With regard to the judgment of God, it is important to make a distinction between His remedial judgment and His final judgment. Remedial judgment is intended as a remedy or a cure; final judgment occurs at the end and offers no further opportunity for repentance. Remedial judgment can be described as the purging fire of discipline; final judgment is the all-consuming wrath of God. Remedial judgment is intended for purification; final judgment has the purpose of punishment. When Peter speaks of judgment toward “the household of God” (i.e. the church), he is speaking not of final judgment, but of remedial judgment. The judgment of God commences with God’s people.
I. Judgment Begins with the Household of God (verse 17)
In many ways, Peter gives us a commentary of Isaiah 63:7ff.
Isaiah 63:7-9In verse 7, Isaiah writes, “I shall make mention of the lovingkindness of the Lord…which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindness,” which is an accurate summary of 1 Peter 1:1-12 and the explanation of the lovingkindness and mercy of God. In verse 8 Isaiah writes, “Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely,” paralleling Peter’s discussion in chapter 1:14-15 regarding “obedient children” who are not “conformed to the former lusts” but are called to be holy like the Holy One who called them. In verse 9 Isaiah explains, “In all their affliction He was afflicted…In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,” paralleling 1 Peter 2:24, where Peter writes, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
Isaiah 63:10But in verse 10, Isaiah’s tone changes. He explains that, despite God’s kindness toward them, God’s people rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit, and as a result, God turned Himself to become their enemy and fought against them. Israel’s defeats were never the result of their enemies’ strength or power, but always because of their own rebellion. The might of the enemy never mattered if God was on their side, since “if God is for us, who could be against us?” But if that is true, then it is also true that if God is against us, it does not matter who or what is for us. The problem in the church today is not the power of our enemies or their clever devices, since there have always been enemies against the Lord and His people. The problem, when the church has walked in disobedience to the Lord, is that God is applying the purging and refining fires of remedial judgment.
Isaiah 63:11-14Not only did Isaiah know the problem, but he also knew the solution: “Then His people remembered.” They remembered the victorious One who had conquered all their. And remembering, they asked, “Where is He?” Is He not the same God now? Will He do less for His people now? Will He not do for the souls of His people now what He did for His people then?” The response was to look up in the midst of remedial judgment, and also to cry out to God, that He might “Look down!” Here is a pattern for us when we experience the remedial judgment of God spoken about in 1 Peter 4:17.
II. The Certainty of Judgment (verses 18-19)
While the judgment of God toward the church is remedial judgment, we must see it as the beginning of a far more severe judgment—a final judgment—toward those who do not obey the gospel. If the child of Good needs such refining work, then those who do not belong to God will face a terribly awful end.
Therefore, knowing that judgment is certain—remedial for the church and final for those who refuse Christ—we ought to entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. Knowing the certainty of judgment, the only right response is to run to Christ. If you are in Christ, you will certainly escape the final judgment, since Christ suffered it on your behalf. The fires of God’s judgment in this life will not destroy us if we are His; rather, they are a means by which He preserves us to the end. In the midst of such judgment, we ought to cry out to God for Him to rend the heavens and come down, drawing near to His people and sanctifying His church.