“Judgment of the Nations” – Matthew 25:31-46

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Faith Bible Church, NY

May 28, 1995

“Judgment of the Nations”

Matthew 25:31-46

The disciples came to Jesus asking what the end of the age would be like. It is still a question that is often asked and a topic that intrigues mankind, but tragically the topic is often pursued without really examining the scriptures.

Jesus answered the disciple’s questions in chapter 24 and 25 in what is know as the Olivet Discourse, since that’s where Jesus and the disciples were at. Jesus gives them a very detailed account of many of the events that would preceded His return to earth as well as several parables stressing the need for everyone to be ready for His return and to be prepared and remain faithful to the end.

This morning we come to the end of our study of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. He now wraps of the final details by telling the disciples, and through them, us, what He will do upon His return.

THE COMING JUDGMENT (31,33)

Revelation 19:11-21 describes the first order of business that Jesus will have upon His return to Earth with His heavenly army. He will smite the nations and tread the “wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (vs. 15). The rebellion of man will be put down with an awful slaughter of man’s defiant armies. Verse 17, “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, ‘Come, assemble for the great supper of God; in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.’ And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; and these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came form the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

It is utter foolishness to rebel against God, yet that is man’s natural state and most people will only become more defiant as God’s wrath is poured out on the Earth through the period of the great tribulation described in Matthew 24 and the earlier chapters of the book of Revelation. The armies of men gather to battle with God in a last desperate attempt to assert their autonomy from Him. They are utterly defeated. Man’s rebellion is finally crushed.

The next event to follow any such defeat is the judgment of those who are left. Man’s defiant armies are destroyed, but the men and women that were not part of the armies still have to be dealt with. This is the point at which our text in Matthew 25 picks up the narrative. Follow along as I read starting in verse 31.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.”

The Lord Jesus Christ, He who is called “faithful and true” in Revelation 19, comes in His glory with His angels. The Rebellion of man is crushed and then He His court is set up and He judges those who remain. Remember that judgment belongs to Jesus because God the Father has entrusted it to Him. Jesus specifically saying in John 5:22 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” Here in our passage this morning we find that it is the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ that is sitting on His glorious throne. Jesus returns as the conquering king and takes His royal position on the royal throne of David for eternity (2 Sam 7:16; Luke 1:32). Isaiah described the glory of that throne as “lofty and exalted.” Daniel said it was like a fiery flame. But the real glory of the throne comes from the God Himself for His glory radiates from Him. The nations are then brought before the Lord and He starts the judgment proceedings. The first step is separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep go to one side: His right, and the goats go to His other side: His left. This is part of the great Day of the Lord that takes place at the end of what is referred to as the Great Tribulation or the time of Jacob’s Troubles.

Why use the analogy of sheep and goats? Simply because they were a familiar sight in Israel, and everyone knew the characteristics of each animal. Sheep are docile, gentle creatures while goats are more rambunctious, often bordering on unruly. When I was a kid I took care of a couple of goats on the school farm and had plenty of bruises on my legs because of this aspect of their character. The two animals would often intermingle during the day while the grazed, but at night the shepherd would separate them so that the goats would not upset the sheep while they rested. The shepherd would call the sheep and they would respond while the goats would ignore him. This makes John 10:27 more understandable – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

When Jesus sits on His glorious throne and begins the separation of the righteous from the wicked, His sheep hear His voice and will be put on His right hand. The goats (the unrighteous) do not hear nor heed Him, and they are placed on His left. Now each group will be judged.

THE JUDGMENT OF THE RIGHTEOUS (34-40)

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Notice that Jesus is referenced now as “King.” Jesus first came as the humble Son of Man who would die in as our substitute for sin, but He returns as King. Notice as well what the King says to those on the right. These are those that are “blessed of His Father” and they are called to inherit the kingdom that had been prepared for them since the foundation of the world. There is nothing haphazard going on in this court. Those who are on the right hand are not there by chance, luck, or fate. They are there because God had already planned for them from eternity past. Paul describes this in Eph. 1:4 saying, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself…” In Romans 8 He describes the various actions God has taken in bringing an individual to salvation, and it begins in eternity past: Whom He foreknew He predestined, whom He predestined He called, whom He called He justified, and whom He justified He will glorify. We refer to this as the doctrine of election, that salvation is the work of God.

