Matthew 25:31 – When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angles with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
We commonly call the last part of this chapter the parable of the sheep and goats, but that is not entirely accurate. It is obvious that the sheep and goats form only a small illustration in what is actually a description of divine reality.
Jesus was born in a manger and often had no place to ‘lay his head’. In his role as servant, he was despised and rejected by men. He was condemned by the religious leaders and rulers of his day. He was beaten, whipped, humiliated, reviled, abused and nailed to the cross. The people of that day did not understand that Jesus was veiling his true glory as the Son of God, in order to die for our sin.
But when he returns, that veil will be removed and mankind will see him how he truly is. Jesus will return in a display of his mighty power and great glory. We will see him as dignified, righteous, powerful, majestic and without equal. He will return as judge of the earth:
John 5:22 – The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.
To him, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord:
Philippians 2:10-11 – So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
His return will strike the hearts of his enemies with fear and dread; it will fill the hearts of his people with joy and confidence. As his children, we should be eagerly awaiting and anticipating the glorious return of our Savior, Shepherd, High Priest, Brother, Redeemer, Bridegroom and Friend.
Although he died alone, he will not return to earth that way. He will be bringing all of the angels with him. How many angels are there? A bunch!
Revelation 5:11 – Then I looked and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
None of them will want to be left behind, as the glory of Jesus is revealed. Besides, the angels will be assisting Jesus in his tasks as his attendants and ministers of justice.
Right now, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, on a throne of grace.
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
But one day, when he returns, he will ‘sit on his glorious throne’ which is a throne of judgment:
Daniel 7:9-10 – I beheld till the thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and its wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
Oh how the tables are turned! Jesus, who was once arrested and arraigned like a criminal will now sit upon the judicial bench as judge of all!
Matthew 25:32-33 – Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Before him ALL nations will be gathered. The disciples were most concerned with what would happen to their own nation, Israel. They wanted their nation to be delivered from the miseries and oppression they were experiencing. They wanted God to fulfill his covenant with Abraham, exalt his chosen people and manifest his presence among them, for the whole world to see.
As wonderful as that would be, it is evident that the disciples were bound by their limited thinking. Although they did not yet understand it, Jesus had extended the benefit of redemption to ALL people. Jesus planned to gather people of every tribe, tongue and nation to himself, to serve and love him. So we see that God’s plan for the ages was way bigger than anything they had imagined.
Isaiah 49:6 – And he said, It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.
Now, what do you suppose God has in store for those who love him and look for his appearing? What does God have prepared for his good and faithful servants? What do you think awaits us in heaven? I suspect it is also way bigger than anything we have imagined!
So, once the gathering is complete, Jesus will separate the sheep (true believers, Christians, those that serve Christ) from the goats (hypocrites/those that do not believe, sinners, those who reject Christ).
Notice that there is only one criterion for the separation of sheep and goats – your relationship with Jesus. People will not be separated according to the amount of money they make/possess, or how much education they had, or how beautiful they were, or how much influence they exercised on earth. All these things will no longer matter. The final, eternal division of people rests upon the blood of Christ. It has either been applied to your life, or it has not.
The sheep are assigned to be on his right hand, which is the place of honor and dignity. The goats are assigned to be on his left hand, which is the place of shame and contempt.
Jesus has already alerted his disciples to this separation; we saw it in his parable of the wheat and tares back in Matthew 13, the separation of the good and bad fish (also Matthew 13), or the separation of the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3).
In the meantime, God has allowed us (true believers) to be mixed with the ‘goats’ or unbelievers. Until he separates us out, it is our duty to be a light for Him, to share the gospel message and try to lead the lost to the Good Shepherd. We need to make sure that we are keeping ourselves separate from the sin of the world. Remember, our labor is not in vain. One day, Christ will come and bring his rewards with him.
Matthew 25:34 – Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
The King is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is now acting in his capacity as judge (Revelation 17:14). He pronounces absolution (freedom from guilt, sin or penalty; forgiveness of an offence) on the righteous, who are now at his right hand.
Interestingly, they are described as being blessed by God, rather than redeemed by Christ. Jesus is reminding us that our salvation proceeded from the undeserved favor of God. Among the Hebrews, the phrase ‘blessed of God’ means one who is dear to God or beloved by God. This expression always points to the great grace of God towards men.
Through this immense and undeserved grace, the righteous will inherit a kingdom prepared specifically for them, before the creation of this world. Notice that Christ does not invite believers to possess this kingdom as if we had obtained it by our own merits. Rather, he expressly points out that the kingdom is bestowed upon us because we are heirs though Christ.
