SON OF MAN WILL RETURN IN GLORY TO SIT IN JUDGMENT ON THE GENTILES TO DETERMINE ENTRANCE INTO THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
Grant Osborne: Here it is the nations who are to be judged, and the basis of that judgment is how they treat God’s people. There is no atmosphere of delay or the unexpected timing of the parousia. Yet, similar to the parables of the wheat and the weeds or the good and bad fish of 13:24–30, 47–52, this final part of the discourse centers on the glorious appearing of the Son of Man and the judgment of the nations that will ensue.
The righteous will be rewarded because in showing mercy and taking care of Jesus’ messengers they have cared for him. The wicked will be punished because they did not show mercy to Jesus’ messengers (note the contrasts—come/depart, blessed/cursed, inherit the kingdom/eternal punishment/eternal life). The theme is first the unity of Jesus with his people and then the responsibility of the world to accept and minister to his followers in mission.
Homer Kent: This judgment scene must be distinguished from that of Revelation 20 (Great White Throne), for that follows the resurrection of the wicked at the close of the Millennium. Here the nations must mean the persons living on earth when Christ returns. They will be judged as individuals, not as groups (them, v. 32, is masculine gender, whereas nations is neuter). Such a judgment of living men at the time of Christ’s glorious coming is foretold in Joel 3:1, 2. . .
It seems clear that the sheep and the goats are distinct from my brethren. Hence the interpretation of the nations as Gentiles and my brethren as the faithful Jewish remnant who will proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom in all the world (24:14; Rev 7:1-8) meets the exigencies of the passage. . . These Jewish believers will bring about the conversion of an unnumbered multitude of Gentiles (Rev 7:9-14), who will evidence their faith by their deeds.
David Thompson: WHEN JESUS CHRIST COMES IN ALL OF HIS GLORY, HE WILL JUDGE EVERY INDIVIDUAL FROM THE GENTILE NATIONS WHO SURVIVED THE TRIBULATION TO DETERMINE WHO GETS TO GO INTO HIS KINGDOM AND THIS DETERMINATION WILL BE MADE ON THE BASIS OF HOW THE GENTILE TREATED THE JEW DURING THE TRIBULATION.
The kingdom will feature O.T. resurrected saints, the Church, faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles who survived the Tribulation. All ungodly Jews will be judged and removed from the earth at the end of the Tribulation (Zech. 13:8-9). This will amount to about 2/3rds of all Jews. Then Gentiles will be judged. In order for the Gentiles to be deemed faithful, they must face judgment. The prophet Joel clearly predicted this judgment (Joel 3:2, 12).
Ray Stedman: The Unconscious Test
[Look at how] how Jesus ends this tremendous talk with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. He suddenly drops the use of parables and returns to a simple narrative. Unlike the household, the ten maidens, and the talents, the judgment of the sheep and goats with which he ends is not parable but fact.
It is hard for us to remember that these words were uttered by a Man standing in the gathering dusk on the Mount of Olives, in the midst of a tiny band of forsaken men, and looking out over a city where even at that moment his enemies were completing the plans for his arrest and execution. When Jesus uttered these words, by every human appearance he was defeated. The powers of darkness were triumphant, the shadow of the cross was falling across his path way, the crowds that once had followed him had long since gone, his friends were fearful and powerless, and one of them was even then set to betray him. Yet as he surveyed the centuries he saw the light that was yet to come, and without uncertainty in his words, in that hour of triumphant evil and seeming human defeat, he declared, “When the Son of man comes in his glory…he will sit on his glorious throne. [And] before him will be gathered the nations.” . . .
The purpose of the judgment is obviously to determine who shall enter the kingdom of God which the Son has come to establish. Through all the great discourses of Jesus in the gospels the evident passion of his heart is to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. He will manifest himself in power for the very purpose of fulfilling those ancient dreams of the prophets-an earth that will be filled with the righteousness of God as the waters cover the sea. But only the righteous will be allowed to enter. . .
Some commentators have felt there are three groups in this judgment scene: the sheep, the goats, and another group whom Jesus terms “my brethren” who are the point of testing at the judgment. These “brethren” would likely be the 144,000 Jewish believers who are closely identified with the Lord during the whole period of his presence behind the scenes. The Lord Jesus says to both the sheep and the goats, “‘…as you did it [or did it not] to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it [or did it not] to me.'” It seems highly likely that there is this third group involved. Certainly, during the Tribulation each of these 144,000 will be, as Jesus himself was in the days of his flesh, “despised and rejected of men.” It will be a severe test of true love to show kindness toward them for they will be an object of furious hatred by the Lawless One and the authorities of earth in that day. . .
The arresting thing about this is that Jesus is clearly saying that the ultimate mark of an authentic Christian is not his creed, or his faith, or his Bible knowledge, but the concern which he shows to those who are in need. The practical demonstration of love is the final proof.
I. (:31-33) PREPARATION FOR JUDGMENT
A. (:31) Seating of the Son of Man on His Throne of Judgment at His Coming in Glory
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him,
then He will sit on His glorious throne.”
