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Go to Bible: Matthew 25
“At that time.” This is one of the times when chapter headings are not helpful, but actually hinder understanding the Bible. Matthew 25 continues Jesus’ teaching that he started in Matthew 24:4. From Matthew 24:4 all the way to the end of Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:46), is one long answer to the question asked to him by the Apostles: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3). Jesus gives a basic overall chronology of some major end-times events, such as the wars, earthquakes, tribulation, him coming in the clouds down to earth, then gathering all the nations before him and judging them at the sheep and goat judgment. But understanding the chronology of the end times is “head knowledge.” It is nice to know, even important to know, but neither knowing it nor being ignorant of it will change it—the things Jesus spoke of will come to pass.
However, there are some very important facts we need to know and must keep in mind, and so in the middle of explaining to the Apostles how some major end-times events will play out, Jesus adds some very pointed parables to drive home the fact that we must take this life very seriously.
The first parable is of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). The point of that parable is that there will be a time when the door to salvation will be closed and so “now is the day of salvation.” Now is a time to be prepared for the future (exemplified by the wise virgins), because when Jesus finally comes (exemplified by the bridegroom) the time of salvation is over. At that time the unsaved people will realize they have been foolish and want to get into the kingdom (exemplified by the marriage feast) but they will not be able to get in; the door will be closed (Matt. 25:10-12). Those who have been obedient (Matt. 24:46) and wise (Matt. 25:2) will get to enter. The evil and foolish will be shut out, and “there will be sobbing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:51). The message of the parable is get saved now “because you do not know the day or hour” when Judgment day comes, and when it does the invitation to be saved will no longer be offered; it will then be the time of judgment (Matt. 25:13).
The second parable in Matthew 25 is the parable of the talents. The emphasis of the parable of the talents is that people will be rewarded according to their works. It is similar to the first in that there is a time to be wise and do what it takes to get saved and that time will come to an end. But the emphasis of the parable is that at some unknown point in the future the Lord will come and judgment will begin, and people will be either rewarded or punished depending on how they lived their life. A major difference between the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents is that in the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches that even the people who are saved will be judged (evaluated) and then rewarded according to their works.
In the parable of the virgins, the issue was salvation, and that a person was either allowed in the wedding feast or was closed out (in which case the Lake of Fire would be their end). In the parable of the talents even the saved are judged, and they are then rewarded differently according to what they had done in their life. This is a huge lesson. Many people think that “being saved” is the goal, and as long as you are saved you have “made it.” That is far from the truth.
People will have different positions in the kingdom: some will have charge of “many things” (Matt. 25:21-23), and some will not. There is no reason to have little in the future kingdom of Jesus Christ. All he asks for is that we “seek first the kingdom of God” and obey Him. We should all make his work and his agenda more important than our own. If we do that, we “will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11 NIV). If we do not, and are ashamed of him (as demonstrated by the way we behave), “the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It is our decision to be saved or not, and it is our decision to obey him or not. Let’s be like the wise virgins and the “good and faithful” servants, and get saved and be richly rewarded. It will be more than worth it.(top)
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“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!).(top)
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“the marriage feast.” Jesus is speaking a parable, but it is an important teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and the marriage feast associated with it, and it is accurate in important details. There will be a huge feast, most likely at the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. Isaiah 25:6 speaks of this feast, and Jesus taught about it. Revelation 19:9 calls it the “marriage banquet of the Lamb.” In this parable, Jesus makes it clear that entrance to this feast is not to be taken lightly, and at some time in the future the door will be shut and people who have been foolish will be excluded. [For more information on the feast, see commentary on Matthew 8:11. For more information about those people who are excluded from the feast, see commentary on Matthew 8:12].(top)
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“watch.” The Greek is grēgoreō (#1127 γρηγορέω; pronounced grey-gor-ehˈō), which means “be awake” (sometimes used for being alive) “watch,” “be alert,” “pay attention.” However, in this context it means more than just “watch,” it has the pregnant meaning of being alert and paying attention, in large part by doing what we are supposed to be doing. It does not mean, “sit back, relax, and just keep watch.” It means be doing what you are supposed to be doing until the Lord comes.(top)
“a man going on a journey.” This is similar to the parable in Luke 19:12-27. The “man” in the parable represents God.
