Story 174: Passion Week: Christ on the Judgment Seat

Matthew 25:31-46

The sun sets over Jerusalem

The view of the sun setting over modern day Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives with His disciples. He had journeyed with them to Jerusalem for what would turn into the last week of His life on earth. Now they sat on the Mount, looking out over the City of David. The grounds of the great Temple lay before them with a small valley between. Somewhere in the distance was Golgotha…it was another hill, the one upon which Christ would be crucified.

As Christ sat with His men, He taught them new insights about the Kingdom of Heaven. They were learning all about the end of time and hearing parables of  how God wanted them to wait for Christ’s return. Part of this expectant waiting included using the gifts and talents God had given them to the best of their ability…trusting in God’s gracious reward.

The next parable Jesus would tell was also about the future. Jesus explained how He will be coming to judge the people of earth. He will know who truly belongs to Him by how they chose to live their lives. This is how He described it to His disciples:

“‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.’”

This is just the beginning of Jesus’ parable…but imagine it.

When Jesus uses the title “Son of Man” to describe Himself, He is referring to Daniel 7:13-14. The prophet Daniel describes a vision the Lord gave him of future events. He said, “‘…there was One before me like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’” Wow.

This passage from Daniel was famous during the time of Christ. When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, His disciples would have known exactly what He meant. This was the epic, mysterious figure of the Old Testament. He was no ordinary human. He would literally come on the clouds. In the Bible, the coming of clouds is a sign of the presence of God. Imagine the angels in their millions, surrounding Him with overwhelming, everlasting joy. Imagine the Lord of glory taking His throne. These ideas were not merely a story for the Jews…these were the images that filled their minds, were central in their discussions, and explained their future hope. When Jesus implied that He was the Son of Man, He was either telling a magnificent Truth or an outrageous lie. We cannot try to play a middle ground here. He is either a liar or the Lord of all.

If Jesus was telling the truth, and many multiple millions believe He was, then the beginning of this story is a cue that we are talking about a real event that will happen at the end of time. It is the time when Christ will judge humanity. This is how Jesus described it:

Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on His left.’”

We know, of course, that in the Bible, the things put at the right hand of God are things that have His love and favor. The things at His left hand are things He is not happy with at all. What had the goats done to be on the right side? What had the sheep done to be on the left? This is what Jesus said:

“‘Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For 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, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Matthew 25:34-36

Wow. There is a lot of information in this paragraph. God has been preparing a Kingdom for His beloved followers, His sheep, since the foundation of the world. We can see by Jesus’ descriptions that the sheep had done a lot of beautiful, compassionate things. But in the story, the sheep were confused. They had done a lot of the things that Jesus described, but they had never done them for the King Himself. So they asked Him some questions:

“‘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 visit you?’ The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to You, as You did it to one of the least of these My brothers, You did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

Wow. What a beautiful King! What a wonderful heart! This King so loved His people that He called them brothers. He loved them so much that He paid close attention to who was hurting or in prison or hungry, and rejoiced when one of His own helped them somehow. He remembered their kindness as if they had done it for Him, and He kept track so He could reward them. When we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is the same as doing it for the King of Heaven! Every act of kindness will bring us blessings at the end of time.

But not everyone who calls him or herself a follower of Christ will spend their lives for Him. In this story, they are the goats. This is what Jesus said about them:

“‘Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

The goats had made choices that were the exact opposite from those of the sheep. In their daily choices, they ignored the needs of the poor, neglected to help the hungry and the sick, and refused to visit those in prison. The activities that Jesus esteemed of greatest value were not on the “To Do” list of their lives…and it would say a great deal about their hearts. This is how they responded in the story:

Then they 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 minister to You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as 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.’”

Matthew 25:41-46

These words should be very sobering for all of us. How do we spend our time? What are our priorities? These words do not need to be words of despair or condemnation. The reason Jesus told them was to offer all of us…His disciples and every follower that would come after them…a signpost for how to honor Him with our lives. It isn’t about achieving great power or prestige…though He may call some of His followers to such roles. The central thing…the activities that bless the heart of the Master…are the choices of compassion where we choose to show His kindness those who have been most burdened and broken by the wages of the Curse.

If you think about it, this should be obvious. When Jesus came to earth, what did He spend all of His time doing? He healed the sick, made the lame walk, and freed people from their demonic bondage. These beautiful miracles were a display of the world God wanted for us…a world where there was no suffering or shame…the world He plans to bring us to at the end of time. As we wait for Him, we are to join that beautiful work that Christ began.

These were Christ’s words to His disciples in His great lesson preparing them for what their lives were to be as they served Him on earth. The way they showed their love for those who were vulnerable and hurting was a direct way to show their love for Him. This is the business of God’s Kingdom. This is what the ten virgins and the men with the talents were supposed to be about (see Story 173)…and what we are all called to as we wait for His return.

 

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