Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish leaders in John 7:24 in which he said: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment”, is a reflection of God’s holy character. God wants people to transform themselves (Rom. 12:2) to have the same character of judging righteous judgment. Superficial judgments without knowing or considering all of the facts are judging according to the appearance. Righteous judgment is judgment that is made in harmony with the principles of God’s word, based on the relevant facts concerning a matter after it has been thoroughly investigated. The Jewish leaders made superficial, unrighteous judgments about Jesus concerning his calling God his Father and his healing people on the sabbath day. The Jewish leaders stirred up a mob to make unrighteous, superficial judgments against Jesus in calling for his crucifixion and the release of the murderer Barabbas. A modern day example of making unrighteous judgment is the frequent rush to judgment following some event that is made on social media and other electronic communications media in which a person is pronounced guilty of some wrong-doing well before all of the facts concerning the incident have been discovered and analyzed. Making unrighteous judgments is sinful and contrary to agapē love.
God’s Nature is to Judge Righteous Judgment
The Bible provides a lot of information about the nature or character of God. True and just (or righteous) are only two of the many attributes of God’s character. Just or righteous refers to that which is right. (All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.)
- Speaking of God, Ps. 89:14 states: “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.”
- God is trustworthy and true (Rev. 19:11). God’s ways are just and true (Rev. 15:3).
- God is therefore the righteous judge (II Tim. 4:8). God judges righteously (I Peter 2:23), and judges in righteousness (Rev. 19:11; Acts 17:31).
- Accordingly, God’s judgments are righteous (Rom. 2:5; II Thess. 2:5). His judgments are true and righteous (Rev. 16:7; 19:2).
- Because God is just and true, it is impossible for him to lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2; Num. 23:19).
- Consistent with these attributes of God:
- God hates a lying tongue and a false witness who speaks lies (Prov. 6:16, 17, 19).
- “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 17:15).
God Commands People to Judge Righteous Judgment
God wants to have fellowship with us, and in order for us to have fellowship with a holy God we must:
- be partakers of his divine nature (II Peter 1:4);
- be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1); and
- be holy because God is holy (I Peter 1:15 – 16; Lev. 19:2).
Consistent with God’s character, both the Old and New Covenants contain commands from God for people to make righteous judgments, to not pervert judgment, and to be truthful. Only a few verses which state these commands are listed below.
- Lev. 19:15 says in part: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment … but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.”
- Deut. 16: 18 – 20 says in part: “… judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow …”
- “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).
- “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:” (Ex. 23: 1- 2).
- A false witness speaks lies (Prov. 6:19). Lying is condemned in the New Testament also: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Eph. 4:25).
- ” … all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). “… whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” will not enter into heaven (Rev. 22:15).
- The judges Moses appointed over the people were “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Ex. 18:21).
- As Christians, we are to be people of truth. Agapē love toward people is the deliberate principle of the mind, a certain direction of the will, which seeks the highest good toward all men. I Cor. 13:6 teaches that agapē love “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth.” Agapē ” love worketh no ill (or evil) to his neighbor…” (Rom. 13:10).
- As stated previously, Jesus said in John 7:24: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment”.
- Nicodemus criticized the Jewish leaders for wanting to condemn Jesus without a trial. In John 7:51 Nicodemus asked, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” In other words, does the law judge any man without a trial in which the facts concerning the matter are presented?
- Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for judging according to the flesh (John 8:15).
- Luke 6:31 states a well-known principle, called by many the “golden rule”: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Do we not want and expect others to fairly judge our actions? Then should we not do the same to others?
Definitions of Key Phrases and Words
The Greek verb krinō, translated to judge, has a range of meanings as does the English verb judge. It means to decide, to assess, and to judge, that is, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong, whether informally or formally in a court of law (References 1 – 4). While many often associate judging with the courts of law, this is only one situation in which judging is performed. Every day each person draws conclusions or forms opinions about people and events that are encountered based on the information that is available at the time. God’s word applies to this kind of judging also.
