If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 25. We come today to the last of a series of studies in the Lord Jesus’ teachings on the end times in Matthew 24 and 25. It’s become very apparent in the last several passages that we’ve looked at that Jesus emphasizes that faithfulness it He way that we are prepared for His coming. But He also raises the possibility that there may be some people who think they are His disciples who are not, in fact, faithful. Of course, He warns all those who are not his disciples that they should not think that they are ready for the day of His coming; but instead should prepare now by trusting in Him, and by faithfulness that they may be ready when the day comes. Because when the day comes, it will be too late, as we saw in the story of the ten bridesmaids. And so today we come to this concluding section. When Jesus brings this sermon to conclusion, He brings it to an emphatic close. So let’s hear God’s word attentively in Matthew 25, beginning in verse 31. This is the word of God:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne; and all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherds separate the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on His right and His goats on the 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, you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, you gave Me something to 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 clothed 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 also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, a cursed one, into an 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.’ And 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?’ And 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 for Me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Our Lord and our God, we ask this day that You would open our eyes, that we might be encouraged by this encouragement and warned by this warning from the lips of our Lord Jesus. I pray, O Lord, if there is even one in this place today who has not embraced the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation as He has offered in the gospel; that by the spirit You would open our eyes that they might see clearly this word of truth, for all of us, O Lord, we pray that You would deal with our hearts, even as we study Your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Suppose on the judgment day you were to stand before God, and He were to say to you, “Why should I let you in to My Heaven?’ And suppose you were to give a wonderful, theologically correct answer. “Well, because I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for my salvation, as He has been offered in the gospel.” And supposed the Lord were to say to you in response. “Okay, let Me ask another question. What evidence is there that you really believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and love Him with all your heart and soul and strength.” What would you say? The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking in this passage of precisely that issue. In this passage, He is speaking about the evidence of a true believer, and the evidence of a false believer. For on the last day, He warns, there will be three categories of people. There will be those who have truly believed on Him and walked in His way. And then there will be those who profess to be His disciples, but were not. And there will be those who never professed to be His disciples, and they didn’t think it was that important. And both of those latter categories are going to find themselves condemned, because ultimately, in the final aside, all will be counted as saved or lost. And He’s speaking especially to those latter two categories in this passage. Whether they be people who profess to be the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s disciples, and yet denied that by their lies. Or whether they were those who persecuted His disciples and thought they were going to get by with it. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of His coming in glory in order to show all men what they may expect in the day of His coming.
And my friend, this passage before you today contains both an irrefutable argument against salvation by works, and at the same time a startling warning that we will all be judged by works. Yes, I said what I meant to say. This passages contains for us an irrefutable argument against salvation by works, and it also teaches us that we will all be judged by works. Jesus taught both of those without apology.
Look at the passage before you. I see three sections to it, and in verses 31 through 33, you’ll see the context of the final judgment set by the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 34 through 40 you will see Jesus’ account of what he’s going to say to His people on the last day. And you’ll also see what He’s going to say to His people on the last day. And you also see what they’re going to say back to Him when He says back to them after they’ve replied. And then in verses 41 to the end of the chapter, you’re going to see what Jesus is going to say to those who either claim to be His disciples, but were not truly, or those who never claimed to be His disciples at all. You’re going to see what he says to those on His left. And you’re going to see what He says back to them, and then you’re going to see how He responds back to Him. These are the three sections of the passage. I’d like to look at them with you.
I. The scene of the final judgment.
First, look at verses 31 through 33. In this passage, Jesus gives us a context. He gives us a setting of the scene of the final judgment. And He teaches us something very important. He teaches that when He comes again, He will come again not as a humble and humiliated Savior, but He will come and judge us all. When Christ comes again, He will come as Judge of all. Now this whole message which Jesus gives us in this passage has much symbolic language, but it is not a parable like the parables that has gone before it. Jesus is describing for us what is really going to happen at His glorious appearing. And in this section, in verses 31 and 32, He shows us three parts or aspects of the picture of final judgment.
