Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Seven)

Part one: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-judgment-of-sheep-and-goats-study_14.html

The eonian allotment of the “sheep” contrasted with our allotment

Those comprising the nation of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ will be the most blessed of all the inhabitants of the earth, and - as we’ve seen from Ezekiel 47:21-23 - the gentiles who will be residing in the land during this time will be treated “as native-born among the people of Israel.” Thus, compared with the eonian fate of the cursed “goats” (who will be dwelling outside the land of Israel and will constitute the nations over which Israel will have dominion), those among the nations who will be enjoying “the allotment of the kingdom” during the eon to come (the “sheep”) will be incredibly blessed. 

And yet, as blessed as the “sheep” among the nations will be during the eon to come, there is another category of people among the nations whose eonian allotment will be far superior to even the allotment of these righteous gentiles. The gentiles I have in mind are, of course, those whom God has chosen to become members of that collective entity which the apostle Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). 

One of the earliest references to the superior allotment of those in the body of Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 15:50. There, Paul wrote, “Now this I am averring, brethren, that flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God, neither is corruption enjoying the allotment of incorruption.” To understand why the “allotment in the kingdom of God” that Paul had in mind here is vastly superior to the allotment of the “sheep,” it must be remembered that every gentile who will be present at the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 will be mortal, and with bodies of “flesh and blood.” As noted earlier, they will be among the survivors of the last seven years preceding the return of Christ at the end of this eon (the only other category of surviving humans who will enter the kingdom of God as mortals will be those constituting faithful Israel at Christ’s return, such as the 144,000 sealed Israelites referred to in Rev.7:2-8 and 14:1-5).

In contrast with these two categories of surviving humans will be those who will take part in what Christ referred to as the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29), and what John referred to as the “former resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6). The “former resurrection” will only involve those who died before Christ’s return to earth and (as I’ve argued elsewhere) will occur 75 days after this event takes place. Those who are raised from the dead by Christ at this time will be “neither marrying nor taking out in marriage” during the eon to come, “for neither can they still be dying, for they are equal to messengers, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36). The rest of the saints in the kingdom during the eon to come - beginning with the generation which will be alive on the earth at Christ’s return – will be mortal.[1] For this latter category of saints, marriage and procreation can (and will) continue.

That there will, in fact, be mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God on earth is confirmed from a number of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures where the future kingdom is in view. See, for example, Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:20-25; Jeremiah 23:3-6; 30:18-20 (cf. v. 3); 33:10-11, 19-22; 59:20-21; Ezekiel 36:8-12; 37:25-26; 44:20-25. In all of these passages, we read of things said concerning people in the millennial kingdom during the eon to come - including the priests who will be ministering in the temple - that can only be said of mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites, and in which only those who are mortal will be involved during this time (such as marrying and “multiplying” in the land). And, of course, dwelling among these flesh-and-blood Israelites (and further populating the kingdom with the children they will be having during this time) will be the gentiles referred to in Ezekiel 47:22-23 (who I’ve argued will be the “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46).

In contrast with what we know concerning the conditions that will characterize the kingdom of God on earth during the eon to come, Paul told the saints in the body of Christ that “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God.” In other words, the only people who will enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God that Paul had in mind here are those who are no longer mortal – i.e., those who have “put on incorruption” and “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53). If, when Paul wrote 1 Cor. 15:50, he had in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth, then he would’ve been contradicting the fact that there will, in fact, be flesh-and-blood (i.e., mortal) humans in this kingdom during the eon to come. However, Paul wasn’t contradicting scripture, because he didn’t have in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth. Rather, what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 15:50 was the kingdom of God into which the saints in the body of Christ will be entering after the “snatching away” and meeting in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18) – i.e., the kingdom of God as it will exist in the heavenly realm.

It is in the heavens that Christ is, presently (2 Cor. 5:1, 6-8; Phil. 3:20), and we know that the kingdom of God will be established in this realm after Satan has been cast out. In Rev. 12:7-12 we read of the coming of the kingdom of God in the heavens as follows: ”And a battle occurred in heaven. Michael and his messengers battle with the dragon, and the dragon battles, and its messengers. And they are not strong enough for him, neither was their place still found in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth. It was cast into the earth, and its messengers were cast with it. And I hear a loud voice in heaven saying, “Just now came the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ, for the accuser of our brethren was cast out…Therefore, make merry, ye heavens, and those tabernacling in them!

So Scripture is clear that, in addition to being on the earth, Christ’s kingdom will be established in the heavens and among the celestials as well. This makes the “kingdom of God” a future reality that pertains to those in the body of Christ just as much as it pertains to Israel (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Eph. 5:5; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5). It is this celestial aspect of the kingdom of God to which Paul was referring when he expressed his confidence that the Lord would be saving him “for His celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). It is the kingdom of God in heaven – not the kingdom of God on earth – in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment.”

It is because the kingdom for which we are destined is celestial in location that we (who are presently “soilish” in nature) must come to wear “the image…of the Celestial,” and thereby become “celestials” (1 Cor. 15:48-49). Our present “terrestrial” body must be transformed and made fit for life that is “eonian, in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Col. 1:5). It is in the realm where Christ is presently residing - i.e., the heavens (1 Cor. 15:47) - that we will be “at home with the Lord” after we have been “dressed” with our “habitation which is out of heaven” (2 Cor. 5:6-9).[2] It is the heavenly realm for which our glorified bodies will be suited, and it is here that the kingdom of God in which we will be enjoying our allotment will be located.



