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20 Studies in Bible Prophecy

Study 16 - The Judgment of the Nations

Judgment is God's "strange work", and as William Hoste observed, "There is a sense in which God is at the present time judging nations and His people, but this is corrective and temporary." The aspect of judgment we are now examining is final and penal.

The Sequence

The relevant verses in (Matt. 25:31-46) do not present a parable. The whole picture is literal, beginning with the appearance of the Son of Man, accompanied by His angels, and around Him the Gentile nations. This scene depicted by Christ tallies with that described by the prophet Joel (3:1, 2, 11, 12). From a survey of Joel's Prophecy it becomes evident that we are transported into "the day of the Lord." One writer states that this "is the period which closes the present era of man's misrule on earth, ushering in the terrible judgment, issuing at last in full and permanent blessing."

History demonstrates that the human race has been subjected to various judgments, but the most important and the most terrible epoch is still future. This judgment will conclude one of the principle phases of God's dealings, i.e. "the times of the Gentiles", and will in a measure anticipate the last judgment, that of the Great White Throne.

So says (Matt. 25:31), this judgment transpires

"When the Son of Man shall come in His glory." The contextual setting here signifies that it is the coming of Christ to earth to inaugurate His millennial kingdom. This coming of Christ will bring to an end the Great Tribulation and will usher in the Millennium.

The Scene

The location is stated in (Joel 3:2,12) as "the valley of Jehoshaphat" and since it follows the second coming, it must transpire on earth. As to the exact location there is a conflict of opinion, some suggesting the "valley of Berachah" (2 Chron. 20:26), others favouring the "valley of Kidron" which is in close proximity to Jerusalem. Dr. Tatford very shrewdly remarks in his exposition of Joel's prophecy, "it is impossible to be dogmatic regarding the appointed site of the judgment."

Since the name Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges". Prof. Dwight Pentecost suggests that the solution may lie in (Zech. 14:4), where the prophet foretells that in a coming day Christ's feet will touch down on Mount Olivet. When this transpires, great physical disturbances will occur to a degree that will completely alter the topography of Palestine. So he avers, "A valley which is not in existence today shall come into 'being at the time of the second advent. Since the name Jehoshaphat means 'Jehovah judges', it may be that the newly opened valley outside Jerusalem will bear that name because of the momentous event to transpire there."

The Subjects

In our identification of those judged, several things must be noted. 

First, those judged are alive at the moment of it and are not the dead raised to judgment. This clearly distinguishes this judgment from that at the end of the millennium, called the Great White Throne, involving "the dead" (Rev. 20:5, 12, 13). This is the judgment of "the quick" and both are referred to in (2 Tim. 4:1). 

Secondly, those judged here are clearly identified as "all nations" (Matt. 25:32). This could be translated "all Gentiles", since the word "nation" (ethnos) is translated twice as "people", some five times as "heathen", over sixty times as "nation", and over ninety times as "Gentiles". It is clear that here we have a judgment that will involve living Gentiles who have survived the terrors and judgments of the tribulation. This judgment will decide who will participate in Christ's earthly kingdom and who will be excluded. Prof. Walvoord stresses that "In view of the fact that this is the climax of the times of the Gentiles, it seems appropriate that a special judgment should be applied to those who have oppressed Israel throughout their history." 

Thirdly, the subjects of this tribunal are distinct from the Jews. Matthew distinctly contrasts the judged from those Christ refers to as "My brethren." A similar judgment will be meted out to the Jewish nation (Ezekiel 20 : 34-38). This proves that God has not finished with His earthly people, and when His purpose for this age of grace is fulfilled, i.e. when the church has been completed, God will renew His dealings with the Jews. That will involve the Jewish people alive then on earth when Jesus descends to reign. Dr. Skevington Wood makes the purpose of this judgment for Israel clear when he states, "Just as at the exodus God brought His people out of the bondage of Egypt, and then dealt with them in the wilderness before they were permitted to enter the land of promise, so at the end He will gather them out of the countries in which they have been dispersed and plead with them in the wilderness before the purified nation inherits the long-awaited kingdom of David's greater Son."

The Standard

With regard to the principle of judgment, according to (John 3:18), "He that believeth not is condemned already." Judgment is already given and apart from repentance and faith, the final assize will but announce the verdict. So observes Dr. Skevington Wood, in reference to the judgment on the Gentiles at the outset of the millennium, "Judgment has in fact already taken place: it is the verdict and the separation of the innocent from the guilty that is described here."

After the church has been raptured from the earth, a witness will go forth to the nations. The preachers will be Jewish, and they will bear the message to those regions enveloped in heathen darkness. The nations which receive these messengers and treat them kindly will gain admission into the earthly kingdom, and those who refuse the message and rebuff the preachers will be subjected to irrevocable judgment. So the treatment of the Jews is the basis on which nations will be judged on that day. In (Matt. 24:14) Jesus said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." The Gentiles will be admitted or refused on the grounds of their response to the gospel of the kingdom.

The Sentence

The point of this judgment is evidently one of separation. God's King and Judge, Jesus Christ, to Whom has been committed all judgment (John 5:22), will be seated on David's throne, and judging from the silence of the narrative in Matt. 25, not a word will be spoken. He will divide the assembled company into two groups as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, placing the "sheep "on His right hand and the "goats" on His left. To those in the place of favour He will say, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).

These will be admitted into the blessings of the millennial kingdom about to be established. To those in the place of disfavour He will announce "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (25 : 41). So one company is received into the earthly kingdom as subjects of the king, while the other group is excluded and consigned to a fiery destination. Dr. Tatford observes, "This is no mere exclusion from the earthly kingdom; it is permanent and irrevocable judgment."

Those admitted into the earthly kingdom under Messiah's kingship will be there in the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies as found in (Dan. 7:14; Isaiah 55:5; Micah 4:2).

Thus ends this process of purification on the threshold of the earthly theocratic kingdom. Every opposing power will be put down, and Jesus shall reign in his world-girdling kingdom for a millennium of years. So concludes Hal Lindsay: "A thousand years of new management!"