This is a matter of great comfort to us as believers. It motivates us to be patient and to continue in righteousness despite opposition.
- During those times when we are mocked or afflicted or scorned, we can take comfort knowing that God has prepared a kingdom for us to inherit, before any of this took place.
- On those days when we are weary, or facing difficulties and struggles, we should remind ourselves that God has a kingdom prepared for us to inherit, as soon as our race is over.
- When we become discouraged because it looks like the wicked are prospering in everything they do, we should remind ourselves that God has a kingdom prepared for us to inherit; the things of this life will soon pass away.
Anyway you look at it, the kingdom is a sure and certain blessing promised to us by the Father. We may not have seen or experienced it yet, but it is coming!
Matthew 25:35-36 – ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Here, we must be wise Christians who ‘rightly divide the word of truth’. What do I mean by that? Well, if we just quickly read these two verses, we may be under the false assumption that we can get to heaven through performance of good works or acts of charity like those described.
However, we must measure our interpretation by the rest of the scriptures. We know that the only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:9 – …being now justified by his [Jesus] blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Titus 3:5 – Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us….
So, by trusting in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we are saved from sin. Once we are saved, Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts. He assists us in our Christian walk by making us more and more like Jesus. One of the main characteristics of God is that He is love. Love is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that begins to grow in our lives.
Galatians 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…
God is very clear that love is one of the main characteristics of his people.
Ephesians 5:2 – And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.
Romans 13:9 – …You shall love you neighbor as yourself.
1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now abides faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
We can go on and on with scriptures that instruct us to exemplify the love of Christ; there are literally dozens more we could look at. It is very clear that we are to love those around us, as Christ has loved us.
Now, when we accept the blood of Christ as atonement for our sin, and He fills us with his Holy Spirit, we begin to walk in the love of God. It is this love that prompts us to do works of charity to others, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison.
So we find that it is NOT the works themselves which earn us a place in heaven; the works are simply an outward manifestation of the presence of God within our lives.
If you think about it, this makes sense. If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then how would poor people make it in? I am very sure that some of the people who were the recipients of charity will be in heaven even though they had no means to provide for the physical needs of others.
If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then how did the thief on the cross make it in? He died within hours of trusting in Christ as his savior; he had no means to perform any good works.
The reverse would also hold true. If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then any wicked person who donated riches to charity would get in. However, we know that no wicked people will enter the gates of heaven.
This is probably a good place to mention that the acts of charity that Jesus refers to indicate more than just a mere donation of money and more than just a passing impulse. They imply a sacrifice of time, strength and sympathy. They require effort and thought. They are done on purpose, when you could have devoted your resources to yourself. Thus, along with obedience and the practice of spiritual disciplines, they are a good indication of a life lived for Christ.
Matthew 25:37-39 – 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 welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
It is doubtful that these exact words will be spoken by us as we stand before Jesus. However, the response in this parable illustrates the profound humility that characterizes the followers of Christ.
They have a deep sense of being unworthy of such commendation. No doubt, we will believe that our acts of kindness were far short of what they could have been. No doubt, we will recall times when we failed to do what was right. As we stand before Jesus and look into his eyes and feel the true depth of his love for us, we will realize that we have no claim to praise or reward. Everything we did was based in the grace and mercy he extended to us in the first place.
Matthew 25:40 – And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brother, you did it to me.’
Wow. Think about the implications of this statement. God loves every man, woman, girl and boy on this planet. He is deeply concerned about both their spiritual and physical needs. Anytime we are faced with those in need, it is as if we were looking at Jesus himself. We can either assist and honor him, treating him with dignity and love, or we can reject and despise him, casting him aside as worthless.
When we perform acts of kindness to the needy without an expectation of reward, it is the same as doing it for Christ. While the needy person cannot reward us for our service, our Lord and Savior not only can, but he will.
Proverbs 19:17- He that has pity upon the poor lends unto the LORD; and that which he has given will he pay him again.
It is only by the grace and mercy of God that our sins are forgiven and his love fills our hearts. Through this grace, we are motivated to serve and help others. In fact, it is God who gives us the means and the opportunity to help. As we do, God then rewards us in ways that only He can. How is it possible that God could be so good to us? Who can comprehend the wonders of a Savior who sets aside good works for us, just so he can reward us beyond our wildest imaginations?
