We have come to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount of Olives, as contained in Matthew 24 & 25. It contains Jesus’ most succinct teaching on the end times. From here follows a further plot to kill Jesus, His anointing at Bethany, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the betrayal and arrest, the crucifixion and resurrection, ending with the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which the church remembers the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Normally we would focus on Matthew 21:1-11, but in the providence of God we can look to the greater fulfilment of that triumphal entry. The ultimate triumphal entry will be the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and the ultimate event associated with that 2nd coming is the final judgement, our focus for today. We have seen the Lord Jesus speaking about His triumphal coming in 24:29ff. This was followed by 2 parables. The parable of the 10 virgins (25:1-13) is an exhortation to be prepared for His second coming, and the parable of the talents (25:14-29) deals with the matter of giving a personal account to the Lord for the investment that He has made in us. The closing words of the parable of the talents (25:28-30) lead us to the words on the final judgement (25:31-46). So, what we now read from v.31 onwards, builds on what Jesus has said before! These are solemn and heart searching words.
Our text contains a description of
1. His ultimate triumphal entry (v.31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…”
2. The gathering of all the nations (v.32a) “Before Him will be gathered all the nations”
3. The great separation (vv.32b-46) “And he will separate people from one another…”
1. THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY (v.31)
V. 31 The judgment of the whole world (all nations) begins when the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with him…”. We will comment on the role of the angels later. This same Jesus who first came in the form of a little baby- supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, born in humble circumstances, taking on the form of a servant, despised and rejected by men, nailed to a cross, suffering the punishment that was due to the worst of criminals - this same Jesus now comes in His true glory – the glory He had before the world existed (Jn.17:5).
“He will sit on His glorious throne”. God is on the throne of the Universe. This is the God whom Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:1ff. The throne is a place of authority and judgement. God is the Supreme Judge. God the Father has submitted all judgment to Jesus (Jn. 5:22). He and the Father are one, and they are united in their judgement.
2. THE GATHERING OF ALL THE NATIONS (v.32a)
“Before Him will be gathered all the nations…” – these are all people, created in his image, from all times, since the beginning of the creation of man, from Adam and Eve to the last one born before the coming of Christ. All will be gathered before Him who is seated on His glorious throne.
3. THE GREAT SEPARATION (vv.32b-46)
This is what constitutes the main part of our text. These are Jesus’ closing comments of His teaching on the final things. The key word is separation: “And he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats“.
In the first place we need to ask, “What gives Him the right to separate the peoples of the world in this way?” The people of the world may now say, “but, I never belonged to this Christian religion! I was a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an Atheist. He has no right to judge me.” The Bible however maintains that this YAHWEH, the LORD, this JESUS whom they have denied and despised is in fact the sovereign ruler of the earth. The Bible steadfastly maintains that “the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those that dwell therein” (Ps.24:1). Since then He owns all people, He has the right to judge all people/ nations.
Secondly, we need to ask, “How will he judge all people, seeing that many have returned to dust?” Now we need to remember that the second coming of Christ will be associated with a general resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). Note that the righteous dead will be resurrected first (1 Thess. 4:16,17). All this is in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt“(Dan.12:2). The Bible insists that at the end of the ages there must be a righteous judgement, and we are glad, for there is so much unfairness and injustice in this world now. So, He must judge all! This teaching is strongly represented in the apostolic message. Peter, when called to speak to the household of Cornelius, said in Acts 10:42: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead”. To the Athenian philosophers Paul said, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). To the Corinthians he wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”(2 Cor. 5:10)
Associated with the coming of Christ will be the angels. They do not only accompany Him in an impressive dazzling splendor at His triumphal return, but we note that they have a specific job to do. Their work is to gather the evil doers. In Matt.13:41-42 (Parable of the weeds) we read “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” But their work will also be to gather the elect (Matt.24:31). “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” So we see then that the world (the nations) – the just and the unjust, the wicked and the elect are both spoken to by the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole world is accountable before God (Rom 3:19).