Van Parunak: This verse forms an external inclusio with 24:30-31. At that point the Lord suspended the chronological presentation for the six parables about readiness for his return. Now he picks up the narrative once more.
Grant Osborne: The glorious appearing of the Son of Man is also found in 13:41, 49; 16:27; 24:30, building on Dan 7:14 (“given authority, glory and sovereign power”) and Zech 14:5 (“Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him”). What is spoken of Yahweh in the OT belongs to Christ; his “glory” (δόξα) is clearly emphasized in this verse. In the other Matthean passages, the term connotes both God’s (and thus Christ’s) Shekinah “glory” (the divine glory “dwelling” among his people) and the ineffable glory, majesty, and splendor of the enthroned God of Isa 6 and Ezek 1.
Jesus’ coming “with the angels” refers to the hosts of heaven who at the eschaton will be the eschatological agents of resurrection and judgment (cf. Zech 14:5; Matt 13:41, 49; 16:27; 24:31; 1 Thess 4:15; 2 Thess 1:7; Jude 14).
R. T. France: The sovereign authority displayed in the judgment on the temple (24:30) now finds its eschatological counterpart in the judgment of all nations (v. 32).
B. (32-33) Separation of the People into Sheep and Goats
“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.”
Grant Osborne: Sheep had a relative worth much higher than goats, because of their wool (goat hair made a coarse cloth) and the fact that they were easier to care for.
II. (:34-40) PROCLAMATION OF BLESSING AND REWARD ON THE SHEEP
A. (:34-36) Judgment of the Sheep
- (:34) Blessed People Rewarded
“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.’”
John MacArthur: Are people going to go into the kingdom because of their social orientation?” There’s far more to it than that, beloved, far more to it. And that’s all bound up in verse 34. People who get confused here somehow miss verse 34, because verse 34 makes it very clear the basis of their entrance into the kingdom. It’s extremely clear.
First of all, “Come” – here comes number one point – “ye blessed of My Father.” That emphasizes the source of their salvation. You are blessed of My Father. You are entering into the kingdom because My Father has determined to bless you. Here you have sovereign grace beautifully expressed. By the way, the phrase in the Authorized, “You blessed of My Father,” in the Greek literally says, “My Father’s blessed ones.” You are coming into My kingdom because God predetermined sovereignly to bless you. He redeemed you out of His sovereign love. So verse 34 expresses the innate reality of redemption and salvation and justification.
And then it says, “Come you who are the blessed who belong to My Father, inherit” – inherit, which implies something very important. You inherit something because you are born into a family. Right? It implies again that they belong to the family of God, to which you belong by faith. You inherit what is yours because by faith you have become a joint heir with Christ, if we can sort of borrow Paul’s thought in Romans 8. So you are the elect by sovereign grace, the chosen to be blessed by the Father. And you are those who inherit because you belong to the family by faith, you are sons of God. And so you see the source of salvation and you see the gift of salvation given to those who are the children of God.
Further it says, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” And that again emphasizes the selectivity of salvation. When God prepared the kingdom it was for you that He prepared it. You were chosen; you were ordained to this; you are those whom the Father designed to love. So you have the source of salvation in the Father’s blessing, desire to bless, you have the reception of salvation in the faith that brings you into the inheritance, you have the selectivity of salvation in the fact that the kingdom was prepared for those people. Let me tell you something, whoever it was prepared for are going into it. God isn’t going to lose any and He knows who He prepared it for.
And then a further thought. It was prepared from the foundation of the world. Now that emphasizes the eternal covenant that God made with Himself to redeem a people selected before the foundation of the world. Who are these people going in? They’re not just people who got involved in social action. They’re not just people who did good deeds on the earth. These are those chosen from the foundation of the world by sovereign God to receive His grace and be blessed and who responded by faith and became His heirs in the family. And all of that soteriological richness is compacted in verse 34. And that can’t be missed, that can’t be missed. The good deeds mentioned in 35 and 36 are not the primary emphasis. The primary emphasis in identifying these people is in verse 34. The good deeds are the fruit of the redemption defined for us in such simple yet profound terms in verse 34. And the people who get confused by this passage get confused because they perhaps haven’t looked as closely as they ought to look at verse 34. And looking at verses 35 and 36 alone might provide some difficulty. . .
These people who are standing there at that moment when Jesus comes will have survived the tribulation and the tribulation will have generated some dire need – some dire need. There will be hungry, thirsty people. There will be homeless people. There will be shattered and devastated families and lives. There will be desperate people. There will be imprisoned people. There will be deathly sick people. All of those things will come out of the tribulation in very clear and bold relief. And when that happens to the family of God, it will be the believers that come to their rescue and they don’t care whether they’re identified with the family of God, they don’t fear the consequence of that. They’ll pay the price.
- (:35-36) Basis for the Reward = Practical Love Giving Evidence of Regeneration
“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;
36 naked, and you clothed Me;
I was sick, and you visited Me;
I was in prison, and you came to Me.”
