Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Hope for our Era of Anxiety - 10. Justice - 2 Peter 3:13

April 02, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Show Notes Transcript

•        Introduction

Do you reckon there’s ever going to be any justice in this world?

Well, there’s no doubt it can get on top of you when it seems that ‘evildoers’ prosper … rally are you anxious about the world and the state that it seems to be in.

There’s a fascinating passage about this in Malachi 3:15 says:

“But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

There’s a LOT we can identify with in that sentiment, isn’t there?

But just hold on a minute.

When you put that verse in its context, it says:

““You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.


“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’


14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

Do you see?

What’s happening in Malachi 3 when the people are lamenting the situation where the arrogant are blessed and the evildoers prosper is that they are rebelling against God in their hearts when they give in to thinking and saying these things!

The undergirding reality is that God has a plan ,and what these guys in Malachi are complaining about is covered in God’s plan for justice to prevail in His world.

Of course, Malachi hasn’t got this level of detail, but it is actually the resurrection which gives huge hope that justice will prevail.

So, to help us with relating well to the appearance that people who do evil get away with it … and to build hope in our Era of Anxiety … I plan to look briefly at what the Bible says about what justice is and how the resurrection helps us  to both define justice and to promote it.

         •        The resurrection and the roots of injustice

First of all, let’s just check in with the roots of injustice in our world.

The Bible tells us that when history gets wound up at the end of this present evil age, it’s not just that a few hand plucked individuals from the suffering mass of humanity will be pulled up out of the mire and saved.

On the contrary, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21

ALL the effects of sin … all the corruption and decay in the world … will be healed.

It’s not just sickness and suffering … disease, ageing and death that will be would up.]

Poverty, war, crime and injustice along with the psychological brokenness of our experience (fear, guilt, shame and despair) will be banished too.

Yes, of course, individual believers reaping the benefits of Christ’s resurrection at that point will themselves be made new.

But we will also receive a renewed world to live in, with Christ, in our own renewed resurrection bodies.

So Peter says in the words of our text:

“in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

2 Peter 3:13

I really think that’s a verse worth remembering.

It’s not just that nobody’s going to get away with anything.

It’s that by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit, at the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, the end of this ‘groaning’ of all creation we currently live with has been settled.

The Kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace is on its way and the preparation for its coming has been made.

God’s incoming kingdom is a Kingdom of justice … with a passionate concern for justice at its heart.

         •        God’s incoming Kingdom and Justice

Some good, Bible-believing Christians get a bit uncomfortable when we start talking about justice like this, because they reckon it all sounds a bit ‘Marxist’.

But the fact is that when Jesus announces His Kingdom as He reads from the scroll in His home-town synagogue service at Nazareth in Luke 4, He proclaims the purple of the preaching of the Kingdom is: “to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Luke 4:18-19

Now, some people reckon that’s just the spiritually poor (Conservative Evangelicals mainly) and some people reckon that’s just the materially poor (theological liberals mainly).

But if Jesus was only concerned with the spiritually poor that isn’t consistent with His clear concern for the materially poor outcasts of His day, and if Jesus came as a political sort of revolutionary who was about putting down the materially rich and raising up the materially poor, that doesn’t sit well with the way He went out of His way to avoid stirring up political rebellion in His world (remember that time the crowd came to take Him and make Him King by force and He snuck away? You can read about it in John 6:15).

The short story is that God saves the spiritually poor who humble themselves, confess their sin and trust Christ alone (not their own selves) to save them, but that the experience of being saved through spiritual poverty finding riches in Christ unfailingly opens the believers eyes and heart to the needs of the materially poor and weak around us.

James 2:14-17 is right on the point here:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Now, in the sort of world we live in where wrong is pronounced right, I do want to establish some stuff here about the polity and the practice of justice.

            •          The purpose of the ‘Polis’ of God - modelling justice

In Scripture the PRACTICE of justice take place not individually but in the context of the community.

Tim Keller planted and led a church in Manhattan … right at the heart of the city of New York … and he sees God’s paradise as a city in Revelation 21, and the city of Jerusalem as the heart of God’s plans for His Kingdom.

I’m not an urban church planter (although I started there) and I’m equally passionate that Paradise was at first in Genesis 1 and at last in Revelation 22 very much a horticultural enterprise!

The thing is, you can’t just see the πόλις of Revelation 21-22 as the ‘city’ in the modern Western sense … it’s a πόλις not a sprawling urban metropolis as envisaged by 20th. century inner urban church planters.

In the Greek world it was customary to talk of bodies politic being structured as 

Basileus (a kingdom)

Tyrannus (an autocratic state), or

Polis (a much more benign system of government that emerged out of the tyrannical then monarchical systems that tended to precede it).

