The Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
Learning about the Future to Live Better Today
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 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 His left.'" (Matt. 25:31-33)
(1) The Occasion of this Judgment. The occasion is when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him (Matt. 25:31).
(2) The Auspiciousness of this Judgment. Then He will sit on His glorious throne (Matt. 25:31). Literally, the text reads, "then He will sit upon the throne of the glory of Him." I am sure it will be a glorious throne, but it is Jesus who will exhibit great glory. He will come in glory, and He will sit upon the throne of His glory. If the throne exhibits glory, it is a reflected glory from Jesus, just as the Heavenly Jerusalem will exhibit a reflected glory from God (Rev. 21:10-11, 23; 22:5). This throne (thrónos, 2362) is a literal throne upon which one can sit (see also Matt. 19:28). It shows that He is King. The remainder of Jesus’ prediction here also demonstrates that as King he has the authority to judge not only Israelis (see Matt. 25:1-30), but also all Gentiles, and that He will indeed do so! This is consistent with Jesus' words in John 5:22-23. Jesus' Kingdom will have begun when He sits on the throne of His glory here upon earth. He is presently sitting at the right hand of the Father, but that is the throne up in heaven. His Kingdom will not begin until He is sitting on David's throne here on earth. (See the article, "Not Already, Not Yet.")
3) The Subjects of this Judgment. “All the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matt. 25:32). In the context of Matthew 24-25 this means all the people from all the nations from all over the world who have survived the Tribulation Period which precedes Christ’s Second Coming will be gathered before Jesus’ throne. He will judge them for their past behavior. The fact that they are labeled “nations” (plural of éthnos, 1484, in some versions often called “Gentiles”) means that they are not Israeli, they are not Jewish. By this time, Israel has already been judged (Matt. 25:1-13; 14-30).
(4) The Sorting Action of this Judgment. “...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” (Matt. 25:32-33). This means that, in the mind of the King, the Judgment has already occurred. He already knows the destiny of the “sheep” nations on his right and the “goat” nations on His left. He is simply preparing to put into action the results of the verdict He has already decreed in His mind.
(5) The Destiny of the “Sheep” Nations. “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” (Matt. 25:34). So these are the favored individuals from among the nations. They are blessed by God. They, in their natural bodies, will inherit the 1,000 year-long (Rev. 20:1-6) kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. So not only will faithful Israelis inherit this Kingdom. So also will Gentiles enter it – those who have passed the King’s criteria for determining their eligibility. The language indicates that this Kingdom has been prepared for these particular Gentiles before the world even existed. This certainly speaks of God’s foreknowledge, His sovereignty, and His predestination.
(6) The Criteria of the King in His Judgment (Matt. 25:35-36). The King will give six reasons why these God-blessed “sheep” Gentiles will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the Creation of the world.
a) For the King had hungered, and they had given him something to eat. (Matt. 25:35)(7) The Bewilderment of the Righteous (Matt. 25:37-39). The righteous were bewildered. When had they given food to the King, or given him water, or extend hospitality to Him as a foreigner, or clothed His nakedness, or see him sick or in prison and visited Him?
b) The King had thirsted, and they had given Him something to drink.
c) The King was a foreigner, and they had taken Him in.
d) The King was naked, and they had clothed Him. (Matt. 25:36)
e) The King was sick, and they had looked out for Him.
f) The King was in prison, and they had come to Him.
(8) The Explanation of the King (Matt. 25:40). “And answering, the King will say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did these things to one of these of the brothers of Me, of the least important ones of them, to Me you did them’” (Matt. 25:40, JTB translation). It is critically important to identify “these brothers” whom Jesus specified as recipients of the caring actions of these righteous Gentiles. Who are they, and when did these caring actions take place?
a) “These brothers” of Jesus cannot be the righteous Gentiles standing on Jesus’ right, for the righteous Gentiles were performers of the benevolent actions, not recipients of them.
b) “These brothers” cannot refer to the “Goat Nations standing on Jesus’ left. He will identify them as being “accursed ones,” destined for the eternal fire (Matt. 25:41). They could hardly be identified as Jesus’ brothers.
c) The fact that Jesus used the near Demonstrative Pronoun “these” (hoűtos, 3778), indicates that the ones about whom Jesus was speaking were near at hand, visibly present, just off-stage. I suspect Jesus gestured toward them as He spoke.
d) So I conclude that the most likely candidates to be identified as Jesus’ brothers who are visibly present at this Judgment of the Gentiles, but distinguished from them, are believing Israelis who survived, not only the Tribulation, but the just-completed Judgment of Israel.
