“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Yet not every story is told in that order. Since the 9th century BC when Homer opened the Iliad in the middle of the Trojan War and saved most of Odysseus’ journey for the middle chapters of the Odyssey, storytellers have employed nonlinear methods to reveal their narratives.
More recently, the television show LOST kept viewers on their toes with past and future story lines about the survivors of an airplane crash marooned on an island. The third season ended in the future with Jack, the main character, telling Kate, “We have to go back!” It took nearly two more seasons to explain how they left the island and why they would want to return. Similarly, Damages opened each season by revealing the dramatic highpoint of the season in the very first episode. The season three premier ended with one of the main characters being taken to the morgue in a body bag. The remainder of the season unfolded the events that led to that tragedy.
Such is the drama we should feel when Jesus tells his disciples in the hours leading to his crucifixion, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). His declaration, writes commentator George Beasley-Murray, “signifies not a judgment, nor the confidence that the future judgment has come near, but that the judgment of this world…takes place in the crucifixion-exaltation of the Son of Man–Jesus.” Whereas human writers interrupt their stories with glimpses of future events, God, the Author of time and history, inserted a future event in the middle of the story. The judgment that took place at the cross was not a preview of things to come but the thing itself, the end-times judgment of God on sin.
This, however, was not the fullness of God’s future judgment. Jesus bore the judgment for sin on behalf of “all who believe.” His atoning sacrifice can only “be received by faith” (Romans 3:22, 25). Because “we have now been justified”–that is, declared to be right with God–“by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Wrath remains for those who do not receive Christ’s sacrifice by faith.
While there is much about this final judgment of God that may remain unclear, the events at Calvary give us a very concrete understanding of God’s wrath. According to Matthew 27, as Jesus bore our sins, he screamed out the agony of being forsaken by God. The sky turned black at Noon. The earth shook so violently that rocks split, tombs were opened, and the temple curtain was torn in two. These are not prophecies of a raving lunatic but historical events. Like Jack yelling “We have to go back!” or a main character’s body being taken to the morgue, this is the future reality–revealed in the present–that tells us where the story is heading when the fullness of God’s wrath is revealed.
Meditating on God’s judgment should cause us to shudder at Christ’s sacrifice for us. If we place ourselves at Calvary where God’s end-times wrath on our sin was poured out on his Son, we cannot treat sin lightly or take for granted the forgiveness purchased on the judgment tree. Yet this scene should cause of to shudder even more for those who are outside of Christ. God’s remaining judgment is a “when not if” actuality and our calling is to bear witness to the salvation Christ offers. As Peter declared after Jesus’ resurrection, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
God has been gracious to concretely display where his story is heading. Let us be faithful to live out of that truth and point others to his judgment-bearing Son.