“There Is Hope”
April 18, 2007
The Final Judgment
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Today our subject is the Judgment–the final Judgment in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you do have Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapters 24 and 25. I'm going to read three verses out of Matthew 24, and then I'm going to read the final verses of Matthew 25, because in that great passage Jesus Himself is speaking directly to the subject of what is going to happen at the final Judgment.
Now I need to warn you: When I was working through the Gospel of Matthew here–those of you at First Presbyterian Church will remember this–when we were working through the Gospel of Matthew here at First Presbyterian a few years ago, we spent ten weeks on Matthew 24 and 25–and I have about 40 minutes this morning, and this is only one portion of what I want to try and do. Now you can get the entire transcripts of those messages on the First Presbyterian Church Jackson website. You can get them in audio format or you can get them in a written transcript, and I encourage you to do so. There's so much here to learn.
Let me start today, however, by reading to you just three short sections from The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the theological standard of the Presbyterian Church in America, in what it affirms about the final Judgment. It is affirming a truth which is accepted broadly amongst all Protestant Christians, and in its chapter on “The Last Judgment” it simply says this:
“God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate [or fallen] angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
“The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive the fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord [that's what Dr. Hough's statement is about, that Nate just read to you]; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
“As Christ would have us be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity; so will he have that day unknown to men, that we may shake off our carnal security, and always be watchful, because we do not know at what hour the Lord will come; and so we may ever be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Basic Bible teaching on the Final Judgment
This is one of those doctrines that is often maligned. How could someone possibly believe something like that–hard, harsh? Well, friends, in light of the incident that has just occurred in the last 48 hours at Virginia Tech, in light of what happen on September 11, 2001, in light of what happened at Columbine, in light of what happened at Nanjing, China, in light of what happened under Mao, and under Stalin, and under Lenin, and under Hitler, it's not a question of whether it is right for there to be a Judgment Day. The question is this: If there were no Judgment Day, God could not be right, because there is undeniable evil in this world that has not met a final accounting in this world. And this is our Father's world, and it is His determination that His justice and righteousness and judgment will be vindicated, and the whole world will be put to rights. This doctrine of judgment is not some peripheral harsh addendum that can be happily expunged from the Christian Scriptures; it is something at the very heart of everything that God is doing, because it is God's purpose to see evil totally expunged from the moral universe of His joyful habitation, so that for eternity He and His righteous angels and His redeemed people, and our Lord Jesus Christ who bore the brunt of His wrath against evil for us, will live forever and ever and will never encounter evil again.
The Judgment Day is absolutely necessary. It is not some peripheral thing; it is not something drudged up from the medieval memories stored deep in the recesses of our hearts. No, it's something that's right on the very face of the pages of Scripture, and as with the doctrine of hell, there is no doctrine that Jesus talked about more than this doctrine of final judgment.
Let's hear what He has to say in Matthew 24 about His returning.
Matthew 24:29-31; and then, Matthew 25:31-46. This is God's word:
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the POWERS OF THE HEAVENS WILL BE SHAKEN, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels WITH A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER HIS ELECT FROM THE FOUR WINDS, FROM ONE END OF THE SKY TO THE OTHER.”
I. All men will see Jesus when He returns.
Now I just want to say one thing about that passage. What Jesus is making unmistakably clear in that passage is it will not be possible for any human being to miss the Second Coming.
For many hundreds of years, but especially for the last 175 years, from time to time there have been various prophets and cults and sects who have claimed that Jesus has come again, but that somehow most of us missed it. You understand what Jesus is saying here. If the sun is darkened and the moon is darkened, and the stars are falling from the sky, and He is coming on clouds with glory, and the whole world sees Him, what's He saying? Nobody's going to miss this! So if somebody has to come up to you and give an argument as to why he's the messiah and he's come again, you know he's lying, because Jesus isn't going to have to sit down and give an argument to anyone: “I'm back.” What He's saying is, “Everybody is going to know that I'm back. Everybody in the world. Believer and unbeliever. There is going to be no secret return of Christ. It's going to be the most public event in the history of the world.
Now what does He say happens when He comes?
