Justice is a primary theme in the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. In the earliest stage of His ministry, Jesus announced that His mission was going to be directed toward the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). This inaugural address provided a signal that Christ’s heart would be toward the lost, the least, and the last.
Many Bible readers fail to grasp the importance that the Scriptures place on justice. One of the reasons for this involves the Greek term dikaiosune. Most English translations, including the beloved King James Version, render this word as “righteousness.”
However, a strong case may be made that “justice” is the better term to use in a number of passages. For example, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He expresses this language over a half a dozen times, therefore making justice a dominant theme of His discourse. Consider these examples:
Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall be filled.”
Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for justice’s sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 6:20: “For I say unto you, that except your justice shall exceed the justice of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
This reading provides clarity to Matthew’s over-arching message about the kingdom that Jesus brings. The Lord’s words in that initial discourse and His subsequent ministry provide a glimpse of what His kingdom should look like in a world in which it is often not visible.
It is no wonder that Jesus’ recorded life included so many examples of ministry to those who were on the margins of society. His sense of justice not only extended to women in general, it reached to a Canaanite woman who sought Him on behalf of her sick daughter (Matthew 15:21-28) and to a Samaritan woman whom He encountered in need (John 4).
Jesus not only touched ostracized lepers, He specifically touched a Samaritan leper (Luke 17:16). He not only ministered to a thief, He redeemed a dying thief (Luke 23:32-33).
It is this caring for the poor, the abused and abandoned, the ill and the immigrants, the widows, and orphans, that constitutes justice in Christ’s kingdom. Those who hunger and thirst for it will receive, and those who show such mercy to others will be granted it themselves (see Matthew 5:6-7).
According to Jesus, justice is not only for the oppressed who need it and His followers who show it, it will also be meted out to those who oppose it and withhold it from others.
The Virgin Mary expressed this sentiment in part of her response to the news that she would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. Luke 1:52-53 says: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
This prophetic utterance summarizes the kind of justice that King Jesus will ultimately bring. There will eventually be an inversion of status—the rich will be brought down and the victims of injustice will be elevated. Christ’s indictment against the rich is not toward all who are wealthy; rather it extends to those who gained their wealth by trampling down others and who refuse to use it to help the suffering of others.
This sense of everyone receiving proper justice is brought out in Jesus’ story about the rich man who selfishly lived in extravagance while Lazarus dwelt in poverty and pain (see Luke 16:19-31). It was at death that the inversion of their status took place, for the rich man went to hell while Lazarus arrived in paradise.
Jesus was showing us that, for multiplied millions of people, true justice will only come when we step into eternity.
Jesus again emphasized this truth in His last sermon, known as the Olivet Discourse. His Parable about the Shepherd dividing the sheep and the goats speaks vividly to His standard of justice. Here He portrayed the great separation in eternity being determined by how people responded to the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners
(Matthew 25:31-46). Those who ministered to them will be granted entrance into His future kingdom while those who did not will be banished.
The New Testament makes it clear that we are not to be content with just waiting for the Lord’s return to bring justice to this earth. The epistle of James declares that the church has a responsibility to live now as we will then in the coming kingdom of our Savior.
James only mentions the Lord twice by name in all his five chapters. However, there are over a dozen references to the Sermon on the Mount and the theme of justice is echoed on every page. James warns against showing favoritism toward the rich, while mistreating the poor (1:9-10; 2:1-10; 5:1-6). He admonishes believers to demonstrate “works” along with their faith, specifically citing taking care of the hungry and destitute (2:14-18).
In a single statement, he captures the essence of justice in this manner: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
Finally, the Book of Revelation confirms that justice will be eternally established at the consummation of all things. Here we read that everyone at the Great White Throne will be judged “according to the works they have done” (Revelation 20:11-12).
Additionally, the hour is coming when God Himself will wipe away all the tears from the redeemed who will live forever without sorrow, pain, or death (see Revelation 21:4).
There is one last scene that merits our attention in the Apocalypse. Consider Revelation 15:2-3: “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.”
This amazing anthem is a fitting tribute to the justness of God Himself. John the revelator saw a company of victors in heaven who had been put to death by a coming world ruler. Moments later he hears them singing a triumphant song that includes lyrics praising the Lord for His works and ways.
None of these martyrs are blaming God or asking Him why they had to suffer so on earth. On the contrary, they are extolling Him because His ways are “just and true.” One day, all the saved from every generation who experienced injustice on the earth will worship the Lord and proclaim that the King was and is faithful and true, even in the midst of their difficulties.
Until then, every act of mercy from the Lord or His followers serves as a foretaste of His coming kingdom when it will be on earth just as it is in heaven.
This article was first published in Encourage magazine.