(Basileus, tyrannos and polis: the dynamics of monarchy in Early Greece, in: Klio 98.1, 1-89

Now, in Scripture, from the Old Testament right through to the end of the New Testament, God plans for justice too be manifested in a fallen and unjust world through the gathering of His people and the way they relate to one another in those human gatherings and settlements.

It’s not a call to urbanisation, but to community … and it is in that community that the hope for the rest of humanity also takes root.

THIS is where we learn what ‘justice’ actually looks like.

In Deuteronomy, near the end of his life, Moses explained that the obedience of Israel (the gathered community of God’s people but certainly not a modern ‘city’ as they were wandering in the Wilderness) was meant to be a witness to the world … a JUST community.

With regard to the laws of God the injunction was “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

Deuteronomy 4:6-8

God’s people were to bear corporate witness to the non-believing world by creating a counter-culture … in two particular aspects mentioned here.

Firstly, their obedience to God’s Laws created a wise and understanding people … which would draw people to the Lord Who made them so (v. 6).

Secondly, that obedience created a just society that people would want for themselves (v. 8).

Of course, this community fort showed itself in the Wilderness wandering community that then got focused with the construction of Jerusalem as it had the Temple at its heart, and the city of Jerusalem … in its communal life together so long as people walked humbly with their God … was to be two things:

i) an evangelistic witness to the unbelieving people around the known world and

ii) a pointer to the perfect peace and justice of the New Jerusalem of the New Testament where perfect peace and justice are to be established in the City of God at the end of time in Revelation 21-22.

So when Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:14-15 about His disciples being ‘the light of the world’ telling them “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” … that is the Biblical theological foundation of what He is saying.

Please notice that all this takes place in the gathering, in the SOCIETY of the people of God.

Keller is helpful at this point when he says:

“If believers are a counterculture of justice and peace, they become an attractive witness to the world, a foretaste and glimpse of the New Jerusalem, when all of human life will be healed by the presence and Lordship of Christ.”

And all that hangs, can you see, on the crucified Lord NOT being dead, but very much the Resurrected Christ.

If you want justice, you need a resurrected Christ … the ruling King over the coming Kingdom of justice and peace.

And by now you are saying that people are calling in the name of justice for things that Christ speaks out against as wrong and to be rejected or opposed.

So we need to raise the crucial question here as to what constitutes justice.

            •          What actually IS justice?

This is a huge and many sided question, but Biblical justice is characterised by at least these four broad-brush key and leading aspects …

            •           Impartial equal treatment

It’s not a well-known fact, but the Law of Moses said “’You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”

Leviticus 24:22

That’s got race covered in the Old Testament laws to create the forerunner community of the resurrection-bought people of God in the City of God at the end of Revelation … the justice of the coming Kingdom of God.

But this impartial treatment covered not just race but also of what we might call ‘Class’.

The Old Testament seeks to protect the poor against the injustice caused … for example … by corruption in high places and bribery (Isaiah 1:23).

And behind all this emphasis on equality lay the teaching f Genesis 1:27 that all human beings (whilst they would fall and chose bad stuff) are created in the image of God.

James 2:1-7 follows up centuries later speaking of the great evil of discriminating between people on the basis of wealth and James 3:9 reinforces the whole thing about all people needing to be treated as created in the image of God.

So, every human being regardless of race, class, gender, ability and so on must be treated with equal fairness and respect.

And that is to model for a watching world where the life, death and resurrection of Christ gets us to as He establishes His Kingdom.

That looks to me … scrabbling around in a world here that DOESN’T look like that … like a glorious and wonderfully hopeful prospect.

Secondly, what justice looks like is radical generosity.

How so?

            •           Radical generosity

There are two things at least to consider here …

            •           Private property

The Bible is pretty strong on condemning theft of personal property as injustice.

So at the heart of the Old Testament law codes, the eighth commandment come down HARD against stealing.

There are three, three-word prohibition there at the heart of this law code against murder, then adultery, then stealing.

It is really very blunt, punchy stuff!

Private property’s protected in God’s just society.

But … there’s also a strong strand in the Old Testament that describes the earth as the Lord’s, and everything in it - to be used for the purposes He and not we have designed.

            •           Stewardship of Divine Goods

Psalm 24:1-2 therefore states the fact of this case and gives the reason for it:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,

    the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it on the seas

    and established it on the waters.”

Please notice, God is not like an unjust ruler who has grasped at and conquered territory, claiming the right to it.

It is His because He made it and established it.

Human property fits in Biblically under the illustration of stewardship. 

