The Final Sequence
The Judgment of the Nations
A few days before the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, the synoptic gospels share the account of a private question asked by Peter, James, John and Andrew regarding a future event the Lord had just mentioned (the destruction of the temple), along with His response:
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”
They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
The Lord’s answer is quite lengthy and is, in fact, the second-most extensive prophecy in the NT. (The Revelation is inarguably the first.)
[It is not my purpose here to extensively present and defend the position of SolaScripturaToday regarding eschatology. In various sections in my articles (those that happen to intersect with matters of eschatology), it will be obvious to the reader that I believe the Bible is very clear that the Lord Christ will reign on this earth (not a new earth as erroneously claimed by the amillennialists) from the temple in Jerusalem for a period of 1000 literal years. (Moreover, the temple from which He will rule will be the one that the Lord Himself builds. Zec 6.12-13)
While I may or may not agree with the various details of what is typically called “pre-millennialism”, I nevertheless hold to these features:
- the millennial rule of the Lord Christ precedes the New Heaven/Earth,
- has a duration of 1000 years,
- and is the period during which the Lord will “rule with a rod of iron” in the fulfillment of the promise the Lord God made to David in 2 Sam 7.
I regard postmillennialism and amillennialism as very serious Bible errors and destructive to sound Bible understanding and eschatology.
Postmillennialism and amillennialism are essentially self-destructive viruses to biblical Christianity: as a virus, it won’t/can’t rest until it has destroyed its host organism.
So, to continue my virus/host analogy, the host organism is the reliability and trustworthiness of the promises of the Lord God. An excellent example of one such promise was that which He made to ancient King David, namely, that One of David’s descendants would rule His earthly kingdom Israel. (2 Sam 7.8-29, Psa 89.19-37) To deny this promise, à la postmillennialism and amillennialism, is to introduce a dangerous and destructive virus into the understanding of Scripture and the trustworthiness of the Lord’s promises.
If the Lord Christ does not rule on this present earth—again, not to be confused with His ruling the new earth, something which will occur!—then the Lord's promise to David will prove to be false and that can only make the Almighty a liar, something which can never be!]
Each of the synoptic gospels shares the parable of the fig tree (Mat 24.32-35; Mar 13.28-32; Luk 21.29-32) near the end of the Lord’s discourse. Mathew’s account, however, provides details not included by either Mark or Luke, and it is these upon which I focus now.
In Matthew’s account, the Lord presents two additional parables:
- The ten virgins (five wise, five foolish) who were ready, and not ready, respectively, to meet their bridegroom at his return. (Mat 25.1-13)
- The man on the journey who entrusted his estate to his servants then went away for “a long time”, then required an accounting of his servants for their handling of his estate. (Mat 25.14-30)
By verse 25.31, we arrive at what is arguably one of the most important prophetic details in all of Scripture: The Judgment of the Nations:
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
It is probably automatic for most Christians (immaturely and carelessly!) to conflate this judgment with the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev 20; I know that I did so as a young Christian. However, many years ago I began to realize that, while the Judgment of the Nations and the Great White Throne Judgment share a common result (eternal punishment for those condemned), they are, in fact, very different events, have different participants, differ in their criterion of judgment and take place at different times and places.
The stated criterion of the Judgment of the Nations is simple: how did the person being judged treat the Lord Christ? The first phase of that judgment is that those who treated Him well are placed on His right; those who treated Him poorly are placed on His left.
[One of those fascinating examples of “real life” intersecting with Scripture is found here:
A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right,
but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.
It is a fact that the political/social ideology that identifies itself as the “left” essentially is contrary to everything that is biblical. It will be a fitting end to those of the “left” to be separated from all that is good and therefore find themselves on the Lord’s left at the Judgment of the Nations—a consequence of the fact they show active contempt and open hostility to the Lord, His Word and His people. This is not to say that only the political/social “left” will be condemned. However, it is certain that they will be a portion of that much larger group who have in common the hatred for the Lord Christ, His word and His people.]
As you read the account, though, the Lord notes that there will be the objection that those being condemned never treated the Lord Himself badly (how could they, since they had no obvious, temporal overlap of any type of living, personal experience with Him?). The Lord answers that future objection with the statement of the principle that the Lord identifies with His people:
Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
The condemnation of those on His left is that they treated the Lord’s people badly and therefore, by proxy, they did so to the Lord.
How does it end? How is that evil resolved and punished? In a word, terrifyingly:
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; …
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
There are at least three other texts in the NT that teach us the same things about the Judgment of the Nations: Mat 13.24-30, 36-43; Luk 19.11-12,15,27; and 2 The 1.5-10. Notice how the Lord details the parable of the tares, particularly the coincident presence of both living righteous and unrighteous people:
Mat 13.24-30, 36-43
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Christ gave another parable describing the same event from the perspective that mankind will give an account for their actions relative to His authority:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. ... When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. ... "But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence."
The Apostle Paul corroborates the Lord’s statements of Mat 25 in a very well-known passage:
2 The 1.5-10
This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
These passages do overlap. How?
- All mention with certainty that there will be a global judgment when the Lord returns.
- Mat 25 and 2 The 1 mention the fact that those being condemned in that judgment persecuted (and, sometimes, merely treated poorly) the Lord’s people.
- All mention the clear distinction between the living righteous and the living wicked.
- All teach us that living, existing, temporal people (that is, in contrast to those who have experienced the resurrection and can no longer be considered “temporal”) both will witness and experience the judgment.
- All mention severe divine punishment for the wicked: Mat 25, Mat 13 and 2 The 1 mention “eternal fire/punishment” or “eternal destruction”.
- All imply or directly indicate that the venue of the judgment is the earth (our current earth, not the “new earth”), since it is the location of the Lord's return.
- All indicate that the judgment is one of the preeminent reasons of the Lord’s return in His glory to earth (our current earth, not the “new earth”).
[By design, I don’t cover the Judgment Seat of Christ in this series. The Bible appears to support a chronology that would place that judgment in close temporal proximity to the Judgment of the Nations, but other than the following references that is no clear “temporal landmark” to use:
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
2 Cor 5.10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
The change in term (“… of God” and “… of Christ”) does not appear to change the fact that the Apostle views each of these as that time in which all Christians will give an account of themselves to God. The context of Rom 14 is clearly the judgment of Christians: “why do you judge your brother?”, “why do you regard your brother?”, “each one of us”.
The fact that “every knee shall bow” to the Lord Christ does not change the fact that there is a separate judgment for the Lord’s people.
There is the possibility that the Judgment Seat of Christ takes place immediately before the Judgment of the Nations. Carefully consider this text:
1 Pet 4.17
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?]
It is vital to understand that the Judgment of the Nations is the first (in chronological order) of the two great judgments (the second being the Great White Throne Judgment) which have as one of their results the casting of the condemned into the Outer Darkness.
It is at this point that I can show the first half of the significance of the phrase “the Judge of the living and the dead”. (cf. the previous chapter The Judge of the Living and the Dead).
[In that chapter I showed from the Scripture that while the Lord’s appointment as Judge has been accomplished, the time of His function as Judge has not.]
So, to summarize: how is it that the Lord Christ is the Judge of the Living at a point still future? By now the answer should be obvious: He judges the living at the Judgment of the Nations! Those who have already died by the time of that judgment will wait for their judgment, the Great White Throne Judgment, at which point the Lord will fulfill His position as the Judge of the Dead!