First of all, He shows us His majestic coming. His coming is going to be so filled with glory, it’s going to so filled with majesty that the angels are going to be in tow. Secondly, He tells us that He is going to be enthroned as King, and He is going to assume the role of absolute judge. Don’t mistake that testimony to His deity. The Lord Jesus Christ was saying, “I am going to be King of the universe in that last day, and I’m going to judge the heaven and earth. I’m going to judge the world.” And then finally He gives us a picture of His actual judgment, His distinguishing of the nature, His separating of the righteous and unrighteous. The description here of Jesus’ absolute authority fits perfectly the picture that the Old Testament prophets give us of how God will judge in the last day.
Don’t miss what Jesus is doing and saying here. Jesus is saying, “I am divine. And it has been given to Me by God, My Father, to judge the world. That responsibility has been entrusted into My hands because I have fulfilled My role as the Mediator between God and His people. I will be appointed as the Judge of the world.” This is an unmistakable testimony to Jesus’ deity. If the Pharisees and the scribes had been there when Jesus was speaking these words, they would have immediately torn their robes and accused Him of blasphemy. Because what He is doing is claiming equality with God. He’s claiming divinity. No matter what you thought of the trial or of its outcome, if you caught a glimpse of it on C-Span, to see the Senate in session with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court refereeing as they stood in judgment of the leader of the free world. You had to think, this is an awesome thing. If you caught a glimpse of that impeachment trial, no matter what you thought of the trial itself, no matter what you thought of the outcome, to think that the leader of the free world was being arraigned before the bar of justice surely sent a few shutters down your spine. The Lord Jesus is saying that all the leaders of the world, and all the members of their nations are going to be arraigned before Me, and I am going to administer justice. And I’m going to punish the wicked, and I’m going to reward the righteous. The Lord Jesus Christ is claiming to be the judge of all.
The background of the symbolism that He uses, the sheep and the goats is, of course, from the practice of Palestinian shepherds. The Palestinian shepherds at night would separate their sheep from and their goats. The sheep liked to be in the open countryside, but the goats liked to be warm. So the goats were brought in. The sheep would be left in the field. Furthermore, we know from stories around the time of the Lord Jesus Christ that sheep had often been used to speak of something that was good, and goats were often used as a portent of trouble. I don’t know if that’s because of their personality, or what, but that’s the way they were used in common literature. And so the Lord Jesus is saying, “I’m going to separate, at the end, the sheep and the goats,” using them as a sign for the symbol for the righteous and the unrighteous.
But of course the metaphor of Jesus as the judge, as the shepherd, comes right out of the Old Testament. It comes from Ezekiel, chapter 34, verse 17. You may want to turn with me there. Jesus is drawing right from the prophesy of Ezekiel something that he said God would do in the last day. In Ezekiel 34, verse 17 we read as, “For you, my flock, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another between the ram and the goat.’” The Lord Jesus is appealing to that story, and He’s saying to His disciples, “You know, you were looking for My glorious coming. You’re right. My coming is going to be glorious, and I am going to be the One to separate the sheep from the goats. I am the One about whom Ezekiel was prophesying by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
And we must all come to grips with this claim of deity by the Lord Jesus Christ and by the nature of His second coming. When He comes again, He is not coming in a state of humiliation. He will not come a second time as the suffering servant. He comes as the judging King of the world. And we must not miss the bluntness of Jesus’ claim. Jesus’ claim to divinity is unmistakable here.
I was reading just this past week in Bishop’s Spong’s little book about why Christianity must change or die. Don’t write it down, you don’t need to read it. Now Bishop Spong assures us that we need to do away with this idea of Jesus as divine, Jesus as the God Man, Jesus as Deity. This is a primitive idea encrusted upon layers of fiction by people in the church, probably never thought of so many centuries after Christ, but it’s something the church needs to do away with. We need to do away with. We need to think of Jesus no longer as divine, no longer as a rescuer, but more as the spirit person. Been reading too much Tillich, or too much Bishop Spong? The word “Jesus” makes it very clear who He is.
