Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (13) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Matthew 25:31-46
We now have before us the last part of JesusÕ Sermon on the Last Things. Our Lord continues to speak here about the Day of Judgment. The last words spoken about that final Day were, ÒAnd He [the Son of Man] shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the otherÓ (Matt.24: 31). At that point Christ stopped speaking about that final event and started exhorting His disciples by parables to be watchful and prepared for that Day. He now resumes His discourse about the Day of Judgment. This final passage is not a parable, although it does contain certain parable-like elements.

ChristÕs return will be accompanied with great splendour. Twice the word glory is used in the text. The Son of man shall come in His glory, and He shall sit upon the throne of His glory (vs.31). How great this contrasts with the days of His flesh, when our Lord was upon earth in the form of a Servant! Notice that angels are mentioned. They are the distinguished retinue of our Lord. They are called holy, not only in distinction from the demons, who are unholy, apostatized angels. But this also stresses the purity of this gathering. Many kings surround themselves with attendants and servants. But they are often impure, wicked men. ChristÕs coming will be altogether different. It will breathe an atmosphere of pure holiness.

The throne upon which Christ will sit is the throne of judgment. How solemn this moment will be! The whole universe will fix its undivided attention upon Him in silent expectation. All nations will be gathered before Him. Christ will employ his angels in this work. They will gather the elect from all the ends of the earth (Matt.24: 31). They will also gather the wicked before the judgment seat of Christ (Matt.13: 39, 41, 42).

Christ depicts Himself as a Shepherd. He will divide the sheep from the goats. It was not uncommon for a shepherd to have sheep and goats together in one flock. We read this, for instance, about Jacob (Gen.30: 32,35. The shepherd cares for them together during the day. At night, however, they are separated. Sheep are very different from goats. When the shepherd calls the sheep, the goats do not respond. Sheep are known as gentle and meek animals, whereas goats are belligerent, unruly and destructive. Goats often push the sheep with their horns, so that the shepherd has to interfere. A similar illustration is used in Ezekiel 34: 17.

The righteous and the wicked live together in this world; believers are often oppressed by the ungodly. This will end, however. They will not always be pushed by the horns of haughty and ungodly people. How great a comfort these words contain for ChristÕs ÒsheepÓ!

There is also a word of warning in the text for unbelievers. They will be placed on ChristÕs left side if they continue in their unbelief and unconverted state. On the Day of Judgment the sheep (the believers) will be placed at ChristÕs right hand, the place of honour and favour. The goats (the unbelievers) will be placed at ChristÕs left hand, the place of dishonour.

Notice that the separation is made before the final judgment is pronounced. This proves the perfect knowledge of the Judge. The Lord has not revealed everything with regard to the Day of Judgment. Questions such as, ÒHow long will it take to judge all those billions of people?Ó ÒWhere will the throne of Christ be placed?Ó and ÒHow will it be possible to place all people that ever lived before His throne?Ó remain unanswered. Let it suffice us to know that nothing is impossible with the Lord. To give some idea of the space that would be occupied we can imagine each person to need 1 square metre to stand on, so that the whole world population would need 6,000 square kilometres. The Netherlands has an area of 42,000 square kilometres. That means that the whole world population would fit seven times in that tiny country!

Christ, Who refers to himself as the Son of man and the Shepherd, also calls himself King. ÒThen shall the King say unto themÉÓ (vs.34). Christ first turns to those on His right hand. He calls them the blessed of His Father. They are blessed because they share in the FatherÕs love and favour. They are blessed with all spiritual blessings. They will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.

It is wonderful and comforting to observe that before their good deeds are mentioned, it is emphasized that the basis of their salvation is their election from eternity. This is indicated by the fact that they will inherit the kingdom. An inheritance cannot be bought. It is given to the heirs. Believers receive the inheritance because they are the children of God. Moreover, it is Òprepared for them from the foundation of the world.Ó Before they were born, it was prepared for them already! The good pleasure of the triune God and His sovereign grace is the foundation of their salvation. This verse is powerful proof of the gratuitous character of salvation.

It is necessary to bear this in mind when we ponder the following verses: 35 and 36. Verse 35 starts with the word ÒForÓ. ÒFor I was an hungred,Ó etc. ÒForÓ in this instance does not denote the cause, but the evidence. It is the same as if we would say, ÒThis person lives, for he moves.Ó His motion is not the cause of his life, but the evidence and effect of it. So is it here in this text. ÒThe last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence. The works of men are the witnesses which will be brought forward, and above all their works of charityÓ (J. C. Ryle).

Six acts of charity are mentioned. ÒFor I was an hungred, 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.Ó Notice that our Lord only mentions works of mercy and not works of piety, as we find them in the Ten Commandments. When we look at these acts of charity, should we not conclude that there is no proportion between the work and the wages?

It is mere fiction to speak about merits! ÒDarius, before he came to the kingdom, received a garment for a gift of one Syloson. And when he became king he rewarded him with the command of his country Samus. Who now will say that Syloson merited such a boon for so small a courtesy?Ó (John Trapp). It is all of grace! Calvin says, ÒWe do not deny that a reward is promised to good works, but maintain that it is a reward of grace, because it depends on adoption.Ó

The response of ChristÕs followers is one of surprise. ÒWhen saw we thee a strangerÉ?Ó They had never seen Christ physically. Christ will then answer them that Òinasmuch ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto meÓ (vs.40). Acts done to ChristÕs members will be considered to be done to Christ Himself. Our charity should not be limited to them. However, nothing can so properly be said to be done to Christ as what is done to His true members.

Will believers be totally unaware of this fact? No, they wonÕt. The reason for their surprise will be that they never considered their works to be worthy of a reward. They see that even their best works are lacking a lot. They view their best works of mercy the least they could do to show their thankfulness.

Questions for Discussion.
1. Why is the final judgment necessary, if everyone who dies before that day is judged already?
2. ÒThose that are on the right hand of the world are on the left hand of Christ.Ó What do you think about this statement?
3. Would it be right to conclude from verses 35 and 36 that there are only six works of mercy?
4. Will Christ judge only according to works of charity? Why are these mentioned rather than works of piety?
5. Dispensationalists explain ÒbrethrenÓ (vs.40) to be the people of Israel, i.e. the ones who live during the tribulation period preceding ChristÕs return. What do you think about that?

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