Turn over to Matthew 25:31-46:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit down on His glorious throne. And 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 His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; and I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will 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; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘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, saying, ‘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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Amen. This is God's word. May He add His blessing to it.
II. Jesus will return to establish the justice of God.
The final Judgment will demonstrate unmistakably the justice of God. Throughout Scripture the words that are used of God's final Judgment are words like wrath; indignation; anger; fury. These are not words describing an out of control deity, they are words describing the appropriate response of a righteous God to injustice, evil, and wickedness.
Were you not inwardly repulsed by the images that you saw coming out of Blacksburg in the last couple of days? Thinking of one deranged human being and the havoc that he wreaked across that whole campus, and the fear that he struck into the hearts of millions and millions of children? My children were asking questions: “Dad, is it safe for us to go to school tomorrow?” The default setting of our hearts is to have a reaction, a visceral reaction of indignation and anger, and this is the language that the Scripture uses of God's wrath on the final day. It's judicial language. It's forensic language. It's legal language. It's courtroom language. It's the anger of the righteous Judge against wickedness and evil, that which deserves to be judged. And so Judgment will demonstrate and finally vindicate the perfect justice of God.
Believers often come to me asking about what the Judgment Day will be like for them, and very honestly I often meet believers that tremble a little bit to think about the Judgment Day. It will indeed be a day of trembling, but understand that even for the believer it will be primarily a day of vindication: vindication of the believer; vindication of Christ; vindication of God.
Let's outline very quickly some of the aspects of the Judgment Day as it's taught in the Scriptures, and then let's look specifically at this passage that I've just read and see two or three things that Jesus teaches about that Judgment.
III. Who will be the Judge?
Who will be the Judge? Well, interestingly, in all Jewish literature leading up to the Gospels, who is pictured as the Judge on Judgment Day? You don't have to be Einstein to figure this out. It's God, the King. It's the Jehovah God of Israel. It's the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is going to be the Judge, and that is why it is so striking that Jesus here identifies Himself as the Judge. If you look at Matthew 25:31, it says, “When the Son of Man comes…He will sit on the glorious throne…and He will separate them from one another.” What's Jesus saying? Jesus is saying ‘I'm the Judge. I'm going to judge the nations. I am the Judge.’ You could not find a clearer testimony to the claims of Jesus to His own deity than that. He is saying, ‘Disciples, understand this. I will judge the world. I am God the King. And I will judge the world.’
IV. The redeemed will also sit with Jesus in judgment.
But who will be associated with Him in the Judgment? Well, in this very passage you see the Son of Man comes in His glory with whom? With the angels. And it's repeated over and over again in the New Testament (in Matthew 13; in Matthew 24; in Matthew 25; in I Thessalonians 1; in Revelation 14) that the angels will be associated with Jesus Christ in His Judgment.
But the Bible also makes it clear that believers will share with Christ in His Judgment. Now I mentioned this last time, and a couple of you said to me afterwards, “Oh, come on!” Well, let's just turn to your Bibles and you hear it for yourself. This is the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 6, and he's talking about believers not getting involved with lawsuits with one another where they have to go to a pagan, secular, civil judge. And he's giving arguments as to why they ought not do that, and here's one of his arguments. Look at I Corinthians 6:2:
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law court? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?”
He's saying ‘Believers, you can get together and sort this out amongst yourselves in your little congregation, because after all, at the end of time you’re going to be judging kings, nations, and angels with Jesus Christ.’ That's Paul! That's not Ligon! It's not even Charles Hodge or John Calvin or B.B. Warfield, or C.H. Spurgeon; that's Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying that you will judge with Christ in the final Judgment.
V. Who will be judged?
Who will be judged? Well, it's repeated in the New Testament that the fallen angels, those angels that fell with Satan in the beginning, will be judged. Matthew 8:29; I Peter 2:4; Jude 6 — all indicate that Satan and his assistants, the fallen angels, the demons, will be judged. But Scripture also makes it clear that all human beings who have ever lived will together appear before the great white throne of Judgment. We read in the Bible the dead, the great, and the small will all appear, and no one is excluded. The wicked and the righteous, the great and the small, the quick and the dead will all appear before the judgment throne of God. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 25:32–“All the nations will be gathered before Him…”–and Paul confirms this in Romans 14:10 and in II Corinthians 5:10.
