“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).
THE IDEA OF A “JUDGMENT DAY” IS UNPOPULAR THESE DAYS. Fewer of those who designate themselves as Christians believe that such a thing will actually happen. And yet, if we take Jesus seriously, along with the teaching of the apostles whom He selected to communicate His message, we must accept the fact that eventually God is going to call each of us to account for how we have lived.
In the text above, Paul was speaking to a group of Greek philosophers in Athens. Notice the emphasis he places on repentance: “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Sin is the problem, the gospel is the solution, and repentance is a part of the plan. It can’t be left out.
But even though God has commanded repentance, why should we do what He says? “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world.” As our Creator, God has the sovereign right to require an accounting for how we’ve used the freedom He gave us. The wise have always known this to be true (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14).
God will judge the world “in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Paul is speaking here of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We should be encouraged (and also sobered) by the fact that God’s judgment by His Son will be “in righteousness.” No mistakes will be made. God’s judgment will be infallibly right.
And what is the evidence these things will happen? “Of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” You may not have thought of the resurrection in connection with God’s judgment, but Paul connects the two here. The resurrection of Christ guaranteed all of the promises of God, and the Day of Judgment is one of the most important. It is perilous to ignore this promise.
If judgment seems to us inconsistent with God’s character, we need to reconsider our concept of God. And it’s worth asking: would God be good if He did not punish unrepentant rebellion?
“Nobody can judge men but God, and we can hardly obtain a higher or more reverent view of God than that which represents him to us as judging men with perfect knowledge, unperplexed certainty, and undisturbed compassion” (Frederick William Faber).