Gospel means good news. In order to understand how good the gospel of Jesus Christ is, one must understand how bad the bad news is. The bad news is very bad: God, at some point in the future, will put an end to the earth as we know it. He will bring all of humanity before Him, as defendants in a courtroom, and proclaim “guilty” or “not guilty” to each and every person. Those found guilty will be sent to everlasting torment, with no hope of parole. The first clear Biblical reference to this event, which is called the Eternal Judgment, is found in the Old Testament book of Daniel:
Before discussing how it is that God determines guilt or innocence, let us for a moment ponder the philosophical and logical implications of this event.
Adolf Hitler was a madman who killed millions of Jews for no good reason. He evaded justice by taking his own life prior to being captured. One must ask, “Did Hitler’s plan work?” Did Hitler escape justice by killing himself? If there is no Eternal Judgment, if there is no judgment after bodily death, then the answer is unequivocally yes, Hitler evaded justice. But if the human soul lives beyond the bodily death of this earth, and will stand before God one day, then no, Hitler did not escape justice. God will ensure that he is punished appropriately for his transgressions.
For a moment let us theorize that Hitler did not commit suicide, but was captured. Undoubtedly he would have been executed for his offenses, but perhaps leading up to his execution he would have been tortured. The question that must be asked is whether any amount of torture could truly repay Hitler for all the evil he committed. How much torture is needed to equal the deaths of six million Jews? How much torture is needed to account for the economic destruction, the lives lost during official combat, and the murdering of non-Jew invalids and the poor? Hitler would, even without killing himself, escape justice, because no human court could inflict a punishment that would ensure justice was served. It is not humanly possible to punish a man like Hitler, in proportion to all the evil and destruction he was responsible for.
The conclusion then is simple: without a judgment by God after death, there would be no such thing as objective justice. Justice would always be limited in scope (Hitler could never be adequately punished for his evils) and justice could be evaded (either through death or by hiding from human authorities). With an eternal judgment, justice is objective and no one will escape. God will ensure that all are brought to justice, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being punished.
Although intellectually we may nod our head at the notion of an eternal judgment being required for true justice, we at the same time may be fearful about such a judgment, wondering whether we will be found guilty. How is it that God determines guilt and innocence? The surprising teaching of the Bible is that God’s judgment is based not on one’s actual deeds, but on one’s faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news – one can be a law-breaker and yet be acquitted and declared innocent. This scandalous idea will be the subject of the next discussion.