VI. Where does judgment take place?
And where will the Judgment take place? At the great white Judgment throne. Where will that be? I don't know. I don't know. But it will be there, and the Lord Jesus Christ will be sitting on that throne.
VII. What happens at the judgment?
What will be the elements of that Judgment? Well, let me list several elements of that Judgment.
Separation. The first element of that Judgment will be separation. Here in the passage we've just read we're told that Jesus will divide or separate the world into two groups: the righteous and the wicked. Have you ever heard Adrian Rogers talk about the list that was made for the passengers on board the Titanic in New York Harbor as they began to take account of who had made it back? There were only two groups: the saved and the lost.[You can hear that resonant voice of his saying it.] That's exactly what Jesus says here. When it all boils down, we're not going to be red, yellow, black , and white; we're not going to be lower, lower-middle, middle, upper-middle, or upper class; we're not going to be anything but either the righteous or the wicked. Two groups. Two groups only. There will be a separation and Jesus will make that division, make that separation.
Sentencing. Secondly, there will be adjudication. There will be sentencing, if we can put it this way. Not only separation, but sentencing, or adjudication. In other words, this final Judgment in the separation of the world into two groups–those on the right hand and those on the left, the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the wicked–this is not going to be an arbitrary separation. In the end everybody in the world is going to have to say, ‘This judgment was fair and right.’ Even though those judged as the wicked will still hate God, they will have to acknowledge that the judgment is fair. And so it's not arbitrary. It's appropriate. It's co-ordinate with our choices and with our lives. The separation is not based upon whim, it's based upon actual lives as they have been lived. The entire life of each person, including the inmost thoughts and motives, will be brought into judgment. And so the basic decision, saved or damned, forgiven or condemned, will have its basis in justice.
Revelation. Thirdly, in addition to separation and sentencing, there will be revelation in the final Judgment. We’re told over and over in Scripture that every deed which a man has performed, every word he has spoken, every thought that he has conceived, every ambition that he has cherished, every motive that has prompted him to action or to inaction, will be laid bare.
Now before you run too far with this–because this is one of the things that scares believers on the Last Day–let me say two things. Don't miss Jesus’ point of emphasizing that. Jesus’ point of emphasizing that is, don't think that in God's courtroom there will ever be one of those tragic miscarriages of justice that from time to time in the best of legal systems happens on earth. You know, since we've uncovered these amazing capacities of DNA evidence, we have found upon occasion people who have gone through the whole process of the legal system, and it has been discovered that they were in fact not the guilty party in the case of their trial. It's not that there was some malice on the part or the prosecutors or on the part of the judge, but on the best of human justice we are fallible. And Jesus is saying to you ‘Understand that the thoughts, the motives, the intentions, and desires of the hearts of every human being will be opened up. There will be no possibility of a mistake occurring in the final Judgment.’
You know, those of you who work in prison ministry find very often that 99.9% of the people in prisons are innocent! At least they say so. You know, they’re that one case where justice was miscarried, but it's 99.9% of them. After this Judgment is over, when the heart has been opened before the world, no one–absolutely no one–will be able to make that claim. That's the first thing you need to understand. Jesus is saying this so that you will understand that God's justice is going to be openly seen to be absolutely scrupulously fair, just, right, righteous; so that even those who hate the judgment that He delivers will have to say yes, the Judge was right.
But believers, however our own hearts are uncovered on that last Day, it will all be to the praise of His glorious grace. Even should your sin be shown to the world, it will redound to the praise of His glorious grace, and you will revel in the greatness of His grace to you, despite your sin. So there will be revelation on that Last Day. Luke 12:3 speaks of this. I Corinthians 4:5 speaks of this. Revelation 20:12, when John uses that image that the books will be opened, he's just talking about the books of our lives being opened and read before the world. So, there will be separating and sentencing, and there will be revelation.
