Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse
Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement International. This is his twelfth and final study on Christ’s Olivet Discourse. It is with sincere appreciation to Dr. Tatford for his written ministry that we conclude his extended series.
The Judgment Of The Nations
In concluding His discourse on Olivet that evening, the Lord plainly described the manner of His return to earth. He would come in His glory with all the holy angels to sit upon His glorious throne to judge the nations of the earth (Matt. 25:31-46). The reference was not—as suggested by so many commentators—to the Gentile nations as such or to representatives of such nations summoned to give account of their countries’ attitude to God’s earthly people. The word “nations” is used in the general sense of “peoples” and not in respect of national entities. Israel will apparently be dealt with separately (although some teachers consider that Jew and Gentile alike will be arraigned at the same time), but all others living at the time of the Second Advent will be summoned to appear before Christ’s earthly tribunal. This has nothing to do with the final assize of Revelation 20, and does not involve the dead.
The Second Advent is frequently alluded to as the time of earth’s blessing, but the Apocalypse describes Christ’s coming as in judgment, to smite the nations, to rule them with a rod of iron and to tread “the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15; cf. Isa. 63:1-6). Nothing that offends will be allowed to enter His kingdom and, first of all, He will, therefore, deal with all who are living at the time of His appearing (Joel 3:12; Zeph. 3:8). Israel’s judgment is a separate one (Ezek. 20:34-38) and He was here concerned with the Gentile nations.
He described the judgment as the distinguishing between people in the same way as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be placed on His right hand and the goats on His left, the former to be blessed and to enter into the millennial kingdom now to be established (and inferentially into the eternal kingdom eventually), but the latter to enter already into eternal damnation. One group will be eternally blessed and the other finally condemned. This is more than a temporary judgment to decide upon the fitness or otherwise of individuals to become members of the earthly kingdom. It is clearly a final sentence, determining the eternal future of individuals. It is not synonymous with the final assize of Revelation 20:11-15, since that is to take place after the millennium and subsequent to man’s final revolt and the destruction of the earth, whereas the judgment of Matthew 25 is to take place immediately prior to the commencement of the Millennium. It must, therefore, be concluded that God’s judgment is in more than one stage.
According to our Lord’s statement, those who are blessed at His earthly tribunal will be those who showed compassion to His brethren in their time of need. He declared that, when He was hungry, they gave him food, and when He was thirsty they gave Him drink. When He was a homeless stranger they welcomed Him. When He was naked they clothed Him. When He was sick they visited Him. When He was in prison they showed their care for Him. When they (whom He described consequently as the righteous) perplexedly enquired when they had done these things, He replied that inasmuch as they had done it to the least of His brethren, they had done it to Him. Since the judgment will be of Gentiles, there can be little doubt as to the identity of His brethren. He referred to the Jew, from whose race He sprang.
His Second Advent is to occur immediately after the great tribulation (Matt. 24:29) and this judgment follows upon His Advent. His reference was, therefore, quite clearly to conduct primarily during the awful period of the tribulation. At that time Israel will be attacked from every quarter and the devastated land will be deluged with blood (Zech. 14:2). A strong dictator will have put a stop to all religious observances (Dan. 9:27) and will have forced idolatry upon the nation (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15). All trade and industry will be under a rigid central control (Rev. 13:16,17) and a diabolical persecution of Israel will bring untold suffering to the race
(Rev. 12:13-17). Simultaneously divine judgment will be poured out upon the land (Rev. 6-16). It will certainly be the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7).
In such circumstances and in view of the attitude of the supreme authorities, friendship with Israel or the showing of compassion to an individual Jew will be an extremely risky action, which could conceivably cost the loss of life as a penalty. An individual, who demonstrated mercy to or sympathy with a Jew, would only do so if he was inspired with divine compassion and was desirous of showing the love of God to others. Earlier our Lord had declared that one who in His name gave a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul to drink would not lose his reward (Matt. 10:42; Mark 9:41). Only a charitable heart would be moved to offer a cup of cold water. Only one with a personal knowledge of God would adopt such an attitude. But those who did, showed thereby their devotion to God, and what they did for the tired and troubled Jew was, in effect, done for the One whom they served. The one who touches Israel touches the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8), and the one who shows compassion to that persecuted nation is deemed to have done it as unto God.
On the other hand, the “goats” or the unrighteous were accused of refraining from doing the same things. They had no love for God and, consequently, no love for His people. There was only one possible sentence. They were banished, as cursed, “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Our Lord specifically declared that the guilty would be consigned to everlasting punishment, but the righteous to life eternal (Matt. 25:46).
The discourse was finished and, as they were about to renew their journey, our Lord reminded the disciples that, in two days’ time the passover would be celebrated and that then He would be betrayed to be crucified (Matt. 26:1, 2). The message He had given them was almost His last. Two days later, in the upper room, they would listen to His final discourse before the cross. Would they ever forget His words?