Now follows the teaching on the great Separation: “… and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (25:32b-33). The parable of the wheat and the weeds teaches us that sheep and goats, Christ’s people and non- Christians live together in this world, until that day when the Great Shepherd comes. On that day He will make an accurate distinction between the two. But what will be the criteria by which He separate them?
25:34- 46 A Commendation and a Condemnation
Here we find the basis of Jesus’ acquittal and judgment, respectively on the righteous (25:34-40) and the on the unrighteous (25:41-46).
1. The commendation (25:34-40) with respect to the sheep comes first. V.34 is a crucial text. “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. Why is this verse important? It forms the basis of a true believer’s justification before God. Now look at vv. 35 & 36. If you read this without first considering v.34, you might come to the conclusion that the commendation of the righteous is primarily based on their good works! “I fed the hungry; I welcomed strangers; I clothed the naked; I visited the sick; I visited the prisoners….”. The tempting conclusion is that since I did these things, therefore I will inherit the kingdom. But NO! The justification of the righteous is established on the basis of their election in eternity… ”from the foundation of the world” (v.34). This matches Jesus own teaching in this sermon, here (see Matthew 24:22,24,31) and elsewhere. The basis of God’s salvation is rooted not in our works but in His mercy. The Bible teaches that God’s sheep are justified before the beginning of time.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ; for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us … (Eph.1:3-4)
“God … who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.“ (2 Tim. 1:9)
Nobody is ever justified on the basis of their works before God. We are always justified on the basis of God’s sovereign grace ALONE, which is based on the atoning death of Christ for sinners ALONE. He ALONE is the ROOT of our salvation.
Having said that, what then about the strong emphasis on the good works (or the absence of them) that the Great Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ sees, (or fails to see) here? They are the FRUIT, or the lack of FRUIT which demonstrate our salvation.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING – FRUIT BEARING CHRISTIANS
You will remember that throughout His ministry on earth, the Lord Jesus had stressed the importance of showing mercy to the poor, the hungry and the naked and the sick and those that were imprisoned because of righteousness. He commands each believer to do the same. What is of significance here is the fact that in each case, a little need is met in the lives of the least of my brothers (i.e. those of the Christian household- who should be always first à Gal. 6:10). Serving the members of Christ in this way honours and serves the Lord Jesus Christ (v.40). Jesus is most honoured in the daily, spontaneous, random little acts of Christian compassion. They are daily moved by the love of Jesus to do these things, and they are mostly not aware of the good that they do to their brothers. These are called the ‘blessed’ here. Wonderful!
By way of contrast we find the proof of absent works in vv.41-45. Christ’s words to them begin with a condemnation (v.41): “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels“. Notice - their judgment rests on the proof of absence of love for the least of these members of his household. Notice that not a single mention of the really bad sins, murder, idolatry, adultery, theft etc. is mentioned! The Bible is clear that these will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21). Jesus is here focusing on the subtle sins and signs of absence of grace in the heart. Notice that the wicked express surprise at the fact that they are judged for their lack of caring for these ‘ little things’ (v.44). But in truth their lack of care in these matters shows that they have an unbelieving heart. They have no ROOT and therefore no FRUIT. The result product of unbelief is eternal punishment (24: 51; 25: 30 41, 46)
Jesus’ teaching on the end-times in Matt 24 & 25 does not only reveal the destruction of the physical temple, and the deception of many by the anti- Christ, and the subsequent victorious coming of Christ – and the destruction of the universe as we know it. He draws attention to our readiness to receive Him. He draws attention to the fruitfulness of our lives in the parable of the talents, and in particular our daily fruitfulness in the ordinary things that flow out of our hearts in particular to our brothers and sisters in Christ. He concludes His teaching by speaking of your and my commendation or condemnation at the end of days!
It begs us to take a good look at ourselves and the great question therefore is this: WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?