Explanation for the sentencing. But there will also be a pronounced reason for the sentencing, and we're going to see this when we come back to look at verses 34 and 36 of Matthew 25. There will be a sentence pronounced, and a reason given.In other words, God will not simply say, “Guilty!” and then move on to the next party. He’ll say, “Guilty, because…guilty of….” Everyone in the world will see the reason for the sentence pronounced.
Execution of the sentence. There will also be an execution of the sentence on the Judgment Day. Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 13. I’ll just read the passage briefly…Matthew 13:30:
“ ‘Allow them 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; and gather the wheat into my barn.’’”
In other words, there will be a carrying out, an execution of the sentences that have been pronounced.
Vindication of the redeemed. Now, sixthly, there will be vindication. There will be vindication. In fact, this is the fundamental point of the Judgment Day. God's justice will be vindicated. There will be nobody that will be able to stand up and say, ‘You are not just in my case. You have been unfair to me.’ God's justice will be universally vindicated. Secondly, Christ will be vindicated. All those who heaped aspersions on Him, all those who denied and mocked Him, will see Him vindicated before the whole world. Even the damned will be obliged to admit in their inmost being that Jesus is who He said He was, and that God is just.
But, my friends, finally, God's people will be vindicated in that Day. All those who rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone will be vindicated in that Last Day.
So this very quickly is an outline of what the Bible says in general about the Judgment Day.
The return of the Son of Man according to Jesus.
Now let's go to Matthew 25 and look in more detail, and I want to see three things with you very briefly.
Matthew 24 and 25 is a prophetic passage that deals with the end times, or to use the technical term that theologians use, eschatology. Don't be impressed when somebody throws the word eschatology around. It just means the study of the end times, or the study of the last things. It's not a big deal. But Jesus, in Matthew 25:31-46, is giving you His conclusion to this great sermon on the last things, or the end times, and He paints this picture of what is going to happen when the Son of Man comes, and I want you to see three things in particular.
If you look at Matthew 25 verses 31-33, I want you to see the context or the setting of the final judgment. At verses 34-40, I want you to see Jesus’ judgment of the righteous and their response, and then in verses 41-46, I want you to see Jesus’ judgment of the wicked and their response.
I. The context of the Judgment.
What if you were to stand before God on Judgment Day, and He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into My heaven? Why should you be given the privilege of fellowshipping with Me forever? On what basis have you been made right with Me?” What would you say? “Why should I let you into My heaven; why should you be given the privilege of fellowshipping with Me forever; on what basis have you been made right with Me?” What would you say?
I hope that you would say…not “I tried to be a good person; I tried to live a good life; I've done more good things than bad things. I went to church two or three weeks out of every month. I was a deacon. Served in Women's Guild.” I hope that you would say, “My only hope in life and death is in the precious blood of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived and died for me. Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to His cross I cling.” I hope you will say, “I am trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered in the gospel, and it is my heart's deepest desire to fellowship with my Father forever, but I know that I do not deserve it; but my Savior has redeemed me, though I do not deserve it.”
But what if God then said to you, “Well, what evidence is there that you trust in Christ for your salvation? What evidence is there that you are My child? What evidence is there that you are really a Christian? What evidence is there that there is real gospel grace in your heart?” What would you say then?
Well, that's exactly what Jesus is talking about in this passage. This is very important for you to understand, because this passage is not teaching salvation by works. There have been some who have come to this passage and they've thought that it was teaching salvation by works. I would argue, in fact, that this passage has an irrefutable argument against salvation by works, but it also has a startling warning that we will be judged according to works. How do you put those together? You’re not saved by your works, but you are judged according to works. How do you put those things together?
Well, let's look at it together very briefly.
When Jesus comes again, He will come as Judge of all. Look at Matthew 31-33:
“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 His left.”
Now notice that this picture has three aspects to it: the majestic coming of Jesus Christ with an entourage of angels in tow; second, the enthronement of Christ as a King and His assumption of the role of absolute Judge; and then, thirdly, His actual judgment, or His distinguishing, or His separation of the nations. This whole passage is designed to make it clear that Jesus is the very Son of God. Jesus is deity. Jesus is divine. The metaphor of the judge as a shepherd comes right out of the Old Testament, Ezekiel 34:17:
“‘As for you, My flock,’ thus says the Lord God, ‘behold, I will judge between one sheep and another; between the rams and the male goats.’”