Judging according to appearance, which Jesus condemned, is making superficial judgments without knowing or considering all of the facts.
Righteous judgment, which is what Jesus requires of all people, is judgment that is made in harmony with the principles of God’s word, based on the relevant facts concerning a matter after it has been thoroughly investigated. I Thess. 5:21 is therefore related to judging righteous judgment: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Judging according to the flesh, which Jesus also condemned, refers to judgments made without the guiding and restraining influence of the Holy Spirit through the word of God (Ref. 5). In contrast, righteous judgment could be described as judging according to or as led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14).
Context and Analysis of John 7:24
Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem teaching the people during the feast of tabernacles (John 7:2). The feast of tabernacles started on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (October in the Julian calendar) and lasted for eight days (Lev. 23: 34 – 36). The Jewish leaders were seeking to kill Jesus (John 7:1). For this reason, Jesus went secretly to the feast (John 7:10) because his time had “not yet come full” (John 7:8). At a previous “feast of the Jews” in Jerusalem, Jesus had healed a man on the sabbath day, a man who had an infirmity for 38 years. Immediately after the man was healed, he took up his bed and walked on the sabbath (John 5:1 – 6). The Jewish leaders sought “the more to kill” Jesus because he had healed the man on the sabbath day, and because Jesus, in saying his Father was God, made himself equal with God (John 7:16, 18). In reality, as demonstrated in John 11:47 – 53 and other scriptures, these charges of blasphemy and violating the Sabbath were only pretexts for killing Jesus, to give the evil actions of the Jewish leaders an appearance of being righteous. In this case they wanted the appearance of implementing a death penalty which was required by the law of Moses. At the feast of the tabernacles, Jesus had the opportunity to speak to the Jews concerning both of these pretexts.
In the temple, Jesus encountered some of the Jewish leaders who marveled at his teaching and questioned the source of his knowledge since he had not attended any of the rabbinical schools. Jesus knew what they were thinking and saying about his teachings. Jesus responded by informing them that what he taught he did not make it up on his own, but he received it from the Father. Jesus’ motives were pure in his teaching. He was not seeking his own self-aggrandizement or glory, but he sought rather to glorify his Father (John 7:16, 18).
Jesus told the Jews that anyone who has an honest, sincere desire to do the will of God, one whose only motivation is to do what is right, will be able to determine what is right and so would be able to see that the doctrine he was teaching truly did come from the Father (John 7:17). The Jewish leaders were not motivated by a desire to do only what is right. Instead, their main motivations were a lust for power and a desire to do whatever it took to maintain their positions of power over the people. They perceived their power was being threatened by Jesus’ growing number of followers (John 11:47 – 53). Their bias against Jesus thus blinded them to the obvious evidence that they saw of his deity. In this respect, the Jewish leaders falsely and unrighteously judged Jesus regarding his claims and proof of deity. Jesus therefore rightly charged the Jewish leaders with not keeping the law of Moses because of their continued actions to try to murder him (John 7:19).
Jesus then spoke to a second pretext of the Jewish leaders, that of violating the sabbath day. God had commanded the children of Israel to keep the seventh day, the sabbath, holy and to do no work on that day (Ex. 20:8 – 11, 23:12, 31:12 – 17, 34:21,35:2 – 3; Lev. 23:3; and Deut. 5:12 – 15). The Jewish leaders had over time developed their own elaborate definitions (traditions) of the work that could not be done on the sabbath. What the Jewish traditions included as “work” that could not be done on the sabbath, were excessive, going way beyond the “work” that God had actually prohibited. As one brother noted (Ref. 6), in the context of explicit examples that were given in the scriptures (Ex. 16:23, 23:12, 34:21, 35:3; Num. 15:32 – 36), it should have been clear that the “work” which God prohibited was productive labor that was a distraction to the remembrance of the sabbath as a holy day. However, violating the Jewish tradition or interpretation of “work” that could not be performed on the sabbath, was considered by the Jewish leaders as a violation of God’s law. Human interpretations were equated to God’s law.
