“When the Son of Man shall Come”
“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: 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. 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: For 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. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, 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? 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. 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: For I was an hungred, 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. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Few passages in the Bible are more solemn and heart-searching than Matthew 25:31-46. Here our Savior speaks to us about his glorious second advent and the day of judgment. What a solemn passage this is! In that great day every son and daughter of Adam shall be present. Each one shall “receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Every thing here spoken by our Master is plain and clear. There are no parables here. It is impossible to misunderstand our Savior’s words in this passage.
When He Appears
This passage begins with the fact of our Lord’s glorious second advent. Verse thirty-one identifies three things about our Savior’s second coming.
1. His Coming: — “When the Son of man shall come in his glory.” He states the fact of his coming again as a well-known, commonly acknowledged fact. With his disciples, Christ’s second coming is not a speculative matter. We have no idea when he will come again. But we do know that he is coming. We rejoice in the hope of it. And we know that when he comes again, our great God and Savior will appear in all the splendor, grandeur, and majesty of his glory as the God-man, our Savior. Not only is he coming, but “the Son of man shall come in his glory!”
2. His Companions: — When Christ comes again, he will not come alone, but “all the holy angels with him.” Elsewhere we are told that he will come with all his saints, too. This will be no secret rapture, but the glorious appearing of the great God, who is our Savior. The holy angels, who sang his praise at his first advent, will accompany him in his second advent.
3. His Character: — “Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” When our Savior comes again, there will be no more debate about his sovereignty. The throne of judgment upon which he shall sit will be “the throne of his glory.” Every knee shall bow before “the throne of his glory.” All his enemies shall be made the footstool of “the throne of his glory.” Everyone will worship before “the throne of his glory.”
“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.” (vv. 32-33)
We are once more reminded of the fact that all the human race is divided into only two families, two groups and two races, the one called “the sheep,” the other called “the goats.” You will never understand the Bible, or any of the workings of God, until you understand this fact. Earthly distinctions of race, nationality, social status, mental aptitude, and even religious affiliation are of absolutely no significance before God. We are all either sheep or goats.
Sheep have always been sheep; and goats have always been goats. Sheep never become goats; and goats never become sheep. Some sheep are saved, and some are yet lost; but all sheep shall be saved (John 10:11, 14-16, 27-30). Goats never shall be saved (John 10:26). Everything God does in this world, he does for the sheep, to save his sheep. He chose his sheep. Christ redeemed, seeks, and finds his sheep. And, finding them, he fetches them to himself by his omnipotent grace in the effectual call of his Spirit. And when Christ comes again, the sheep shall be set on his right hand, the place of highest honor and blessing. The goats shall be set on his left hand of contempt, judgment, and destruction.
Blessed of God
God’s elect, the sheep set on the Savior’s right hand, are described as a people “blessed” of God the Father, and are bidden to come and inherit the kingdom prepared for them “from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). In verse 31 our Savior calls himself “the Son of Man.” Here he calls himself “the King.” He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the King of his church, the saints, and the King of the whole earth. He will appear in his glory as the King, sitting upon his throne of glory as the Judge of all the earth.
In that great day he will speak as gently, tenderly, and lovingly to his sheep as he does today in the gospel, saying, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.” He will call those on his right hand to come before his great white throne with intrepidity and confidence, entering into and taking possession of heavenly glory as a people “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12), “which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23).
When we stand before Christ in judgment, he will call us a people “blessed of my Father.” What reason have any who are blessed of God to fear that day? God’s eternal choice of us as his people declares that we are loved of him with an everlasting love, accepted of him in Christ from eternity, and blessed of him with all spiritual blessings in Christ before the world began. Being blessed of God, we are redeemed by Christ’s precious blood, forgiven of all sin, justified, and sanctified by his grace. Having given us his grace, the Lord will give us glory, too (Psa. 84:11).
A Kingdom Prepared
The happiness of God’s elect in the world to come is here described as a “kingdom,” because of the glory, riches, grandeur, and majesty of it. It is a kingdom prepared and suitable for a people who have been made kings and priests unto God by Christ. It is “an inheritance” obtained by the gift of our heavenly Father. It is ours by right of adoption as the children of God, by right of purchase by the blood of Christ, and by right of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who has already taken possession of it as our Forerunner.
Heavenly glory is a kingdom “prepared” for us by God’s free grace and everlasting favor. Being prepared, it is both sure and made ready. As John Gill wrote, “It is a kingdom erected, an inheritance reserved, and a crown of righteousness laid up in heaven, a glory really provided and secured in an everlasting covenant, and that for you….the peculiar favorites of God, the objects of his love and choice, the redeemed of the Lamb, and that are born of the Spirit.”