I’m reminded when we think of Bishop Spong in another Christian setting. He said, “You know, a person who can look at the New Testament and miss the claim to Jesus’ divinity is like the person who can look at the noonday sky on a cloudless day and not see the sun. It’s crystal clear, and it’s clear here that Jesus is claiming to be the God who is the King of the universe who is going to judge the world. Now we may either accept that or reject that, but we cannot trifle with it. And the Lord Jesus tells us here that He is going to judge everyone. All peoples, all nations. He’s going to parallel this, by the way, in Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19 with a call to the disciples to go to all the nations. But the apostle Paul will pick up on this in II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 10 when he says, “All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
I want you to pause and think for just a minute friends, just how incredibly encouraging that theme is going to be for believers. It’s an awesome thing to think isn’t it? That Jesus is judge of the universe. And we tremble a little bit when we think about that judgment day and the great assize. I want you to understand that for believers this is going to be the ultimate consolation. You’re going to be standing there before the arraigned hosts of heaven, and the people who have dwelt the earth in all of time, and you’re going to be standing for the judgment day; and you’re going to look up there and the one who is going to be accounted with the job of judging is going to be the one who loved you so much that He died for your sins. Then you’re going to breathe a sigh of relief, and you’re going to say, “This court is stacked. My Judge is my Savior.” And it is going to be the almost incredibly consoling experience that you’ve ever experienced.
But for the unbeliever, for the false believer, for the unbeliever, it is going to be the most terrifying day in their life. And the thought is going to cross their minds which is never going to leave it. And that thought is going to be, “The one who is up there as the Judge, is the one that I wanted all my friends to believed that I loved, but I really didn’t.” Or, it’s going to be, “The one who is up there as my Judge is the one who I mock, not only in the days of my youth but in all the days of my life.” Or, it’s going to be, “The one who is up there as Judge is the one whom I said to my friends who are Christians, ‘Well, that’s fine. You worship God in your way, I’ll worship Him in mine. All roads lead up the mountain. It really doesn’t matter whether you embrace Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. We’ll all get there anyway.’” And suddenly you are looking up there, and the one who is the judge is the one who you are indifferent to. And the terrifying thought is going to cross your mind. I’m in trouble. And it’s going to be too late. Let me say this. That thought is never going to leave your mind. Never going to leave your mind. For eternity that thought will cycle in your mind.
You see that last day we stand, and we see the Lord Jesus as Judge. Well, believer, what a consolation that is going to be. For everyone who is not embraced, what a consternation that is going to be, an eternal consternation. For the Lord Jesus sets before us the grand truth, and we must come to grips with it. We cannot trifle with it. We cannot be on the fence about this. We are either for it, or we are against. We either embrace it, or we don’t. It’s that simple.
II. Jesus describes the judgment of the righteous.
And so Jesus goes on to say what He’s going to say to His comforted disciples on those last days. You see it in verses 34 through 40, as He describes His judgment of the righteous. And He describes the righteous’ response to Him, and then He describes His response to the righteous. In Jewish parables, the King was always God, but in this passage the King is clearly the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, The King is going to say what?” “Come, you who are blessed of My Father.” Clearly the King here is Jesus. Again, this is a claim to divinity, which cannot be missed. And He says of those on the right, His chosen ones, He says three things about them: “They are favored of God, the Father. Come you who are blessed of My Father.”
Secondly, He says that they are given a kingdom prepared for them before time. Now, by the way, we’ll see this in just a minute. By saying this, Jesus is making clear that salvation is not by works. Think about it for just a minute. They are going to be given a kingdom prepared for them before time. Now you’re saying that they’re work brought about their entrance in that king? But the kingdom was prepared for them before they existed? Explain that to me. We’ll come back to that in a minute. But you see here that in that very phrase, “Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world is proof that salvation cannot be by works.
And then he says, interestingly, that their kindness to persecuted messengers of the Lord Jesus Christ, to lonely Christians, to Christians who were different than they, had less than they, were in difficulty. That their kindness is the evidence of true love for Christ. And so they are adjudged righteous in accordance with how they have treated lowly Christians who are hungry, or who are thirsty, or who are naked, or who are in trouble. They will be judged according to their neighbor love for Christians in need. Now note this passage does not speak of salvation by works. Two ways we see that truth. First, God favors these people before the foundation of the world, before they existed, and, therefore, before they’ve done any work. So salvation can’t be based on their work.
