JUDGING THE WORLD

In the early days of the ancient Church when some of the saints had disputes with one another they tried to settle their differences by going to the court system of the heathen Gentiles. In response to this practice, the apostle Paul wrote, "Dare any of you, having a matter against [one] another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? (I Corinthians 6:1-3)

This comment by Paul has perplexed many Christians because they don't really know what he meant by saying "that the saints shall judge the world" and "that we shall judge angels." Biblical scholars have offered a number of explanations but there is no agreement among any of them. At best, they can only offer their personal educated opinion on what they think he meant. However, from the way Paul phrased his remarks it gives the clear impression that his readers knew exactly what he was referring to. Therefore, this doctrine seems to have been well understood by the saints back in Paul's day.

Yet, while traditional Christians are left to speculate about Paul's remarks, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already practice this principle in their church life and have available to them a better understanding of its meaning through the doctrines of the Church. While it may not necessarily be spelled out in clear and simple language, the idea of the saints judging the world and angels is nonetheless contained in our beliefs. Therefore, to understand this subject more clearly we must first understand several basic doctrines.

The most basic of all doctrines concerns who we are. As Latter-day Saints, we believe we are literally sons and daughters of God and that we lived with Him in heaven as spirit beings before coming here to earth. We further believe that Adam was the human name given to the Archangel, Michael and that Noah was the human name given to the angel Gabriel. In the same way, before Jesus was born of Mary, His pre-mortal name was Jehovah and biblical scholars agree that the Bible often refers to Jehovah as "the angel of the Lord." What this tells us is that as sons and daughters of God each of us were once an "angel of God" (for a more in-depth study of this subject see "The Angles of God" ).

The Lord further revealed to Joseph Smith that those who have not been sealed together as husband and wife in the temples of the Lord, "when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever" (D&C 136:16-17).

What this tells us (among other things) is that angels can be anyone who acts in the capacity of ministering to people under the direction of God. According to this definition, an angel is not just a heavenly spirit but can also be a mortal human or a resurrected being. With this understanding we can rephrase Paul's words to the Corinthians as saying, "Know ye not that, as servants of God, we shall someday be called upon to judge other servants of God?"

But Paul also said that the saints will not only judge angels but will judge the world as well. What causes traditional Christians problems with this verse of scripture is that Jesus said, "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). If it is true that all authority to judge has been committed to Jesus then many Christians wonder how can it also be said that the saints will judge the world and angels?

The Book of Mormon gives us a partial answer to this question. During a vision where he saw the coming of the Savior in mortality and Him calling twelve apostles, an angel explained to Nephi "Thou rememberest the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel" (1 Nephi 9:9).

In our day the Lord has revealed, "And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else" (D&C 29:12).

Mormon gave us greater insight into this when he wrote, "Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem. And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil" (Mormon 3:18-20)

What we learn from these scriptures is that Jesus does indeed have authority to judge all men but He will perform His judgment through the use of others. Instead of Him personally judging every man, woman, and child, He will carry out His judgment by delegating His authority through a system of judges. The twelve apostles whom He chose in Jerusalem will be given the task of judging all those who belong to the twelve tribes of Israel, including those who lived on this continent. Even so, the twelve disciples Jesus chose among the Nephites will have jurisdiction to judge their own people but will do so under the direction of the twelve apostles from Jerusalem. It is in this way that Jesus will judge the world.

Today, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we see this same system at work. An LDS bishop also holds the title of "a judge in Israel" and is responsible for judging the people within his ward. Whenever there is a violation of God's law, it is the duty of a bishop to judge the transgression and prescribe the appropriate consequence. And once a person has been called as a bishop he maintains that title even when he is released from that calling. That means, once a person has been called to the office of a bishop he retains the keys of being a judge in Israel even though he can no longer exercise those keys after he has been released from his duty as a bishop.