That kingdom into which we shall enter at last was prepared for us “from the foundation of the world.” Heavenly glory is a kingdom prepared for God’s elect from all eternity. That fact alone should convince all that the blessings of eternity do not, and cannot be dependent upon or determined by the things we do in time. The whole of heavenly glory is the gift of God in Christ. It is written, “The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). Nothing connected with eternal life is earned and merited by those who shall possess it. “But plainly,” as Robert Hawker put it, “the whole is the result of free, sovereign grace, and not an atom of merit in man, contributing, in the least degree, to the accomplishment.”
What can be so truly blessed than to contemplate this provision of grace our God has made for us, not only before we were born, but before the foundations of the earth were laid? How delightful our Savior’s words are! It appears to me that his intent is to covey to us the greatest possible peace and joyful hope as we anticipate his glorious appearing, “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21). He seems to be saying here, as he did in Luke 12:32, “Fear not little flock, for it is your heavenly Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The Day of Judgment
In verses 35-46 our Lord Jesus Christ describes the day of judgment. Let no one be deceived, there is a day appointed by God when all men shall stand before his righteous bar, “the throne of his glory,” to be judged by him. There is a day of reckoning. Put it out of your mind, if you dare. Try to dismiss it from your thoughts, if you like. But there is a day fixed by God almighty when you and I must give account to him. It is written, “after this,” after this life is over, after we have finished our little space of appointed time in this world, “after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Therefore, I make no apology for echoing that which all men by nature prefer never to hear, “Prepare to meet thy God!”
Consider this sober fact seriously: You must soon meet God in judgment! How will it go for you in that great and terrible day? Where will you spend eternity? Do not be so foolish as to ignore these questions. Let me show you four things taught in these verses by the Son of God himself about the day of judgment.
1. First, our Savior assures us that he will himself be the Judge in that great day.
Understand this. Everything God does he does through the Son, for the honor of the Son, that the Son may have all preeminence and glory. The saving of men is the work of the Son; and the judgment of men shall be the work of the Son (John 5:22; Acts 17:30; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; Phil. 2:9-11).
That same Jesus who was born at Bethlehem, who was raised in Nazareth, who preached and performed mighty miracles of mercy in the days of his humiliation, who was despised and rejected of men, and who was at last betrayed, beaten, scourged, stripped naked, and nailed to the cursed tree by the hands of wicked men, — that same Jesus shall himself come again in power and in great glory to judge this world. You and I will soon be gathered before his august throne of glory to answer for our lives upon this earth.
As I have already suggested, believers have every reason to look upon this august, solemn event with comfort and joy. He who shall sit upon that throne in that great and dreadful day is himself our Savior, our Redeemer, our Good Shepherd, our mighty Advocate, our great High Priest, our Elder Brother, and our Faithful Friend. I do not suggest for a moment that he will bend the law on our behalf. He will never do that! But I do mean for you to understand that so long as we have such an Advocate as Christ is in the court, indeed, upon the very bench of judgment, we have no reason to fear the proceedings of that bench.
If you are without Christ, if you are an unbeliever, if you are yet unconverted, if you yet live in rebellion to our great God, every thought of this great and terrible day should fill your very soul with utter terror. Your Judge in that day will be the very Christ whose gospel you have despised, whose gracious invitations you scorn, whose blood you trample beneath your feet. If you go on and die in your rebellion and unbelief, how great will be the wrath poured out upon you in that day! To be condemned by anyone would be terrible; but to be condemned by him who is “the Savior of the world,” who is able, willing, and ready to save all who come to God by him is unthinkable! I urge you in the words of the psalmist, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way” (Ps. 2:12).
2. Second, our Master tells us that everyone will be judged by him in that day.
“Before him shall be gathered all nations” (v. 32). All who ever lived shall in that day give account of themselves before the Son of God. When the King of heaven issues his summons, his holy angels like a great hosts of deputies will fetch you before his throne. Each one will be forced to step forward to receive his sentence from Christ himself. J. C. Ryle wrote, “Those who would not come to worship Christ on earth, will find that they must come to his great assize, when he returns to judge the world.”
In that great day all the human race shall be publicly divided into two groups. — “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (v. 33). In that day earthly distinctions shall be meaningless. Rich and poor, the learned and the unlearned, black and white, religious and irreligious men and women, moralists and rogues shall all be lumped into one group -— goats. All former, earthly distinctions, for which people contend and strive, will then have passed away.