John Walvoord: Those described here are people who have lived through the great tribulation, a time of unparalleled anti-Semitism, when the majority of Jews in the land will be killed. Under these circumstances, if a Gentile befriends a Jew to the extent of feeding and clothing and visiting him, it could only mean that he is a believer in Jesus Christ and recognizes the Jews as the chosen people. Accordingly, in this context, such works become a distinctive evidence that the Gentiles described as the sheep are those who are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
David Thompson: The basis for determining whether or not an individual Gentile gets into the kingdom will be the treatment of the Jews during the Tribulation.
B. (:37-40) Justification for the Judgment
- (:37-39) Question of Clarification
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying,
‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You,
or thirsty, and give You drink?
38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in,
or naked, and clothe You?
39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’”
Warren Wiersbe: The interesting thing about this judgment is that the sheep individuals are surprised at what they hear. They will not remember having seen the Lord Jesus Christ and ministering to His needs. But just as they lovingly ministered to the believing Jews [in the tribulation period], they did it to Christ. Their motive was not reward, but sacrificial love.
- (:40) Answer of Clarity Based on Solidarity of God and His People
“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.’”
Grant Osborne: This is the heart of this section, the “moral of the story.” The king on his glorious throne responds to their incredulous query with another “amen” (ἀμήν) saying that highlights the importance of it. Jesus and his followers are one (John 6:56; 15:4–7; 1 John 2:24, 3:24, 4:15), so what people do to one of his disciples they do to him (Matt 10:40–42). Some see this as an extension of 10:40–42. This union between Jesus and his kingdom community is a family union; they are “brothers and sisters.” In 12:48–50 (another important parallel) Jesus’ true family is identified as “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.” That is also the definition of “the righteous” in 25:37, so this is a further extension of the true ethical conduct required of kingdom people.
R. T. France: Whether they knew it or not, the people they helped were associated with Jesus, to such an extent that they could be said to be Jesus. The more general principle of Prov 19:17 that “the person who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” is thus here more specifically applied to Jesus and his people. As we have noted in the introductory comments above the terms used in this verse strongly reflect language used earlier in this gospel to describe Jesus’ disciples as “these little ones” (10:42; 18:6, 10, 14) and as Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” (12:50; cf. also 28:10). Jesus has spoken in 18:20 of being present where his people have come together in his name. Here his identification with his people goes further: their experiences are his experiences, and what is done to them is done to him. Cf. 10:40, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me,” and 18:5, “Anyone who welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” This passage thus expands on the message of 10:40–42: how people respond to Jesus’ representatives is both a sign of their attitude to him and the basis for their reward. This sense of solidarity between Jesus and his people will be creatively developed by the author of Hebrews when he explains how it was necessary for the Savior to share the experiences of those he saves, so that he rightly calls them his brothers and sisters (Heb 2:10–18).
III. (:41-45) PROCLAMATION OF CURSING AND PUNISHMENT ON THE GOATS
A. (:41-43) Judgment of the Goats
- (:41) Cursed People Punished
“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;’”
- (:42-43) Basis for the Punishment = Lack of Love = No Evidence of Regeneration
“for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 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.”
Grant Osborne: detailing what the nations refused to do for Jesus’ followers. One could break these into two categories:
- acts of mercy for physical needs (hungry, thirsty, ill), and
- acts of charity toward social deprivation (stranger, naked, in prison).
The unrighteous are unwilling to help in any way and so are condemned for this.
B. (:44-45) Justification for the Judgment
- (:44) Question of Clarification
“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?’”
- (:45) Answer of Clarity Based on Solidarity of God and His People
“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.’”
David Turner: Chiastic structure:
Judgment of the sheep (25:34–40)
Judgment of the goats (25:41–45)
Destiny of goats: Eternal punishment (25:46a)
Destiny of sheep: Eternal life (25:46b)
(:46) CONCLUSION – SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Eternal Punishment
“And these will go away into eternal punishment,”
B. Eternal Life
“but the righteous into eternal life.”
Grant Osborne: The emphasis is on the eternal nature of the two opposite destinies. “Eternal life” (19:16, 29) throughout the NT is the motivation for a life of sacrificial service to God, the church, and the very world that rejects and persecutes God’s people. It is clear here that there are no second chances after death. The decisions made by “the sheep and the goats” have eternal ramifications. . .
There is no middle ground. Every person on earth is going either to heaven or to hell. Moreover, the decision will be made in this life, so it is essential that every person be confronted by the gospel and challenged to make a decision. There is no neutrality, and nothing in life is as important as this question, because it determines every person’s eternal destiny!
Stu Weber: Jesus completed the judgment scene and the discourse by summarizing the eternal destinies of the two categories of people. The unrighteous would go away (a permanent departure) into eternal punishment, but the righteous would enter eternal life. The use of “eternal” to modify both “punishment” and “life” contrasts the two destinies and emphasizes their permanence. By the time each person stands before the king, his or her eternity is established and cannot be changed.