Harmony of the Gospels

 Date: Tuesday of Our Lord’ Final Week
Location: Mount of Olives
Scriptures: Matthew 25:31-46
Part 4: JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS

 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory.  In the New Testament “Son of Man” is the title Christ used for Himself. It is found almost exclusively in the Gospels, but it is also used in Acts 7:56 and Rev. 1:13 and 14:14. It stresses His manhood, which is unique in comparison with all other men, for He is declared to be from heaven [1](1 Cor. 15:47).

The glory of Christ was seen on only three occasions, as far as we know; at His baptism, at the transfiguration, and at His assention. The rest of the time, it was masked, and men could only see His human side. His glory is a quality of God’s character that emphasizes His greatness and authority. It is revealed in God’s beauty, power, and honor. The word is used in three ways in the Bible:
1. God’s moral beauty and perfection of character. This divine quality is beyond human understanding. All people “fall short” of it [2](Rom. 3:23).
2. God’s moral beauty and perfection as a visible presence. While God’s glory is not a substance, at times God does reveal His perfection to humans in a visible way. Such a display of the presence of God is often seen as fire or dazzling light, but sometimes as an act of power. Some examples from the Old Testament are the pillar of cloud and fire (Ex. 13:21), the Lord’s deliverance of the Israelites at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and especially His glory in the tabernacle (Lev. 9:23–24) and Temple (1 Kin. 8:11). Since the close of the Old Testament, the glory of God has been shown mainly in Christ [3](Luke 9:29–32)[TL1] and in the members of His church. Christ now shares His divine glory with His followers [4](John 17:5–6, 22), so that in their lives Christians are being transformed into the glorious image of God [5](2 Cor. 3:18)[TL2]. Believers will be fully glorified at the end of time in God’s heavenly presence [6](Rom. 5:2). There the glory of God will be seen everywhere [7](Rev. 21:23)[TL4].
3. Praise. At times God’s glory may mean the honor and audible praise that His creatures give to Him [8](Ps. 115:1).
The first time Christ came was as a little baby. His glory was veiled and we only saw glimpses of His power. He came to save mankind, and He did, by dying on a cross. He will come again, with His angels, to defeat Satan one more time, establish His kingdom, and judge all men. When Christ returns:
1. It will be a time of separation: the wise will be separated from the foolish, the faithful servants from the unfaithful, the blessed (sheep) from the cursed (goats).
2. His coming also means evaluation. As we wait for the Lord to return, we must invest our lives and earn dividends for His glory. Christ gives us opportunities that match our abilities, and the one-talent servant is just as important as the five-talent servant. The key is faithfulness [9](1 Cor. 4:2), for God measures us against ourselves and not against the other servants. Are you afraid to step out by faith and take some risks for God?
3. It will be a time of commendation. We will be surprised to learn about ministries we performed that we thought were insignificant but that He will reward. This parable is not teaching salvation by good works. Christ’s sheep know that they are sheep [1o](John 10:14, 27–30), but they do not always realize what their service means to Christ. We will experience some surprises on that day!

This passage describes the Judgment of the Nations, which is to be distinguished from the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Judgment of the Great White Throne.

The Judgment Seat of Christ, a time of review and reward for believers only, takes place after the Rapture [11](Rom. 14:10)[TL5]. 

The Judgment of the Great White Throne takes place in eternity, after the Millennium. The wicked dead will be judged and consigned to the Lake of Fire [12](Rev. 20:11–15).

The Judgment of the Nations, or Gentiles (the Greek word can mean either), takes place on earth before the kingdom is established on earth, for the saved are told to “inherit the kingdom (v. 34). If we are right in identifying it with Joel 3, the location of this judgment is the Valley of Jehoshaphat, outside Jerusalem. The nations will be judged according to their treatment of Christ’s Jewish brethren during the Tribulation [13](Joel 3:1, 2, 12–14).

And all the holy angels with Him. We ordinarily understand the word “angels” (i.e., “messengers” of God) to mean “a race of spiritual beings having a nature exalted far above that of man, although infinitely removed from that of God—whose function is “to do Him service in heaven, and to help and defend men on earth.”