These on the King’s right hand are those who are blessed of God because they have been made rig hteous through the Lord Jesus Christ. But now notice what Jesus the King points out to them as the evidence of their righteousness.

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”

The kind deeds of these people is evidence of their righteous as is their surprise and humility they express at receiving such commendation in verse 37. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?

They could not recall doing anything like that to the Lord, so Jesus the King explains further. Verse 40, And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

All six acts that Jesus points out are the common situations of life that would demonstrate a person’s heart. Jesus does not use miracles or mighty works as the evidence of faith, but instead responding with godly compassion to those around us by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, housing the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the prisoner. No great intellect required, no theology degree demanded, no great act of piety, just a simple response demonstrating God’s love to others. The fact that these acts are done even to “the least of these” stresses even more that they are acts of godly love and not to out of selfish gain.

Some have balked at this saying it smacks of works earning salvation. This isn’t true. Jesus has already made it clear that salvation has its origin in eternity past, so the works are subsequent. Why then the emphasis on what these people had done? Because the works are an evidence of the heart. James makes that clear in chapter 2:15-17. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works is dead, being by itself.” The apostle John makes the same point in 1 John 4:17,18“But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

The righteous are judged and receive their commendation and enter the kingdom prepared for them.

THE JUDGMENT OF THE WICKED (41-45)

The wicked are also judged and they receive their condemnation. Verse 41, Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirst, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.”

They are astonished and immediately try to find an excuse, some reason why the King’s judgment is wrong. Verse 44, Then they themselves also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” I am sure you can picture them bringing this argument before Jesus. “How can you hold us accountable for this, we never saw you in any of these conditions. Certainly if we had seen you we would have helped.” I am sure they would have. The heart of the most wicked man will extend help to someone He thinks will help him later on. Even the most selfish will help if they think there is a reward to be reaped later. If they had seen and recognized Jesus in need, they would have helped. They were blind to the point of what He was saying, so He clarified it for them in verse 45.

Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”

Their failure to do works of compassion is just a much an evidence of their unrighteousness and lack of love for God as doing them was for the righteous. Sins of omission, which are a failure to do right, are just as serious as sins of commission, which are doing wrong. That is a lesson and a serious warning all people need to heed for our society tends to make a distinction between the two, but God does not.

Stealing is stealing whether it is robbing the store or a failure to return excess change given to you or a wallet or purse you find. Lying is lying whether it is a fabricated story or purposely withholding information in order to deceive. Cheating on your taxes is the same whether you exaggerate your deductions or fail to report money earned “under the table.” And according to Jesus in Matthew 5, Adultery is adultery whether it is an illicit relationship or the fantasizing about it men may do while looking at pornography, or women might do while reading romance novels. Either one brings you under God’s condemnation, and that is the point here.

God knows the heart and the failure to do right reveals the true nature of the heart, as does the actions of evil. The condemnation given here is based on a failure to do right, not on any kind of flagrant acts of wickedness.

Look again at the sentence pronounced against these people in verse 41. They are called accursed and commanded to depart from God and to into the eternal fire. We don’t like that. The concept of hell disturbs us. It even makes some people question the character of God. “How could a good God sent people to hell?” On the basis of that, some have rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment for the wicked while others reject the Bible’s description of God and remake Him according to their own whims. They argue that God is too loving to send people to hell. Others reject God altogether claiming that they will not believe in a God that elects some to heaven and others to hell.