In the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27), each servant was given the same amount, one mina. One servant took his one mina and made ten more minas. Another servant took his one mina and made 5 more minas. But the wicked servant did not trade or invest his one mina but hid it in the earth and it did not even earn interest.
The parable of the talents here in Matthew 25:14-30 is different. One servant was given five talents and made five more talents with them; one servant was given two talents and made two more with them, and one servant hid his talent in the earth and did not invest it. The major lesson of both parables is the same: we were created by God with a purpose—we were created to do good works, His works (Eph. 2:10)—and people who do not invest their lives to enrich His kingdom are wicked in His sight.(top)
“talents.” In the New Testament, the “talent” is used once as a unit of weight (cp. Rev. 16:21), but otherwise it was a unit of money. Different cultures had different talents, but most scholars believe Christ would have been referring to the Attic talent, which was equal to 6,000 denarii, or 6,000 days wages. At the time of Christ, one denarius (the plural is denarii) was a day’s wage for a field hand or a soldier, which would make a talent about 20 years wage for the average worker. To arrive at an idea of how much money is being referred to, if a low-wage worker made $8 per hour ($64 per day; just above minimum wage), then 1 talent was $384,000, and 5 talents would be 1,920,000 dollars (1 million, nine hundred twenty thousand dollars), a huge sum to entrust to a slave.
In parables like this one in Matthew 25:14-30, in the mind of the Jews of the time, the wealthy man (some parables have a king, ruler, or landowner) was God, and the servants or workers were the people on earth, who are all God’s servants, whether they know it or not. In this parable, Christ is making the point that God has given humans great wealth, which we understand from Scripture is their life and all that they have, and each person has the obligation to use the wealth they have been given to benefit God. Many people acknowledge that what they have been given in life is from God, and they use their “talent” for His benefit. But many other people are like the fearful slave who does not use his talent in a way that benefits God, and God refers to those people as “wicked” and “lazy.”
This parable makes a number of important points. Certainly one of them is that each person has an obligation to use his or her “talent” for God’s benefit. In this particular case, there is what is sometimes referred to as a “happy coincidence” of language, where the Greek word “talent,” which is a unit of money, also makes sense, but in a different way, in English, where “talent” refers to the natural abilities of a person. Some people use their abilities in God’s service, others choose not to serve God, but “bury” their abilities when it comes to God’s service.
Another important point in the parable is that people have different “talents,” and God expects us to use what we have. Luke 12:48 makes it clear that much will be required from people who have been given much, and less will be required from people who have been given less. It is absolutely detrimental to try to compare what we do for God with what other people do for God, because we cannot know the true “talents” within them. Instead, each person should focus on using all their talents for God to the maximum degree.
Still another noteworthy point of the parable comes out of the mouth of the slave who buried his talent; he was afraid. Countless numbers of people do not do their best for God because they are afraid of something, and the list of things to be afraid of seems endless. The Bible tells us not to be afraid of people and what people can do, but to be afraid of the consequence of not serving God. Since the Devil is the god of this world, and has an army of godless people to support his causes, God’s people must learn to overcome personal fear so they can best serve God. [For more information on the talent as a measure of money, see commentary on Matt. 18:24].(top)
“five talents.” At just above minimum wage, five talents would be $1,920,000 (see commentary on Matt. 25:15).(top)
“two talents.” At just above minimum wage, two talents would be $768,000 (see commentary on Matt. 25:15).(top)
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“Now after a long time.” This parable in Matthew 25 is about the coming kingdom of Heaven (cp. Matt. 25:1). The wealthy landowner who entrusted money to his slaves represents God, and the slaves to whom the property was entrusted is Israel. This God-Israel relationship is common in the parables. God is compared to a landowner, rich person, or king in a number of the parables, although the relationship is not spoken but implied (cp. the parable of the unforgiving servant; Matt. 18:23-35. The parable of the workers in the field; Matt. 20:1-16. The parable of the man with two sons; Matt. 21:28-31. The parable of the evil tenants; Matt. 21:33-40; the parable of the wedding banquet; Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24).
