Romans 2, Part 2
Oct 13, 2010
In Romans 2:9-11 Paul writes,
(9) There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, (10) but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (11) For there is no partiality with God.
Paul was writing about divine judgment in general. There are two resurrections, as John describes in Revelation 20, the second being associated with the judgment of the "lake of fire." But there is also divine judgment that comes just before the first resurrection. This judgment is directed at Jerusalem, "to the Jew first."
That judgment is described in Jeremiah 19 and in Isaiah 29:1-6. Jeremiah likens Jerusalem to an old earthen jar which is smashed in the valley of the son of Hinnom (gehenna in Greek). The prophet writes in Jer. 19:10, 11,
(10) Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you (11) and say to them, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot again be repaired. . ."
In other words, Jerusalem and "this people" were to be broken in such a complete manner so as not to be repaired again. In the days of the prophet, King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, but it was repaired later in the days of Nehemiah. It was again destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D., but was again repaired. The final destruction, however, will be (I believe) nuclear, and men will no longer be able to live at that location because of the fallout.
Isaiah 29 describes this nuclear judgment in graphic detail, calling the city by its poetic name, Ariel, "the lion of God." He tells us that God Himself will lay siege to the city, saying, "I will bring distress to Ariel" (vs. 2) and again, "I will camp against you encircling you, and I will set siegeworks against you, and I will raise up battle towers against you" (vs. 3).
God lays siege to the city because her "enemies" had occupied the city and were living there. Many assume that the term "enemies" indicates a non-Jewish occupation of Jerusalem, yet in fact, it is the opposite. God says in the laws of Tribulation (Lev. 26:40-42) that if they are "hostile against Me" (Jesus Christ), then God will be hostile to them and treat them as His enemies.
Isaiah 63 speaks of this divine judgment where He comes from Edom with His garments stained with blood, as if treading the grapes. Edom, of course, was later absorbed into Jewry itself and so this judgment can only be fulfilled through them today. In that context, the prophet gives a history of Israel in the wilderness, and how the people worshipped the golden calf. Verse 10 says,
(10) But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their ENEMY; He fought against them.
Genealogical Israelites become God's enemies when they become hostile to Him and when they rebel against the Holy Spirit. So this is what defines God's enemies in Isaiah 29. God says that He will judge "Ariel," or Jerusalem, because His "enemies" had occupied the city. Those enemies were the same people, whether in Jeremiah's day, or in 70 A.D., or in our own time. The Zionists took control of Jerusalem in 1967 and are even now expelling the Palestinian population in an unjust and partial manner.
So Paul says that this judgment comes upon mankind impartially, "to the Jew first," in the same manner that the gospel went "to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16). They were privileged to receive the gospel first and to receive the promise of the Father, so they are also the first to be judged for rebelling against the Holy Spirit.
All are judged impartially, Paul says, but there is an established order of judgment, according to the knowledge and opportunity that men have to receive the gospel. The order of opportunity is stated in Acts 1:8,
(8) but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
Paul establishes very early in his epistle the idea of impartial judgment that is established in the divine Law. Partiality is injustice, or inequity (iniquity). Exodus 23:1-9 forbids partiality to either rich or poor, Israelite or foreigner. Malachi 2:9 condemns the people for showing partiality. James condemns it in James 2:1-9.
It is because of the impartiality of the divine Law itself that the Jew is judged with the same judgment as all others. The only difference is that they were given greater opportunity to know His will, and so they have greater accountability for rejecting it. This is a principle established by Jesus Himself in Luke 12:47, 48, where disobedient servants are distinguished according to their knowledge of the master's will.
So Paul affirms this in Romans 2:11, 12,
(11) For there is no partiality with God. (12) For all who have sinned without [knowledge of]the Law will also perish without [knowledge of] the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.
The difference is that those who lived afar off and had never heard of the divine Law will be given "few lashes," while those who had possession of the Law will be judged with "many lashes." This is a basic principle of divine justice that reflects the Mind and Character of God.
(13) For not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
The Jews had all heard the Law, for it was read in the temple and in every synagogue. The Law had testified of Jesus Christ and revealed the promise of the Spirit that was to be given--the promise of the Holy Spirit. But hearing with physical ears was insufficient without a proper response that would indicate the presence of true faith.
(14) For when ethnos who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, (15) in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.
In other words, a man living a thousand miles from Jerusalem in those days might have had no opportunity to hear the Law of God, because no one came to teach it to him. But yet, he may know instinctively that murder, theft, and adultery were wrong. He may know within himself that he ought to treat his neighbor with kindness and justice. After all, the divine Law only makes sense to any reasonable man.
Hence, his conscience bears witness to the Law's principles of right and wrong, because the Law is written on his heart. His conscience can accuse or defend him alternately, if he does good or evil. So even such a person, having never been exposed to the Law as written down by Moses, is liable to God on some level, simply because he has the inherent ability to know some basic principles of justice and injustice. He is therefore accountable to God according to his level of knowledge and his ability to know the main features of the Law.
Some insist that the Law is just for Jews. That is a total misconception. God called Abraham to administer the blessings and promises of God to all the families of the earth. The Law was later given to Israel for the same purpose. It was their responsibility to teach the Mind, Will, and Character of God to all men. Hoarding God's blessings was never part of the divine plan.
This is the second part of a series titled "Romans 2." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones