We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Matthew chapters 24 and 25 here in Part 5, starting with Matt. 25:31.
(31) But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him [This is the same coming pictured in Matt. 24:30, 31; see the discussion under those verses.], then He will sit on His glorious throne [the throne of His glory]. (32) And all the nations will be gathered before Him [[The Lord Jesus will begin to reign (the throne goes with the reigning, which includes judging) at the time of His mid-week return. (Cf., e.g., Matt. 16:27; Rev. 11:15-18; and 12:10; on this reign see number 15 on page 17 of "The Mid-Week Rapture.") It is important to see that (in the context of the Olivet discourse) Christ has already judged all Christians (the faithful and the unfaithful), as pictured in Matt. 24:45-25:30, before we come to this account of His judging the nations (the rest of mankind) in Matt. 25:31-46.
The judgments of Matt. 24:45-25:30 cause a separation between the saved and the lost of Christ's disciples, even as the judgment of the nations in Matt. 25:31-46 causes a separation between the saved (the sheep) and the lost (the goats) of the nations. It is also important to see that the resurrected/transformed and glorified brothers of the Lord Jesus Christ (all the members of God's true Israel) will be with Him when He judges the nations (see, e.g., 1 Thess. 4:17); they will even be reigning with Him. Matthew 24:30, 31 confirm that the glorified saints are already with Christ: They are gathered to Him when He comes. Here in Matt. 25:32 we read of a subsequent gathering: The nations "will be gathered before Him."
A Few More Comments Regarding the Judgment of Christ's Disciples. We discussed the fact that, as it has turned out (though this point isn't spelled out in Matt. 24:45-25:30), many generations of Christians have lived and died before the Lord returns to judge His disciples. (If God had made it clear that the first Christian generation wasn't the last generation, He would have undercut the Biblical emphasis on the nearness of the end. Each generation was apparently to live in the light of the nearness of the end.) I believe we can say that the judgments of Matt. 24:45-25:30 include the judgment of the Christians of all generations who will have died before Christ returns, and not just to the judgment of the Christians who are still alive on the earth when He returns. All the true Christians (those who are judged to be faithful believers) will be glorified and enter God's eternal kingdom at the time of Christ's mid-week return (like the five wise virgins of Matt. 25:1-13).
We can apparently say that at the time of their deaths a major aspect of the judgment of faithful (true) Christians takes place, when they (unlike the rest of the people who die) are taken to heaven (heaven in a preliminary sense, before the day of resurrection, glorification, and reigning; cf. 2 Cor. 5:1, 8; Phil. 1:21, 23; and 1 Thess. 4:14). The judgment of all faithful (true) Christians who are converted before the rapture will be completed by the time they begin to reign in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. The judgment and glorification of all the faithful (true) Christians who are converted after Christ returns will be completed before the millennial kingdom reign begins (cf. Rev. 20:4).
What about the believers from Old Testament days? I believe that those who are judged to be faithful (true believers) will also be resurrected and glorified at Christ's mid-week return. They are part of God's true Israel.
Some Concluding Remarks Regarding God's True Israel. When the millennial kingdom begins, all the members of God's true Israel will have been judged, resurrected/transformed, and glorified, and they will have begun to reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. I assume that (in God's plans) true Israel will have become complete by the time the millennial kingdom begins, and the call to become a member of God's true Israel will no longer be extended after this time. On the resurrection/transformation of God's true Israel, see on Dan. 12:2 on pages 159-161 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." On the reign of true Israel, see "A More Detailed Look at Those Who Will Reign with the Lord Jesus Christ and the Time They Will Begin to Reign" on pages 72, 73 of my book.
CHRIST'S END-TIME JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS. It Is important to see that this account of Christ's judgment of the nations (Matt. 25:31-46) is quite abbreviated and quite simplified. It provides a brief, summarizing account of the nations being judged according to their works. This account skips the details of the judging that takes place throughout the second half of Daniel's 70th week (including God's judgment and removal of Babylon the great harlot and Armageddon) and the subjugation of all God's enemies (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 15:24-26; Rev. 11:15-20:3), and it skips the millennial kingdom. It (like Matt. 24:45-25:30) skips mentioning that many generations of people from the nations are included here, and that those who have died will be resurrected before this judgment takes place.
This abbreviated account also fails to explicitly mention that (apparently) there will be a major difference between the eternal destinies of true Israel and the saved/elect of the nations in God's eternal kingdom. For one very significant difference, true Israel will reign, the nations won't. This difference, which is pictured in other passages (including Revelation chapters 21, 22) can be inferred from Matt. 24:45-25:30 in that it is mentioned several times that the faithful Christians (those who enter God's eternal kingdom) are given authority to reign, but it isn't mentioned in Matt. 25:31-46 that those saved as part of the nations (the sheep) will reign. For another significant difference, it is the members of true Israel who are the "brothers" of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matt. 25:31-46 (see verse 40).
