The Judgement of the Nations
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
The Lord Jesus said that the Father had given Him authority to execute judgment “because He is the Son of Man” (John 5. 27). Judgment begins with the house of God “whose house are we” (Heb. 3. 6), and in an earlier paper we have already considered this beginning of judgment before the ‘Bema’ of Christ. It will now be our task to consider the judgment that follows immediately upon the return of the Lord Jesus to the earth. The nature and purpose of this judgment were told by the Lord in His own interpretation of the parable of the ‘Wheat and Tares.’ “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13. 41-43). Details of this judgment were later given in what we often call “the parable of the sheep and the goats” (Matt. 25). While the narrative partakes somewhat of parabolic nature, it is, nevertheless, a plain declaration by the Lord of prophetic truth. Some authorities have identified the narrative with the judgment of the Great White Throne, but this interpretation seems hardly to satisfy the conditions. The judgment of the Great White Throne is preceded by the raising of the dead, small and great, and the rolling up of the earth and the heavens. Neither of these events is mentioned in Matthew 25. We shall proceed in this paper on the interpretation that Matthew 25 records a pre-millennial judgment, qualified, however, by the comments in the last paragraph.
The Person who Judges. The Lord Jesus is the judge. Three titles are used by our Lord of Himself. “When the Son of Man shall come.” He is the Son of Man come to the earth, which is man’s domain. In his new book, “Will the Church go through the Great Tribulation?”, Mr. E. W. Rogers points out that when the Lord speaks of His coming in the air, He does so in the first person; but when He speaks of His return to the earth, He does so in the third person; and that the title, “Son of Man,” is not used in relation to the believer’s hope. Again, He is the Shepherd who “divides the sheep from the goats.” When He spoke these words He was shortly to die, “the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep.” On His return He will be the Shepherd with all authority, set up by God. “I will set up one shepherd over them” (Ezekiel 34. 23). Further, He is King, sitting upon the throne of His glory. He was the King, rejected by His people and crucified. “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” It was true, and God held Pilate to it. They had crucified their King. But, then, He shall be manifested as the King, vested with all authority.
The Place of this Judgment. In His narrative the Lord gave no indication of locality; there is, however, a relative verse in Joel 3. 12, “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. . . . Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.” Where is the valley of Jehoshaphat? The name may, of course, be a play on the word “Jehoshaphat,” meaning “Jehovah Judges.” On the other hand, there may be a reference to a definite locality, the valley in which Jehoshaphat found the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir already destroyed by “ambushments” (2 Chron. 20). They named this valley “the valley of Berachah” (Blessing). It is impossible to state where this valley was, but from the fourth century of the Christian era it has been identified with the vale of Kidron. “Both Muslims and Jews believe that the last judgment is to take place there. To find a grave there is the dearest wish of the latter” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). One cannot, of course, be dogmatic, but it is reasonable to suppose that the judgment will take place near Jerusalem, the city of the Great King.
The Peoples who are to be Judged. There is no mention made of resurrection; this is not the judgment of the dead. The Lord said,“Before Him shall be gathered all nations.” It is judgment of the living nations that have escaped the catastrophic judgments of the Great Tribulation. In his “Matthew,” Dr. Campbell Morgan writes, “This is a national judgment. The thought of personal retribution is not before us here, or personal reward; it is that rather of Christ’s sifting among the nations as He prepares for the setting of the Kingdom.”
The Principle of this Judgment. Here, as always, judgment is according to works, but works in relation towards the King’s ‘brethren.’ “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Who are these brethren? Some would immediately reply, “The Jews.” To arrive at a true understanding, however, it would be well to compare another passage in Matthew 12. 47: “One said to him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without”; to which our Lord replied pointing to His disciples, “Behold . . . My brethren, for whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother.” The Lord recognized kinship with those who followed Him in the supreme matter of doing the will of His Father; in this was their likeness to Him. All who in the period immediately prior to the Millennium are His loyal witnesses are the King’s brethren. The late Mr. Harold Barker used Judges 8. 18, 19, as a beautiful illustration of this: “What manner of men were they whom ye slew?” And they answered, “As thou art, so were they.”
The Pronouncement of the Sentence. To the righteous, those who received, cared for, and sympathized with Christ’s (He that receiveth you, receiveth Me), He says, “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Eternal blessing for the individual is not here in view. It is mankind on earth entering into the earthly blessing which God intended “from the foundation of the world.” “Let us make man ... let them have dominion” (Gen. 1. 26). “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5. 5). It should be noted that the Church’s inheritance is according to the choice of God “Before the foundation of the world” (Ephes. 1.). To the ‘goats’ the King will say, “Depart ye cursed ...” The Lord did not say, “Ye cursed of My Father.” The curse is the retribution, the boomerang of their own actions, the reaping of what has been sown. They are excluded from the blessings of the Kingdom.