Think of what it will mean for a Gentile during the Tribulation to risk his life to care for a Jewish person who is a believer in Jesus. Neither the righteous Gentile nor the believing Israeli will have worshiped the Beast (Rev. 13:4) or his image (Rev. 13:14-15). Neither of them will have taken the Mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:16), and will not have had the ability to purchase the necessities of life (Rev. 13:17). Only believers in Jesus from among the Gentiles will have had the courage to risk their lives to assist these physical and spiritual “brothers” of Jesus. Their actions will have revealed their faith in the King and their loyalty to the King. They are the only ones from among the surviving nations of earth who will be permitted to enter the Kingdom that is about to begin on earth.
(9) The Destiny of the “Goat” Nations (Matt. 25:41). Then He will also 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.” The fact that they have been sorted out to stand on the left side of the King, the place of disfavor, reveals their judgment has already been determined, and a grim place of misery is their eternal lot. “Accursed ones” translates the Plural Perfect Passive Participle of the verb kataráomai, 2672. Their eternal destiny is the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, prepared by God for the Devil and his angels.
(10) The Criteria of the King in His Judgment (Matt. 25:42-43). The criteria for them is the same as it was for the righteous Gentiles. But in the case of the “accursed ones,” they had neglected to do the very things that the righteous had done. They had not given food to the King, or given him water, or extended hospitality to Him as a foreigner, or clothed His nakedness, or seen him sick or in prison and visited Him (Matt. 25:42-43).
(11) The Bewilderment of the Accursed Ones (Matt. 25:44). “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘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?’”
(12) The Explanation of the King (Matt. 25:45). “Then He will answer them, ‘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.’” What He meant was that, during the Tribulation, these Gentiles had been worshipers of the Beast. They had worshiped his image. They had participated in his diabolical tracking and social credit system. They had never been believers in, nor followers of the King, and they had evidenced no concern for the persecuted Jewish people who had believed in Jesus. They were getting what they deserved.
(13) The Respective Departure of the Gentiles Following the Judgment (Matt. 25:46). “These (the accursed “Goat” Gentiles) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Application and Misapplication: Most Christians take this passage to mean that they have an obligation in this life to meet the physical needs of others. That is true. But they misapply the passage to mean that is all they have to do, and in so doing, they themselves earn eternal life. And so they have developed the "Social Gospel." If we meet their physical needs, run food pantries, and engage in Habitat for Humanity, we have performed our good deeds and we don't need to tell them about Jesus and the good news of His forgiveness. It is a form of Universalism wherein all those we help are going to heaven anyway, and we ourselves can earn our salvation by being kind. That is a complete misinterpretation of this passage. This passage has a very specific application during the Tribulation period, and we need to recognize that and understand it. There is value in helping people out in their physical needs today. But if we only address their physical needs, we have deprived them of their only means of salvation, saving faith in Jesus, who died to pay for their sins, and who rose to provide eternal life to all believe.
Next, we will discuss the nature of the reign of Christ into which these righteous "sheep" Gentiles have been ushered. It is a literal kingdom here upon Earth. It is primarily Christ's rule over the righteous nation of Israel from Jerusalem. I am referring to the righteous Jewish people who have placed their trust in Jesus as their Messiah and have somehow survived the horrendous Tribulation. But this Israeli Kingdom is also a global kingdom over all righteous Gentiles who have survived the Tribulation. These have been ushered into this kingdom because of their compassionate treatment of the King's "brothers." This kingdom will last 1000 years (Rev. 20:1-6). It will be populated by people in their natural bodies who have somehow survived the Tribulation and, because of their faith in the King, have been admitted into the Kingdom. First of all we will discuss the Chronology of the King's Reign.
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.)
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Updated April 15, 2021