It isn't surprising, as discussed above, that the Olivet discourse would skip over many end-time details, and especially details that we learn about mostly from the book of Revelation (which was given some sixty-five years after the Olivet discourse). Most Biblical accounts skip details that we must learn from other passages. And that's especially true for a passage like the one we're studying, which has many features of a parable, and is included in a discourse following three parables.
It is important to see that this account (Matt. 25:31-46) isn't at all limited to a judgment of the nations to determine who will be permitted to enter the millennial kingdom, as some teach. The eternal destinies of those from the nations throughout this (what has turned out to be a) lengthy Christian age are in view here. As I mentioned, the eternal nature of this judgment is demonstrated by Matt. 25:41, 46.
Although it certainly is true that the judgment of the nations on the basis of their works involves more than whether they did, or did not, extend mercy to Christians, such works are the only ones mentioned here. (The next paragraph helps explain this mention of extending mercy to Christians.) Such works are well suited to manifest what is in the heart. Works reflect what is in the heart, and even for those from the nations (they weren't born-again), their works flowed, at least to some extent, from a heart open to God.
This teaching by the Lord Jesus Christ is designed, for one thing, to strongly emphasize His love and concern for His disciples (Christians) throughout His time of separation from them, a time that involves many difficulties. In some very significant ways, He is with us throughout this present age (cf. Matt. 28:20). This love and concern for His disciples is a dominant point in Matt. 25:31-46; it could be considered the dominant point. Keep in mind that this discourse was given by the Lord Jesus, and was written by Matthew (under God's direction) for the benefit of the Christian church. It is more important for us to know of God's love for us than for us to know His ultimate plans for the nations.
The other contender for the dominant point in this account is the information that a large number of people from the nations (the sheep) will ultimately be saved and have a place in God's eternal kingdom. The sheep are surprised by their salvation, and by the reason given for it. They are overwhelmed by God's saving grace. One reason this teaching is so significant is that the New Testament has so little to say on this topic. (The Old Testament has a lot to say about God's salvation plans for the nations [the nations being distinct from (true) Israel] after His end-time judgment of the world.) We'll discuss this salvation of the sheep as we continue.
The most important cross-reference for this judgment of the nations is the great-white-throne judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 (at the end of the millennium) with Rev. 21:1-22:3, verses that prophesy of the entrance of the saved/elect from the nations (people distinct from true Israel) into the eternal life of God's eternal kingdom after the great-white-throne judgment. At least that is what I see in Rev. 20:11-22:3. (See my paper on Revelation chapters 20-22 on this Christian article site for a start.) Many, even the majority, don't agree with this interpretation, at least not yet, but there is a trend in the direction of seeing more hope for the salvation of some non-Christians/the nations.
It is important to see that those saved from the nations who enter God's eternal kingdom (His new earth with its New Jerusalem) will enter by the grace of God through Jesus Christ - they are part of God's elect. Revelation 21:27 shows that their names are written in the Lamb's book of life. The fact that their names have been written in the Lamb's book of life since the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 13:8; 17:8) shows that the salvation of the elect of the nations has been part of God's plan from the beginning. However, as I have mentioned, they apparently are not, and never will be, part of God's true Israel. (I don't expect to hear one complaint from the sheep because they aren't part of true Israel.) The study of Revelation chapters 20-22 that is available on this Christian article site will help substantiate the interpretation of Matt. 25:31-46 given here. Also see my paper titled, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" and my papers on selected eschatological passages from the books of Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah that are on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). Lengthy excerpts from the paper on Jeremiah are on this Christian article site.
In my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" we consider many other passages of Scripture (beyond Rev. 20:1-22:3) that will help substantiate the interpretation given here regarding the salvation of the nations. In that paper we'll also discuss some of the viewpoints that have existed throughout much of the history of the Christian church regarding the possibility of salvation of people who weren't believers in Old Testament days, or born-again Christians in New Testament days. Some of these viewpoints will help substantiate what I say here regarding the salvation of the nations. In our day there are many Christians, including many evangelicals (and the number is increasing), who believe many such persons will end up being saved by God's grace in Christ Jesus. These views deal, for the most part, with those who haven't been confronted, at least not adequately confronted, with the gospel.
SOME IMPORTANT COMMENTS REGARDING THIS INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS.
We have to be careful, humble, and cautious when dealing with a topic like this, making it a top priority to aim for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We certainly don't need any more heresies, or new half-baked revelations, or things that cause unnecessary divisions in the Body of Christ. We must be careful who we listen to; we can't afford to accept everything we hear; we must humbly, carefully, and prayerfully check it out. I'm not an expert on the various viewpoints held by different segments of the Christian church regarding the ultimate destiny of non-Christians (the nations), but I do know that in our day some of those who promote the viewpoint that many (or, most; or, all) of them will be saved are quite unorthodox on the Christian basics. They may deny the virgin birth, the atoning death, and/or the resurrection of Jesus Christ; they may deny the existence of Satan and demons; etc. They don't have a sufficiently high view of the Bible. I'm not the judge of anyone, but I can't consider this real Christianity. I don't want to get very close to any slippery slopes; you can go down a long way. I plan to go up.
