Why I Am A Universalist, §6: Jesus Christ, the Judge Judged in Our Place
His death is the foundation of his exclusivity. And this exclusiveness consists precisely in a universal inclusivity, in that in his death the sin of all sinners is condemned to pass away and brought to nothing.We move from the doctrine of election to its necessary corollary: the doctrine of reconciliation. As true God and true human, Jesus Christ is the electing God and the elected human. To put this in terms of the doctrine of reconciliation, Jesus Christ is the Judge over all creation (electing God) and the one who was judged in our place (elected human). This is the heart of the doctrine of reconciliation. The God who alone is judge over all creation determined in Godself to enter the world in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, live a life of obedience to the law by the power of the Holy Spirit, take the judgment of God against all humanity upon himself, and rise again to bring new life to all who were judged in the person of Jesus Christ. Only the divine Judge is capable of taking the judgment upon himself. Sinful humanity is incapable of achieving this; we are lost sinners who are thrust upon the faithfulness and mercy of God. Jesus Christ alone is the center of our reconciliation to God, the one who alone made it possible for us to live in communion with the Creator. Jesus was the one judged in our place, and lo! we are liberated for new life. To quote Barth:
—Eberhard Jüngel, “On the Doctrine of Justification,” IJST 1:1, p. 40
We now return to our question: Why did the Son of God become man, one of us, our brother, our fellow in the human situation? The answer is: In order to judge the world. But in the light of what God has actually done we must add at once: In order to judge it in the exercise of His kingly freedom to show His grace in the execution of His judgment, to pronounce us free in passing sentence, to free us by imprisoning us, to ground our life on our death, to redeem and save us by our destruction. That is how God has actually judged in Jesus Christ. And that is why He humbled Himself. That is why He went into the far country as the obedient Son of the Father. That is why He did not abandon us, but came amongst us as our brother. That is why the Father sent Him. That was the eternal will of God and its fulfilment in time—the execution of this strange judgment. If this strange judgment had not taken place, there would be only a lost world and lost men. Since it has taken place, we can only recognise and believe and proclaim to the whole world and all men: Not lost.A christocentric doctrine of reconciliation, as propounded by Barth, protects against the superficial universalism characterized by the liberal theology of the nineteenth century up through contemporary secular religiosity. Such a view states that because God is love, God affirms us in our plight and does not judge us; instead, God shows solidarity with humanity by embracing us as we are and welcoming us into eternal life while helping us to live better lives in the here and now. There is some truth to this, but this perspective makes the grave mistake of viewing love and justice, or mercy and righteousness, as mutually exclusive. I have already discussed this under the heading of God’s attributes, or perfections, but it bears repeating.
But what did take place? At this point we can and must make the decisive statement: What took place is that the Son of God fulfilled the righteous judgment on us men by Himself taking our place as man and in our place undergoing the judgment under which we had passed. That is why He came and was amongst us. In this way, in this "for us," He was our Judge against us. That is what happened when the divine accusation was, as it were, embodied in His presence in the flesh. That is what happened when the divine condemnation had, as it were, visibly to fall on this our fellow-man. And that is what happened when by reason of our accusation and condemnation it had to come to the point of our perishing, our destruction, our fall into nothingness, our death. Everything happened to us exactly as it had to happen, but because God willed to execute His judgment on us in His Son it all happened in His person, as His accusation and condemnation and destruction. He judged, and it was the Judge who was judged, who let Himself be judged. Because He was a man like us, He was able to be judged like us. Because He was the Son of God and Himself God, He had the competence and power to allow this to happen to Him. Because He was the divine Judge come amongst us, He had the authority in this way—by this giving up of Himself to judgment in our place—to exercise the divine justice of grace, to pronounce us righteous on the ground of what happened to Him, to free us therefore from the accusation and condemnation and punishment, to save us from the impending loss and destruction. And because in divine freedom He was on the way of obedience, He did not refuse to accept the will of the Father as His will in this self-giving. In His doing this for us, in His taking to Himself—to fulfil all righteousness—our accusation and condemnation and punishment, in His suffering in our place and for us, there came to pass our reconciliation with God. Cur Deus homo? In order that God as man might do and accomplish and achieve and complete all this for us wrong-doers, in order that in this way there might be brought about by Him our reconciliation with Him and conversion to Him. [CD IV.1, pp. 222-223.]
What Barth accomplishes is what any universalist doctrine of reconciliation must recognize: that God as the Judge must enact judgment upon humankind, and in fact has already done so in the person of Jesus Christ. The very incarnation of God in Jesus was a judgment against sinful humanity, because it affirmed what humans have always tried to deny: that we are incapable of saving ourselves and must be rescued. God in divine grace and mercy determined in Godself to be the one who rescues us, to be Deus pro nobis—God for us. Any theological system that avoids judgment threatens to sidestep the central point of God’s economic activity. Of course, there are other ways of expressing God’s economic activity besides using the penal language of judge, judged, and judgment, and Barth in fact does translate this framework into the cultic language of priest, sacrifice, and satisfaction. Barth, however, finds the justice imagery to best convey the point: Jesus Christ came in the place of all humanity, suffered God’s judgment against all humanity, and effected God’s reconciliation with all humanity. Everything occurred in Jesus Christ. There is no sidestepping that indubitable reality.
Consequently, we cannot conceive of eschatology apart from the reality of what occurred (perfect tense) in Jesus Christ. Judgment is not something that simply awaits each individual beyond death; an eternal judgment has in fact already been given to each person in the judgment bestowed upon Jesus. The last judgment is not a new judgment upon each person but rather the universal revelation of the judgment that was already given. The judgment upon Jesus was hidden from humanity under the veil of human flesh, and thus the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ was God’s hiddenness in revelation and not full disclosure of the being and works of God. Revelation in Jesus Christ was indirect revelation, in that it was not a direct encounter between the living God and sinful humanity. What will occur in the eschaton is the direct and cosmic revelation of the same God who was revealed, however indirectly, in Jesus Christ. The last judgment, consequently, is the universal manifestation of what is already true, of what has already occurred and now awaits the clear proclamation to all creation by the Lord God in glory. We will address this in more detail under the heading of eschatology.
In other words, divine judgment is still a reality in the eschatological sense of the last judgment, but that judgment can no longer be viewed as a period of retribution for people’s sins. Such a view is wholly un-Christian. The last judgment is an act of grace, because Christ is the one who judges us and He still bears the marks of the cross. It is not the wrathful God whom we encounter in the eschaton, but rather the living Christ who died for us and for our salvation. When we approach the judgment seat of Christ, the only verdict available will be: Not guilty. The Son of God who judges us will still bear the marks of his passion on his hands and feet. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that means the suffering he bore for our sakes will remain throughout eternity. When the Son of God sees each person in the eschaton, there is only one judgment left to make: “I lived and died in your place. Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).