God gave land and wealth a long time ago, but He will not settle accounts with people until Christ reigns as king on earth. Thus Jesus accurately represents that it is indeed a long time between when the slaves were entrusted wealth and when God settles accounts on the Day of Judgment.
[For more on the future kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth. For more on rewards in the future, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or worthless”].(top)
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“to everyone who has.” At first reading, this verse is unclear and seems very unfair. It seems to say that if a person has something they will get more, while if a person does not have anything, they will lose even what they have. Of course that would be unfair, and thankfully that is not what Jesus is teaching.
Jesus is teaching a very important lesson, and we can tell that because the Gospels record him teaching it five different times (Matt. 13:12; 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18, 19:26). In the context of Jesus’ teachings, it is clear that the reason a person “has” is that he used his time and resources wisely, while a person who does “not have” is in that position because he made unwise choices and/or lived an ungodly life. That is certainly the case here in Matthew, because the servant who “had” and to whom more would be given had used his time and ability wisely, while the servant who did “not have” was lazy and wicked. The New Living Testament is more paraphrastic than literal, but it gets the sense of the verse in its translation: “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”
It is also important to note that in all of the five times Jesus taught this lesson, he never explained what it was that anyone would “have.” Normally, we would think that Jesus would not just say, “to everyone who has…But from the one that does not have….” We ask, “has what? Does not have what?” But Jesus did not say, “to everyone who has money,” or “land,” or “servants,” or anything specific at all. Thus, Jesus left it open as to what a person could have. It could be money or material things, or it could be something immaterial such as “peace” or “joy.”
What is clear from the context and was clear in the culture of Jesus’ day, was that if a person “had” something it was almost always because of the good choices they had made. In contrast, if a person did not have, it was because of poor choices, and eventually they would lose even what little they had.
In our modern world it is common to think that if anyone has anything, they should share it with those who do not have. And while there are people today who “have” due to unrighteous circumstances, there are many more people who “have” because they worked hard, took proper risks, lived a godly life, and were blessed. Similarly, although some people today who “have not” are the victims of unfortunate circumstances, there are many people today who “have not” because they are not diligent to work hard, control their desires, and make godly choices. Thus, in many circumstances it is not right or godly to take from people who have and give to people who do not have. Yet the governments of the world do that all the time; and godly people should stand against that kind of taking and the mentality behind it as well. God did not design life so everyone would have the same things; He designed the earth to reward those people who work hard and make godly choices.
Jesus’ parable would upset many people today because Jesus does the opposite of what governments usually do: he takes from the lazy and ungodly person and gives to the diligent person. This parable of Jesus points out the way life really works when godly people are in charge, and the way it will be on the Day of Judgment, because on that Day the injustice of the world will disappear and the diligent and godly will be richly rewarded while the lazy and ungodly will get what they deserve, whether it be loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15) or dying unsaved and being cast into the Lake of Fire and being annihilated (Rev. 20:11-15). Thus, this parable serves as a warning to lazy people who want to live off the work that others do, and it is an encouragement to people who are diligent and godly, that even if somehow things don’t work out well in this life, they will in the next; so keep on being godly and diligent, there is a reward for it.(top)
“the darkness outside.” This is a reference to the darkness outside the Kingdom and the great banquet there, which is the darkness of the Lake of Fire. [For more information on the banquet see commentary on Matt. 8:11, “recline at the feast.” For more information on what happens to those people who are not included in the banquet, the unsaved, see commentary on Matt. 8:12. For more on the attributes of the Messianic Kingdom on earth see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more about the unsaved being annihilated in the Lake of Fire and not being tortured forever, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.” For more about the different resurrections—the Resurrection of the Righteous and the Resurrection of the Unrighteous, see commentary on Acts 24:15].
“sobbing and gnashing of teeth.” The mention of sobbing and gnashing of teeth occurs seven times in the Bible (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). All of these occurrences are in the Gospels. There is only one future Messianic Kingdom, and it fills the whole earth. The unsaved are not part of that Kingdom but are thrown into the Lake of Fire where there is sobbing and gnashing of teeth (Rev. 20:13-15). [For a more complete explanation of the sobbing and gnashing of teeth, see commentary on Matt. 8:12].(top)
“glorious throne.” This is an example of the Figure of Speech Antimereia (of the noun in regimen for an adjective. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible). The Greek literally reads “a throne of his glory.” “Glory” is moved by antimeria from an adjective to a noun to give it more emphasis. Unfortunately, in English, it makes the sentence hard to understand, so using the simple adjective makes sense.