The question can rightly be asked, "Why does someone keep keys to the priesthood that they aren't allowed to use?" The obvious answer is because they will need those keys at some point in the future. It seems certain that those who have been ordained to the office of a bishop in this life will possess all the keys necessary to carry out judgment after the resurrection upon those saints who they once presided over here in mortality. In this way, Christ will be able to execute judgment upon the whole world, not personally judging each individual but by delegating His authority and supervising a system of judges who will, in turn, delegate their authority to other judges under their supervision.

When viewed in this light, these judges can be called "angles" because they will be acting in the capacity of servants of God. Since Christians are supposed to commit themselves to serving Christ and can therefore be thought of as being angels of God themselves, what we find in the resurrection is that angles will be judging angels. If this is true then it's important for us to know what criteria they will use in making their judgment. But, before answering that question we need to understand the meaning of a couple of words.

Wikipedia defines the word "sign" as "something that stands for something else. It may be understood as a discrete unit of meaning, and includes words, images, gestures, scents, tastes, textures, sounds - essentially all of the ways in which information can be communicated as a message by any sentient, reasoning mind to another." By definition, a sign is something meant to symbolize something else. In most cases its symbolism is meant to convey information. For example, the most common signs we see are on the highways. They tell us how fast we're allowed to drive, which route or street we're on, when to stop, and when to yield.

Christianity is also full of signs. There is the sign of the cross which most Christian churches have on their buildings or wear on the end of a necklace. It is common to see the sign of a fish on the back of cars, symbolizing to others that the owner of the car is a Christian. When praying, people either entwine their fingers or fold their arms and bow their head as a "sign" of reverence.

In Christian doctrine baptism is a sign. In fact, it symbolizes many things. To most Christians it is an outward sign of an inward commitment signifying that they are willing to put away their old ways and live a Christ-centered life. It is a sign that they have been washed clean of their sins and it is also a sign of being reborn to Christ wherein we become submissive and obedient to Him as a child is to their parent.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a membership record is a sign that a person has been baptized by someone with the proper priesthood authority. When going to an LDS temple, a person must present a small slip of paper, known as a temple recommend, to the person at the front desk. This piece of paper is a sign that the person holding it is living a life that makes them worthy to enter inside the temple.

Merriam Webster also defines the word "sign" as "a motion, action, or movement of the hand by which a thought is expressed or a command or wish made known." For example, putting a finger over one's mouth is the sign for someone to be quiet. Raising one's hand in a classroom is a sign to the teacher that someone wants to ask a question. In a court of law a witness places their left hand on the Bible and raises their right hand to the square as a sign that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In the LDS church, when someone receives a calling, the congregation raises their right hand as a sign that they are either willing to sustain and support that person in their new assignment or they object to that person being called.

If a bishop is a judge in Israel then one of the things he looks for in determining a person's worthiness is certain signs that tell him how faithful or obedient a person has been in keeping God's commandments. For example, he will look for signs that tell him if someone has been paying their tithing, if they are living the word of wisdom, are faithful in fulfilling their callings, and are leading a morally clean life. When someone demonstrates that they are willing to do what is asked of them that is a sign of a person's commitment to Christ. What others say about someone is also a sign of that person's character. And it is by looking at these kinds of signs that a bishop can gain far more information about a person's worthiness than anything that person can say.

Another word that is closely associated with signs is the word "token." Merriam Webster definition this word as being "1. an outward sign or expression 2: Symbol, emblem 6. a minority that is included within a larger group through tokenism; especially : a token employee. A Token applies to something serving as proof of a thing that is without physical form."

Many times a token is a sign that involves some sort of action. For example, when people greet each other they clasp hands. This gesture is often referred to as a token of friendship. When two people kiss one another we say that it is a token of their love and affection for one another. The same is true when two people hug. Not too long ago people would make an agreement with one another simply by shaking hands. This handshake became a token of the commitment to honor the agreement each of them had made with one another. An ancient American Indian custom was for two friends to make a small cut on their wrist then each person would place their cut on the other person's, thereby mingling their blood with one another. In this way it was a token that they had become blood brothers.