[1] It should be noted that a person’s being mortal does not mean that death will (or must) occur; it simply means that they’re able to die, and that they lack what the author of Hebrews referred to in Heb. 7:16 as “the power of an indissoluble life.”

[2] The expression “out of heaven” does not mean our glorified bodies presently exist in heaven and will have to leave heaven when the time comes for us to be vivified. Concerning the word translated “out of” here (ek) we read the following on Biblehub.com (http://biblehub.com/greek/1537.htm): “Ek ("out of") is one of the most under-translated (and therefore mis-translated) Greek propositions – often being confined to the meaning “by.” Ek has a two-layered meaning (“out from and to”) which makes it out-come oriented (out of the depths of the source and extending to its impact on the object).”

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, one of the meanings given for the preposition ek is, “of the material out of which a thing is made.” The following verses are referenced as Scriptural examples of this usage: Matthew 27:29; John 2:15; 19:2; 9:6; Romans 9:21; 1 Corinthians 11:12; 15:47; Revelation 18:12; 21:21. Of especial relevance to Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:3 are the two verses from 1 Corinthians that are referenced above. In 1 Cor. 11:12 we read that “the woman is out of (ek) the man,” and in 15:47 we read that “the first man was out of (ek) the earth…the second Man is the Lord out of (ek) heaven.”

In these examples, that which is in view is the source of the material from which something is formed, and of which it consists. Adam did not originally exist in the earth, and nor was he himself removed from it. Similarly, Eve did not originally exist in Adam, and nor was she herself removed from him. Rather, just as Eve was formed from material which was taken from Adam, so Adam was formed from material which was taken from the earth (i.e., soil). In the same way, Christ’s glorified, resurrected body consists of material that is heavenly in its source and nature, and which is, consequently, suited for life in the heavens. It is for this reason that Paul referred to Christ as “the Lord out of (ek) heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47) even though Christ was, at the time of Paul’s writing (and continues to be to this day), in heaven.

Thus, to say that our future resurrected body is “out of heaven” simply means that heaven will be the source of the material of which it will consist (making us fit for eonian life “in the heavens”). The “soilish” material of which our body presently consists will, at the moment of our vivification, be replaced with material that is heavenly in source and nature. It is in this way that the “body of our humiliation” will be “transfigured” (Phil. 3:21) and “delivered” (Rom 8:23) when we’re vivified in Christ.

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Six)

The “chastening eonian” of the nations

In the previous section, we examined the allotment of the “sheep.” But what will be the fate of the “goats” following the judgment of the nations? In Matthew 25:41-46 we read,

"Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, 'Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers. For I hunger and you do not give Me to eat; I thirst and you do not give Me drink; a stranger was I and you did not take Me in; naked and you did not clothe Me; infirm and in jail and you did not visit Me.' “Then shall they also be answering, saying, 'Lord, when did we perceive you hungering or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or infirm, or in jail, and we did not serve you?' "Then shall He be answering them, saying, 'Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it not to one of these, the least, neither do you it to Me.' And these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian."

It must be emphasized that the “fire eonian” of v. 41 is simply a figurative way of referring to the “eonian chastening” referred to in v. 46. That is, the chastening was figuratively described by Christ as “fire,” and not the other way around. The word translated as “chastening” is the Greek word “kolasis,” which means “a pruning.” It comes from the verb “kolazo,” which E.W. Bullinger notes as meaning, “to curtail, dock, prune, but usually like Lat., ‘castigare’ to keep within bounds, check, chastise.”[1] The verb form of kolasis also appears in Acts 4:21 (where the “chastening” in view is likely flogging).

In the context of Matthew 25:31-46, the “chastening eonian” into which the “goats” must go after being judged by Christ will most likely involve their being excluded from the land of Israel for the duration of Christ’s reign, and being under the dominion of the kingdom of Israel. That the eonian lot of the nations during the millennial reign of Christ will involve chastening is clear from Psalm 2:8-9, where we read of God prophetically declaring to his Son, Ask of Me, and I will give the nations as your allotment, and as your holding, the limits of the earth. You shall smash them with a club of iron; like a vessel of a potter, you shall shatter them.We also read in Rev. 19:15, And out of His mouth a sharp blade is issuing, that with it He should be smiting the nations. And He will be shepherding them with an iron club” (compare with Rev. 2:26-27).

The “smashing,” “shattering” and “smiting” of the nations referred to in these verses undoubtedly refers to some degree of chastening. Zechariah 14:16-19 even provides us with a specific example of how Christ will “strike” the nations during the millennial reign: “And it shall come to be that everyone left of all the nations coming against Jerusalem, shall also go up, a quota, year by year, to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to celebrate the celebration of booths." And it comes, whoever will not go up from the families of the earth, to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, then the downpour shall not come on them." And if a family of Egypt shall not go up, and shall not come, then it is not on them; to it shall come the stroke with which Yahweh will strike all the nations, which will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths." This shall be the sin of Egypt, and the sin of all the nations, that will not go up to celebrate the celebration of booths."

When reading the above passage, it must be kept in mind that the primary recipients of God’s blessings during the eon to come will be Israel. Although the conditions in which human beings will be living during the next eon will, in many ways, be vastly superior to even the best conditions in which people live today, it is still Israel – and not the rest of the world – that will be receiving “special treatment” from God. Unlike Israel, the rest of the nations will not be given “a new heart and a new spirit” by God, to enable them to effortlessly keep God’s law (Ezekiel 36:26). Rather, they will be subservient to Israel and forced to obey God’s precepts (with any disobedience bringing swift and certain retribution). Keeping in mind the definitions of the verb form of kolasis provided by Bullinger which we noted earlier (i.e., “to curtail,” “check” and “to keep within bounds”), the eonian condition of those living outside of the land of Israel during the millennial reign could aptly be described as one of “chastening.” But why is the “chastening eonian” of the nations referred to as “fire eonian” in v. 41?  