Yet, as we look at the sentence given we find that it is perfectly just and appropriate. The first thing that stands out very obvious is that the eternal fire was not made for men, but for the devil and his angels. It is incorrect to assume or conclude that God elects or predestines people to hell. People do not go there because God had that planned for them all along. People go to hell for only one reason. They have rejected God’s provision for their salvation through Jesus Christ. God proved His love for mankind when Jesus died for man’s sins (Rom. 5:8). God provided a way for man to avoid the punishment he had earned for himself by sinning. Those who have rejected God’s love throughout their lives will not be required to remain in the presence of the loving God they have rejected or be affected by His love any longer.

The greatest horror of hell is not the concept of an everlasting fire and being burned but never consumed; nor is it being a place where the “worm does not die” (Mark 9:44) and the “smoke of their torment goes up forever” (Rev. 14:11); nor is it being in a place of utter darkness. The greatest horror of hell is that the presence of God’s love, grace, and mercy are removed. They are, as stated in 2 Thess. 1:9, “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” It is dark because the light of the glory of God has been removed. They are commanded to depart from God because they have rejected Him and His love all their lives. People will go to hell because they have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and prefer to stand before God in their own righteousness. Their sentence then will then be determined by their own deeds of evil and lack of deeds of goodness.

God’s love does not take anything away from His righteousness or justice. His r ighteousness and justice magnify His love because He paid the penalty of sin for us that we might receive His grace and mercy. Remember, we do not want God to be fair with us, we want Him to be gracious and merciful to us by justifying us through Jesus Christ.

THE FINAL DESTINY (46)

Verse 46 brings the matter to a conclusion. “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Those who argue that there will be no hell only show themselves to be foolish. They have rejected what God has revealed. They have chosen to believe only what they want to believe. The same people that argue that there is no hell fail because they do not apply their same arguments to the existence of heaven. Jesus talked much more about the coming judgement and hell than He did about heaven. In this passage both concepts of heaven and hell are presented side by side. What is true for one must be true for the other.

This same truth destroys the arguments of those that acknowledge hell, but claim it will only be temporary, and that either the souls that are there will be annihilated (cease to exist), or they will all eventually be transferred to heaven after they had suffered for their sins long enough, which by the way is exactly what the doctrine of purgatory taught in Roman Catholicism is all about. As long as you were baptized into the Roman Catholic church and did not commit any mortal sins, you will eventually reach heaven though you will have to spend time in purgatory paying for any and all sins a priest did not absolve you of. Neither purgatory nor the concept of it appear anywhere in the Scriptures because man cannot in any way or manner make himself righteous and acceptable to God. You either come through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ or you don’t come.

But notice here that the same adjective is used here of both those who are commended and those who are condemned. One is sentenced to eternal punishment, the other to eternal life. To argue that the punishment is limited is to argue that the life spoken of is also limited. What is true of αἰώνιον (eternal) for one is true for the other.

The concept of eternal punishment should not be a shock to us. God is perfectly holy, and so punishment for those who reject Him is to be expected. We should not be amazed at Jesus returning as the conquering king who will quench His wrath in judgment, rather we should constantly be amazed at His great love demonstrated in His first coming in which He purchased our salvation through His own blood and in His consistent warnings to those who still reject Him. We do not marvel that God will condemn and punish sinners, yet we do stand in wonder of His offering forgiveness to those same sinners. It is not remarkable that there is a place of eternal punishment, but it is astounding that there is a place of eternal reward. That God would hate sin is perfectly understandable. That God would love the sinner so much that He would redeem the sinner by becoming a man and die in our place is astonishing. Yet He did!

The message of the Olivet Discourse is unsettling as we look at all that those who are on the earth at that time will suffer prior to Christ’s return. It is full of warnings about the consequences of not being ready including a plain description about what eternity will bring to those who are not prepared. Yet, the Olivet Discourse does not end on a negative note, but a positive one. Yes, eternal punishment awaits those who continue to reject God, but eternal life awaits those who ask God to forgive their sins and place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven is the passion and prize for the Christian.


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