And so when Jesus comes and says He is going to judge, and He is going to separate between the sheep and the goats, every Hebrew who hears Him speak this for the first time goes right back in his or her mind to Ezekiel 34:17. He knows, she knows, that Jesus is claiming to be the Lord God of Israel who is going to judge. All of us need to come to grips with Jesus’ claims to deity and to the nature of His Second Coming. He is coming as a judging king.
Jesus will judge all men and women.
Who will Jesus the King judge? Well, he makes it clear in verse 32: all peoples; all nations; everyone. What does the Apostle Paul say in II Corinthians 5:10? “All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ…. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Now it's an awesome thought, isn't it, to just think of that scene of the final judgment? But, my friends, understand that when believers look up and see that it's Jesus who is judging, their hearts will take comfort. Remember that in the Gospels we're told that when Jesus died there were two thieves with whom He was crucified. And we're told that at the beginning of the day, both of those thieves were mocking Him. But at the end of that day, we are told that one of those thieves said to Him, even rebuking the other thief for the way he was speaking to Jesus, “Remember me…remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And you remember what Jesus says to that guilty thief: “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” When that thief stands before the awesome arraignment of God, he will look up and see the One who said to him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” It is the sight of Jesus as Judge, as awesome as it will be, that will set at peace the hearts of believers. That's my Savior; that is the One that I love; that is the One who first loved me; that is the One who died for me. Believers will take comfort.
Unbelievers will tremble, because they will have rejected Him or neglected Him, but they will not have accepted Him. And at that moment it will be too late.
II. Jesus’ judgment of the righteous and their response
Now, look at verses 34-40, Jesus’ judgment of the righteous and their response. As King, Jesus makes it clear that He will reward those who trust in Him, and that His judgment will be in accordance with their lives.
Now again, in Jewish parables, in judgment parables, the King is virtually always God. Here the Judge, the King, is Jesus. It's another testimony to His deity. Those on His right are His chosen ones, those favored by the Father, given a kingdom prepared for them before time. (By the way, the fact that this kingdom was given to them, prepared for them before time, before the foundation of the world, lets you know that their reason for receiving the kingdom could not be based on their works, since it was prepared for them before time.) But notice in the passage Jesus speaks to them about having cared for the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, those who were sick, those who were in prison. Very often this passage is used to call upon Christians to show kindness to those who are hungry or thirsty, or strangers, or naked, or sick or in prison, or impoverished or oppressed in some way. I want to say two things about that. That is emphatically a Christian duty. The Bible makes it clear from beginning to end that we ought to have a concern for those who are in need. That is basic Bible theology.
But the second thing I want to say is that is actually not what Jesus is talking about here. And the clue is the phrase that He uses in verse 40: “I say to you, to the extent that you did it to the least of these brothers of Mine….” Jesus is saying that at the end of time, judgment will be based on how you treated His followers.
Let me take you all the way back to Genesis 12:1-3, when God told Abraham that he was going to be the father of the faithful, and called him out of Iraq, out of the Ur of the Chaldees, and He made him to be the father of the children of Israel and ultimately, Paul says, the father of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile, what did He say to him? That in Abraham all families of the earth would be blessed. What else did He say? Abraham, those who bless you–what?–I will bless. And those who curse you, I will curse. That's exactly what Jesus is saying. In the end those who have blessed the people of God (and who can bless the people of God but those who are the people of God?) will be vindicated. And those who curse the people of God–you can't curse the body of Christ without cursing Christ. When the Apostle Paul was persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and went up to Damascus to continue doing that persecution, and Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, what did Jesus say? “Saul, Saul. Why are you persecuting My people?” No, that's not what Jesus said. He said, “Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute Me?” Jesus is saying in the end the judgment is going to be according to whether you blessed or cursed His body, His family, His people, the people for whom He died. This is not a passage about salvation by works, although it does make it clear that you have to do more than simply say that you love and trust Jesus. There is a life that goes along with that. That's another reason why Jesus says that the heart will be opened up. On the last day, there will be nobody who is a hypocrite who has been saying he loves God, but is in fact living as if he does not, who is going to slide under the bar, under the door of the heavenly kingdom. Because our hearts will be opened up. What we really believe will be shown.
