MATTHEW 25:31-46 THE ROYAL AND UNIVERSAL JUDGE
Here we have the King’s own description of the Day of Judgment; and in the solemn silence of our spirits we may well put off our shoes from our feet as we draw nigh to this holy ground.
31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: Our Savior had a wonderful series of contrasts passing before his eye as he uttered this sublime prophecy.
Within three days he was to be crucified; ;yet he spoke of the time “When the Son of man shall come in his glory. ” He had with him a little company of disciples, one of whom would betray him, another would deny him, and all would forsake him; yet by faith he saw the heavenly retinue that would attend him at his coming: “and all the holy angels with him. ” Wearied and worn with his labors, and saddened because of the hardness of men’s hearts and the impending doom of Jerusalem, he sat on the slope of the Mount of Olives; but his thoughts were projected across the ages as he told his hearers of the glorious throne he would occupy in the day when he should return as the Royal and Universal Judge of mankind: “Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. ” The great white throne shall be set on high, all pure and lustrous, bright and clear as a polished mirror, in which every man shall see himself and his sins reflected; and on that throne shall sit “the Son of man.” Behind the Kingly Judge, “all the holy angels” shall be ranged, rank on rank, an innumerable and glorious body-guard, to grace the court of their enthroned Lord on the day of the last great assize; and, at his bidding, to remove from his presence all whom he shall condemn.
32, 33. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
In the last great day of the Lord, all nations that have ever existed on the face of the globe shall be gathered before the judgment-seat of Christ. The earth, which is now becoming more and more one vast graveyard or channel-house, shall yield up her dead; and the sea itself, transformed into a solid pavement, shall bear upon its bosom the millions who lie hidden in its gloomy caverns. All mankind will be assembled before their Judge: “and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall fail because of him.” At first they will be gathered together in one heterogeneous mass; but the myriad multitude will speedily be divided into two companies: “and he shall separate them one from another. ” The King will be the divider in that dread day. How he will separate them, no one can tell, except that it will be “as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. ” Not one goat will be left among the sheep, nor one sheep with the goats. The division will be very close and personal: “one from another.” They will not be separated into nations, nor even into families; but each individual will be allotted his or her proper place among the sheep or among the goats. “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. ” There will be only two companies, one on the right hand of the Judge, and the other on his left. The Lord Jesus Christ “shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing “; and all who will be summoned before his dread tribunal will be either alive from the dead, or still dead in trespasses and sins. There will be no middle company in that day, as in God’s sight there is no third class even now. All our names are either in the Lamb’s Book of Life or in the Judge’s Book of Death.
Some have taught that the judgment here foretold is that of the professing Church, and not of the whole world. There may be some ground for their belief; yet it seems impossible to apply the full meaning of our Savior’s majestic words to any scene except the general judgment of the whole human race.
34. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: Turning first to the chosen company on his right hand, the “great multitude, which no man could number,” the King will say to them, “Come. ” They had accepted his previous invitation, “Come unto me; “now he gives them another and a more glorious “Come,” which was, however, included in the former one; for when he said, “I will give you rest,” heaven itself was promised to them. The King calls his loved ones by a choice name: “ye blessed of my Father. ” We shall not know what bliss that title implies until we hear it from our Savior’s lips; and even then we shall only begin to understand what we shall continue to enjoy throughout eternity.
All true believers are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, so the King will next say to them, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ” The “inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away,” is the inalienable right of all who are made kings and priests unto God; and that which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world must be possessed by them when the world itself has answered the end of its creation, and has been burned up.
35, 36. For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
The King dwells with great delight upon the details of his servants’ kindnesses to himself. Are we, then, after all, to be saved by our works? By no means. Yet are our works the evidences of our being saved. If our actions are such as Christ will commend at the day of judgment, they prove that we are saved by grace, and that the Holy Spirit has wrought effectually in us, and through us. The services mentioned by the King were all rendered to himself: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat,: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. ” There is no mention of what the righteous had said, or of what profession of love to Christ they had made; the commendation was for what the King declared they had actually done by way of ministering unto him. 37-39. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
They will bashfully disclaim the praise pronounced by the King. They had no idea that there was anything meritorious in what they had done; they never dreamed of being rewarded for it. When the saints stand before the judgment seat, the bare thought of there being any excellence in what they have done will be new to them, for they have formed a very lowly estimate of their own performances. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, for Christ’s sake, because it was the sweetest thing in the world to do anything for Jesus. They did it because they delighted to do it, because they could not help doing it, because their new nature impelled them to it.
40. And. the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Christ has much more to do with his brethren’s sorrow than we sometimes think. Are they hungry? He puts it, “I was an hungered.” Do they thirst?
He says, “I was thirsty.” The sympathy of Christ is continuous, and all adown the ages he will perpetually incarnate himself in the suffering bodies of his tried and afflicted people. Hence the opportunity of doing him service so long as we are here.
41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
Every word in the King’s sentence upon those on his left hand will strike terror into their hearts. “Depart from me: ” to be banished from Christ’s presence, is hell. “Ye cursed: ” they could not plead that they had either kept the Law or obeyed the Gospel; they were indeed doubly cursed. They were bidden to depart “into ever lasting fire, prepared: for the devil and, his angels. ” They had joined the devil in refusing allegiance to the Lord; so it was but right that, imitating his rebellion, they should share his punishment.
42, 43. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Two little words, “no ” and “not ” explain the difference between their conduct and that of the righteous. To those on his right hand, the King will say, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat,” but to those on his left hand, he will say, “Ye gave me no meat. ” This omission on their part was no small matter; it was fatal, and it was visited with the eternal death-sentence, “Depart from me.” Men may think lightly now of their want of love to Christ, and their neglect to care for his poor brethren, but their conduct will appear in another light in the blaze of the last great day.
Yet, even then, some will try to justify themselves.
44. Then shall they also answer him, saying Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee What a deceiver is sin! How presumptuous, that even in the presence of the Omniscient Judge, it denies its own real character; and makes its votaries pretend to have attained to the divine standard of holiness!
45. Then shall he answer them, saying Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of thee, ye did it not to me.
Our Lord does not mean to teach that men will be condemned because they have not been charitable to the poor and needy, or that they will be saved if they are generous and openhanded. That would indeed be salvation by works, to be boasted of to all eternity. He does mean that only those who produce such fruit as this prove that “the root of the matter” is in them; by ministering to his poor brethren, out of love to him, they show that they are the subjects of that distinguishing grace which makes them differ from others. All our future depends upon our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
46. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. “Everlasting ” and “eternal “are different translations of the same Greek word. The “punishment “is of the same duration as the “life. ” The one is no more temporary or terminable than the other. In heaven “the righteous ” will be for ever anticipating future bliss while enjoying present perfect happiness; and in hell, the unrighteous will be ever looking forward to “the wrath to come “while enduring what our Savior here describes as “everlasting punishment “in” everlasting fire “(v. 41). Between heaven and hell there is a great gulf fixed, an awful abyss that cannot be crossed, so that the separation between the sheep and the goats will be eternal and unalterable. God grant that none of us may be on the wrong side of that great gulf!