For details of the judgement of Israel during the tribulation please refer to Precious Seed, Volume 75 issue 3. In this current article, and the following one in the series ‘What does the Bible tells us about the future?’, two specific judgements will be considered.
Taking them in chronological order, they are:
1. The judgement described in Matthew chapter 25 verses 31 to 46, this is often referred to as ‘the judgement of the living nations’.
2. The judgement presented in Revelation chapter 20 verses 11 to 15, the Great White Throne judgement.
In this article we shall focus on Matthew chapter 25, with the following article covering the Great White Throne judgement.
Because He is who He is, God has the right to judge every created being, for all are accountable to their creator.
As Abraham interceded on behalf of Sodom, he described God as being ‘the Judge of all the earth’, Gen. 18. 25. However, whilst it is God’s prerogative to be judge, the agent by whom He does the judging is His Son. In John chapter 5, the Lord Jesus said to the Jews, ‘the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son’, v. 22. For that reason, the judge in each of the judgements covered in these articles is the Son of God.
Matthew chapters 24 and 25, amongst others, are critical chapters in setting out a general chronological overview of events following the rapture of the church. Chapter 24 verses 4 to 26 cover the seven-year tribulation period and verses 27 to 30 detail the second advent of Christ to earth. According to Ezekiel chapter 20 verses 34 and 35, God is going to gather those of the nation of Israel who have survived the tribulation and assemble them in ‘the wilderness of the people’. There He will judge those people, the faithful and the unfaithful. He will bless those who have been faithful, but He will purge out ‘the rebels, and them that transgress against me’, v. 38. The New Testament commentary on those verses in Ezekiel chapter 20 is detailed for us in the two parables in Matthew chapter 25 verses 1 to 30.
With Israel having been judged, the rest of chapter 25 presents to us the judgement of the surviving peoples of the Gentile nations. Hence, it is often referred to as the ‘judgement of the living nations’. From this frequently used designation, we must not think that this judgement is a judgement on the various Gentile nations en bloc. It is a judgement on individual people irrespective of their nationality.
However, it is rightly termed the ‘judgement of the living nations’ because the ones judged are those who are alive at the time of the Lord’s return to earth. There is nothing in the passage in Matthew chapter 25 to suggest that at this point the deceased of the Gentile nations are raised to appear before the Son of man. Their day of judgement takes place over a thousand years later at the Great White Throne.
At the time of writing, the population of the world is approximately 7.8 billion people, but the number who will appear before the Son of man when this judgement takes place will be significantly less than that for several reasons. One reason is that the rapture of the church will have removed many living people from this world, at least seven years before this judgement. Another reason is, as just noted, there will be no Jews present; this is a judgement on the Gentiles not the Jews.
However, there are two other significant factors which will have drastically reduced the world population. First, this event takes place at the close of the tribulation. During those troublesome years there will be a huge loss of life through wars, murders, starvation, natural disasters, and other cataclysmic events. Such is the devastation and depopulation that will take place during those years that the Lord said, ‘except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved’, Matt. 24. 22.
Secondly, the so called ‘Battle of Armageddon’ will have taken place, what the Bible describes as being ‘the battle of that great day of God Almighty’, Rev. 16. 14. In equally graphic terms, it is referred to a few chapters later as being ‘the supper of the great God’, 19. 17. In fulfilment of Psalm 2, the armies of the world will be gathered together with the intention of freeing themselves from all divine restraint, but however massive an army and no matter how sophisticated an arsenal men can assemble, they shall be totally routed. None of that vast militia will survive and, therefore, none of them will be present at the judgement we are considering.
How many will be judged we do not know, but the prophecy of Joel tells us who will be there and where the judgement will take place, ‘I will also gather all the nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there on account of my people and mine inheritance, Israel’, Joel 3. 2 JND.
The precise location of this valley may not be known, with several suggestions being made by commentators. We are on safe ground for stating that it will be in the land of Israel for that is the place to which Christ will return, but beyond that it is not possible to be dogmatic. Pentecost makes an interesting observation in his book Things to Come. He refers the reader to Zechariah chapter 14 verse 4 and writes that when the Lord returns to ‘the mount of Olives a great valley shall be opened. A valley that is not in existence today shall come into being at the time of the second advent. Since the name Jehoshaphat means “Jehovah judges” it may be that the newly opened valley outside Jerusalem will bear that name because of the momentous event to transpire there’.1
At the Great White Throne, men will be judged according to their works and the reason for their being present at that assize is that they will not be found written in the book of life. Following that judgement, all, without exception, who appear there will be cast into the lake of fire. At the judgement detailed in Matthew 25, there are those who, following their appearance before the King, shall be blessed and will ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’, v. 34. Others will be told, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’, v. 41.
These two groups are segregated, in a manner similar to what pertained in the east when a shepherd would separate his sheep from the goats. Those who are viewed under the metaphor of sheep will be placed on the right-hand of the Son of man, the right hand being the place of blessing and favour. Those likened to goats will be on the left and, thus separated, those two groups of people will be eternally separated.
The basis for this segregation is clearly stated for us in verses 40 and 45. To those on His right, the King will say, ‘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’, v. 40. To those on His left, He will say, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me’, v. 45. Those described as being ‘the least of these my brethren’ are those Jews who throughout the tribulation will not succumb to the deceit of the false prophet and the man of sin. They will refuse the mark of the beast and consequently they will not be able to buy or sell.
This faithful Jewish remnant will be in penury, not knowing where their next meal will come from. In their distress they will cry out, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, Matt. 6. 11. Those Gentiles who will help them, as described in verses 35 and 36, will, by their kindness, be demonstrating that they too are not followers of the beast but will have embraced the gospel of the Kingdom and have been converted. Equally, the converse will be the case with those who will refuse to assist the beleaguered Jews.
It is important that we understand that the blessings of these good Gentiles and their entrance into the millennial kingdom was not a salvation based on works. Their works were but a confirmation that they were ‘saved’, for they are described in verse 46 as being ‘righteous’. This is the truth that James emphasizes in his Epistle, ‘What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone’, Jas. 2. 14-17.
There are at least two very significant consequences resulting from this judgement. Those who are likened to goats are cursed and will be condemned to ‘everlasting fire’, v. 41, and will be banished into ‘everlasting punishment’, v. 46. The sentence imposed on these people is eternal suffering not eternal annihilation. These, therefore, will not appear at the Great White Throne, for their everlasting punishment will have already been handed down.
The other consequence is that when the millennial kingdom commences, which it does immediately after this judgement, it will be entirely comprised of redeemed and, hence, righteous people. Not one unbeliever will enter it, so that at its inception, the millennial earth will be populated exclusively by those who have been born again, thus proving what the Lord said to Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’, John 3. 3.
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