The Judgement of the Living and the Dead
Question: Please explain Matthew 25:31-56. It is a puzzling passage, and has been interpreted as teaching that there will be one general judgment at which the great division between men will be made, and some have even said that no one can know before then where they will stand, whether on the right hand as sheep, or on the left hand as goats. It seems to be confounded with the judgment of the great white Throne of Revelation 20:11-15.
A comparison of the two Scriptures in question will show the difference between them.
- (1) We must notice that in the great drama of Matthew 25, there will be three companies, and not two, the sheep, the goats, and those whom the Son of Man calls "My brethren;" in the judgment of Revelation 20, there is but one.
- (2) It is nations that will be judged, as such, and that certainly means that they will be living at the time, for nationalities and all class distinctions cease at death, while in Revelation 20, we learn that it is the dead that will stand before the great white Throne.
- (3) Matthew 25 contemplates entrance into or exclusion from a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the earth, an earthly kingdom; while the great white Throne will appear when the earth has fled away from the face of Him that sits upon it.
- (4) The judgment of Matthew 25 will be at the beginning of the Lord's earthly kingdom; that of Revelation 20, after those thousand years of peace and prosperity have closed (v.7).
- (5) And finally, it is as Son of Man come in His glory that the Lord will judge according to Matthew 25; but it is as God that He will sit upon the great white Throne to dispose of the wicked dead.
The first time that ever a company of Gentiles heard the Gospel was when Simon Peter preached it in the house of Cornelius of Cæsarea, and he told them that the Lord had commanded His servants to preach and to testify that "it was He which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead (Acts 10:42). He will judge both, but at different times. Matthew 25 undoubtedly gives us the judgment of at least a considerable number of the quick. As King of kings and Lord of lords, who is called the Faithful and True, and whose Name is the Word of God, He will destroy the whole military power of men (Revelation 19:11-16). All that are found in arms against Him will be instantly smitten at that time and without any trial. Then will follow this judgment of the living nations, and He will carry it out according to His rights as the Son of Man. As Son of David He has supreme rights over Israel . But as Son of Man He will exercise universal dominion, and the first act of His rule will be this great Assize. He will sit on the throne of His glory and award blessing or condemnation according to the desserts of those who stand before Him.
The test and ground of the judgment will be the way "His brethren" have been treated by these nations. I do not think that it can be questioned that these brethren are the Jewish missionaries that will proclaim His coming as King. They will go forth and preach "this Gospel of the kingdom in all the world for a witness to all nations" (Matthew 24:14). Their labours will be a fulfilment of the word in Psalm 68:11: "The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it." These servants of the Lord, whom He will raise up and empower from among the Jews, after the Rapture of the church to heaven, will be "hated of all nations for My Name's sake," as the Lord has foretold (Matthew 24:9); for under the influence of the Beast and the False Prophet men will be set against every thing of God. But the hearts of some will be opened by the grace of God to receive their message and to pity and succour them. These will be those whom the Lord addresses as blessed of His Father, and they will be introduced by Him into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. For inasmuch as they did it unto one of the least of His brethren they did it to Him. We may be sure that these nations will be the subjects of God's work of grace, and will be born again, otherwise they could not be the sheep of Christ, nor would they have cared for His servants. The remainder, who will manifest their nature, as enemies of Christ and God, by their indifference to these persecuted missionaries, will be judged as such, and shall go away into everlasting punishment.
The great white Throne judgment will be the last judgment of all, when the dead who have died without mercy from the days of Cain to the last of his kind, shall appear before God. The judgment will be according to eternal, inexorable justice, for the books will be opened. The book of God's most accurate record, and the book of every man's conscience and memory, corroborating all that God has written. Another book also, the book of life, will be opened, and it will be the final test of all. And while every man will be judged there according to their works, that which will irrevocably seal their doom will be that they have no part in the book of life; they are indeed the dead, and this is the second death; for whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We may well send up a hymn of heartfelt praise to God that we whose names are written in that book of life can never come into that judgment. And rejoice in these good words of the Lord: "He that heareth My Word and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (judgment), but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).
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