This passage emphasizes that Christian love towards Christians, and especially those in extraordinary need for their labors in Christ, will be the measure and evidence of true love for Christ, and hence salvation. It does not teach that caring for the poor in general is the way that you’re saved. If it does, we're all going to hell, because we could never possibly care enough. And I don't want in any way to diminish your zeal for doing that. That is a biblical teaching from Genesis to Revelation, that we ought to care for those who are in need: first in our own families, then in our Christian fellowship, and then among all men. We have concentric growing circles of responsibility. That's why Paul can say that if a man claims to be a Christian and doesn't take care of his own family–what? He's worse than an infidel, because he's got responsibilities in growing concentric circles as believers. I don't want to diminish that in any way. But Jesus is not speaking to that here. The good works performed by the sheep or not performed by the goats, though clearly related to the ultimate destiny of each group, are not stated to be the cause of that destiny. These good works are the evidence of who these people really are. And so this is just another reminder that a “decision” is a delusion if it is not accompanied by a life of faith and love.
It is also striking to me, my friends, that the believers are clearly not sitting around waiting to be justified by their works. When Jesus announces to them that they've done this, what is their response? “When did we do this?” If they thought salvation was by works, man, they would have had lists out! “Yeah, I certainly did! In fact, on April 12, at 1407, I did such and such for so and so.” They’d have the lists out! But the response of these sheep is “When did I do this?” That doesn't sound like somebody who's waiting to be justified, waiting to be saved by works. They’re stunned. They’re stunned.
No, you see, these true believers were loving one another because of Christ's love for them, and naturally doing that which pleases the Lord. And suddenly on the Last Day, the Lord says, ‘And by the way, your lives were beautiful to Me, because you loved one another that way not because you thought thereby you were earning your salvation, but you were expressing the salvation by grace which I gave you. Therefore you are My sheep.’
III. Third and finally, as King, Christ will condemn those who do not trust in Him and He’ll do it according to their lives.
Those on the left, whether false believers, or pagans, or idolators, first, will be commanded to depart from God's presence; second, will be sent to the same place of punishment created by God for His fallen angels; and, thirdly, will be condemned because of what they failed to do.
It's fascinating, isn't it? That the condemnation is not so much here spoken about as to what they did, but what they didn't do. That's a frightening thought, isn't it? That sins of omission are highlighted in the condemnation of those who are the goats on Jesus’ left. They failed to love lowly and needy Christians, and hence showed that they did not in fact love Christ, even if they claimed to. And here Jesus articulates the very uncomfortable and unpopular doctrine of eternal punishment.
Conclusion: The message of the Bible
So, what's the message? The message is that though salvation is by grace, our faith in Christ is always accompanied by a life of joyful, grateful, service. They always go together. We are not saved by that life, and if that were the way of salvation, no one would be saved, because even that life lived, however beautiful it may be, is imperfect. It must be covered by the blood of Christ. The very best deeds that we have ever done are shot through with sin. The very best deeds that we've ever done are shot through with sin–but the true believer always has a life that bears out faith; and the unbeliever always has a life that bears out unbelief. And in that final judgment, that life of unbelief will be definitively revealed. If we truly love the Lord Jesus, we will live lives of love because we love Christ, and because of His first love for us. If we don't find ourselves living that life of love, we need to ask ourselves first do we really love Christ. Have we trusted in Him?
The way to become a person characterized by real gospel love is to trust in Christ alone, to acknowledge our sin, to flee to Him for pardon, and then, in gratitude to love others because He first loved us.
All these things will be apparent on that great and final Day.
Let's pray, and then we’ll take some questions.
Father, our hearts do tremble when we think of the approaching Judgment, but we pray that we would live so that more and more we would find comfort at the thought that at the Last Day the same One who died for our sins, the same One who reached out to us when we ourselves were down in the muck and mire of wickedness, will be sheltering our souls, and will declare us to be His friends, His brothers, His sheep, His children, His chosen. And we will share in His vindication, though we do not deserve it. And so all the glory will be His and Yours. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.