Jesus will come in his glory at the Battle of Armageddon, at which point he will conquer the armies of the Antichrist, Satan will be imprisoned, and Jesus will rule over the earth (Rev. 19:11-20:3). For the Sheep and Goat Judgment, Jesus will set up his throne in the “wilderness of the people” which is between Egypt and Israel (see commentary on Matt. 25:32).(top)
“all the nations will be gathered before him.” Matthew 25:31-46 describes the Sheep and Goat Judgment. In the End Times, there is horrible tribulation on earth, often described as “the Great Tribulation.” The Great Tribulation ends with the Battle of Armageddon, when Jesus comes down from heaven with his army and conquers the earth (cp. Rev. 19:11-21). The great majority of people on earth will have been killed in the Tribulation and in the Battle of Armageddon (see commentary on Daniel 12:1 and Isaiah 13:9), but there will be survivors. At that time Jesus will send out his angels and gather the survivors and will judge them, and that judgment is the Sheep and Goat Judgment. Jesus will then let the “sheep,” the good people, into his Millennial Kingdom, while the “goats,” the evil people, will be thrown into the flames of the Lake of Fire.
This event is also described in different ways in other places in the Gospels. For example, in the Parable of the Good and Bad Seed (Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43), Jesus taught that good and evil people live together on earth until the end of the age, at which point the angels gather up the bad people, called “darnel” in the parable, and throw them into the fire. Also, in Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a net that gathered every kind of fish, and that is what will happen when Jesus comes and conquers the earth, every sort of person will be there. But then in his parable Jesus explains that the fish will be sorted into “good” and “bad” and the “good” will be kept while the “bad” will be thrown into the fire. Jesus’ teachings build on each other and teach the same basic thing: good people and evil people live on earth together until Christ conquers it, then everyone alive at that time will be gathered to “the Sheep and Goat Judgment,” and the good people will be let into Christ’s kingdom and the evil people will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
There is a good chance that many people who escape death during the Tribulation and Armageddon will do so by hiding, and although it is impossible to successfully hide from God and His angels, God emphasizes that no one will escape judgment. He says, “it will happen that at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps” (Zeph. 1:12), so there will be no dark places to hide in. After Armageddon, everyone left alive on earth will be rounded up and judged.
The Sheep and Goat Judgment will not happen in Jerusalem, it will happen in the “wilderness of the people,” that is, the wilderness between Egypt and Israel, just as Ezek. 20:35 says (cp. Ezek. 20:34-38). The wicked Israelites, the “goats,” will not get to enter the land of Israel (Ezek. 20:38), but will be destroyed (Ezek. 34:16).
“as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Jesus’ gathering the people of earth together after the Battle of Armageddon and dividing them into two groups, “sheep” and “goats,” is called “The Sheep and Goat Judgment” by theologians. The sheep and goat judgment occurs at the start of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth. It is likely that Jesus got the terminology of “sheep” and “goats” from Ezekiel 34:11-24, where God’s people are sheep but there are also male goats (Ezek. 34:17).
This judgment is not well understood by Christians. It has been called a parable by some theologians, which it certainly is not, and it has been called an illustration of the final judgment, and it is not that either. The Sheep and Goat judgment has been misunderstood for a number of reasons. One is that it happens on earth, but most Christians are taught that when a person dies he immediately is judged and either granted entrance to heaven or is sent to “hell.” In that system there is no judgment on earth, nor is there a judgment of a large group of people at one time, as we see here in Matthew 25 when Christ judges the nations.
