Character of God - Righteousness (Matthew 25:31-46)

Dr Daryl Miller, August 28, 2016
Part of the Knowing the Character of God series, preached at a Sunday Evening service

Title: Character of God - Righteousness (The Parable of the Last Judgment)
Text: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).
Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31?–?46

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). To Abraham’s searching question, one’s inmost being replies, “He ought to do right.” The Word of God affirms that he is the “righteous Father” (John 17:25).
That all do not get justice in this life is obvious. A cartoon depicted a domineering woman speaking to a psychologist about her henpecked husband: “He has some foolish notion that a man’s hell is on earth.” It is true that judgment is not wholly reserved for the future. Good has reward in this life if only the reward of an approving conscience; evil has its judgment if only the condemnation of an aroused conscience; but so many sins go unpunished and so many good deeds go unrewarded that there must be a final day when God balances his scales. The parable of the last judgment or, perhaps better, the pageant of the last judgment, is the principal Scripture describing the judgment day.
We will do well not to be caught up in the details or its imagery but rather to seek the eternal principles of God’s judgment. Hear the thoughtful words of John Broadus:
How far this predictive imagery of a judgment scene will be literally fulfilled by actual assembly in a locality, etc., no one can tell. All descriptions and conceptions of things unseen and eternal are necessarily dependent on material analogies, even as our own mental action can be defined only in terms drawn from physical action. We may be very sure that the spiritual and eternal reality will be something far more solemn and instructive than any conception we are able to derive from the simplest or the most sublime images. (An American Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society 1886], 509)
I. The Judgment.
A. When? “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him” (Matt. 25:31) is the time of the judgment. Matthew 24:27?–?31, 37?–?51, and the earlier portions of Matthew 25 make clear that Jesus is speaking of his second coming at the end of the gospel age.
B. Who? “And before him shall be gathered all nations” (Matt. 25:32), which means, of course, all people. Not one person who has once lived will be missing. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
All the dead have at death either gone to Abraham’s bosom, as did Lazarus (see Luke 17:19?–?31), or have gone to Hades, as did the rich man. The repentant robber went to paradise (Luke 23:43). Abraham’s bosom and paradise seem to be synonymous for the place of the redeemed after death and before the final judgment. John has a vision of this happy state in Revelation 7:9?–?17. Peter affirms, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9).

At the last judgment, the saints who have been in paradise will come with Jesus (see 1 Thess. 4:13?–?18) and will be reunited with their raised glorified bodies (see 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). They will be at the Lord’s right hand. The saints who are living at Christ’s return also will be glorified both soul and body and will be at his right hand. The unsaved will come from Hades and join the unsaved who are on earth on the Lord’s left hand. They are apparently united with their resurrected bodies.
II. The Judge.
A. God in Christ is the Judge. This assures righteous judgment. “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
B. Christ will be an understanding Judge. He knows humankind because he left heaven to take on a fleshly body. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
C. Christ knows all of the facts. There will be no reason to call witnesses, weigh testimony, ponder decisions. God knows the facts, including the thoughts and motives of every person. “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth” (Rom. 2:2).
III. The nature of the Judgment.
A. As easily as a Syrian shepherd divided white sheep from black goats, Christ will divide all humankind. Every person’s eternal destiny is fixed at death. The final judgment is not to decide that destiny but to make manifest the righteousness of God’s judgment. Paul warned those who continued sinning “against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).
B. Separating humankind into saved and lost is something only God can do. Judgment will be on the basis of a person’s character, which is manifest in his or her attitude toward God as revealed in Jesus Christ as well as his or her attitude toward other persons. According to Paul, the righteous God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Rom. 2:6?–?9).
Character is manifest in deeds. A tree is known by its fruit. One’s response to Jesus is a true indication of a person’s character. John 3:16?–?21 reveals Christ as the divider of people. When one repents of sin and believes on Jesus, the merits of Christ’s atonement are applied to cover his or her sins, and the Holy Spirit gives that person eternal life.

In this parable, verses 34?–?41, Jesus affirms that character is manifest by what persons do or do not do unto their fellow humans. Is not Jesus affirming that people who do not have the full light of the gospel will be judged by their response to the light they do have? All humankind has light enough to know that we ought to have goodwill toward our fellow humans. This is not to affirm that evil people can be saved by doing some good deeds. It is to affirm that good deeds may indicate that people’s hearts are responsive to the truth they know; and if their response to the truth is right, they know that it is possible for God to apply the merits of Christ’s atonement for their salvation, even though they are not personally aware of the grounds of their salvation. Jesus is the only Savior. It is possible, however, as this parable teaches, that people who have only a little light and do not know Christ personally can be saved by Christ on the basis of their heart response to what they do know.
This parable is another illustration of the righteousness and mercy of God. God wants to save. It would be unrighteous for him to save sinners without expressing his hatred of sin. God in Christ has provided the way whereby he can be just and justify those who believe in Jesus (see Rom. 3:23?–?28). This parable of Jesus also opens for us the hope that he can be just and justify those who respond in faith to the light they have.
The parable also has its darker side. If people have enough light to be saved, they also have enough light to be lost. Even the righteous God cannot save people as long as they will not repent of sin and follow the light God gives them.
How fortunate that Christ is the Judge. He will do right. He will be more merciful than we ask him to be. His purpose is to save, not to condemn.
Let each of us make his or her “own calling and election sure.” Let us be good witnesses that others may know the Savior and on that great day hear the King say, “Come ye, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).


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