You may wonder, “What attributes did God give to His angels?” God created all the angels [14](Col. 1:16) as spirits [15](Ps. 104:4), immortal [16](Matt. 22:30), holy [17](Matt. 25:31), excelling in knowledge [18](Matt. 24:36), mighty in power [19](2 Thess. 1:7), to execute his commandments, and to praise his name [20](Ps. 103:20–21), yet subject to change [21](2 Pet. 2:4).

Then He will sit on the throne of His glory. The question arises, “How is Christ to be exalted at His coming again to judge the world?” Christ is to be exalted because he, who was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men, [22](Acts 3:14–15) shall come again at the last day in great power [23](Matt. 24:30) and in the full manifestation of his own glory, and of his Father’ s, with all his holy angels [24](Luke 9:26), with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God [25](1 Thess. 4:16), to judge the world in righteousness [26](Acts 17:31).

Above all human kingship and “thrones” was the God of Israel: “God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness” (Ps. 47:8). The Israelites viewed God as the ruler who was seated on a “throne.” Micaiah said in the presence of Ahab and Jehoshaphat: “Hear thou therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on His right hand and on his left” (1 Kings 22:19). Isaiah received a vision of God’s glory revealed in the temple [27](Isa. 6:1).

32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

It is important to know that during the Tribulation there are three classes of people—sheep, goats, and Christ’s brethren. The first two classes, over whom Christ sits in judgment, are Gentiles living during the Tribulation. The third class is Christ’s faithful Jewish brethren who refuse to deny His Name during the Tribulation in spite of towering persecution.

33 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

The nations are those peoples living through the Tribulation on earth at the time of Christ’s return. This is a judgment of separation: sheep on his right … goats on the left. At this judgment all nations (better, “all Gentiles”) stand before Christ who then separates the sheep (the saved) from the goats (the lost) in a manner reminiscent of the wheat and tares parable. Some view this as the last general judgment, whereas premillennial commentators see this as the judgment of the nations who have survived the Tribulation Period, with the saved going into the millennial kingdom. Note that these are living nations, whereas the Great White Throne Judgment is for the wicked dead whose bodies are resurrected to face the final judgment of the lost.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
39 ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

The Judgment of the Nations is to take place after the appearing of the Lord in glory, and its location is the earth, whereas the judgment of Christians takes place “in the air” and between the Rapture and the Second Advent. At the former, some are pronounced accursed and dismissed to eternal punishment, whereas at the latter no such condemnation is possible, for these are the children of God, both the living and the dead. On the other hand, the judgment of the Great White Throne, takes place after the final catastrophe has overtaken Satan and his hosts at the close of the Millennium (Rev. 20:11–15)[TL5]. The terms in which these three judgments are described prevent any possibility of confusing them.

The judge who sets on the throne is the same for every judgment, regardless of who is being judged; it is the Lord Jesus Christ. That is made clear by John 5:22, 23 and 27: “neither doth the Father judge any man, but He hath given all judgment unto the Son; that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father…. And He gave Him authority to execute judgment because He is [the] Son of Man.”  That there is just one judge is also clear from 1 Corinthians 4:5, “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.” The reference to His coming makes it evident that by Lord the apostle means the Lord Jesus, while the praise is said to come from God. The words of the apostle are therefore in harmony with those of the Lord Himself.

40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;
43 ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’
45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

The King places the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. He then invites the sheep to enter His glorious kingdom, prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The reason given is that they fed Him when hungry, gave Him drink when thirsty, and welcomed Him when a stranger, clothed Him when ill-clad, visited Him in sickness, and went to Him in prison. The righteous sheep profess ignorance of ever showing such kindnesses to the King. He explains that in befriending one of the least of His brethren, they befriended Him. Whatever is done for one of His disciples is rewarded as being done to Himself. The basis of their acceptance seems to be their treatment of the least of these my brethren, i.e., the saved of the Tribulation. The acts of kindness were done by these sheep nations unto the persecuted Jewish believers and their converts during the reign of the Antichrist and now they bring the blessing of God’s salvation upon these nations. The acts of kindness do not themselves merit salvation apart from the atonement of Christ. Since the nations are the Gentiles, “my brethren” must be the believing Jews from the Tribulation period and those Gentiles who are saved during that time. These are people who will hear the message of the 144,000, and trust Jesus Christ. Since these believing Jews will not receive the “mark of the beast,” they will not be able to buy or sell. How, then will they survive. Through the loving care of the Gentiles who have trusted Christ and care for His brethren. Their motive is not reward, but sacrificial love. In fact, these Gentiles took their own lives in their hands when they welcomed the homeless Jews and took care of them. “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40), and certainly, this would also apply to His brethren.