Another reason the sheep and goat judgment is misunderstood is that some Christians are taught that when Christ comes from heaven and fights the Battle of Armageddon, no one on earth survives. In that case, even though in Matthew 25 this judgment occurs after the Tribulation and Armageddon, supposedly there would be no one left on earth to judge. However, the Bible makes it clear that some people will survive the Tribulation and Armageddon. For example, Isaiah 13:12 and 24:6 show us there will be “very few” survivors, but given that there are more than seven billion people on earth, “very few” could easily mean a few million or more. Matthew 25:31-46 implies that there will be a significant number of people alive because the “nations” will be brought before Christ.
The record of the sheep and goat judgment is also confusing to some people because it does not seem to be clearly connected to the other resurrections and judgments, so people have a hard time figuring out what it is and when it occurs. Actually, when we properly understand the Bible and the chronology it sets forth, the sheep and goat judgment not only makes sense, it can be seen to be a necessity. To understand it, we must fit it into the general chronology of the book of Revelation. Thankfully, we can do that because Jesus taught about the end of this age and the tribulation period in some detail (Matthew 24 and 25; Mark 13:5-31; Luke 21:5-36).
When fitting the sheep and goat judgment into the chronology of the end times, it helps to keep in mind that Matthew 24:4-25:46 is Jesus’ very long but single answer to the question the Apostles asked in Matthew 24:3: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” It would have helped us understand the end times if Jesus’ teaching that is recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 had been kept as one chapter instead of broken into two because the overall flow of Matthew 24:4-25:46 is chronological: There will be tribulation on earth; then Jesus will come with his angels and the elect and nations will be gathered; then there will be the sheep and goat judgment when all those gathered will be judged. At that point, the righteous people will be allowed to enter the Millennial Kingdom, while the unrighteous people are sentenced to punishment and are cast into the Lake of Fire. The righteous people marry, have children, age and die (Isa. 65:20-23). What we now know from the New Testament that no one knew until the New Testament was written was what happened to those natural people after they died. We now know that they will get up in the second resurrection, the Resurrection of the Unrighteous, which is at the end of the 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom of Christ, and if they lived righteous lives they will have been written in the Book of Life and granted everlasting life (Rev. 20:4-6, 11-15).
Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and goat judgment comes near the end of his answer to the Apostles’ question and connects that judgment to the Tribulation and the end of the Age. In fact, Jesus’ teaching shows us that the sheep and goat judgment comes after the Tribulation and his being on earth (Matt. 24:29-30; 25:31).
There is a lot of confusion and disagreement about how the details of the Book of Revelation fit together, but this is in large part due to erroneous teaching. For example, in the Gospels and Revelation, Christ comes to earth, but orthodox Christianity teaches that Jesus stays in heaven, and this obviously confuses people. Or, when the Bible says that Satan is bound in the Abyss-prison while people reign on earth 1000 years, people are taught that those statements are just figures of speech—Satan is not literally bound and the 1000 years are not a literal period of 1000 years—so again, people are confused. Or, people are taught that the Book of Revelation is not chronological, so they don’t look for it to set forth a timeline that can be followed.
But the “big picture” set forth in Revelation is indeed in chronological order. There will be a period of great tribulation; then the Battle of Armageddon will occur; then Satan will be bound for 1000 years; then there will be the Sheep and Goat Judgment for people who lived through the Tribulation and Armageddon and the resurrection of the Righteous (the first resurrection) for those people who had died by the end of Armageddon; then there will be the 1000-year Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth; then Satan will be loosed and will gather an army and attack Jerusalem. That army will be defeated and Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire; then there will be the White Throne Judgment; then the New Jerusalem comes to earth and the righteous live forever in it. This “big picture” chronology can be seen if Revelation is read and believed literally. We give the following summary (events that are not mentioned in the Book of Revelation but occur within the general timeframe of Revelation are in brackets):
[For more on the duration of the last half of the Tribulation, as well as the days of Judgment following Armageddon, see commentary on Daniel 12:11. For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
“goats.” The typical goat of the ancient Middle East was black. This made separating the sheep from the goats an easy job and added to the differences between the sheep and goats in biblical metaphor. Second to man, goats have been the most severe destroyers of land in history. They will overgraze areas of vegetation, eating weeds, shrubs, and small trees, and stand on their hind legs to eat the twigs of larger trees (and will climb the trees if the branches are dense enough and eat twigs and small branches they can reach). They will usually stick with a flock, but are not averse to wandering off, and a couple of goats can quickly establish a feral flock that damages crops. The meat was eaten, but usually only of the young goat, or kid, and it was not valued as highly as the meat of the cow or sheep. Similarly, goat milk was used, but not valued as highly as cow milk, perhaps in part due to volume. Those things, added to the fact that the sheep were white, the color of righteousness and purity, and the goat was black, the color of evil and darkness, made the metaphor between the sheep (believers), and goats (unbelievers), a natural and good one.