The Jewish leaders considered Jesus performing miracles as violating their interpretation of work that could not be performed on the sabbath, which provided a pretext for killing him (John 5:16, 9:1 – 16; Mt. 12:9 – 14; Mk. 3:1 – 6: Lk. 6:6 – 11, 13:10 – 17, 14:1- 6). Jesus showed the absurdity and the wrongness of their tradition and their judgment by noting activities which Jews correctly interpreted as being permissible on the sabbath in contrast to the miraculous healings that he had performed on the sabbath day as shown in the following examples.
- Circumcising a male child on the eighth day as required by God was performed if that day fell on the sabbath (Jn. 7:22 – 23). Circumcision which was required as a part of God’s covenant in order for the baby boy to receive certain blessings and purifications. Circumcision affected only one small part of the body. When Jesus healed the man who had an infirmity for 38 years, he made the whole man well, thus providing a far superior blessing to circumcision.
It should be noted that the case of circumcision on the sabbath day is not, as some commentators suppose, a case of one of God’s laws superseding another. God does not give laws that contradict each other or that require people to have to decide which law to keep and which law to break. This is a case of Jesus showing an inconsistency in their tradition which allowed circumcision, but condemned the miraculous healing of a man.
It is in this context that Jesus said: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” The Jewish leaders had incorrectly interpreted God’s law concerning what activities were permitted on the sabbath. At the root of their erroneous interpretation was their evil heart. They were not motivated by a deep desire to do what was right, but were motivated by their evil self-interest to preserve their power over the people.
- Lifting an ox or a sheep out of a pit, an activity that would require a lot of human effort, would be performed by the Jews if the animal fell into it on the sabbath day, (Mt. 12:11; Lk. 14:5). Jesus did not condemn this action, but instead, contrasted it to his healing of a man’s withered hand, and asked, “How much then is a man better” (more valuable) “than a sheep? Wherefore” (or therefore) “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Mt. 12:12). Mark and Luke add that on this occasion, Jesus also asked the Jews who were present: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill” (Mk. 3:4; Lk. 6:9). Jesus asked the Pharisees and Jewish lawyers a similar question, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?”, before healing a man who had dropsy (edema) (Lk. 14:3 – 4).
- Taking an ox or an ass out of its stall and leading it to water would be performed by the Jews on the sabbath (Lk. 13:15). Jesus did not condemn this action, but instead, contrasted it to his healing of a woman who had “a spirit of infirmity” for 18 years and was bent over and could not raise herself up. Jesus asked, “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Lk. 13: 16).
In all of these cases, Jesus was contrasting the miracles he performed on the sabbath which produced a far greater human benefit than that rendered by the physical activities performed on the sabbath day to which the miracles were compared. One of the purposes of the miracles which Jesus performed while on earth was provide the evidence on which people could conclude (believe) that Jesus was deity, the Son of God (John 20:30 – 31). Some came to the correct decision (judged righteous judgment) based on the miracles that Jesus performed on the sabbath day: “How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?” (John 9:16). “If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33). Others, blinded by their biases against Jesus, judged unrighteous judgment, judged according to the appearance, judged according to the flesh, and erroneously concluded “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day” (John 9:16).
Some Applications – What does Unrighteous Judgment Look Like?
In the above analysis of John 7:24, it was shown that many of the Jewish leaders judged unrighteous judgment concerning Jesus calling God his Father and healing sick people on the sabbath day. One modern day example of judging unrighteous judgment is briefly discussed below.