The goats are banished into everlasting fire or hell, because they did not trust Jesus Christ and give evidence of their faith by caring for His brethren. They apparently took the mark of the beast and took care of themselves and their own, but they had no time for the Jewish remnant that was suffering on earth. There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission [28](James 4:17). Not doing good is the moral equivalent of doing evil.

Both the judgment and the blessed life are designated by the same adjective, “everlasting,” clearly indicating their equal duration. This eternal judgment is in keeping with [29]Revelation 14:11. No unsaved adults are admitted into the millennial kingdom when it is begun on earth. A natural and legitimate conclusion, then, is that the Rapture must occur before this event. Thus, the Rapture precedes the Tribulation Period, which itself precedes the millennial kingdom.

46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The judgment is this way; the goats go away into everlasting punishment, but the sheep into eternal life. But this raises two problems. First, the passage seems to teach that nations are saved or lost as a class or group. Second, the account creates the impression that the sheep are saved by good works, and the goats are condemned through failure to do good. As to the first difficulty, it must be remembered that God does deal with nations as such. Old Testament history records many  instances of nations punished because of their sin (Isa. 10:12–19; 47:5–15; Ezek. 25:6, 7; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6; Obad. 10; Zech. 14:1–5). It is not unreasonable to believe that nations will continue to experience divine retribution. This does not mean that every single individual in the nation will be involved in the outcome, but that the principles of divine justice will be applied on a national, as well as an individual basis.

The word translated “nations” in this passage, can equally well be translated “Gentiles.” Some believe the passage describes the judgment of individual Gentiles. Whether nations or individuals, there is the problem of how such a vast horde could be gathered before the Lord in Palestine. Perhaps it is best to think of representatives of the nations or individual classes assembled for judgment.

God is going to judge the world. He is not sending cataclysmic judgments today because this is a day of grace when His message is, “Be you reconciled to God” (2 cor. 5:14). The heavens are silent because man’s sins have already been judged at the Cross. God has spoken once and for all through His Son, and He will not speak to this earth again, until He sends His judgments through the Tribulation.

As to the second problem, the passage cannot be used to teach salvation by works. The uniform testimony of the Bible is that salvation is by faith and not by works [30](Eph. 2:8, 9)[TL7]. But the Bible is just as emphatic in teaching that true faith produces good works. If there are no good works, it is an indication that the person was never saved. So we must understand that the Gentiles are not saved by befriending the Jewish remnant, but that this kindness reflects their love for the Lord.

Three other points should be mentioned. First, the kingdom is said to have been prepared for the righteous from the foundation of the world (v. 34), whereas hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41). God’s desire is that men should be blessed; hell was not originally intended for the human race. But if people willfully refuse life, they necessarily choose death.

The second point is that the Lord Jesus spoke of everlasting fire (v. 41), everlasting punishment (v. 46), and eternal life (v. 46). The same One who taught eternal life taught eternal punishment. Since the same Greek word is used for both eternal and everlasting[TL8], it is inconsistent to accept one without the other. If the word translated everlasting does not mean eternal, there is no word in the Greek language to convey the meaning. But we know that it does mean everlasting because it is used to describe the eternality of God [31](1 Tim. 1:17)[TL9].

Finally the Judgment of the Gentiles reminds us forcefully that Christ and His people are one; what affects them affects Him. We have vast potential for showing kindness to Him by showing kindness to others.

 


“Before the Judgment Seat of Christ my service will be judged not by how much I have done, but by how much I could have done.” —A.W. Tozer


Scripture References


[1] The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.  (1 Cor. 15:47).

