Judgment at Jerusalem

by David Allen Lewis

The judgment of the sheep and the goats has long been a source of intrigue to theologians and Bible students. Misappropriation of this important passage of Scripture leads to doctrinal fantasies that affect the quality of one's eschatological views concerning the end of this age. On the other hand, a clear understanding of Matthew 24:31-46 has a most salutatory effect on our appreciation of our position in Christ as well as giving us answers to some of the most intriguing questions presented to our minds as we approach the time of the Lord's Coming.

Some of the things that we will try to answer in this essay are:

1. When does the judgment take place in relation to other prophetic events?

2. Who are the nations: the sheep and the goats?

3. What does the outcome of this judgment show us?

4. Who are the Shepherd-King's (Christ's) brethren (the recipients of good deeds)?

5. Is this a parable or a prophecy?

6. What comes after this event?

The Revelation of the Son of Man

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Matthew 24:31).

This passage does not describe the rapture of the church nor does it describe the great White Throne Judgment. It refers to the visible second coming of Jesus Christ which takes place at the end of the 70th week, designated as the tribulation. The judgment of the sheep and goats takes place at the end of the tribulation to determine who of earth's natural folk will be allowed to enter the millennium to rebuild the earth after the calamitous ruin of the wars and plagues of the great tribulation. The sheep are the people who will repopulate the planet during the visibly manifested kingdom of God of 1,000 years duration.

The Nations

"And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 24:32).

It is singularly important at this juncture that we identify what is meant by nations (Gr. ethnos). It is the conclusion of this author that nations, as such, are not referred to in this passage of Scripture. The Greek word ethnos is used in the New Testament 164 times. The word is translated variously as follows: "Gentiles" 93 times; "nations" 64 times; "heathen" 5 times; "people" 2 times. In general, the term "nations" is commonly used to describe the human race.

In addition, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew equivalent of ethnos (goyim) is translated into the word "nation" 374 times; "heathen" 143; "Gentiles" 30; and "people" 11. We will demonstrate in the exposition of this text that the word is used here, not as the general concept of nations, but rather as people. So we would understand the meaning of verse 32 to be: "And before him shall be gathered all people comprising the nations of this world." One can only conclude that it is individual people and not whole nations that are being judged.

Blessed Sheep

"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:33, 34).

One thing is sure: No one will inherit the kingdom and everlasting life because he is a Norwegian, a Scot or an African. By the same token, no one will be sent to hell because of a national identity. God does not have two ways of salvation. People are saved not by works, but by the grace of God through the redeeming work of Calvary.

The sheep on His right hand are those individuals who are saved as a result of the witness of the 144,000, and comprise a company of people so vast that no man can number them. See the seventh chapter of Revelation.

Obviously the antichrist will murder many who resist him, but the beast is not as powerful as some have thought him to be. Many new post-rapture tribulation believers will escape out of his hand. These new believers are the sheep in this future judgment. The sheep receive salvation, not because of their national identity, but because they will receive Christ as their personal Savior. Their good deeds are a product of their transformed hearts. Salvation is not a reward for good deeds.

Christ's Distressed Brethren - Hungry, Thirsty, Naked, Sick, in Jail

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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 (Matthew 25:35-40).

In the traditional mode of interpretation in this fascinating passage, the sheep and goat nations are generally identified as literal nations. We think that seeing the sheep and goats not as national entities but as the individuals who comprise the nations is much more reasonable and in line with the context of the entire Bible. Thus the sheep are those people who treated Christ's brethren with mercy and true Christian charity.

Tribulation Brethren of Our Lord, the King

Christ's "brethren" refers to the 144,000 Israelites, 12,000 from every tribe of Israel, a mighty company of tribulation witnesses for the Lord. The post-rapture converts from all the Gentile nations will react with goodwill and kindness to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. This is a natural reaction, amplified by the Holy Spirit's anointing and guidance upon the new believers.

The reason we identify Christ's brethren primarily as Jews will be apparent. The only recognizable human groups on earth during the tribulation are:

1. Israelites, including 144,000 Jewish preachers of the Gospel. Scripture regards all of Israel to be Christ's brethren according to the flesh. (See Romans 9:3-5.)