So 1 Chronicles 29:14 in his prayer at the consecration of the Temple David puts it like this: ““But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

1 Corinthians 4:7 embraces the same perspective about how things are viewed in the just and right Kingdom of God:

“who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

So the Old Testament model for the ideal society of justice and wisdom that was coming in Christ was a place where some grain was deliberately left every harvest for the poor to pick up and eat, where there were sabbath and jubilee laws where debts were cleared and indentured servants released … unique provisions amongst the cultures of the world.

Jesus extends this principled corporate generosity amongst His disciples by addressing the habits of the heart about money … speaking of money in the Sermon on the Mount as an idol we are wrong to think of as bringing us security or self-worth.

And yet in that same chapter He shows understanding of human anxiety about material things and shows the way for His disciples to change their hearts.

It’s not a rant, but a warning against having. Distorted view of life and an uncovering of the way to go ahead and change … presaging the dawning life of the incoming, post-resurrection Kingdom of God.

            •           Advocacy for the powerless

Thirdly, justice contains this element of providing advocacy for people without power.

Who do we speak up for?

Biblically, we’re never encouraged in God’s vision for a new world to speak up for the rich and the powerful.

We ARE though encouraged to speak up for some others.

Proverbs 31:8-9 teaches that the way of wisdom and justice is to:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,

    for the rights of all who are destitute.

9 Speak up and judge fairly;

    defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Jeremiah backs this vision in Jeremiah 22:3 and Zechariah lists four such groups that need this sort of help to meet God’s requirement to act justly and wisely:

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”

Zechariah 7:9-10

In the New Testament Jesus throws His own heart and soul into advocating against the rich and powerful for the poor.

He calls out the Pharisees in Luke 16:14, for example, for being ‘lovers of money’, and the Scribes in Luke 20:47 for ‘devouring widows houses’

His righteousness takes on those Who are powerless … His Kingdom is to protect the precarious and the vulnerable.

            •           Corporate and individual responsibility

And fourthly we can see that God’s justice means giving people their due individually for what we have done and corporately for what we’ve allowed in our society.

That last one in particular is pretty counter-cultural in our contemporary society.

Injustice … Biblically exposed … comprises direct (individual) and indirect (systemic) injustice.

Sometimes God holds families, groups of people - even whole nations - accountable for the sins of other individuals even if they didn’t commit those sins personally.

Daniel, famously, repented of the sins of his ancestors who didn’t listen to the prophets and disobeyed their calls back to God’s ways Daniel 9:5-6).

Some have argued this applies only within Israel but actually Amos 1-2, 1 Samuel 15:2 and Deuteronomy 23:3-8see members of the current generation of a pagan nation held accountable for the sins committed by their ancestors.

It’s not just a thing for Old Testament times either.

In Acts 2:14, 23 & 36 Peter held that ALL those present in Jerusalem a the time of Christ’s crucifixion were responsible for His death.

In the same way Paul forbade believers to have anything to do with slavery based on kidnapping in their society (1 Timothy1:10).

Now, the Bible DOES put the greatest weight on the individual’s responsibility to God for their actions.

The reality of corporate sin does not allow us to retreat for cover into blaming society, but neither does individual responsibility rule out social and institutional  … corporate … evil.

         •        Resurrection Justice

Now, you may want to say ‘that sounds lovely’ … and that is of course what the community living inside God’s covenant was SUPPOSED to make onlookers say.

But you may also want to say ‘but that all sounds just a bit like wishful thinking, pie in the sky.

How on EARTH can you reckon this ‘justice after death/ life after death’ thing is for real?

Well the big clincher of the deal is the dawning of the age to come in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, followed by the sending of the Spirit to be with us …the fruit of the resurrection and the down payment on the age that is coming in already.

In a world that left to itself proves to be so broken and unjust, the resurrection comes along as hope-giving Good News.

That’s because the resurrection means that the atoning death of Christ has done its work and that there will be healing for ALL of creation’s decay and corruption.

Romans 8:21 puts it like this:

“that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 

24 For in hope we were saved. 

Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 

25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.”

Redemption … for all ruptured relationships, whether the rupture has occurred spiritually, socially, morally, psychologically, racially, economically, culturally, physically … however or whatever has brought the brokenness about as all people are brought together again under the headship of Christ.

It is through the Risen Lord Jesus that a new creation is coming.


         •        Conclusion

The vision we’ve been examining is a supremely hopeful but thoroughly evidenced one through the Chris Who conquered sin and death and hell and rose to rule over the incoming Kingdom of God.

The prophet Isaiah, way back in Isaiah 65, paints for us this vision most gloriously:

“‘See, I will create

    new heavens and a new earth.

The former things will not be remembered,

    nor will they come to mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice for ever

    in what I will create,

for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight

    and its people a joy.

19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem

    and take delight in my people;

the sound of weeping and of crying

    will be heard in it no more.”

Now THERE’S hope for our Era of broken anxiety!