In scripture, “fire” (and that which is connected with fire and heat) is sometimes used as a figure for adversity, affliction and trial. In 1 Peter 1:7, the persecution-based affliction by which the faith of the saints was being tested is figuratively referred to as “fire.” And in 4:12, their affliction is referred to as a “conflagration,” which we’re told had become “a trial” to them. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Egypt is referred to as an “iron furnace” or “iron crucible” because of the affliction that Israel suffered there (Deut. 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jer. 11:4; cf. Ex. 3:7). Similarly, in Isaiah 48:10, Babylon is referred to as “the furnace of affliction” (CLV reads, “the crucible of humiliation”). In Ezekiel 22:18-22, Jerusalem (during the Babylonian siege) is figuratively likened to a “furnace” in which Yahweh blew upon Israel the fire of his indignation, and “melted” her like silver in a furnace. All such fiery imagery refers, again, to a state or place of affliction and trial.

Christ told his disciples that, at the conclusion of the eon (which, again, will take place at Christ’s return), the Son of Mankind will be dispatching his messengers, and they will be severing the wicked from the midst of the just. And they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:49-50; cf. 40-42). The “furnace of fire” referred to here is not a literal furnace with literal fire. Rather, like the figurative uses of “furnace” and “crucible” in the above verses, the “furnace of fire” spoken of by Christ is a figure for a place of adversity and affliction (hence the “lamentation and gnashing of teeth” that will result from being cast there). Christ elsewhere referred to the fate of unbelieving and wicked Israelites at the time of his return as follows: “Now I am saying to you that many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, yet the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12). The “sons of the kingdom” here are unfaithful Israelites who will be alive on the earth at the time of Christ’s return.

In Luke’s account we read the following concerning the wicked Israelites who are to be “cast into outer darkness” at the time of Christ’s return: “There there will be lamentation and gnashing of teeth, whenever you should be seeing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, yet you cast outside.Notice the words, “whenever you should be seeing [them] in the kingdom of God, yet you cast outside.” When we keep in mind that the geographical territory of the “kingdom of God” where “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets” will be enjoying their eonian allotment is the land of Israel, we can conclude that the “outer darkness” and “furnace of fire” in which the unbelieving Israelites will banished (and yet remain able to see those in the kingdom of God) will be outside the land of Israel. These wicked “sons of the kingdom” will, in other words, be banished from the land of Israel and exiled among the nations to be part of that category of humanity that Christ will be “shepherding with an iron club” during the millennial reign. Given this undesirable state of affairs, it’s no wonder there will be “lamentation and gnashing of teeth!”

Made ready for the Adversary and his messengers?

Having considered the meaning of the “fire eonian” and “chastening eonian” of the “goats,” there is one last question that needs to be answered: in what sense is the “fire eonian” (i.e., the chastening eonian) of the nations something that will be “made ready for the Adversary and his messengers?” Many have assumed that these words mean that the “fire” or “chastening” in view is something that will be undergone by the “Adversary and his messengers.” Although the grammar is consistent with this interpretation, I don’t think it is required. According to Martin Zender (with whom I am in agreement on this point), these words refer to the fact that, “after being loosed at the end of the thousand-years,” Satan (“the Adversary”) will “visit these outlying, chastened rebels in order to incite an insurrection, which he will have no trouble doing” (http://martinzender.com/ZWTF/ZWTF5.46.pdf).

The passage to which Martin is referring is Rev. 20:7-9: ”And whenever the thousand years should be finished, Satan will be loosed out of his jail. And he will be coming out to deceive all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to be mobilizing them for battle, their number being as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and surround the citadel of the saints and the beloved city. And fire descended from God out of heaven and devoured them.”

According to this view, then, the “fire eonian” of the “goats” that Christ had in mind (i.e., the “chastening eonian” which the nations must endure during his millennial reign) is not what “the Adversary and his messengers” must also suffer. Rather, it’s something that these wicked spiritual beings will be taking advantage of when they are released from their thousand-year imprisonment.

It may be objected that, in Revelation 20:7-9, only Satan is referred to as going out to deceive all the nations and mobilizing them for battle, while in Matthew 25:41 Christ referred to “the Adversary and his messengers.” There is no contradiction here, however. As I’ve argued elsewhere (see part three of my study on Revelation 12), the “great fiery-red dragon having seven heads and ten horns” that appears in Revelation 12-13 and 20 is referred to by John as “the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth” (Rev. 12:9). However, as is the case with the seven-horned, seven-eyed Lambkin (Rev. 5:6-7) and the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast (Rev. 13:1-2), the fiery-red dragon should be understood as a composite figure that symbolizes not only an individual person (i.e., Satan) but a particular category or group of beings. Thus, when John identified this seven-headed dragon as Satan (and it is this same “dragon” which is imprisoned at the start of the “thousand years”), he was probably using the figure of speech known as metonymy (according to which an element or part of something – usually well-known or easily recognizable - is used to refer to the whole). Understood in this way, it is not Satan alone who is going to be imprisoned (and later released), but his “messengers” as well.