[2] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  (Rom 3.23)

[3] As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him (Luke 9:29–32)

[4] And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word…And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  (John 17:5–6, 22)

[5] But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)

[6] through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom. 5:2)

[7] The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.  (Rev. 21:23)          

[8] Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. (Ps. 115:1)

[9] Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. (1 Cor. 4:2),

[10]  “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:14, 27–30)

[11] But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Rom. 14:10)

[12] Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:11–15)

[13]  “For behold, in those days and at that time, When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, The vats overflow—For their wickedness is great.”Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:1, 2, 12–14).

[14] For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (Col. 1:16)

[15] Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire. (Ps. 104:4)

[16]For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.  (Matt. 22:30)

[17] When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. (Matt. 25:31)

[18] But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matt. 24:36)

[19] and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, (2 Thess. 1:7)

[20] Bless the LORD, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. (Ps. 103:20–21)

[21] For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment (2 Pet. 2:4)

[22] But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.  (Acts 3:14–15)

[23] Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30)

[24] For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

[25] For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:16)

[26] because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)

[27] In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  (Isa. 6:1)

[28] Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)

[29] “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”  (Revelation 14:11)

[30] For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.  (Eph. 2:8, 9)

[31] Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:17]

 

Special Notes

[TL1]Christ’s clothing and complexion were surrounded and filled with a magnificent glory that had not been seen by mortal man since God’s glory left the Temple in Ezekiel’s day. Moses and Elijah stood as representatives of the Law and the Prophets, and discussed Christ’s coming death at Jerusalem. It must have been a wonderful yet an awesome experience for Christ as He was encouraged by these two fearless and faithful Old Testament saints to finish the task for which He had come. The three disciples were fast asleep while all this was transpiring, and were surprised by what they saw when they awoke.

[TL2]The Father had manifested Himself through the Son, and now the Son manifests Himself through His followers. This is glory.

[TL3]The word “hope” confuses many new Christians. Hope is not uncertain, it is solid. We have joy in hope. The glory of God, of which we have fallen short, is the perfect standard of Christ’s righteousness. We can rejoice in the fact that whatever we are like today, one of the benefits of having been justified is the hope that one day we shall be like Him.

[TL4]“God the Father and the Lamb will be the all-sufficient light for the city. Therefore, there will be no need of the sun, neither of the moon; the Lamb will meet every requirement"

[TL5] Each believer must live with the Judgment Seat of Christ in view. All that we do will be judged at that heavenly bēma or judgment seat. On that day all meaningless differences between Christians will fade away and we will not be concerned about the validity of what others have done for every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

[TL6]

[TL7]Grace is what God does for man, not what man does for God or for himself. Salvation is God’s greatest gift and man’s greatest need. We can be certain of this God-given salvation; we have been saved in the past, and are just as thoroughly saved in the present. We have a perfect salvation. God gives; man receives. Through faith. Grace is God’s provision; faith is man’s appropriation. Faith is not a commendable act on our part, but the indispensable channel through which man receives God’s free gift (Heb 11:6). Not through your merits or efforts.

Faith is not based upon or produced by the works of man. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31). Calvin sums up Paul’s meaning as follows: “In these three phrases,—not of yourselves,—it is the gift of God,—not of works,—he [Paul] embraces the substance of his long argument in the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, that righteousness comes to us from the mercy of God alone,—is offered to us in Christ by the gospel,—and is received by faith alone, without the merit of works” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, Trans. William Pringle, p. 228).

[TL8] The same Greek word is used for both eternal and everlasting--aionios { ahee-o’-nee-os}

Meaning:
1)     without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be
2)     without beginning
3)     without end, never to cease, everlasting

[TL9] Sharing his testimony and remembering what manner of man he had been causes Paul to break out with this great doxology. The Lord’s Supper should remind us of the long-suffering of God and suffering of the Savior and cause heartfelt praises today.

 

Do you have any questions or comments?

 A first-grade teacher told her class, “If you need to go to the bathroom, I want you to raise your hand.” A little boy then asked, “How will that help?”

Sermon Notes & Illustrations, Aug. 1995

Make a Free Website with Yola.