A major reason for keeping goats was their hardiness and their hair. Usually goat hair was long and black, and thus easily woven. It was woven into a rough cloth which was made into sacks for storing and carrying things, and thus this cloth was called “sackcloth” (cp. Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13; Rev. 6:12; 11:3). Another important use for goat hair was it was tightly woven into the cloth that tents were made from. The reason that goat hair was especially good for tents was that it swelled when wet, and shrank when dry. That meant that if it started to rain, the tent cloth would swell and naturally repel the rain, but when it was dry the tent hair shrank and let the air circulate so that the tent was comfortable.
The Beloved woman in Song of Solomon said her skin was “dark like the tents of Kedar” (Song of Sol. 1:5), because she worked out in the sun so her skin had become dark like goat hair. Her lover said to her: “Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead” (Song of Sol. 6:5), meaning she had black hair that waved and bounced from the top of her head over her shoulders, dark and shining and bouncing like a large flock of goats winding its way down the mountain.
The goat has been associated with evil for so long that when the association began is lost in ancient history. We could speculate that it is because the Devil and demons sometimes appear to people in the form of goats or goat-people (people involved in witchcraft attest that still happens today), but no one is really sure. In Leviticus 16:8, the Hebrew word “Azazel” most likely means “Mighty Goat” and is a name for the Devil, and even the people of Israel occasionally worshipped goat demons (Lev. 17:7; 2 Chron. 11:15). Leaders, especially evil or unscrupulous and overbearing ones, were referred to as “he-goats” (Isa. 14:9; Zech. 10:3). [For more on Azazel, see commentary on Lev. 16:8. For more on leaders being referred to as “he-goats,” see commentary on Isa. 14:9].(top)
“right…left.” Jesus taught that at the Sheep and Goat Judgment, the sheep will be placed on his right side and the goats on his left side. Everyone in that biblical culture immediately understood from Christ’s words that the sheep were blessed and the goats were cursed. In the biblical culture, people were taught to wipe themselves with their left hand after they went to the bathroom. In contrast, they were taught to eat, give gifts, touch another person, etc., with their right hand. Thus the left hand was known as the hand of cursing and the right hand as the hand of blessing. Meals were communal, and the food was served in communal dishes. We see an example of that at the Last Supper when Jesus said that the one who dipped his piece of bread in the dish with Jesus would betray him (Matt. 26:23; Mark 14:20). For anyone to eat with their left hand would be considered completely unacceptable and they would have been immediately expelled from the meal (this custom is still practiced in some places where people eat with their hands from communal dishes, such as some parts of India). When Christ put the goats on his left, he was clearly communicating that they were cursed, which we see play out later in the chapter when they are thrown into the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:41). In contrast, the sheep on his right hand were blessed and were allowed into Christ’s Millennial Kingdom.
Ecclesiastes 10:2 says, “A wise person’s heart inclines him toward his right hand, but a fool’s heart inclines towards his left.” In this case, the wise person's heart leads to blessings, while a fool’s heart leads to bad things, including being cursed. In John 21:6, when the apostles had fished all night but not caught anything, Jesus said to cast the net “on the right side of the boat,” and the net was full of fish, which as a wonderful blessings both as a testimony of God’s goodness and provision, but financially to those fishermen and their families as well.
In Proverbs 3:16, Lady Wisdom has life in her right hand, and riches and glory in her left. In this case, the left hand is not a hand of cursing, but riches and glory are certainly less valuable than life and especially everlasting life. Riches and glory fade but everlasting life is forever.(top)
“inherit the kingdom.” In this verse, the “sheep” get to enter the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. The “sheep” are the people who stayed righteous during the Tribulation period and did not die in the Tribulation or the Battle of Armageddon. Jesus lets them into his kingdom. So from Scripture, we learn that there are three “categories” or “types” or people in the Millennial Kingdom.