As far as the expression “the four corners of the earth,” this is imagery that must be understood with reference to the land of Israel (which is the "reference point"). In Ezekiel 38:12, Israel is said to be “at the center of the earth” (cf. Isaiah 19:24). Although it might be tempting to understand the expression “four corners of the earth” to refer to the furthest possible distance from Israel, this same expression was used in Isaiah 11:10-12 in reference to nations existing in relatively close proximity to the nation of Israel:  

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

Keeping in mind that Israel is the reference point, the expression “the four corners of the earth” simply refers to those nations that exist to the north, south, east and west of the land of Israel. Thus, when we read of “all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” in Rev. 20:7, we can understand it as referring to all the nations that will exist to the north, south, east and west of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ. Insofar as the “chastening eonian” of these nations can be understood as the condition that Satan will find them in when he goes out to deceive them (and which, it can be reasonably inferred, will make them more easily deceived), this state of affairs can be said to be made ready for the Adversary and his messengers.

Part seven: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-judgment-of-sheep-and-goats-study_18.html



[1] E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek Testament, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd., 1957), p. 612.

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Five)

The allotment of the sheep

As argued previously, it is those among the nations who choose to bless Christ's (Jewish) brethren during the time of "great affliction" (even when it may put their own lives at risk) who constitute the “sheep” of Matthew 25. To the surprise of these gentiles, their compassionate acts toward faithful Israel during this time are said by Christ to have been done to him. Their reward for blessing Christ’s brethren during this time is then described by Christ as follows: “Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world” (v. 34). To better understand this future allotment of the “sheep,” we need to understand the nature of the “kingdom” that is in view in v. 34.

Many assume that the territory of the kingdom of God on earth during the eon to come will be worldwide in scope. Although it’s true that Christ’s dominion during the eon to come will, in fact, be worldwide, the kingdom over which Christ will be king will not. Rather, the territory of the kingdom – a kingdom which is going to be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6)[1] - will be the land of Israel. Although some may consider it splitting hairs to make such a distinction between a king’s kingdom and his dominion, I think scripture supports this distinction.

Consider, for example, the four kingdoms that were figuratively represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:31-35). The first kingdom that was represented in the statue was the kingdom of Babylon (over which Nebuchadnezzar was the king). Although the kingdom of Babylon had certain geographical boundaries, the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, extended far beyond the actual territory and citizens of the Babylonian kingdom (Dan. 2:36-38). In Jer. 27:8 God declared, “But if any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares Yahweh, until I have consumed it by his hand.”

Notice that the kingdom of Babylon was not the only kingdom in the world during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. There were other kings and other kingdoms in existence during this time; Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom simply had dominion over these kings and kingdoms (it is for this reason that Daniel referred to Nebuchadnezzar as the “king of kings,” Dan. 2:37). Consider especially Jer. 34:1, where we read, The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and all of its cities…”

Similarly, we read that, like the kingdom of Babylon, the succeeding kingdoms of Medo-Persia and Greece ruled over all the earth as well (Dan. 2:39). And the same can be said of the last kingdom represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (i.e., that which is represented by the “iron and clay feet” of the statue). Although this kingdom will be confined to a specific geographical territory (Rev. 16:10), the king of this fourth kingdom (the “wild beast”) will be given authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation,” and “all who are dwelling on the earth will be worshipping it” (Rev. 13:7-8). Here, again, we find a distinction being made between the territory of a king’s kingdom (which will have certain geographical boundaries) and his dominion (which will be worldwide).

Like the four kingdoms represented in the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the millennial kingdom of Christ will have a specific territory (i.e., the land of Israel). However, Christ’s dominion will be worldwide (this is represented by the image of the “stone” striking the statue and then becoming a “vast mountain range” that covers the earth; see Dan. 2:34-35). Christ will be “King of kings,” and all other kingdoms of the earth will be under his dominion during the eon to come. His dominion will be “from sea to sea” and extend to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8). But again, the actual territory of his kingdom on earth – the kingdom of Israel - will be the land of Israel. And this means that those who will be enjoying “the allotment of the kingdom” will be dwelling in the land of Israel.

In Psalm 37:22, we read that …those blessed [by Yahweh] shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.” Significantly, the first time Christ referred to the blessing of the enjoyment of an allotment for the righteous in Matthew’s account is in 5:5. There, Christ declared, “Happy are the meek, for they shall be enjoying the allotment of the land.” The “land” being referred to here (as well as in Psalm 37:22) is not a reference to the entire surface of the earth (no Israelite dreamed of living anywhere outside the land of Israel during the eon to come). Rather, it refers to the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 15:18; Josh. 1:4; cf. Amos 9:15). It is in this land that the nation of Israel will dwell in the eon to come (Ezekiel 37:21-28; 39:25-29), once the kingdom has been restored to Israel.

In v. 46 this “allotment of the kingdom” is referred to as “life eonian” (cf. Matt. 19:29). That this “allotment of the kingdom” and “life eonian” involves being alive during the eon to come is obvious. But simply being alive on the earth during this future time is not, by itself, the extent of the blessing of “life eonian” that Christ had in view here. In the eon to come, “life eonian” – at least, for those on the earth - will involve “enjoying the allotment of the land.” It is those who will be blessed to enjoy “the allotment of the land” that can be said to be “in the kingdom of God” and to have “life eonian” during the eon to come. Since Israel will enjoy preeminence over all the nations of the earth and will be the center of blessing on the earth at this time, those having an allotment in the land of Israel will be the most blessed of all who will be dwelling on the earth during the future eon.

We read in Ezekiel 47-48 of how the land of Israel will be divided up among the twelve tribes so that each tribe will get their own allotment of land to dwell in and enjoy during the eon to come. Significantly, we read in Ezekiel 47:21-23 that the “sojourners” or “foreigners” (lit. “guests”) who are residing among the twelve tribes at this time must be treated as “native-born among the people of Israel”: “This is how you will divide this land for yourselves among the tribes of Israel. You must allot it as an inheritance among yourselves and for the foreigners who reside among you, who have had children among you. You must treat them as native-born among the people of Israel; they will be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the foreigner resides, there you will give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord Yahweh.