Who could love us more than Christ? In the light of that love, how can we do anything other than reaching out in love to those around us? How can we not share the gospel with those who are lost?
As our world slips further and further into chaos, I suspect there will be more and more difference between the righteous and the wicked. There will be more and more opportunities to do service for Christ. Let’s not miss opportunities to minister to Jesus.
Matthew 25:41 – Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
Those on the left of Jesus are the wicked. They have rejected the sacrifice of Jesus; their sin is their own responsibility. They have chosen the very worst anguish imaginable – eternal separation from God.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power…
Take note: Heaven is a very real place. So is hell. Citizenship in heaven is eternal; it never ends. So is citizenship in hell. Those who dwell there will receive certain and intense pain and torment. There is no indication that this punishment is remedial or corrective; it is a punishment that will last forever.
But this was never God’s will for anyone. The place of suffering and torment was designed for Satan and his followers.
Matthew 25:42-43 – ‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’.
Here is the opposite case. These people rejected salvation through Jesus Christ. Thus, they did not have Holy Spirit indwelling their hearts, assisting in the growth of fruits of righteousness, especially Godly love.
Because the love of Christ is absent in their lives, there are no outward manifestations of the presence of God, like works of charity, righteous living, or obedience to God. In fact, we could expect them to be hard hearted towards those in need, even turning a blind eye to their suffering. They look upon the poor through the eyes of their flesh; they do not view the destitute as Christ and they have little or no desire to alleviate their suffering.
Thus their fruits reveal the wickedness that resides within their hearts (Matthew 7:16-19). And according to Jesus, evil trees are cast into the fire and burned.
They are like the man who had one talent, and buried it instead of using it.
Matthew 25:44 – ‘Then they 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 minister to you?’
Again, these are probably not literal words that will be spoken by the wicked. But in their hearts and minds, they will recognize their guilt as Jesus brings charges against them. Try as they might, there will be no acceptable excuses on that day; the time to change their ways has past.
They resisted the call of the Holy Spirit and they rejected the offer of grace. There is nothing left to help them.
Matthew 25:45 – Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to me.’
By failing to relieve the suffering of people, the wicked show that they have no real love for God. They clearly do not have Holy Spirit at work in their hearts and lives. Their actions prove that they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven.
Like the servant who buried his one talent and refused to use it, they will be condemned for neglecting their duty. However, scripture also points out that they will be also be condemned for their sins of commission (Romans 2:9, Colossians 3:5, Revelation 21:8, etc).
Matthew 25:46 – And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Unlike our court system, the sentence imposed upon the wicked is executed speedily. There are no reprieves, no appeals, and no escapes.
Likewise, the righteous will immediately enter into eternal life, and inherit the kingdom of heaven that has been prepared for them. There, we will be in constant communion with God. The curse of sin and death has no place there.
We certainly do not know and understand everything about the end of the age. However, Jesus gives us a lot of understanding in Matthew chapter 25 through the parable of the 10 virgins, the parable of the talents and the description of final judgment (sheep/goats).
So while we don’t know everything, some things are certain:
- We are given talents in life.
- We are responsible for using those talents.
- We need to be preparing now for the return of Jesus (or for our own deaths), for we do not know when he will return.
- At the end of the age, there will be an accounting of what we have done in life.
- There will be a separation of the righteous and the wicked.
- The righteous inherit the kingdom, the wicked are sent into punishment.
- The duration of both these states (blessing and punishment) are exactly the same; they are eternal.
In light of that, let me offer you some encouragement: Find your talents and use them! What gifts and interests has God placed within you? Whatever they may be, step out in faith and work with them. There may be ups and downs, but in the end using your talents will bring glory to God, goodness to mankind and an eternity of reward to you.
Let me offer you some relief: The Christian life is best lived one day at a time. As we walk with the Holy Spirit daily, he will lead us into greater and greater depths of Christ. He will grow spiritual fruit in our lives and fill us with the love of Christ. He will train us to fight the enemy and endue us with power and wisdom. If you walk with him daily, you will never have to worry about running out of oil. He will always keep you filled and ready for the return of Christ.
Let me offer you some strength: Where you stand in the Day of Judgment is determined by the life you live right now. As times become more chaotic and uncertain, we may have a tendency to ‘circle the wagons’ and keep all of our time, energy and resources for ourselves. But that is not the correct outlook. We need to continue to see our service to the needy as a direct ministry to Jesus himself. As we trust in him, he will give us provision not only for ourselves, but for others as well. So be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might!