There will be no war and plenty of food in the kingdom, so these mortal people will multiply rapidly and will repopulate the earth. In fact, they will multiply to such a degree that by the end of the 1,000 years they will be as numerous “as the sand on the seashore” (Rev. 20:8). This growth in population should not be surprising. In the Old Testament, Israel entered Egypt as a group of seventy people (Gen. 46:27). When they came out they numbered about three million. This significant increase in population occurred under horrible conditions. Even if only a million or so natural people are allowed in at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, imagine the growth potential when the prevailing conditions are peace and prosperity!
Prophecies of Christ ruling with an iron scepter are strong evidence that there will be a Millennial Kingdom populated at least in part by unsaved, mortal people. In addition, it should be obvious that these prophecies must apply to the future because they were not fulfilled during Christ’s first coming. In spite of the many clear verses on this subject, there are some people who do not believe that the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth is literal, and others who do not believe the Kingdom is coming in the future (Some people erroneously believe that the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth is happening now in a “spiritual sense.” Robert Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1977), pp. 155–87). If either of these beliefs were correct, then the only people available for Christ to rule with an iron scepter would be the saved believers in the Everlasting Kingdom. Being ruled with an iron scepter is not the way most Christians envision everlasting life. Thankfully, that is not how the Bible portrays it either. It is the unregenerate, “natural” people alive during the Millennial Kingdom who will need to be ruled with an iron scepter.
More evidence that there will be “natural,” mortal people in the Millennial Kingdom is that at the end of the 1000 years, Satan is loosed from the Abyss and will be able to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:7-9). It is inconceivable that Satan could deceive people who had died and been resurrected to everlasting life—he has to deceive natural people who had not died yet.
The need for the iron scepter is in part due to the fact that these “natural people” still have a sin nature and are therefore prone to be selfish and sinful. Although they will live in Paradise and be surrounded by bounty, many of them will still find reasons to complain. That is not unusual. Both history and the Bible teach that there are many times when people who should be happy because they are healthy, well fed, and financially secure are still unhappy and find reasons to complain constantly.
The presence of these “natural” people in the Millennial Kingdom explains in large part why there will be disputes in the Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3). The Book of Zechariah says that if any nation selfishly decides not to go and worship in Jerusalem, then that nation will have no rain (Zech. 14:17). This is an example of the natural selfishness and “can’t be bothered” attitude prevalent among “natural” people. It is also an example of how Christ will wield the iron scepter.
Some Christians do not believe there will be two literal and distinct kingdoms in the future because, to them, it does not seem possible to have “natural” people (mortals), and immortals alive on the earth at the same time. So they take verses like those cited above and “spiritualize” them by saying they are figurative and not literal. There is no justification for handling these verses in that manner. They are written very clearly and do not have any of the aspects of figurative language. Just because something God says about the future is hard to believe or hard to understand does not mean it is not literal and true. [For more on Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3: Christs Future Kingdom on Earth. For more on the sheep and goat judgment, see commentary on Matthew 25:32].(top)
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“fire of the coming Age.” The Greek does not refer to “eternal fire,” as if the fire would last forever, but rather “the fire of the coming Age,” that is, the fire associated with Christ’s kingdom on earth, when the wicked will be punished by being thrown into Gehenna. The Greek word aiōnios (αἰώνιος) in this context does not refer to how long the fire burns as to the fact that it is the fire that is spoken of that relates to the Day of Judgment associated with the Messianic Age, the Coming Age.
