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I’m guessing you would say the judgement in Romans 2:16 was carried out by Jesus in 70 AD, is this right?

Evangelical scholars have usually assumed that the New Testament has one judgment in view, which has the admitted advantage of simplicity. I wrote yesterday about Schweitzer’s distinction between the coming of the Messianic Kingdom and the final judgment. But this still doesn’t get the historical perspective right. I think we need to differentiate between a judgment on Israel and a judgment on the pagan nations, according to a well-established Old Testament and Jewish-apocalyptic pattern. For Paul the latter meant primarily judgment of an idolatrous and immoral culture. For John, the author of Revelation, it meant ultimately judgment of Rome as an oppressive, blasphemous, persecuting, satanic imperial power.

You wrote about Cornelius, but do you see Romans 2 as holding out a possibility that a Gentile who knew nothing of Yahweh could be saved? 

Cornelius is the type of the righteous Gentile who, Peter learns, fears God, does what is right, and is therefore acceptable to God—he has been “justified”, we might say, by his works (Acts 10:34-35). He is a Gentile who does not have the Law, but does what the Law requires, and will probably be found in the right, or “excused”, on the day when God judges the pagan world by Christ Jesus (Rom. 2:15-16). However, because he subsequently believes Peter’s story about the resurrection of Jesus and his appointment as judge, Cornelius receives the Spirit and becomes a member—by faith—of the saved community.

If so, would you say the same principal might apply to people throughout history, i.e. people who lived lives in accordance with Yahweh’s commands (imperfectly of course), although they perhaps worshiped gods of their own design, might spend eternity with God after the final judgment?

This is more speculative, and I’m not sure we have a direct “biblical” answer for it. At the final judgment all people will be judged according to what they have done (Rev. 20:13), but I suspect that for Peter and Paul fearing the living creator God would be a basic criterion, a necessary “good work”, even if a person has not believed that God raised his Son from the dead and become part of the covenant community.

I’ll address the “judge of the living and the dead” question next week. Thanks for the questions.

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