In this passage I believe we find a clear picture of what, exactly, the “allotment of the kingdom” is that Christ said would be the reward of the “sheep” among the nations. Those gentiles who bless Christ’s brethren during the time of great affliction will get to live alongside Israelites and enjoy their own allotment of land within the territory promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and it’s quite possible that the location of their allotment will be based on the tribe of those Israelites that they aided during the time of great affliction). Despite their non-Israelite status (which makes them “foreigners”), these gentiles will be treated “as native-born among the people of Israel.”

Part six:  



[1] The subject of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel after the coming of the Messiah is the subject of numerous prophecies throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The following is a non-exhaustive sampling of such prophecies from the book of Isaiah alone: Isaiah 1:26-27; 2:1-4; 11:11, 12, 15; 19:24-25; 33:5-6, 17-24; 55:8; 59:20; 60:5, 10, 12, 14, 18, 21; 62:6-7.

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Four)

The Abrahamic covenant

It’s significant that, in verses 34 and 41, the righteous among the nations (the “sheep”) are referred to as “blessed,” while the unrighteous among the nations (the “goats” or “kids”) are referred to as “cursed”:

34 "Then shall the King be declaring to those at His right, 'Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world.

41 "Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, 'Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers.

This terminology is probably not a coincidence. For the Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel account, it would’ve likely brought to mind the covenant that God made with Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3: “Yahweh said to Abram: Go by yourself from your land, from your kindred and from your father’s house to the land that I shall show you.  I shall make you into a great nation, and I shall bless you; I shall indeed make your name great, and you will indeed be a blessing; I shall indeed BLESS those blessing you, and I shall CURSE the one maledicting you.” See also Gen. 27:29 and Numbers 24:9.

It would appear that the nations who will be present at the judgment described in Matthew 25 are being blessed and cursed in accord with this covenant. Those among the nations who, during the time of Israel’s great affliction, bless the Jewish descendents of Abraham will be blessed, while those who “maledict” them will be cursed. It should be noted that the Hebrew word translated “maledicting” in Gen. 12:3 means to speak or think of someone with contempt, as if they were of little or no significance or account. In some places, the Concordant Literal Old Testament translates the same word as, “to be lightly esteemed” (see, for example, Isaiah 65:20). Although the actions of the “goats” that will bring a “curse” upon them seem to be passive in nature (vv. 42-44), their failure to help Christ’s brethren during the time of their affliction will, evidently, manifest an inward attitude of contempt or indifference toward them.

Those among the nations who bless Christ’s brethren, on the other hand (by providing then with food, drink and shelter, and visiting them while they were sick or in prison), are said to be “righteous” or “just,” and are rewarded for their kind actions. Notice, again, that there is no indication that the righteousness of the “sheep” is based on anything other than how they treated Christ’s brethren (it certainly isn’t said to be based on their faith in Christ, or on what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection). At this future time, a gentile’s compassionate treatment of God’s covenant people (who, as noted earlier, will become the targets of severe persecution under the regime of the “wild beast”) will merit great reward after Christ returns. In his commentary on this passage, A.E. Knoch remarks as follows, “When God is judging the earth no greater act of righteousness can be done than to feed and shelter His oppressed people. Each faithful Israelite stands in the place of Christ toward the nations. Those who help them do so at the greatest risk, for they may be called to account by the powers that oppose them” (Concordant Commentary on the New Testament, page 49).

Geopolitical communities or individual gentiles?

Some have argued that each nation (i.e., geopolitical community/country) of the world will be represented by a single “sheep” or “goat.” According to this view, one “sheep” or “goat” will represent China, another Honduras, another Romania, another Botswana (etc.). Some proponents of this view have suggested that the individuals who will actually be present at this judgment will be the leaders/designated representatives of the nations to which they belong. This view also holds that the judgment will determine how close or distant a nation will be in proximity to Israel (with the “sheep” nations being closer to Israel, and the “goat” nations being more distant).

Although I am sympathetic toward this position, I’m not convinced that it’s true, and don’t see it as being required by what’s said in the text. Rather than understanding each “sheep” or “goat” as representing a single nation, I believe it is individual gentiles – i.e., the individual members of all the nations at this future time - who are being represented as “sheep” and “goats,” and that the judgment will determine the eonian destiny of individuals and families during the millennium (I added “families” only because a “sheep” or “goat” could, in many cases, be the head of a household, and thus have the potential to affect the eonian destiny of some or all of the other members of the household). There are a few considerations which have led me to accept this view over the alternative.

First, it’s simply not the case that Christ’s use of the expression “all the nations” means that the individuals who will comprise all the nations at this future time aren’t in view. The next time that the expression “all the nations” is found in scripture is in Matt. 28:19-20, where Christ instructed his twelve apostles to disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to be keeping all, whatever I direct you.” Is it the case that “all the nations” will be discipled, baptized and taught as nations (i.e., as collective, geopolitical entities)? Was Christ expecting his apostles to disciple, baptize and teach Egypt, Spain and China as nations? Or, was Christ instead expecting his apostles to disciple, baptize and teach the individuals of which these and other nations are comprised? Clearly, it is the latter. It is the individuals of which nations are comprised – and not the nations as such – which can be discipled, baptized and taught. In this verse, then, the expression “all the nations” must be understood as referring to the people who comprise all of the nations of the world.