Secondly, if these righteous ones on Jesus right-hand side had thought that salvation was by works, and when Jesus had started listing off the things that they had done for Him, they would have had their list ready. Oh right, Lord, and we’ve done some more, too. But He said they seemed to be totally oblivious to the things that they’ve done. The Lord Jesus tells them that there are some things that they’ve done, and they go, “When did we do that?” If they were working their way to heaven, they would have had their list ready.
“Lord, the reason You ought to let me into my heaven is I’ve been a good person, I’ve done good things, I’ve done this, I’ve done that.” But Jesus says, “Look at these wonderful things you have done.” And they go, “When did we do that?” These people are not theological bean counters, who are trying to earn their way to heaven through individual deeds and are thinking about it all the time, and are trying to do some deeds so that God will love them. That is not what that means. These people simply love, they love the Lord Jesus Christ, and because they love the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Lord Jesus loved them, they love His people. They practically ministered to these people because they love the Lord Jesus Christ, because they love Him, they love His people. And consequently they have lived lives of neighbor love toward Christians in need because they love the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord Jesus says your lives are the measure of your love for Me.
This passage emphasizes that Christian love towards Christians is the measure and evidence of true love for Christ, and hence salvation. And more specifically, this passage says that love for Christians who are in a special need is a measure of our love for the Lord Jesus Christ. By the way in passing, this passage does not teach that by caring for the poor we earn salvation. There are lots of people out there who’d like to tell us that. Build a house for the poor, give money to the poor, go get saved. They are in for a big surprise on the judgment day. Now, I want to say very, very clearly that the Lord Jesus does instruct us in other places to care for the poor. We’re going to see a passage that shows in just a few weeks how deeply that seeking of Jesus has impacted His own disciples.
But in this passage He’s not talking about generic care for the poor. Jesus is talking about caring for persecuted messengers of the Lord Jesus Christ and for lonely Christians. In other words He’s saying to Christians, the way you relate to Christians in need is going to be the basis on which I show the evidence of your true love for Me. And He’s saying to non-Christians, the way you have mistreated or treated those who are My servants is going to be evidence against you on judgment day. As Don Carson says, “The good works performed by the sheep are not performed by the goats.” Both clearly related to the ultimate destiny of each group are not stated to be the cause of that destiny. But rather, those good works are the evidence of who these people really are.
My friends, a decision for Christ, hear me out, a decision for Christ is a delusion which is not accompanied by a life of faith and love. Salvation is not a one-time fire insurance policy that you buy and put aside. A decision for Christ is a delusion which is not accompanied by a life of faith and love. And we have here another reminder of why the judgment day is going to be a joy for true Christians, but we also see what a serious exhortation that the Lord Jesus is going to give. These believers that the Lord Jesus speaks about in this story are not people who are sitting around doing good work hoping God will accept them because of those good works. No, they are true believers who are merely loving one another because of Christ’s love for them, and thus they are naturally doing that which pleases the Lord. But if we are not loving the brethren, especially those who are in need in the service of Christ, we are showing the marks of hypocrisy, we are showing the marks of goats.
Now I want you to ask yourself. Do you embrace believers in need? I’m not just thinking of financial need. I’m thinking of believers in other kinds of need. Needs that make us uncomfortable. Do you embrace them? Or is the reason that you embrace the Christians of this congregation is because of the social connections you have with them, for the family connections that you have with them. Or the fact that you grew up with them. Do you embrace them for gospel reasons? The reasons that these people who sit around you, the reasons that they are precious to you, because they have been blood bought by the Lord Jesus Christ; and though you have very few things in common with them, you still love them, and you minister to them because they are Christians, not because of any other superficial reason.
