The sight of Shylock’s gleaming knife struck terror and fear into Antonio’s heart. Antonio had defaulted on a loan from Shylock, and as one of the conditions of the contract, Shylock had stipulated taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Standing before the jury, Antonio is now overwhelmed with the dreadful thought of Shylock’s sword. These fears dominate his trial and obscure the jury’s task. All he can see across the horizon of the judgment hall is Shylock and his sword. His sense of fear is heightened by the fact that Shylock remains inflexible, insisting on the pound of flesh.
However, unknown to Antonio, the jury, including his friend Portia, are doing everything possible to save him from Shylock’s imminent threats. Thankfully, the story ends with the jury freeing Antonio from Shylock’s dreadful scythe.
Why the Dread of Judgment?
Like Antonio, with the dreadful knife of Shylock staring at him, ready to pounce for a pound of his flesh, we often view God’s judgment with dread. After all, who is not afraid of God’s wrath? It has been portrayed with gruesome horror and terror. I recall reading about the alarm and panic that gripped the hearts of the congregation when Jonathan Edwards preached his now famous sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The concept of judgment tied with his graphic illustration of the inferno of hell caused some of the church members to grab hold of the columns in the church, lest they slip into hell!
The scenario looks even more frightening when we reflect on the fact that we will be judged with reference to our works (Matt. 7:21; Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). The truth that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) coupled with the thought that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) is enough to snuff out all vestiges of hope for a favorable judgment. Who can stand the divine searchlight? Ellen White captures the intensity and luminosity of God’s searchlight in the following words:
Opposite each name in the books of heaven is entered with terrible exactness every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling. Heaven-sent warnings or reproofs neglected, wasted moments, unimproved opportunities, the influence exerted for good or for evil, with its far-reaching results, all are chronicled by the recording angel. (The Great Controversy, p. 482)
Not the End of the Story
But that is not the full picture. At the end of this frightful tunnel of judgment is a glimmer of light and hope. The Bible presents a wonderful array of reasons why we can live in joyful confidence during God’s end-time judgment rather than shriveling up in hopelessness. Before presenting this glorious vista of hope, however, let’s remember who wants to frighten us about the judgment and focus our attention on a sense of dread and terror.
Our Chief Antagonist
Like Shylock, there is someone who scares us about the judgment. The Bible identifies him as the “accuser of our brethren“ (Rev. 12:10). He has a longstanding track record of cruelty. He was behind the fall of our first parents and is the maestro of deception and misrepresentation. In fact, Jesus Himself identified him as the father of lies (John 8:44).
Our antagonist holds a doctoral degree in rebellion against God, a master’s in inciting us to sin, and a bachelor’s in flatteries, empty promises, and vain allurements. He is a skillful general with an incredible working experience of more than six millennia. He is committed to the destruction of humanity. He was the architect behind Job’s suffering (Job 1, 2) and the fierce complainant against Joshua the high priest (Zech. 3), and now he is the relentless accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10-12).
But we don’t have to give in to despair because of the devil’s temptations and accusations. Since the fall, God has been on a relentless mission to reconcile us to Himself. The sanctuary service is where God is enacting our salvation. As a child growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I thought that the sanctuary service was all about calculation of historical dates and ancient movable structures in the wilderness. However, I somehow overlooked this beautiful rescue plan for a planet in rebellion.
Let me highlight one aspect of the sanctuary service that may dispel our fears of the judgment: namely, the breastplate of the high priest. Exodus 28:29 reads: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually.”
God instructed Moses to design a breastplate for the high priest. The names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel were engraved on the breastplate. In the same way the high priest bore it upon his heart, so Jesus, our heavenly High Priest, bears our names on His heart before our Father. Using this simple and yet profound imagery, Christ, the High Priest, illustrates that He has the names of His children on His very heart.
This point becomes even more salient when we realize that the high priest wears the breastplate in a judicial setting. Can you imagine the sense of assurance you would have if you were standing before the U.S. Supreme Court, knowing that the Chief Justice is your personal friend, who knows you by name and cares about you?
The high priest wore the breastplate as a memorial before God. Interestingly, the root of the word translated as “memorial” is related to the verb “remember.” Whenever God remembers, deliverance is not far off. This syntactical link between “God” and “remember” occurs only four times in the Bible. In Genesis 8:1, when God remembered Noah, he and his family were all saved from the flood. In Genesis 19:29, when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, God remembered Abraham and delivered Lot. In the third occurrence, after Rachel struggled with the desperation and humiliation of barrenness, God remembered her, and she gave birth to Joseph (Gen. 30:22). Finally, after more than four centuries of hard servitude and oppression, the children of Israel experienced deliverance when God remembered them (Ex. 2:24).
Here is the hope that can give us complete confidence. Jesus, our High Priest, is the bearer of our names on His breastplate for a continual remembrance before God. In fact, more than being our defender, Jesus assures us that “the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). So the attorney is also the judge. This can help us better understand another text in John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18, NIV).
Living Without Fear
Why then dread the judgment when Jesus has our names engraved on His breastplate and is making intercession for us before the Father? He is the only attorney who can say with confidence and tender sympathy, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me” (Isa. 49:16).
A story is told of an angry lion that met a lamb. The lion was ready to pounce on the weak and helpless lamb, but, surprisingly, the lamb showed no dread at all.
Approaching the lamb, the lion saw a hunter behind it with his rifle cocked and ready to shoot should the lion move any closer to the lamb. In desperation and frustration, the lion ran away disappointed.
Like the lamb in that story, we are no match for the devil, but with Jesus as our judge and defender, we can face the judgment without fear. With this assurance, we can say with Martin Luther: “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”
Knowing that Jesus is our sympathetic advocate, attorney, and defender as well as the judge in the heavenly sanctuary, the author of the book of Hebrews writes with confidence to his fellow Christians:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16, NIV)
Conscious of this wonderful rescue plan, Satan has sought throughout history to present God as a harsh, demanding, and relentless God who is ready to condemn us. He seeks with growing intensity and zeal to divert our minds from this wonderful work Jesus is doing on our behalf: “The archdeceiver hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth” (The Great Controversy, p. 488).
But instead of being afraid and dreading the verdict, we can live in joyful anticipation because we know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1, NIV). Jesus Himself put it this way: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned” (John 3:17, 18).
As children of the heavenly King, we can live without the fear of God’s judgment because with Jesus, our best friend and Redeemer, bearing our names on His breastplate before the Father, we have “everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but ha[ve] passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
 This scene has been taken from William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (London: Yale University Press, 1923).
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations have been taken from the NKJV.
 The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1985), #506.