For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)
This is one of those scriptures that throws a divide on the implications on embracing the grace message. For those who argue for a balance in preaching the grace message based on the exclusion of a forth coming judgment this is one go-to-place in the scriptures.
As always context is key to understand Peter’s message. It will be improper to do a positional doctrine without examining all the elements in the verse and the surrounding verses.
Let’s put some flesh to the passage now.
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning THE FIERY TRIAL WHICH IS TO TRY YOU, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that YOU PARTAKE OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If YOU ARE REPROACHED FOR THE NAME OF CHRIST, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet IF ANYONE SUFFERS AS A CHRISTIAN, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
17 FOR the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now
“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
When looked at context you will see Peter addressing the fact the believers of the first century in his time were going through severe persecution. This is also evidenced in other places in the New Testament. Paul’s letters seem to convey this lot.
Peter tells them that FIERY TRIALS is about to come against them. He asks them to rejoice as they partake in a form of suffering for their stand on the gospel. He tells them it is necessary because Jesus tells his disciples of it in the Olivet discourse.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matthew 24)
This fiery trial is based on decisions taken against the church by their Jewish brethren and leadership. Then in vs 17 he first says “for” which means “because”. His precious statement links what he is about to say in vs 17.
This dilemma is because “the time has come”. When Peter said “the time has come” he uses the word “kairos”. This word means more than just time. It “frequently refers to time for decision in eschatological references.
The persecution of the church refers to an appointed time for fulfillment. Fulfilment of what the Lord told them as signs on the end of the old covenant/creation in Matthew 24.
Now not only did Peter say the appointed time had come, he said the time had come for “the judgment” [to krima] had come. The definite article is present in the greek but strangely absent in many Bible translations.
What judgment is he referring to?
In Matthew 16:27-28 Jesus said he was going to come in judgment to reward every man before his generation passed away.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 28 Verily I say unto you, THERE BE SOME STANDING HERE, WHICH SHALL NOT TASTE OF DEATH, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
This scripture puts it very clear that this was an event that was due upon that generation and not in our time.
Paul also echoed this too;
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world (oikoumene, ) in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men”
The root word Oikoumene, used for “world” in this passage, actually means “inhabited or civilized world,” not world as in global planet earth. This is the same Greek word used in Luke 2:1: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.”
Surely Ceasar Augustus did not carry out the census in every nook and cranny of the planet earth. This world was their civilized world that was under the radar of their control.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9)
Why would the apostles be hated in all nations if they had not preached the gospel in all nations? They were hated by all nations because they preached in all nations. What they did they preach that would stir up that hatred? The gospel had at its foundation the fact that the Mosaic laws were no longer a determining factor for salvation and relationship with God. This did not go down well the Jews who all their lives were born into it for centuries. The gospel at its best was blasphemy at the worst for them hence the persecution.
The gospel going round the Roman empire was to give the Jews everywhere the opportunity to embrace the redemption in Jesus and escape the wrath that was to be unleashed. That wrath was the day of judgment demonstrated in the removal of that old covenant world.
It needs to be noted that Peter said that the judgment would “begin at the house of God”; and would include those “who do not obey the gospel.” In their reference as Hebrews, the house of God refers to the temple. Jesus told them in Matthew 23 that the house would be left desolate.
Those who do not obey the gospel are not believers who sin. They were Jews who refused to accept the gospel of Jesus. Paul talks about them and still presents the theme of judgment on them in 1 Thessalonians 3.
4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all YOUR PERSECUTIONS AND TRIBULATIONS THAT YOU ENDURE, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to REPAY WITH TRIBULATION THOSE WHO TROUBLE YOU, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 IN FLAMING FIRE TAKING VENGEANCE ON THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD, AND ON THOSE WHO DO NOT OBEY THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe,[a] because our testimony among you was believed.
If you pay a close attention to the above statement by Paul you will see the harmony with Peter’s:
The church was being persecuted by the Jewish leadership and it was time for wrath (expressions of the law) to fall on them. That was the judgment. This theme runs throughout the scripture from Cain and Abel, Ismael and Isaac etc.
The judgment occurred at the “house of God” and it was found wanting from the cross when it’s veil was torn apart. The cross made it obsolete and it became known in scriptures as the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:9).
Daniel prophesied the same event in chapter 12 as occurring for times, time and half a time (3 1/2 years which was the length of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans) and when the power of the holy people were shattered (the Law and city).
It is also important to understand the word “judgment” is not always as we use it in the English language. The word itself, krino, means to separate.
In those events that occurred at the end of that age there was a separation going on even in the midst of the persecution of the church.
Jesus used the metaphors of the 10 virgins, the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats and others to teach the separation to distinguish those who were true Jews of faith (Galatians 3:7), and who were the Jews of the flesh, the apostate murderers of Jesus and the saints.
Ad70 demonstrated who the true sons of God were. It brought about the kingdom which demonstrated the full manifestation of sonship in the image of Christ. We are not waiting for any judgment to happen in the church of Christ. We are rather living in the endless kingdom age expecting the knowledge of the glory of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters covers the sea.