Jesus Conquers His Enemies: Acts 17:31
When God’s law is violated, many people are often hurt. We see this every day when crimes are committed. There are victims who have been robbed, or swindled, or beaten, or betrayed, or even killed. And in the language of Scripture, the criminals that commit these crimes have made themselves the enemies of both their victims and God. And the proper response of the government is to catch and punish these criminals. Their judgment is supposed to be both an appropriate penalty for their crimes, and a way to protect their victims and the rest of society from further crimes. Scripture speaks of this in places like Proverbs 20:8 and 25:5.
And something similar is true of the judgment that Jesus brings. He punishes his and our enemies according to justice, in order to exact retribution for their crimes. But he also punishes them as an act of blessing and benevolence toward us, in order to protect us from their sin and violence, and to purify and protect the world he is making for us. This is why the judgment and destruction of sinners is a critical part of Jesus’ mission of turning the world into God’s earthly kingdom. In order for the world to be pleasing to God and fit for him to inhabit, and in order for us to enjoy its everlasting blessings, the corruption of sin must be completely removed from it.
As we saw earlier in this lesson, Jesus began executing judgment against many of his and our enemies during his earthly ministry. These enemies included sin, death and the demons. Jesus’ victory over these enemies is secure, but he hasn’t finished punishing them yet. So, in the present age, Jesus continues to execute judgment against them, and he will complete their judgment only when he returns. This fact is taught in 2 Peter 2:4; Jude verse 6; and Revelation 20:10, 14.
But Jesus and his church also have other enemies. Every sinner who hasn’t submitted himself to Christ is a citizen of the kingdom of Satan and an enemy of God. Scripture makes this clear in Matthew 13:37-43; Luke 19:27; and Ephesians 2:1-3.
At the present time, Jesus executes partial judgment against some of these enemies during their earthly lives, as when Herod was struck dead in Acts 12:23 because he allowed the people to treat him as a god. But for the most part, Jesus forbears in his judgment against his enemies, patiently withholding his judgment until he returns.
The apostles were clear that Jesus’ rule as king would include a future day of judgment, when everyone would answer to his rule and his law. This judgment on the last day is mentioned in places like Acts 17:31, Romans 14:10-12, and Hebrews 10:26-31. The coming Day of Judgment is a central part of Christ’s work as king because it will satisfy his justice toward sinners, his mercy toward believers, and his faithfulness to the Father as he purifies his kingdom.
Although the doctrine of the last judgment can be terrifying for those who haven’t received Christ as Lord, this isn’t a bad thing. These warnings provide an opportunity for the unfaithful to repent of their sin, and to receive forgiveness, mercy and grace from our king Jesus Christ. Yes, they’re strongly worded. But at their core, they’re offers of blessing to those who repent. In fact, this is why gospel presentations in the Bible often contain a warning of future judgment. For example, we see this in Matthew 21:32-44 and Acts 17:30-31.