The same expression is found in Rev. 20:7-9 as well: ”And whenever the thousand years should be finished, Satan will be loosed out of his jail. And he will be coming out to deceive all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to be mobilizing them for battle, their number being as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and surround the citadel of the saints and the beloved city. And fire descended from God out of heaven and devoured them.” Here we’re told that the number of “all the nations” which will be mobilized by Satan after the thousand years are finished will be “as the sand of the sea.” Is this referring to the number of separate, geopolitical communities that will exist at this future time, or to the number of people who will comprise these geopolitical communities? Clearly, it’s the latter. And if the expression “all the nations” can be understood as a reference to the people who comprise all the nations in Matt. 28:19 and Rev. 20:8, it can (and, I believe, should) be understood in the same way in Matt. 25:32. [1]

Second, the criteria by which the “sheep” and “goats” will be judged seems to point to the judgment’s being based on the actions of individuals rather than the “public policy” of entire countries. Consider verses 35-40 (where we read of Christ explaining why the “sheep” will be blessed):

For I hunger and you give Me to eat; I thirst and you give Me drink; a stranger was I and you took Me in; naked and you clothed Me; infirm am I and you visit Me; in jail was I and you come to Me.' Then the just will be answering Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we perceive Thee hungering and nourish Thee, or thirsting and we give Thee drink? Now when did we perceive Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and we clothed Thee? Now when did we perceive Thee infirm, or in jail, and we came to Thee?' And, answering, the King shall be declaring to them, 'Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it to one of these, the least of My brethren, you do it to Me.'

Based on this above, I find it unlikely that entire countries (such as China, Honduras or Romania) will be commended by Christ for visiting sick and imprisoned Israelites, or providing them with sustenance and shelter during the time of great affliction. It seems far more plausible to me that the actions described in this passage will be the actions of individual gentiles who will belong to these and other nations. This scenario seems all the more likely when we consider that the sort of actions described above will most likely be illegal, and against the sanction of the governments of the countries to which people will belong during the time of Israel’s “great affliction.” The reason for this is that, during the final 3½ years of this eon, the entire world will be under the authority of the “wild beast” (Rev. 13:7-8). We also read that “all nations” and the “kings of the earth” will be deceived by, and under the influence of, the saint-persecuting city of Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 17:2, 18; 18:3, 9, 23). If any of God’s covenant people are to be aided during this time of worldwide deception, it will have to be by individuals, and not by the deceived and hostile countries of the world.

Moreover, in Matthew 24:9 we’re told that the saints will be “hated by all nations.” If this refers to the saints being hated by entire countries – and if the same “all nations” are in view in Matthew 25 – then there would be no “sheep” to be rewarded! All would be “goats,” since we’re told that all nations will hate the saints. Since it’s not true that every individual member of every nation will hate the saints (otherwise there would be no “sheep” to be rewarded), these words most likely express the fact that individuals from every nation will hate the saints (perhaps under the influence and pressure of the governments). In any case, there will be at least some individuals from among “all nations” who don’t hate the saints, and who will risk their lives or freedom to help the saints during their time of persecution. It is these individual gentiles who I believe will be blessed after Christ returns.

Given these and other considerations (see the next installment for more), I think it’s reasonable to understand the judgment described in Matthew 25 as one in which the eonian allotment of the people comprising every nation of the world will be determined.

Part five: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-judgment-of-sheep-and-goats-study_67.html



[1] Although the words translated “nation” and “nations” in scripture (ethnos and ethne, respectively) can refer to entire geopolitical communities to which individuals belong, the plural form ethne (“nations”) is often times used in scripture to refer to individual non-Jews, or “gentiles” (with the expression “the nations” likely expressing the fact that the individual gentiles in view are representative of this particular category of people). That is, the word “nations” does not always refer directly to specific countries (e.g., Egypt, Turkey, Libya, etc.), but rather was used to refer to individual gentiles themselves. Consider the following examples where the same word translated “nations” in Matthew 25:32 is used to refer to individual gentiles, as opposed to directly denoting the entire geopolitical communities to which the individuals belonged:

Acts 10:45-46
And amazed were the believers of the Circumcision, whoever come together with Peter, seeing that on the nations also the gratuity of the holy spirit has been poured out. For they heard them [the nations] speaking in languages and magnifying God….Now the apostles and the brethren who are of Judea hear that the nations also receive the word of God.

Here, “the nations” who received the word of God (and on whom the “gratuity of the holy spirit” was poured out) refers exclusively to the centurion, Cornelius, along with “his relatives and intimate friends” (Acts 10:24). See also Acts 15:7, where Peter refers to himself as being the one chosen by God to herald the evangel entrusted to him “to the nations” (where, again, the expression “the nations” refers to individual gentiles rather than to the geopolitical communities to which these gentiles belonged).

Acts 14:47-48
For thus the Lord has directed us: I have appointed Thee for a light of the nations; for Thee to be for salvation as far as the limits of the earth.'" Now on hearing this, the nations rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian.

Here, again, “the nations” refers to individual gentiles. They’re referred to as “the nations” because they were seen as examples of this category of people.

Romans 9:30
What, then, shall we be declaring? That the nations who are not pursuing righteousness overtook righteousness, yet a righteousness which is out of faith.

Obviously, there weren’t entire geopolitical communities who were being justified by faith; rather those being justified were individual gentiles. Other examples could be given, but these should suffice.

