In all three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – God is the judge of humanity. However, these religions have a slightly different way of dealing with the execution of God’s judgement.
In Judaism, three major phases need to be distinguished: The time in the desert after the Exodus, from the judges to Roman times and modern Judaism.
The time in the desert after the Exodus
During the 40 years in the desert (Books of Exodus – Deuteronomy), God gave Israel clear instructions regarding the way they should live. The priests made this law known to the people by reminding them in whenever they broke it. In most cases, when the law was broken, God executed the judgement. Examples include the rebellion of the sons of Korah where God opened the Earth and they died as a result of their sin (Numbers 16), Mirjam’s slander (Num. 12). While some laws included a death sentence (e.g. by stoning), these laws were understood to be necessary due to God’s holiness and presence in the camp: Nobody who is impure can live before God.
From the judges to Roman times
After entering the land, it was left to the judges and kings to enforce the biblical laws. The death sentence for individual sin was – most of the time – interpreted as exile as only God should give or take a life. Individual sin still resulted in God’s execution of judgement, though it was usually announced by prophets like Nathan (2 Samuel 12) or Elijah (1 Kings 21 & 22). This shows how important the responsibility of the people is: We should – lovingly – rebuke our brothers and sisters.
Modern Judaism is somewhat unclear as to the issue. While it is still believed that God executes judgement (e.g. through sickness and similar punishment), exile is sometimes decided by Rabbinic authorities. This is not consistently executed, however, as for example a person born Jewish remains so even if they choose to follow Buddhism or not believe in God at all (Atheism), but if they claim that Yeshua is the Messiah and continue to live a Jewish lifestyle, they can be banned from the community.
Christianity continues along the lines of the Old Testament (Tanakh) in that the death sentence is up to God alone and only exile (called “church discipline”) is accepted as a form of punishment (1 Corinthians 5:5). Ultimately, God alone carries out the judgement. The difference to ancient Judaism (the time of judges & kings) is merely that it is clearly written down.
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
In Islam, the believers are the ones who are called to execute Allah’s judgement, for the good of the unbelievers: It is considered better for them to die than to live in unbelief:
And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And disbelief is worse than killing…but if they resist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more disbelief (and worshipping of other gods) and worship is for Allah alone.
The theology of being killed in battle for Allah is the base for modern jihad, which is the only certain way for a muslim to get to heaven (Being good may not be enough, weighed up against sin). Unlike early Christian martyrs who died without resistance, muslims are called to battle to inflict death and destruction as an execution of Allah’s judgement:
Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.
Modern violence in the Middle East is strongly tied to the desperation of Muslims to find a way to reach heaven by executing God’s judgement. In both Judaism and Christianity, it is God who intervenes to bring justice (see Ps. 97), and He is our hope because he forgives our sins if we turn back to him.
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.