Ultimately, we find ourselves either under a judgment of condemnation or in a state of salvation. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture, particularly with respect to the last days. A final day is coming on which the dead will stand before God and the condemned will go off into everlasting contempt while the saved will go on to enjoy everlasting life (Dan. 12:1–2).
The New Testament expands on this theme, and it tells us more clearly about the dividing line between salvation and condemnation. This dividing line is a person, Jesus Christ our Lord. Those who trust in Him alone for their righteousness before God are in a state of salvation, but those who reject Him are condemned (John 3:16–18; 14:6).
If Jesus is the dividing line between condemnation and salvation, and if we are either saved or condemned, then it is not surprising that Jesus almost never talks about salvation without also talking about condemnation. We see this in today’s passage where in the same context that Jesus proclaims Himself as the way of salvation, He also sets forth rejecting Him as the way of condemnation. Having said that anyone who believes in Him believes in God, sees God, and walks in light, Jesus goes on to say that the consequence of not believing in Him and His words is to exist under judgment (John 12:44–48).
Clearly, Jesus refers here to the judgment of condemnation, which is bad news for unbelievers. But note that we can also speak of judgment in the sense of commendation. Apart from faith in Christ, the final judgment is to be feared, for it will be a day of punishment for all who do not believe in Him. Yet we who trust in Christ look forward to the day of judgment with joy, for we have already been declared righteous in Christ in our justification (Rom. 3:21–4:25). On that final day, all people will hear that we are righteous in Christ and are recipients of the eternal life He has merited for us. John Calvin comments that judgment “yields to the godly an invaluable consolation, that to whatever extent they may be now condemned by the world, still they do not doubt that they are already acquitted in heaven; for, wherever the faith of the Gospel has its seat, the tribunal of God is erected to save.”
The judgment of commendation—salvation—is the express purpose for which Jesus came. Condemnation results from His work also, but He came first to call us to faith. This call to believe will be the measure of condemnation. Those who reject the promise of salvation given by Jesus the Judge will be condemned (John 12:47–48).