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Three)

The basis of the judgment

According to most Christians, the “sheep” represent those who will have met the necessary requirement (or requirements) for salvation, while the “goats” represent those who failed to meet this requirement. That which is necessary for salvation is expressed in different ways by Christians. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll generalize this necessary requirement for salvation as the requirement that one become a “born-again Christian” (for regardless of the differences in how the necessary requirement for salvation may be presented, most  Christians would agree that it is only “true” Christians who will be saved, and the words “born again” are intended to reflect this fact).

Now, let’s assume that this view is correct. That is, let’s assume that the “sheep” are those who will not “receive eternal punishment,” and that becoming a “sheep” requires that one become a “born-again” (or “true”) Christian. This would necessarily exclude not only those who have made an “informed decision” to not become a born-again Christian, but also infants/young children, many mentally disabled people, and every person throughout history who has lived and died without having ever heard the “true gospel” to which the “necessary requirements” for salvation are attached.

Thus, if the expression commonly translated “eternal life” in Matthew 25:46 and elsewhere refers to one’s final salvation - and if only those who become born-again Christians before they die will avoid “eternal punishment” - then all who die as infants/young children, many mentally disabled people, and every person throughout history who has died without becoming a “born again Christian” will be lost forever (and to attempt to make any category of persons an exception to this requirement is to completely undermine the position that becoming a “born again Christian” is absolutely necessary to being finally saved). Fortunately, this passage has nothing at all to do with the “eternal destiny” of those who become (or fail to become) born again Christians before they die.

In fact, the “buzzwords” that Christians normally use and associate with being “saved” (such as “gospel,” “faith,” “believe,” “grace,” “repentance,” “born again,” “conversion,” “confess,” etc.) are conspicuously missing from this passage. The view of many Christians notwithstanding, the judgment described in this passage seems to be very much based on people’s actions toward others rather than on meeting the conditions that most Christians believe must be met in order to receive “eternal life” (and, it should be noted, this remains the case irrespective of whether or not one thinks the salvation of the “sheep” was ultimately predestined by God). Given the popular view concerning what this passage is about, the emphasis we find on people’s acts (rather than on, say, their faith or unbelief) should be a matter of great puzzlement to those Christians who believe a person’s “eternal destiny” hinges on whether or not they become a “born again” (or “true”) Christian before they die.

As if the emphasis on works in this passage wasn’t problematic enough, the problem that this passage creates for the popular Christian view on judgment is exacerbated by the fact that the works on which the judgment is based are not even said to be good and bad works in general. The “sheep” are not said to be rewarded based on all the good things they did prior to this judgment, and the “goats” are not said to be punished for all the bad things they did prior to the judgment. Christ was very specific concerning the actions that determine the destiny of those who fall into the two categories of people being judged. Whether those among the nations are categorized as “sheep” or “goats” is based on how these people treated a third category of persons – i.e., those whom Christ referred to as his “brethren” and “the least of these” (v. 40). But who are these “brethren” of Christ?

The least of Christ’s brethren

I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that one's interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46 hinges on the identity of that category of people referred to in this passage as "the least of [Christ's] brethren." To determine their identity, let’s consider an earlier passage from Matthew’s Account. In Matt. 12:46-50, we read the following:

At His still speaking to the throngs, lo! His mother and brothers stood outside seeking to speak to Him. Now someone of His disciples said, “Lo! Thy mother and Thy brothers stand outside. They are seeking to speak to Thee.” Yet He, answering, said to the one saying it to Him, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand over His disciples, He said, “Lo! My mother and My brothers! For anyone whoever should be doing the will of My Father Who is in the heavens, he is My brother and sister and mother!

Notice that Christ understood the disciples over whom he stretched out his hand to be representative of his “mother” and “brothers” (i.e., his relatives). He further clarified the identity of these relatives of his as “anyone whoever should be doing the will of My Father Who is in the heavens.” But what did Christ mean by “doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens?” Upon the start of Jesus' ministry, it became the case that an Israelite’s faith in God could not be separated from faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus – i.e., believing that he was and is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:13-17) – became just as important as faith in Yahweh, the one God of Israel. This is made especially evident in John’s Gospel account, where one of the central themes of the book is that faith in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God is essential to having eonian life (John 20:30-31). So it's clear that one of the ways in which Christ believed his disciples did the will of his Father was by believing the truth concerning his Messianic identity (cf. 1 John 3:23).

However, despite the emphasis in this book on believing that Jesus is the Messiah/Son of God, it would be a mistake to think that “faith without works” was sufficient for an Israelite’s doing the will of God and being worthy of an allotment in the kingdom during the eon to come. "Doing the will of God" was, for Christ's disciples, inseparable from their conduct. According to Christ, if an Israelite wanted to be saved and enter into the kingdom of God, their righteousness had to “super-abound” more than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), and it’s clear from the immediate context that this involved keeping the precepts of the law given by God to Israel (vv. 17-19). Although the righteousness that made an Israelite worthy of entering into life in the eon to come undoubtedly involved the heart rather than the external conduct only (we find this point emphasized throughout Christ’s teaching), it’s also clear that an Israelite’s conduct (i.e., keeping God's commandments) was inseparable from his being righteous. According to Christ, it was not “workers of lawlessness” but rather those who were “doing the will of [his Father] in the heavens” who would “be entering into the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 7:16-23; cf. vv. 24-27). Notice that Christ contrasts doing the will of God with “lawlessness” (see 1 John 3:4). “Lawlessness” is, of course, the opposite of keeping God's law/commandments.