It is also true that we do need to rightly divide all of God's Word; we can't avoid a Biblical truth (or passages of the Bible) just because some unorthodox Christians have spoken on that topic; we all should be open to the fact that we still have things (much) to learn, and many (or most) Christians have errors in what they believe. I believe I have a solid Scriptural basis for the interpretation given here, but I don't claim to have all the answers. I have been teaching Matt. 25:31-46 and Rev. 20:1-22:3 the way I do in this paper for many years, but with reserve and caution; I am not being dogmatic; and I am still open to further light on these verses. I always try to put a top priority on holding and teaching the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.
What I'm sharing here regarding the salvation of the nations doesn't deal with the heart of the Christian gospel - it doesn't directly affect our salvation. The controversial points deal with God's future plans for, and judgment of, the nations. I interpret this passage as I do for one primary reason - I believe (but not dogmatically) that this is what the Bible teaches. I also believe this topic is important enough to deserve our attention, even if it is not at the heart of the Christian gospel. Furthermore, the more we draw close to the time of the rapture, the more important it becomes for us to rightly understand God's end-time prophecies, especially the book of Revelation.
As Christians we are only authorized to share one primary message with mankind everywhere: All mankind (which, according to the Bible, is in spiritual death and under sin) is called to repent and to submit to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in humble, obedient, faith, in order to get ready to face God on the day of judgment (cf., e.g., Acts 17:30, 31). We certainly aren't authorized to tell the nations (non-Christians) to make sure they do a few good deeds for Christians (or do any number of good works) so they can be sure they'll go to heaven. At the same time, we aren't commanded to tell them, I don't believe, that everyone who has died the last two thousand years that wasn't a born-again Christian is necessarily destined for hell. (So too for all the people in the Old Testament who weren't part of Israel.)
Some questions we aren't able to fully answer, or to answer with authority; however, we can trust God, the Judge of all the universe, to do what is right (I mean really right, I mean fully right, with no mistakes of any kind). He won't make any mistakes regarding who He takes to heaven (through Jesus Christ) by His grace. There won't be any rebels in heaven. I would also like to believe that there won't be any people in hell who would want to be in heaven on God's terms.
There are some apparent differences between the salvation of true Israel and the salvation of the nations; however, even with those saved from the nations, the works are an expression of what is in the heart; the works (at least to some extent) manifest a heart open to God. The New Testament doesn't tell us much about the salvation of the nations. (We don't have a need to know much; God, the Savior and the Judge, will take care of the details. We have a need to understand, and to live in line with, the gospel.) Many Christians don't have any room for the concept of a somewhat distinct salvation for the nations (as distinct from the salvation of true Israel). The Bible seems clear to me on this point, but I don't believe I must be dogmatic on this point.
I admit that I like to think in terms of the population of heaven being as large as possible (at the expense of the population of hell); however, the only really important question is, What does God think?/What does the Bible teach? I also like to think that no one will miss heaven, and go to hell, over a technicality, like a failure to be confronted with the true gospel. (One factor that we must take into consideration is that sometimes substantial parts of the Christian church have been so backslidden that they would tend to frighten away prospective converts; I'm not exaggerating.) I want to think that all who miss heaven will do so because of a rebellious, unrepentant heart (that is not about to ever change), a heart full of rebellion against God and His ways. Such people wouldn't really want to be in heaven on God's terms (and the only way to be in heaven is to be there on God's terms - there is no room for rebellion, etc. there), not that they will want the alternative.
I try to make it a TOP PRIORITY to not let my desires, feelings, or the popularity of a particular teaching affect my interpretation/teaching of the Scriptures. Many evangelicals, and there are more all the time, agree that some Christians have been overly restrictive regarding who will ultimately make it to heaven, often dogmatically excluding all people who have lived the last two thousand years who didn't become born-again Christians, including those who have never heard the gospel. I don't believe it should be a test of Christian orthodoxy to insist that only a few, a small minority of those who have lived on the earth, will make it to heaven. I don't know how many will ultimately enter heaven (I'm speaking of true Israel plus the elect of the nations), but I won't be shocked if more than half make it to heaven. I'm certainly not saying that it will turn out this way. The verses that speak of a "few" being saved are discussed in my paper titled, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" that is on my internet site.]]; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats [[This separating involves God's judging, and as Matt. 25:35-46 show, this judging is based on works. Judgment according to works for all mankind is a common Biblical theme (cf. Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29; Rom. 14:11, 12; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:10; 11:15; Gal. 6:7-9; Eph. 5:3-7; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:12, 13; and 22:12). This doesn't mean that anyone can earn a place in heaven by their works; everyone in heaven will be there because of God's grace granted through Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God. This includes all those saved from the nations, as Rev. 21:27 shows, even as it includes all the members of God's true Israel (Our works must demonstrate that our Christian faith was/is real).]];
We will finish this verse-by-verse study of Matthew chapters 24 and 25 in Part 6, starting with Matt. 25:33.