Coming Judgement is always linked with the Hope of Renewal

 Dr Baden Teague

Our Psalm this evening, Psalm 98, is about two great themes, Judgement and Hope. As we look to the future these two are linked together. Judgement is coming to everybody and there will be pain and suffering. At the same time, however, hope of victory, refreshment and love will then follow. The negative will be followed and enfolded into the positive. Psalm 98 puts these two entwined themes in these words:

First, Judgement: “The Lord comes to judge the earth. He will judge

the world with righteousness, and the people with

equity.” (verse 9)

And then Hope: “Sing to the Lord a new song. His right hand and his

holy arm have gotten him victory. He has remembered

his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” (verses 1-4)

Our Old Testament Reading from the prophet Zephaniah has the same two themes, Judgement and Hope. Zephaniah wrote 25 years before the Babylonian Captivity. He warned Judea and the people of Jerusalem to repent because Judgement is coming. He said: the “ Day of the Lord” is at hand and almost everything will be destroyed. Nevertheless, Zephaniah also gave the reassurance that this “Day of the Lord” will be followed by the Hope of renewal. There will be a remnant who will survive and who will return to Jerusalem and who will know renewal and restoration. Zephaniah’s writing in the first two chapters is about judgement and destruction, but in the last chapter he turns to hope and renewal. These are Zephaniah’s words:

First, Judgement:  “I will utterly sweep away everything. I will stretch

out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants

of Jerusalem. Be silent before the Lord God! For the day

of the Lord is at hand.” (chapter one, verses 2,4,7)

And then Hope:   “I will bring you home. I will restore your fortunes.

The Lord will take away the judgements against you

and cast out your enemies. He will renew you in his

love. So sing aloud and shout, O Israel. Rejoice with all

your heart, Jerusalem.” (chapter three, verses 14,17,20)

Twenty-five years after Zephaniah’s prophecy, Judea was defeated by the military invasion of King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. Many died. Half of the survivors were taken as captives to be his slaves in Babylon, and he installed a puppet king in Jerusalem who had to pay continuing tribute to him from the work of the smaller population who remained. This puppet king, however, ten years later, attempted a rebellion and so Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem. This time he fully annihilated Jerusalem, including the Temple, killed the people ferociously, and took a second set of captives back to Babylon.

The people of Israel then came to interpret Zephaniah’s earlier prophecy as being fulfilled by this destruction and this captivity. It was ‘the Judgement of God’ upon them, because they had failed to keep their Covenant with God and they had failed to keep the Commandments. They lived in Babylon as slaves and in sorrow for the next 75 years. None of the original captives ever returned. Only a remnant of their children and grandchildren returned to rebuild Jerusalem. This liberation followed the conquest of Babylon by the new Persian emperor, Cyrus.

The Judgement by Nebuchadnezzar of 597 BC was eventually followed by the Hope of Renewal enacted by Cyrus in 520 BC. Some Israelites did return and those who experienced this restoration did indeed sing a new song to the Lord. But, we need to note here a much wider Renewal springing from these events. This wider Renewal was virtually the re-Creation of Israel as a direct consequence of the Babylonian Captivity:

The monarchy ended. God alone became their king.

The Temple was destroyed. The sacrifices ceased.

The Holy of Holies was no more.

Thereafter, the rituals of Israel were replaced by prayer and by

Scripture Reading.

There was a great flourishing of Hebrew scholarship. Most of

the Hebrew Scriptures (as we have them today in the Bible)

were written, and some edited, and they were put together as

one great library during this Babylonian period.

The people began to look for the Coming of the Messiah.

(‘Messiah’ means anointed one, consecrated one, king.

And ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew translates to be ‘Christ’ in Greek.)

Eventually, Jesus came, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus taught  his disciples to pray. He taught us all to pray: “Our

Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name … ” Jesus taught that

worshiping God does not depend upon any temple because God

is Spirit and those who worship Him, worship in spirit and in


We can summarize this Revolution of the sixth century BC as the ending of the bankrupt institutions of Israel and their replacement and renewal by a more spiritual life and by an expectation of the Coming of the Christ. Also, the achievement, during this Exile, of the full shape of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) eventually provided the foundation, 500 years later, for the Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) including the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, may we turn to our third Bible Reading, the 21st Chapter of the Gospel of Luke. This Reading again contains our twin themes of Judgement and of Hope. This time the words are the words of Jesus himself. They echo the words of Psalm 98 and of Zephaniah. Jesus told his disciples a parable about the fig tree at the beginning of summer having its new green leaves. When we see the new green leaves, we know that the summer is near. So too when we see the developments occurring that are described in Chapter 21, so we are to know that the “Kingdom of God” is near. This means both Judgement and Hope. Jesus assures us that the future is in God’s hands: he said, “your Kingdom come, your Will be done”. Yes, there will be Judgement: so, watch and pray. And Yes, there is Hope of Renewal: Jesus said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (verse 33)

May we all be ready for this Judgement and live our lives with the assurance of this Hope.