When asked by a young man what one needed to be doing in order to have life eonian in the kingdom of God, Christ replied, “If you are wanting to be entering into life, keep the precepts” (Matt. 19:16-17). Christ went on to list five of the “Ten Commandments,” as well as what he considered the second of the two “greatest commandments” given to Israel: “You shall be loving your associate as yourself” (vv. 18-19; cf. Mark 12:29-34). Rather than being an entirely separate precept for Israel, this “greatest precept” (like the other "greatest precept") encompassed all of the precepts which Israel is under obligation to keep, for we're told that "on these two precepts is hanging the whole law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul even considered the precepts of the law to be "summed up" in the precept to "love your associate as yourself" (Rom. 13:8-10). It is impossible for an Israelite to keep what Christ referred to as the “greatest precepts” while violating God’s law, as expressed in the very precepts which God himself inscribed in stone and, through Moses, delivered to Israel (Ex. 24:12; 31:18). It should also be noted that the law God gave to Israel (and which is encompassed by what Christ referred to as the greatest precept) includes the fourth commandment, which involves keeping the seventh-day Sabbath holy.

In addition to affirming the essential involvement of the heart in keeping God's precepts (Matt. 5:27-28), Christ also warned his disciples against being “snared” by the temptation to break one of God's precepts with the following exhortation: “Now, if your right eye is snaring you, wrench it out and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna [i.e., the Valley of Hinnom]. And if your hand should ever be snaring you, strike it off and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body pass away into Gehenna…It is ideal for you to be entering life maimed, rather than having two hands, to be cast into Gehenna…” (Matt. 5:27-30; Mark 9:42-48). Clearly, Christ did not understand the keeping of God's precepts as a mere option for his disciples, or "brethren." Again, a failure to keep God's precepts constituted "lawlessness," and it was the "workers of lawlessness" whom Christ declared would not enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:22-23).

According to Christ in his Olivet Discourse, all believing Israelites who will be alive during the time of “great affliction” must remain “vigilant” (Luke 21:36), “watchful” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13), and “faithful” (25:21-23). They must avoid being “snared” and “deceived” (Matt. 24:4), and must “endure to the consummation” in order to be “saved” (Matt. 24:13). We know that the “consummation” Christ had in view in this verse refers to his coming in power and glory at the end of the eon, and that being “saved” means being worthy to stand before Christ at this time and to enter into life in the kingdom (Luke 21:28-31). And based on John’s words in Rev. 14:12, it can also be reasonably inferred that the “enduring” which Christ had in mind entailed keeping the precepts of God and the faith of Jesus.”

Thus, from the larger context we can reasonably conclude that the “brethren” and “least of these” that Christ had in mind in Matthew 25:31-46 are the faithful Jewish saints (those who are doing the will of the Father) who will be alive on the earth during the time of “great affliction,” and who will be hated by “all of the nations” (Matt. 24:9). At some future time, God is going to begin to remove the “hardness” or “callousness” which is presently on “Israel, in part” (Rom. 11:7-8, 25-26). And sometime following (or coinciding with) this removal of callousness from Israel, intense persecution will break out against the Jewish people. We know that the second 3½ years of the 70th "week" or heptad (the time of “great affliction”) will involve “great necessity in the land and indignation” on the Jewish people (Luke 21:23; cf. Jer. 30:4-7). For more information on this time period (and the scriptural support for it), see part four of my study on the timing of the snatching away.

This time of “great affliction” is not something that will involve only a relatively small number of believing Israelites undergoing persecution, while an unbelieving Jewish majority is spared. Rather, we're told that, at this time, two thirds of all the Israelites in Judea will “be cut off and perish,” with only one third being left alive (Zech. 13:1, 8-9). And the spared remnant will clearly consist of believers with whom God will be in a newly-established covenant relationship (as is evident from the final part of Zech. 13:9). Thus, from the midpoint of the 70th "week" on, the Jewish people in general - beginning with those living in the land of Judea - will be severely persecuted by the nations (and this persecution will, it seems, be directly instigated and authorized by the “wild beast” - along with his associate, the “false prophet” - as referred to in Revelation 13).  

Shortly after the “abomination of desolation” has been set up in the future temple (which will take place toward the end of the first 3½ years of the 70th "week"), it will be necessary for Israelites living in Judea to flee into the mountains in order to escape the tribulation that is to come (Luke 21:20-23). Those who do not escape will either be killed or “led into captivity into all nations” (v.24; cf. Zech. 14:1-2). Even before this time of “great affliction” begins, we read that Jewish believers (whom Christ’s disciples can be understood as representing) will be given up to affliction, killed, and “hated by all of the nations” because of Christ’s name (Matt. 24:9). It is also these believers who will be heralding the “evangel of the kingdom in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations” before the consummation of the eon arrives (v. 14). 

I have placed the words “all nations” and “all of the nations” in bold for a reason, for it is within this broad category of humanity that I believe the “sheep” and “goats” of Matthew 25:31-46 will be found. The “nations” of Matt. 25:32 are, in other words, constituted by the same individuals who constituted the “nations” referred to throughout chapter 24 (or, at least, those among this category of people who will still be alive after the time of “great affliction” ends, when Christ returns). It is these individuals who will be separated by Christ when, after taking his seat on “the throne of his glory” (cf. Matt. 19:28), he begins judging the inhabitants of the earth.

To summarize this section, the three categories of people who are in view in Matthew 25:31-46 can be understood as follows: (1) those among “all the nations” who, having aided Christ’s brethren in their time of need, will be deemed righteous (2) those among “all the nations” who, having failed to assist Christ’s brethren in their time of need, will be deemed unrighteous, and (3) Christ’s brethren (i.e., Jewish believers/disciples of Christ who will have gone through a time of “great affliction” prior to the return of Christ to the earth, and will have been “hated by all of the nations”).