2. The tribulation-time Gentile converts. Saint Paul describes born-again people as former Gentiles. (See 1 Corinthians 12:2, Ephesians 2:11-12.)

The goyim, or unsaved, pagan Gentiles. Only people in categories one and two could ever qualify as Jesus' brethren. Never, in any age, would unbelieving pagan goyim be thought of as Christ's brethren.

Salvation by Nationality? By Works?

This entire account of the judgment of the sheep and goats proposes a problem as it is normally translated in our English Bibles. On the surface, it seems that the passage teaches that salvation is received because of national identity (sheep nations), through good works.

Even more distressing is the idea that people who are part of a goat nation are damned to eternal hell because of their nationality and because everyone in that goat nation has neglected the works spoken of by the Son of Man who sits upon the throne.

Salvation by Faith

Nothing could be further from the truth. To think that salvation comes by any means other than God's merciful grace through faith is not recognizable as being a Biblical teaching. It is absolutely grotesque!

St. Paul teaches, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Works Are Important, Too

The great apostle of faith advocates our premise exactly. The phrase, "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," can be applied to Jesus' teaching in the prophecy of Matthew chapter 25 regarding the sheep and goats. The people who will treat Christ's brethren with kindness do so because they are saved. It is not the reverse, to wit, they are not saved by their mitzvot (good deeds).

Doomed Goats

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me (Matthew 25:41-45).

Entire Nations In Hell?

At this juncture we note again that one is not damned because of his nationality, so it is individuals and not entire nations that are being judged. If the traditional mode of interpretation were followed, we would have entire nations being cast into hell with individuals having no opportunity to accept or reject Christ.

Serious Consequences

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).

This is no parable. It is a prophecy of definite future events! Verse 46 powerfully drives home the fact that this passage is set in a post- tribulation scenario in which Jesus judges the people of planet earth. Every living person on earth at the end of the tribulation is sent into hell, or is granted entry into the millennial kingdom, saved forever.

The subjects of the judgment are twofold. First of all, there are the goats that are damned for eternity. This damnation results from a rejection of God's plan of salvation. They are incorrigible rebels who have slavishly followed the beast, have received his mark and worshiped his image. Their neglect of good deeds is a testimony of their hatred for the chosen people, the Jewish nation, and it reflects the unredeemed condition of their souls. No one is damned because of his or her national identity.

The second group is the sheep, representing those who will be saved in the tribulation and who survive the wrath of the antichrist. These survivors stand as redeemed individuals before the Judge and are rewarded with entrance to the kingdom because they accepted Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. Their good deeds are displayed as evidence that they truly know Jesus as their Savior.

Millennium after the Judgment

The tribulation-redeemed people (who survive martyrdom) will be subjects of Christ's kingdom during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

The millennium, however, is an idyllic age, not a perfect age. There will be occurrences of sin, rebellion, death and punishment (Zechariah 10

You may wonder how saved people, living in the millennium under the reign of Jesus Himself could possibly become rebels? After all, was not their reward eternal life (verse 46)? The answer is very simple. They cannot and will not rebel.

The original earthlings who are allowed entrance into the millennial kingdom are all saved people. They are saved after the rapture of the church. They hide from the antichrist and are not beheaded by the henchmen of the beast. They stand in the judgment when everyone living on earth at the end of the tribulation will be called before the judgment throne.

How Can It Be?

The sheep people who enter the millennium may be few in number. Having passed the test in the Matthew 25 judgment, they have eternal life and cannot and will not rebel against Jesus but they will have children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Ideal living conditions characterize the earthly kingdom. Poverty and hunger are a thing of the past. There will be no wars. Under this umbrella of physical grace, the population could easily reach 20 billion in 1,000 years.

Those born in the millennium will hear the preaching of the Gospel and must decide whether or not to accept Jesus as Savior. Even under the wonderful conditions on planet earth when no one will be hungry and there will be more than adequate housing for everyone, when wild animals will be tame and peace prevails everywhere, Jesus has to rule with an iron scepter to keep order (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 12:5; 19:15).

"Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed" (Isaiah 65:20 NIV). A thousand years' worth of generations will build the greatest civilization earth has ever known. However, the offspring of the early pioneer millennialists will not be coerced to except Christ as Savior. The purpose of the millennial age is to finally prove that the fallen human heart inclines toward evil, unless the individual calls upon God for salvation. Even with Satan bound up during the 1,000 years and Jesus ruling the earth, there is rebellion, especially at the very end of the millennium. See Revelation 20.

Except a Man Be Born Again

God has no grandchildren. He only has sons and daughters. Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus as recorded in John's Gospel expresses it this way, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). (Also see John 3:7, 1 Peter 1:23.)

Only One Plan of Salvation

Let us emphasize one more time that God does not have two or more plans of salvation. The only salvation is provided for us by the death of Jesus on the cross and empowered by His victorious resurrection from the dead. This provision applies to pre-Christian, Old-Covenant believers as well as all who are saved in the Church Age and further to all who will be saved in the tribulation and in the millennium. Isaiah points out that the kingdom age will be the greatest time of bliss for humanity since the fall from Eden.

A curious fact is that the Hebrew prophets, with their Near East mind-set did not, in many cases, manifest a high regard for chronological arrangement of ideas. This challenges our Western mode of straight-line thinking. We seem to be fanatics for chronology. Isaiah 65 is a good example of Oriental construction and expression of ideas:

Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more (Isaiah 65:17-19).

This portion of Isaiah's prophecy refers to the eternal state of the redeemed. In verse 20 he reverts to predicting millennial conditions, many of which are temporary:

Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD (Isaiah 65:20-25).

Verse 25 beautifully describes the taming of all wild beasts and indicates the fact that peace will prevail on God's earth. While it is not specifically mentioned that this is the 1,000 year phase of the eternal kingdom, premillennialists will agree that this is the case.

We know that many unredeemed people born in the millennium will be deluded when Satan is loosed from the abyss and goes abroad throughout the world deceiving vulnerable, unsaved people who have already begun to question the person and authority of Jesus. This, not Armageddon, is absolutely the final conflict of the ages.

No General Judgment

Scripture does not teach a general judgment for all humanity. But let me tell you briefly about two other judgments that lie in the future. (For more information, see Chapter 12, Believers Bow Before the Bema.) One is the Bema judgment when, after the rapture, all believers from Adam until the rapture (some say only church believers) will be evaluated according to their works, not to determine whether they are saved or lost, but to determine what works they have done which deserve rewards. Everyone in this Judgment is saved before he arrives there. Some receive great rewards. Some receive no rewards, but they are saved:

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

This Bema judgment of believers takes place right after the rapture of the church. Paul speaks of it as "The judgment seat of Christ" before which all believers must appear.

Back on Earth

While this is going on in heaven, the seven-year tribulation unfolds on earth. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will come back to earth with all the holy angels and with the raptured, glorified church in His entourage. (See Revelation 19:8, 14.)

In Revelation 19 and 20, the writer, John, describes how Messiah defeats antichrist at Armageddon. Satan, the false prophet and the antichrist are incarcerated in the lake of fire. "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20). And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

After Ten Centuries of Peace

The judgment of the sheep and goats takes place. The millennium begins. At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan is loosed for a season. He deceives many, builds an army, attacks Christ at Jerusalem, and is defeated, nevermore to have access to planet earth. The Second Resurrection of all the wicked dead takes place.

The Great White Throne Judgment

The millennium comes to an end. The battle of Gog and Magog II is over. Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire. Now it is time for the final and last of all judgments: the great White Throne judgment.

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

This is not a judgment to decide who is saved and who is lost. That has already been decided by each individual, in this life, on this earth. Since all redeemed persons are already resurrected in the first resurrection, this is a judgment of the damned. This event is to reveal the degree and intensity of punishment each sinner will endure in the Lake of Fire.

Eternity Dawns

No More Wars, Poverty, nor Death - Never Again And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Revelation 21:1- 5).

The Great Invitation

Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Revelation 22:7, 12, 17, 20, 21).