Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (14) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Matthew 25:41-46
We are now dealing with the final passage of ChristÕs discourse of the Last Things. In the last instalment we noticed ChristÕs judgment on the righteous. They are pronounced blessed and are welcomed into the kingdom of glory. But what about the ungodly? Can anything be said about their end? Our Lord gives a picture of what will happen to them. It is a dreadful picture that should cause every unconverted sinner to flee from the wrath to come.

The sentence pronounced upon the wicked, those standing on ChristÕs left hand, is ÒDepart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angelsÓ (vs.41). Every word is condemning and adds to the terror that the wicked will experience.

The sentence consists of two things. First, there will be a separation from God. Hell is first of all a place where God is absent. He is absent with His grace and mercy, although He is eternally present with His wrath and anger. While they lived in this world, Christ invited them to come to Him. But then they would not. Like the Gadarenes, they begged Him to depart from them. Now Christ tells them to depart from Him. Secondly, their sentence consists of a sense of pain, comparable to the pain fire causes to the body, but more vehement and terrible than any fire on earth. This fire is the wrath of God (cf. Heb.12:29). This punishment would be bearable if it were for a time, even if it were for a million years. But it is an everlasting fire and it is unquenchable. What aggravates this punishment is that the company of the lost souls will be the devil and his angels. Demons are called the devilÕs angels because they are his agents, his messengers. Hell-fire has been prepared for these evil spirits because they were first in transgression. Now the wicked will join their company, as they are cursed from God.

Christ does not do injustice by this punishment. It is perfectly according to what they deserve. Our Lord justifies Himself by saying, ÒFor I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat [food]: 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 notÓ (Matt.25:42,43). The text seems to indicate that Christ is not addressing heathens in general, but those who heard the Gospel and had an opportunity to do good to ChristÕs members. If their sins of omission and unkindness are sufficient already to condemn them to hell, how much more will those be condemned who live in open sin and actively persecute ChristÕs church and afflict his members! Thomas Boston, in his book Human Nature In Its Fourfold State, Chapter IV, 4, says about these sins: ÒThese are not only evidences of their ungodly and cursed state, but most proper causes and grounds of their condemnation: for though good works do not merit salvation, yet evil works merit damnation.Ó Salvation is by mere grace, but condemnation is according to our merits.

Just as believers will be surprised to hear that they fed Christ, clothed Him, etc., so will the wicked be surprised to hear that they did not do all these things. They will say, ÒLord when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?Ó (vs.44). They will still be blind and self-righteous. They never saw Christ suffering on earth. Their question is abbreviated, compared to the question of the righteous (vss.37-39). It is as if we hear their words die away on their lips. ChristÕs answer will be, ÒVerily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to MeÓ (vs.45). Christ will point them to His people on his right hand. Then the wicked will know that they ignored these disciples of Christ. But they never considered it a crime to do so. Among them there will be those who even considered it a good work to persecute and kill these people. They did this in the name of religion, as the apostle Paul did before his conversion, when he persecuted ChristÕs church motivated by an erroneous zeal for God.

Having pronounced a blessing on His people and a curse on the wicked, both will go to their eternal destiny. ÒAnd these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternalÓ (vs.46). The condemned souls will not go voluntarily. They will be driven away from ChristÕs presence (Prov.14:32). ÒAll those that turn from righteousness with wayward, wandering feet, with sinners God will lead them forth, the sinnerÕs doom to meetÓ (Psalter 354:5). This will apparently take place in the presence of the redeemed.

It is difficult for us to visualize now that godly people may see some of their loved ones--children, parents, spouses, relatives, friends--depart from them and perish. We are certainly not ready yet to cry, ÒAmen, AlleluiaÓ (Rev.19:4) and are more like David who did not rejoice in the destruction of his bitter persecutor Saul, but rather mourned his death. But in that day all the redeemed will justify God in His judgment.

The punishment of the wicked will be everlasting. There is not the slightest indication that there will be an end to it. The state after judgment will be changeless and without end. Throughout history there have been people and churches (or cults) that denied the existence of hell. The Jehovah Witnesses explain eternal death as extinction or annihilation. But this is a misrepresentation and twisting of Scripture, which is refuted by passages such as Matthew 8:11, 12, and Revelation 20:10. There are others who believe that hell will be a temporary state. It will be a place of purification and punishment will only be a disciplinary action. In the end, all men will be saved, the devil and his angels included. Such was the view of Origen in the ancient church. In the 20th century it was the influential theologian Karl Barth who said in regard to the final restoration of all things, ÒWe may not count on it, but we may hope and pray for it.Ó

As dreadful as the end will be of the wicked, so blessed will be the end of the righteous. They will go into eternal life. Their state will also be changeless and endless. At this point the kingdom of grace ends and the kingdom of glory commences. From here on Christ will reign forever over all His people. As the angel Gabriel told Mary, ÒAnd He shall reign over the house of David for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no endÓ (Lk.1:33).

This final passage of ChristÕs discourse on the Last Things is full of warning, admonition and consolation. For believers it means that they will not always be afflicted by the ungodly. What a vexation it was for Asaph to watch the prosperity of the wicked day after day, whereas he himself with GodÕs people was afflicted! His feet almost slipped. But then he went into GodÕs sanctuary and considered the end of the wicked. Then jealousy made room for pity.

Let us never be jealous of the ungodly, no matter how much they prosper. If they donÕt repent, they will perish. What is a drop of pleasure compared to a sea of wrath?

This passage also contains a warning. Are we without repentance and faith? We will reap the fruits of our sin if we go on in a life without God. Scripture says, ÒWhatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reapÓ (Gal.6:7b). Today the Lord calls you. Now you live in the day of grace. It is not too late yet. The Lord gives the promise that whoever confesses his sin and believes in Jesus, will be forgiven and have everlasting life. This is not because of any merit in you, but only for the sake of Christ, GodÕs well-beloved Son. May the Lord grant us that we Òmay find mercy of the Lord in that dayÓ (II Tim.1:18)!

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Christ says that the Day of Judgment will be more tolerable for heathen cities such as Tyre and Sidon than for Capernaum, Bethsaida and others (Matthew 11:20-24). Why?
2. We read in I Corinthians 6:2 that Òthe saints shall judge the world.Ó What does this mean? What practical application does the apostle make?
3. What arguments are brought forward against the existence of hell? How would you answer them? Read, for instance, Matthew 8:11, 12 and Revelation 20: 10.
4. Most of the teachings regarding hell are found in the Gospels, in the words of Jesus. What does this teach us?
5. What place should the reality of hell have in preaching? What about evangelism?

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