In that day nothing will matter to you or to God himself except this — Are you or are you not in Christ? Grace or no grace, faith or no faith, converted or unconverted, saved or lost are the only distinctions that will matter when you stand before the bar of God. If you trust the Son of God, you shall be seated with Christ on his right hand, with his sheep, in “the throne of his glory.” If you die without faith in Christ, you will in that day be found among the goats at his left hand.
3. Third, our Lord here shows us that the judgment of that great day will be totally righteous, just, and equitable.
No one will challenge the proceedings of that day. When the judgment is over, even the damned will acknowledge that it was right. The judgment will be conducted upon the basis of evidence.
We recognize that we are justified by grace through the redemption that Christ accomplished at Calvary. Our only righteousness before God is his righteousness, that which he has made ours and given to us, the righteousness of God in Christ. Our works have nothing to do with our everlasting acceptance with God. When God opens the books on that day, he will bring us into heaven because no sin is recorded against us; but only righteousness, perfect righteousness is recorded under our names in heaven (Rev. 20:11-12; Jer. 50:20; Num. 23:21; Rom. 8:33-34).
However, God will in that day demonstrate that grace made his elect to be truly new creatures in Christ. Their works, which follow them into heaven, shall be witnesses brought forward by Christ himself as to why they should be admitted into his heavenly kingdom. Above all else, their works of charity, kindness, and hospitality shall be brought forth as evidences of their faith. Our faith is proved to be either false or true by our lives. In that sense, and only in that sense, the Spirit of God declares, “by works a man is justified” (James 2:24). Believers show the reality of their faith by their works (James 2:18). The fact is, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:11-14, 20-26). And the great test of godliness, the great evidence of faith in Christ is love. — “He that loveth not knoweth not God.”
The day of judgment will bring great, eternal joy to every believer (v. 34). The savior will say to each of his elect, to every believing sinner, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:21, 23). The wages God shall give to his faithful servants shall be the full kingdom of grace and glory. The least, the lowest, the poorest, the weakest, and the youngest shall have the same reward as the greatest, the richest, the highest, the strongest, and the oldest. We shall all receive “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” from the King of glory.
The day of judgment will bring utter confusion to all unbelievers (v. 41). Those who will not heed the Savior’s call now, “Come unto me,” will obey with terror when he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed!”
Judgment day will demonstrate the character of all the saved and the character of all the lost in a striking manner. Believers, the saved, Christ’s sheep, will be clothed with humility, never imagining that they had done anything worthy of his notice and approval. When the Lord Jesus speaks of their good deeds, they will be astonished by his words.
“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: For 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. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, 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? 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.” (vv. 34-40).
Whenever we think of “good works,” we ought to think of works of kindness, mercy, and love. Nowhere in Holy Scripture are good works spoken of under any other terms. And, it appears, judging from our Savior’s words here, that those who perform such works are totally oblivious to having done so. Whereas, those who never perform such works, but only live in the delusion of self-righteousness, presume that they do good all the time. The lost, the unbelieving, will yet be blind and self-righteous, never imagining that they had failed to make themselves worthy of God’s acceptance.
“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: For I was an hungred, 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. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (vv. 41-46)
In that great day, our Lord will make all men see how highly he regards his people. He considers anything done for them or against them as being done to him. It seems to me that no man alive is able to conceive how real the union of Christ and his people is. The astonishment here expressed, both by the redeemed and the reprobate, at our Lord’s words seems to suggest that the real union of Christ and his church will be comprehended by none until we stand before him in that great day.
4. Fourth, the Son of God here tells us that the results of that final judgment will be final, everlasting, and immutable. — “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (v. 46).
Everything after the judgment will be eternal. There will be no changes in eternity. The blessedness of the saved shall be eternal. We shall enjoy eternal life, eternal rest, eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal satisfaction, eternal righteousness, eternal communion with the Lord Jesus Christ!
The misery of the damned shall also be eternal! Who can describe the woe of the damned? It is eternal wrath, everlasting fire, undying torment, “the second death,” everlasting hell! It is unceasing separation from God and all good! All the lost shall be required to endure eternal agony, eternal separation from all that is good and pleasant, eternal sin, eternal want, eternal company with the most vile, wicked, abominable creatures!
Let us solemnly consider these things. Soon, you and I must meet God in judgment.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” (2 Cor. 5:10-11)