I had a friend who was ministering in another congregation in another state. It was a large affluent congregation, and under the ministry under which she was sitting, the minister began preaching the gospel, and people of all sorts began to come to that church. In the process she had the opportunity to minister to all types of people. She was ministering, for instance, one time, in the context of a Bible study to many young women who had grown up in the church, who had made a profession of faith when they went to a Communicants’ Class, and went before the congregation when they were twelve or thirteen years old, and yet they had lived like pagans. They had done everything under the sun that you can imagine. They had lived promiscuous lives in their sexual practice. They had been involved in drugs and alcohol abuse. They had had abortions. Some of them had lived homosexual lifestyles, and suddenly here’s this very nice, southern girl, ministering to this group of women who had done things that she had never even thought about. Here she is doing a Bible study with them. She said to me, “You know, when I started to meet for Bible study with those women, I didn’t even like some of them. I couldn’t relate to some of the things they had done. And yet, the longer that I met with them, the more I loved them.” In fact, there was one in particular that she didn’t like at all, and that person became one of her closest friends. But the basis of that friendship was not because of the wonderful things they had in common; they had the same pattern of china, they went to the same day school, they loved one another because of gospel love. She had the love the Lord Jesus Christ for herself, and, therefore, she loved those people if those people were not the people she would have chosen to hang out with. Is that the kind of love we have? Are we ready to extend that kind of love to another Christian who is struggling with a sin that we don’t find particularly easy or comfortable to be around? The Lord Jesus said that on the last day, “That’s how I’m going to judge those who really love Me or not. Their lives will show love for the brethren, because they loved me.”
And then Jesus speaks to those on His left. On the left are those who are false believers, those who are unbelievers, and again they seek three things. They are commanded to depart from God’s presence. They didn’t want God’s presence in life, they didn’t want to fellowship with Him forever. Depart from Me. Secondly, they are sent to the same place of punishment created by God for the devil and his fallen angels. It shows us a picture of just how serious God takes sin.
Some people might say, “I never outright denied the deity of Christ, I never denied Christian doctrine.” It doesn’t matter. You didn’t embrace Him. “I never did some horrible crime. I never murdered or committed adultery. I never stole or cheated. I never did those things.” It doesn’t matter. You did not love the brethren. The Lord Jesus is showing just how serious it is not to love the brethren. Isn’t it interesting that what He is accusing them of in the passage is not the sin of commission, it’s the sin of omission. He's not saying, on last day, I’m really going to nail to the wall all those people who have done super, horrible crimes. You know, those crimes which are really offenses to good, moral people. He says, “Those will be judged and condemned and cast out, who do not love the brethren, the least of these, my brethren.”
And notice they are condemned because of what they failed to do as much as for what they did wrong. We must note that sins of omission are highlighted in the condemnation of those on Jesus’ left. They failed to love lowly and needy Christians, and hence, they show that in fact they did not love Jesus Christ.
One way that we know the that a person loves the Lord Jesus Christ is that person has a love for Christians, for all Christians, especially those that God puts right under our noses; and especially in their time of need, even if we are uncomfortable with them, even if we don’t have the same background as they have, even if they are struggling with problems that make us uncomfortable. The importance, my friend, of Jesus’ word is that we evaluate our Christian friendships on this basis. Are our friendships in this congregation and elsewhere based upon social networks or mutual backgrounds or mutual interests, or are they based on the gospel? Is the basis of our connection with one another the gospel so that people who are utterly different, truly love one another?
One of the most beautiful testimonies of this came last week at a conference at Trinity Presbyterian Church when Mark Dever spoke about seeing Christian growth in the lives of his congregation. His congregation is very divided in terms of age groups. Everybody is either over eighty, or under forty. He said, “I knew that the gospel was getting through to these people when I saw twenty-seven year olds attending funerals of eighty-five year olds with whom they had absolutely nothing in common, and very little interaction. But, they loved one another because they both loved Christ, and they had experienced the love of Christ. And, therefore, the death of those saints was not only precious in the sight of the Lord, it was precious in the sight of the twenty-seven year old saint.
Do we have that kind of gospel love for one another? The Lord Jesus says that the last day He will judge according to that. Augustine said 1600 years ago, “The one who is ready for the coming of the Lord is not the one who says, ‘It’s far away.’ The one who’s ready for the coming of the Lord is not the one who says, ‘It is near.’ The one who is ready for the coming of the Lord is the one who lives his life with sincere faith and steadfast hope and fervent love for His brother.”
Let us pray.