9 And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (Jn9:39-41NASB)
Jesus’ reference to the blind seeing and those who see being made blind is almost certainly a prophetic reference to the contrasting fortunes of Jews and Gentiles. The former’s fortune was to be chosen as God’s special people and provided with the light of Torah – God’s Law for divine worship and humane living. Most Gentiles remained in the dark about the former (divine worship) but were never entirely in the dark concerning the latter. That was in view of “natural law” through which they received an innate sense of right and wrong provided through the spiritual faculty of conscience. As Paul asserted (when rightly translated) many Gentiles although not having the Law did by nature the things contained within it, thus becoming a law for themselves (Rom2:14-15).
But the main point to be drawn from this passage is the fact that the Man Christ Jesus (and He is the only Person that matters in this context -Jn5:22) will never condemn a person for what he is ignorant of – not least the true Gospel: “If you were blind, you would have no sin…” In view of historical cultural and religious formation exacerbated by division amongst the churches and the doctrinal confusion resulting from it , the vast majority of people who have ever lived (including some who believe themselves to be Christians) are blind to the Gospel and, unless spiritually aided, can never apprehend the true Faith.
Yet that vital concession to ignorance does not mean that wickedness will go unpunished. For as was better understood and articulated by the earliest Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement, Irenaeus and Origen ( but later rejected by Augustine and some of his contemporaries), through a principle of natural law, those who wilfully and wholeheartedly reject the innate light of reason they have received (Jn1:9), resulting in a total indifference towards the promptings of their conscience and the needs of their fellow man will be condemned to post-mortem punishment (Mt25:31-46).
That teaching of Jesus recorded by Matthew is the definitive passage in the Bible on final judgement yet it is a narrative in which religious faith is not mentioned. Those who have grasped what I have been saying above will already discern why that should be, whilst those who have followed more of my blogs or read my book* should also discern that this concession in no way detracts from the vital role of the Christian Gospel within divine providence and salvation history. For only those who respond to that true Gospel can be saved from what Paul describes as “the body of this death” so as to know Life of an eternal nature, even at the present time in order to serve and worship the living God in spirit and in truth. And in terms of the soul’s eternal destiny, only the disciples of Christ will be spiritually cleansed, renewed and ready-prepared (Rom8:29) so as to participate in Christ’s glorious reign in the ages to come: “The ones who are to receive royal authority are the saints of the Most High and their kingship will be for ever and ever and ever” (Dan7:18).
Related post: proportional punishment