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The Judgment of the Nations

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


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Mt 25:31-46. The Last Judgment.

The close connection between this sublime scene—peculiar to Matthew—and the two preceding parables is too obvious to need pointing out.

31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory—His personal glory.

and all the holy angels with him—See De 33:2; Da 7:9, 10; Jude 14; with Heb 1:6; 1Pe 3:22.

then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory—the glory of His judicial authority.

32. And before him shall be gathered all nations—or, "all the nations." That this should be understood to mean the heathen nations, or all except believers in Christ, will seem amazing to any simple reader. Yet this is the exposition of Olshausen, Stier, Keil, Alford (though latterly with some diffidence), and of a number, though not all, of those who hold that Christ will come the second time before the millennium, and that the saints will be caught up to meet Him in the air before His appearing. Their chief argument is, the impossibility of any that ever knew the Lord Jesus wondering, at the Judgment Day, that they should be thought to have done—or left undone—anything "unto Christ." To that we shall advert when we come to it. But here we may just say, that if this scene does not describe a personal, public, final judgment on men, according to the treatment they have given to Christ—and consequently men within the Christian pale—we shall have to consider again whether our Lord's teaching on the greatest themes of human interest does indeed possess that incomparable simplicity and transparency of meaning which, by universal consent, has been ascribed to it. If it be said, But how can this be the general judgment, if only those within the Christian pale be embraced by it?—we answer, What is here described, as it certainly does not meet the case of all the family of Adam, is of course so far not general. But we have no right to conclude that the whole "judgment of the great day" will be limited to the point of view here presented. Other explanations will come up in the course of our exposition.

and he shall separate them—now for the first time; the two classes having been mingled all along up to this awful moment.

as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats—(See Eze 34:17).

33. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand—the side of honor (1Ki 2:19; Ps 45:9; 110:1, &c.).

but the goats on the left—the side consequently of dishonor.

34. Then shall the King—Magnificent title, here for the first and only time, save in parabolical language, given to Himself by the Lord Jesus, and that on the eve of His deepest humiliation! It is to intimate that in then addressing the heirs of the kingdom, He will put on all His regal majesty.

say unto them on his right hand, Come—the same sweet word with which He had so long invited all the weary and heavy laden to come unto Him for rest. Now it is addressed exclusively to such as have come and found rest. It is still, "Come," and to "rest" too; but to rest in a higher style, and in another region.

ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world—The whole story of this their blessedness is given by the apostle, in words which seem but an expression of these: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." They were chosen from everlasting to the possession and enjoyment of all spiritual blessings in Christ, and so chosen in order to be holy and blameless in love. This is the holy love whose practical manifestations the King is about to recount in detail; and thus we see that their whole life of love to Christ is the fruit of an eternal purpose of love to them in Christ.

35. For I was an hungered … thirsty … a stranger, &c.

36. Naked … sick … prison, and ye came unto me.

37-39. Then shall the righteous answer him, &c.

40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, &c.—Astonishing dialogue this between the King, from the Throne of His glory, and His wondering people! "I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat," &c.—"Not we," they reply. "We never did that, Lord: We were born out of due time, and enjoyed not the privilege of ministering unto Thee." "But ye did it to these My brethren, now beside you, when cast upon your love." "Truth, Lord, but was that doing it to Thee? Thy name was indeed dear to us, and we thought it a great honor to suffer shame for it. When among the destitute and distressed we discerned any of the household of faith, we will not deny that our hearts leapt within us at the discovery, and when their knock came to our dwelling, 'our bowels were moved,' as though 'our Beloved Himself had put in His hand by the hole of the door.' Sweet was the fellowship we had with them, as if we had 'entertained angels unawares'; all difference between giver and receiver somehow melted away under the beams of that love of Thine which knit us together; nay, rather, as they left us with gratitude for our poor givings, we seemed the debtors—not they. But, Lord, were we all that time in company with Thee? … Yes, that scene was all with Me," replies the King—"Me in the disguise of My poor ones. The door shut against Me by others was opened by you—'Ye took Me in.' Apprehended and imprisoned by the enemies of the truth, ye whom the truth had made free sought Me out diligently and found Me; visiting Me in My lonely cell at the risk of your own lives, and cheering My solitude; ye gave Me a coat, for I shivered; and then I felt warm. With cups of cold water ye moistened My parched lips; when famished with hunger ye supplied Me with crusts, and my spirit revived—/Ye did it unto Me.'" What thoughts crowd upon us as we listen to such a description of the scenes of the Last Judgment! And in the light of this view of the heavenly dialogue, how bald and wretched, not to say unscriptural, is that view of it to which we referred at the outset, which makes it a dialogue between Christ and heathens who never heard of His name, and of course never felt any stirrings of His love in their hearts! To us it seems a poor, superficial objection to the Christian view of this scene, that Christians could never be supposed to ask such questions as the "blessed of Christ's Father" are made to ask here. If there were any difficulty in explaining this, the difficulty of the other view is such as to make it, at least, insufferable. But there is no real difficulty. The surprise expressed is not at their being told that they acted from love to Christ, but that Christ Himself was the Personal Object of all their deeds: that they found Him hungry, and supplied Him with food: that they brought water to Him, and slaked His thirst; that seeing Him naked and shivering, they put warm clothing upon Him, paid Him visits when lying in prison for the truth, and sat by His bedside when laid down with sickness. This is the astonishing interpretation which Jesus says "the King" will give to them of their own actions here below. And will any Christian reply, "How could this astonish them? Does not every Christian know that He does these very things, when He does them at all, just as they are here represented?" Nay, rather, is it conceivable that they should not be astonished, and almost doubt their own ears, to hear such an account of their own actions upon earth from the lips of the Judge? And remember, that Judge has come in His glory, and now sits upon the throne of His glory, and all the holy angels are with Him; and that it is from those glorified Lips that the words come forth, "Ye did all this unto Me." Oh, can we imagine such a word addressed to ourselves, and then fancy ourselves replying, "Of course we did—To whom else did we anything? It must be others than we that are addressed, who never knew, in all their good deeds, what they were about?" Rather, can we imagine ourselves not overpowered with astonishment, and scarcely able to credit the testimony borne to us by the King?

41.Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, &c.—As for you on the left hand, ye did nothing for Me. I came to you also, but ye knew Me not: ye had neither warm affections nor kind deeds to bestow upon Me: I was as one despised in your eyes." "In our eyes, Lord? We never saw Thee before, and never, sure, behaved we so to Thee." "But thus ye treated these little ones that believe in Me and now stand on My right hand. In the disguise of these poor members of Mine I came soliciting your pity, but ye shut up your bowels of compassion from Me: I asked relief, but ye had none to give Me. Take back therefore your own coldness, your own contemptuous distance: Ye bid Me away from your presence, and now I bid you from Mine—Depart from Me, ye cursed!"

46. And these shall go away—these "cursed" ones. Sentence, it should seem, was first pronounced—in the hearing of the wicked—upon the righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the wicked (1Co 6:2); but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the wicked, in the sight of the righteous—whose glory will thus not be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into "their own place" will be witnessed by the righteous, as Bengel notes.

into everlasting punishment—or, as in Mt 25:41, "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Compare Mt 13:42; 2Th 1:9, &c. This is said to be "prepared for the devil and his angels," because they were "first in transgression." But both have one doom, because one unholy character.

but the righteous into life eternal—that is, "life everlasting." The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful day will be final, irreversible, unending.