In Christianity we find similar kinds of tokens. For example, partaking of the Lord's Supper or the Sacrament is a token of our commitment to Christ. While baptism is a sign, it is also a token of our willingness to obey Christ. The same can be said of paying tithing. As such, in Christianity, a token is often associated with a commitment or an agreement we make to do certain things. In this sense, we can think of a token as making a handshake agreement with Christ to do certain things because, instead of something being officially written down, we give our verbal word, through the symbolism of a token, that we will keep the oath we have made to God.

However, it is not the physical object of a highway sign that is so important as it is the information it gives. And the same applies to the signs and tokens we make in life. As stated before, a hand shake is a token of friendship but, just because someone goes through the motions of giving a handshake doesn't always mean that person is being friendly. Giving one's word is a token of their intent to keep a promise they've made but it is only by keeping that promise that the gesture of the token has any real meaning.

In a court of law, placing one's left hand on the Bible and raising the right hand to the square while promising to tell the whole truth is only a symbolic hand gesture that is easy for anyone to perform. But, what the judge watches for is not how well the witness made the symbolic hand gesture but how well they honor the sign they made before being seated on the witness stand. Thus, a handshake, giving one's word or swearing on the Bible is not what's important. Those are just symbolic gestures. What matters most is whether a person fulfills the intent of the sign they make

And the same principle applies in our life with God. It's not the actual sign or token we make in life that's important. They are only symbols that represent things about us. If those signs don't accurately reflect who we are and what we do then they are false signs. Therefore, it's what we do that gives our signs and tokens any meaning. For example, as we have already seen, baptism is a sign or token that symbolizes our promise to keep God's commandments. However, the fact that we've been immersed in water is not what's important. Instead, it's how well we honor the token of our baptism that matters. Anyone can raise their hand to the square when asked to sustain someone in a calling but that sign is meaningless unless we actually support, uphold, and help the person succeed in their calling.

The scriptures tell us that "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to [the] gospel" (Romans 2:16) and that "the Lord Jesus Christů shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1) "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27) when we are "arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God" (Alma 11:44). But how will that judgment be carried out?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God. It was organized by Jesus Christ Himself and was patterned after the order that exists in heaven. In that sense, the two are identical. Therefore, by examining how the LDS church judges the righteousness of its members we get a clearer picture of how Christ intends to judge us when He comes again in glory.

As we have already seen, rather than Christ judging each person personally, it appears that He will use a system of judges to assist Him in carrying out this work. And those who will assist Him are those who hold the keys of judgment. As stated earlier, in the LDS Church bishops are responsible for examining their members to determine each person's worthiness before the Lord. As such, they are viewed as His representatives and act with His authority. Those who violate the laws of God may be temporarily suspended from participating in certain activities within the church while those who maintain an acceptable standard of righteousness are allowed full access to every blessing the Church has to offer and it is the judge in Israel who makes that determination.

One of those blessings is the privilege of going to the House of the Lord. The sign that someone is worthy of that blessing is their temple recommend because it signifies to the proper authorities that the person holding it has been examined by their bishop and stake president and has been found worthy to enter into an LDS temple. If someone doesn't have a temple recommend or their recommend is not proper in any way, then those who stand as guardian sentinels at the temple entrance will not let them pass by. Thus, to enter into the House of the Lord a person's worthiness must be examined by someone who is authorized by God to judge His people. As such, bishops and stake presidents are also sentinels, guarding the way to the temple.

If this is the way Christ has set up His kingdom here on earth, then there is no reason for us to think that things will be any different in heaven. Since it is those who hold the divine keys for judging people on this side of the veil of death, then it is certain that they will continue to serve as representatives of the Lord to examine those who pass through resurrection's veil. And it is by examining our faithfulness to the signs and tokens we make in this life that these angels will be able to judge who goes to the telestial kingdom, who goes to the terrestrial kingdom, who goes to the celestial kingdom, and who will enter into their exaltation. When we come before the bar of Christ, it is those angels who stand as guardian judges who will allow us to pass only into that kingdom for which we are found worthy to receive. It is in this way that the saints will be judging the world.


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