A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.
For links to all the other posts in this series:
We now reach the final installment in this series on Biblical justice. So far, we have built a clearer picture of what doing justice looks like: restoring the fallen, crushing oppressors, and ending the terrorization brought upon people. In the previous post, we observed convicting instances of Jesus practicing justice in which He rebuked exploitative leadership, helped the vulnerable in ways they couldn’t help themselves. He was simultaneously the suffering servant that didn’t open his mouth and the righteous judge that called out the lack of integrity in leadership.
In this last piece we want to look once more at how God does justice by looking to how Jesus did justice in His death and resurrection.
Crushing the Oppressor
Throughout the Biblical story, starting in Genesis 3, there are ruthless entities that are brought up that transcend humanity’s ability to overcome. There are surely multiple entities in mind, and there are multiple different names, titles, and descriptions for them: the serpent, sin, death, beasts, powers, forces of darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness, demons, Satan, the devil, and more. What exactly these entities are is mysterious; some, at times, seem to be referencing evil kingdoms, others, at other times, seem to be referencing some spiritual being(s) of immense power and devastation (see Genesis 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8 for examples). What is not mysterious is that humans are perpetually crushed by these forces and are incapable of escaping their power. They give into sin and are therefore handed over to death (Romans 5:12-14, the entire Bible, etc.).
Considering what we know now about Biblical justice, what does justice look like concerning the plight of humans and the power of these oppressors? Does not Biblical justice demand the defeat of the oppressors and the restoring of the oppressed? Does it not insist that the oppression cease by breaking the jaws of the beast and rescuing the prey from its teeth? Does Biblical justice not require that those who desire rescuing from their oppressor receive help in the ways they cannot help themselves? Indeed, and so God does precisely that, and He does so through Jesus.
Look to Colossians 2:15, 1Corinthians 15:23-26, 54-57, Romans 8:3, Hebrews 2:14-15, and the prophecy of Jesus in Daniel 7 (referenced by Jesus in Matthew 16:28, 19:28, 24:30, and more). What do we see? Justice done by Jesus through the cross and resurrection. We have the disarming of the powers, the defeat of the devil, the promised defeat of all powers (including, but not limited to, death), the condemnation of sin, and the defeat of the beasts. God’s justice demanded that the oppressors be dealt with, and so He dealt with them—all through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Restoring the Fallen
Not only does God’s justice demand the defeat of the oppressors and the end of their mistreatment of others, but God’s justice also seeks to restore and save the fallen. This is precisely what Jesus did. Looking to the passages mentioned above, Acts 10:38, Romans 6, 2Corinthians 5:17-19, and Colossians 1:19-20, we find that through death and resurrection, Jesus healed those oppressed by the devil, removed the fear of death that enslaved people, made reconciliation to the Father possible, secured victory over death, saved people from the sin and death they could not save themselves from, and gave a new life to people they could not obtain for themselves.
This isn’t some kind of universalism in which Jesus defeated the oppressor and saved the oppressed and therefore everyone who has ever sinned is saved. No, just as in the Old Testament, the help can only come to those who accept the help. The salvation can only come to those who are willing to be saved by the savior. God through Jesus does for humans what they cannot do for themselves: He crushes the oppressors that humans cannot outdo and restores what the oppressors broke. However, this restoration cannot be had by a human unless they do what they can do for themselves: accept the help. This is Biblical justice at work.
Moreover, this restoration cannot possibly be had for the recipient or their fellow beneficiaries if the recipient is unwilling to exchange their loyalty to the oppressor for loyalty to the savior (Romans 6). Indeed, what logical sense does it make to say that one is ever truly saved from the oppressor if they keep returning to the oppressor? Or how can one be saved from the oppressor if one of the other saved in their presence stay loyal to the oppressor and therefore inflict terror upon others? If one is loyal to the oppressor, all others in their presence are not saved from the oppressor.
Therefore, the justice Jesus accomplishes through the defeat of the oppressor and the restoring of the oppressed has a scope that can reach all people. However, justice would contradict its very purpose if it was applied to those unwilling to accept the help and unwilling to exchange their loyalties.
It was integral to the mission of Jesus to bring justice to victory (Matthew 12:18-20), and that is precisely what He accomplished in His earthly ministry, His death, and His resurrection. We now wait for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s justice and the complete defeat of death and powers (1Corinthians 15:23-26). While we wait, we have a task: to practice Biblical justice. If you have given your loyalty over to the Christ, you have been called by Him to practice justice (Matthew 23:23), judge righteously (John 7:24), care for the physically vulnerable (Acts 3:1-10; Acts 6:1-7; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27), care for the spiritually vulnerable (Romans 1:16-17; 2Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 6:1; Jude 22-23) and await the righteous judgment of God (2Thessalonians 1:5-8). Today, choose whom you will serve: the oppressor or the liberator.