Within the past few years at the time of this writing (2022), a pattern of behavior has been frequently seen in which within a very short time after some event having occurred, before all the facts have been gathered and analyzed, the television networks, social media, and other electronic communication platforms declare a person to be guilty of some crime or wrong-doing. Video is flashed before the country of an incident, but no video and little or no discussion are provided of the actions of all who are involved that occurred earlier which provides the context for the event, a context which is important to be able to properly judge the actions of all those involved. When this pattern of behavior is compared with the biblical principles that have been discussed, it can be seen that this rushing to judgment is in fact judging unrighteous judgment. This frequent pattern of behavior also includes using various communication platforms to try to persuade as many as possible to accept and take action based on the premature judgments that have been made. As Christians, in such cases should we not stand with Nicodemus and ask, “Does our law judge any man, before it hears him?”
Mt. 27:20 and Mk. 15:11 tell about the chief priests and elders who stirred up and persuaded a mob to demand the release of Barabbas, a murderer, and to cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus. In so doing, the mob condemned Christ who was sinless, and justified Barabbas who was wicked, actions which are an abomination to God (Prov. 17:15). The mob calling for the crucifixion of Christ is an obvious example of making unrighteous judgment. While the details are certainly different from that mob in Jerusalem, does not the pattern of behavior observed in recent years in which electronic means of communications are used to stir up and persuade a multitude to endorse and encourage premature judgments involve the same principle of making an unrighteous judgment against some individual without having heard all of the evidence for and against that individual?
We as Christians, indeed all people, must not get caught up in the frenzy of a social media mob in rushing to judgment on any matter before all of the facts are known. It is inconsistent with the biblical principles that have been discussed to follow a multitude to do evil, to falsely accuse someone of a sinful action before all of the facts have been discovered to determine if they have indeed committed an unlawful act. As Christians we must be people of truth, not people of slander and false accusations. We must be people who make righteous judgments, people who prove or test all things. We must not join in with the multitude in their rush to judgment, to exert public pressure via media to accept and act on premature judgments that were made by others. Such actions in principle seek to pervert judgment. Some may really be guilty of the wrong-doing of which they are accused, but that is to be determined not by the so-called “news networks” or mobs on social media, but by the due process of law where all of the facts concerning the case are to be ascertained so that a righteous judgment can be made.
While many in the country, and perhaps even many in the Lord’s church, may be tempted to say something on social media about every prominent event that occurs, we as Christians must remember these principles which have been examined, and recognize that in many cases the right thing to do is to say nothing because we do not yet know all of the facts. We need to remember Prov. 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”
God the Righteous Judge will Judge All Men
At the end of time, all men will be judged by God. Should we not be glad that the judge of all the earth is a righteous judge, and not like men who at times pervert judgment? II Cor. 5:10 says: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” II Thess. 1: 7 – 9 teaches that those who know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”
If you have never obeyed the gospel, we invite you to do so. Obeying the gospel of Christ involves hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17); believing it with all of your heart (Mk. 16:16; Heb. 11:6); repenting of (turning away from) your sinful way of life (Acts 2:38; 17:30); confessing your belief in Jesus as the son of God (Rom. 10:9- 10); and being immersed in water for the remission of your sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:28; I Peter 3:20 – 21; Rom. 6:3 – 6). After being buried with Christ in the water of baptism, you will arise to begin a new life in service to and in fellowship with God (Rom. 6:4), a life that requires faithful service to God for the remainder of your life on earth (Rev. 2:10).
Judging according to appearance, judging according to the flesh, not judging righteous judgment, and bearing false witness are all contrary to the gospel, and, if not repented of, will result in one being punished with everlasting destruction. Acts 8:22, James 5:16, and I John 1:9 teach that a Christian who sins, can be forgiven by a merciful God of these sins if one repents of them, confesses those sins before God and the brethren, and then prays to God to ask for his forgiveness. If you are a Christian who has joined in with the rush to judgment, we invite you to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
May God help us to live in accordance with these principles.
- Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.
- F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1979.
- Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1940.
- Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976.
- Roy C. Deaver, Romans- God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, Biblical Notes Publications, Austin, TX, 1992, pg. 243.
- Dub McClish, Editor, Studies in Luke, The Schertz Lectures, Schertz Church of Christ, Schertz, TX, November 9 – 13, 2003, pg. 242.
Written by RT