.

First, John 8:26 states, “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” And again Jesus says in John 8:49–50, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.” In these verses, Jesus identifies God as the true judge (vv. 49–50) and his own judgment as true, because he who sent Jesus is true and because Jesus judges according to what he hears.

In these verses, we see two things: (1) Jesus makes judgments and (2) the judgments he makes are true. Again, the message of John is not just salvation, abstracted and cut off from judgment. The message that focuses on Jesus Christ, where he is the judge who will be judged to save his people from judgment.

5. Jesus Came Into the World for Judgment (John 9:39)

If there is one verse in John that encapsulates the message of Jesus’s judgment, John 9:39 might be it. In a chapter that sees a blind man “enlightened” and the enlightened Pharisees consigned to darkness, Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” In this verse, we have an unmistakable claim that Jesus is a judge and that he came into the world to judge.

For whatever John 12:47 means, when it says that Jesus did not come to judge, this passage says the opposite. This tells us that the denial of his judging has more to do with how he is judging than whether he will judge at all. Yes, Jesus has not come to judge without salvation, but neither has he come to bring salvation with judgment. Rather, knowing that there are two kinds of people in the world (sheep and goats, or children of God and children of the devil), Jesus has come to save and to judge. Or bringing them together, he will save many from the judgment he will bring upon all (cf. John 17:2). This is the point of John 9:39, and it reminds us that any gospel message divorced from judgment truncates the message of God.

6. Jesus Will Judge the Devil (John 12:30–33)

If Jesus judges the sin of mankind, he also judges the one who has tempted man to sin—namely, the devil. In John 12:30–33, we find these words, “Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”

Speaking in verses 32–33 about his death and its effect to bring salvation to Jew and Greek alike (“all people”), Jesus explains that this same event (his cross) would effectively judge the “ruler of this world” (the devil). More specifically, this judgment would look the ruler being “cast out.” Though it would take too long to explain, I take this casting out to refer to Jesus being “lifted up” in glory and Satan’s subsequent casting down. Such a scene is depicted in Revelation 12 and described in Hebrews 9, when Jesus purifies heaven.

The implications of this exaltation and judgment are threefold. First, Jesus’s judgment includes angelic beings, not just flesh. Second, this judgment will come as a result of his humiliation on the cross and his subsequent exaltation to heaven. Third, this judgment is tied to the salvation that he will bring to all nations. While the nations were blinded by the god of this age before the new covenant, after the new covenant, the nations would now be at liberty, so to speak, to come to Christ.

Yes, the Spirit would need to be sent to grant the new birth and give faith and repentance, but this gift of new covenant life also needed the devil to be thrown down from his position of authority over the nations. Now that all authority has been given to Jesus Christ, he has judged the devil unfit to rule the earth. And today, Christ is going through the earth with his Word and his Spirit, bringing salvation to his children (cf. Psalm 110).

7. Jesus Saves Us From Judgment (John 12:47–50)

 In the same chapter of John, Jesus makes his claim that “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47). This is the verse that can make us think that John does not focus on Jesus’s judgment in his Gospel. By now, however, we have seen multiple instances of John describing Jesus’s judgment. And more, he has recorded the very words of Jesus himself, where the Lord speaks of the judgment he will bring.

So, what does John 12:47 mean? In context, it looks like the statement of salvation and judgment is one that ensures that judgment is not the only effect of his coming. Look how it reads.

If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me. (John 12:47–50)

Notice the way judgment is coupled with salvation in verse 47. This is important, because by now in John’s Gospel, it would appear that no one in Jerusalem has believed in Jesus. In fact, Jesus as the Good Shepherd has essentially led all of his followers out the city, so that he might bring judgment. Notice how Jesus leads his followers to the countryside in John 11:55. Based on activity in John 7–11, it seems he has brought light to Jerusalem, in order to prove its spiritual darkness. If this is the case, it makes sense that the only result would be judgment, much like the time in Ezekiel when the Spirit departed from the city and left it for destruction.

Yet, John 12:47 says that Jesus has not come for judgment but for salvation, meaning he has not come for judgment alone, but for salvation also. Indeed, this has been the theme throughout. Jesus would save all who believe (John 3:16) and he would judge all those who refuse (John 3:17–18). Accordingly, Jesus will save all those whom the Father has given him and he will judge all those who prove to be unbelievers. This was true in his day, and it continues to be true, as he sits in glory with all creation under his feet.

8. Jesus Will Send the Spirit to Judge (John 16:8–11)

Finally, the reign of Christ means he will send his Spirit to save his saints. Yet, John 16:8–11 indicates that the coming of the Spirit will bring not only Jesus’s salvation, but also his judgment. Here is what Jesus says to his disciples after telling them in verse 7 that it is better that he go away (to die and rise again):

And when he [the Spirit of truth] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

This compact passage has been understood in a variety of ways, and I can’t address all of them. But the basic point is that the Spirit comes not only to save but to judge. He is not only converting the elect by granting life, he is condemning the unbelieving world for their refusal to believe, their misjudgment of Jesus, and their loss of their own father of lies.

Exegetically, it is best to see verses 9–11 as explaining verse 8. And if so, we might put it like this. The Spirit judges the world of their unbelief, proving that God is not their Father. Then, the Spirit judges the world for their false righteousness. They thought that killing Jesus was worship to God (John 16:1–4), but clearly Jesus acceptance with God proved his righteousness and their guilt. In this way, the world (i.e., the wicked rulers in Jerusalem, defined in John 15:18–27) are not righteous, but worthy of condemnation. And then finally, in a third statement related to “fathers,” the Spirit judges the ruler of the world, who is the father of lies and the father of these wicked men. Put together, we see how the Spirit judges the world.

And because the Spirit is sent to exercise this “conviction” of the world, it follows that the Spirit continues to do this today. Today, as Christ reigns in heaven, he sends his Spirit to bring salvation and judgment to the earth. And this happens as the Word of God goes forward throughout the earth.

As the gospel of Christ is proclaimed, and the Lord is lifted up before the world, the Spirit will save all the sheep and will condemn all the goats. In this way, Jesus continues to send the Spirit of Truth as a legal advocate.  And with this legal advocate, God accomplishes not only salvation, but an entire new creation.

By Salvation and Judgment the Spirit is Bringing a New Creation

With this survey of John in mind, it is important to note how a new creation requires more than salvation, it requires salvation and judgment. Graciously, God begins this new creation by bringing salvation to his sheep. But this new creation touches more than the elect. And this is where is judgment comes in. By means of his perfect judgment, the Lord ensures that the world, in its entirety, is made new, made clean, and made ready for God to dwell with man and man with God.

Indeed, fulfilling the work of Christ on the earth, the Spirit makes clean our world by judging those whose hearts are not cleansed by faith. While sobering, this judgment is part of the gospel message. And this means that the gospel is not a message that preaches salvation in the abstract. Instead, it preaches salvation from judgment.

In John, this message is clear. In our preaching, and mailing of John’s Gospel, we should endeavor it be just as clear. Jesus comes to save us from the judgment and he sends his Spirit to empower Christians to speak truth about Christ who is Savior and Judge.

As Paul will go on to say, Today is the day of salvation. So let us call the world that sits under the judgment of God to find salvation in Christ. For one day soon, the offer of salvation will be no more, and the judgment anticipated will be complete. Such events will be good news for those who believe, but for those who do not, it will be hell—literal and eternal hell.  With that in mind, let us share the good news with everyone we can and let us do so proclaiming God’s divine salvation from God’s divine judgment.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by eskay lim on Unsplash


[1] What follows is a thorough but not exhaustive word study of judgment in John.