Centuries before the New Testament was written, and still during New Testament times, the Rabbis taught about two Ages, the present one we live in and the future Messianic Age. This teaching of two ages can be seen throughout Scripture, and indeed, understanding them can really boost our understanding of Scripture. The age we live in today is referred to as the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). In Luke 20:34-35, Jesus said the people of “this age” marry, but those people who are considered worthy to attain “that age” (the future Messianic Age) do not marry. Jesus also taught about a sin that would not be forgiven in “this age” or the coming one (Matt. 12:32). The Devil is called “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), because he rules this age but not the next. Furthermore, his demons are called “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6-8) because of the power they wield, and what they promote as wise is called “the wisdom of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6). The present evil age offers a lot of temporal satisfaction, so God warns those people who are rich in “this age” not to be haughty (1 Tim. 6:17), but Demas loved “this present age” and left Paul (2 Tim. 4:10). In fact, believers are strictly warned not be conformed to “this age” (Rom. 12:2), but in this “present age” are to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives (Titus 2:12).
Here in Matthew 25:41, depicting the Sheep and Goat Judgment, which is the Judgment Day for those people still alive on earth after the Battle of Armageddon, Scripture tells us that the goats will be put in the fire—the fire associated with judgment and the Messianic Age. This “fire” is the lake of fire into which the unrighteous are thrown on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:10, 14, 15).
There is no evidence that the lake of fire came into existence very long before Armageddon and the Day of Judgment. The first people thrown into it are the Antichrist and the false prophet (Rev. 19:20). Then, very shortly afterward, the “goats” (unbelievers; unrighteous) from the Sheep and Goat Judgment are thrown in (Matt. 25:41, 46). [For more on the Greek word aiōnios and how it relates to the coming Messianic Age, see Appendix 2, “Life in the Age to Come.” For more on the possible origin of the lake of fire, see commentary on Daniel 7:10].
“prepared for the Devil and his angels.” This is an important phrase because it shows that God never intended for people to die in the Lake of Fire. In this verse, Jesus sends the people who have fought against them into the Lake of Fire, but at the same time points out that it was never intended for them; it was intended for the Devil and his angels.
God prepared the Lake of Fire for the Devil and his angels because of their rebellion against Him, but He pleads with people to “choose life” (Deut. 30:19; cp. Ezek. 33:11). This verse shows that those Christians who teach that God predestines some people to everlasting life and others to torment in the Lake of Fire are wrong. If God predestined people to the Lake of Fire, and they never had the ability to choose to be saved, as Calvinists teach, then God did indeed prepare the Lake of Fire for those unsaved people.
That the Lake of Fire was prepared for the Devil and his angels, but not for humans, even though we know from Scripture that many humans do reject God and will die in the Lake of Fire, shows God’s continued love for mankind, and He wants “everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Only when people reject God and thus choose death does God honor their freewill choice and end their life in the Lake of Fire.
[For more on the Lake of Fire resulting in annihilation, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“Devil.” The Greek word is diabolos (#1228 διάβολος), which literally means “Slanderer,” but diabolos gets transliterated into English as our more familiar name, “the Devil.” Slander is so central to who the Devil is and how he operates that one of his primary names is “the Slanderer.” [For more information on the names of the Devil, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil”].
“his angels.” What we refer to as “demons” (or “devils”) today are fallen angels, who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and became part of Satan’s demonic army of evil spirits, which is why demons are referred to as “his” angels.
The Bible never tells us the original God-given name of the spirit being we now know by names such as “Satan” and “the Devil.” We know he was a leader in God’s original creation but became filled with pride and rebelled against God (Isa. 14:12-17; Ezek. 28:11-19). One-third of God’s created angels joined Satan in his rebellion (Rev. 12:4), and the Devil and his angel followers will eventually be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10; and clearly implied in Daniel 7:12). [For more on the names of the Devil, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil.”(top)
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“the punishment of the age to come.” This is the punishment “in” or perhaps even better, “associated with” or “of” the Age to Come, i.e., the Messianic Age [For the translation “life of the age to come,” see Appendix 2: “Life in the Age to Come”].
The simple understanding of this verse has been obscured by orthodox Christian tradition. The context and scope of Scripture support the translation and primary emphasis of the phrase as it is translated in the REV: “the punishment of the Age to come,” and not “eternal punishment,” everlasting punishment,” or “age-long punishment,” all of which have an emphasis on duration. The primary emphasis of the punishment in this verse is that it will occur in the Age to Come, when Jesus rules the earth. During that future age the righteous will be rewarded and the unsaved will be punished.
People who have died are not being punished “in hell” now as is commonly taught. Right now, when a person dies, they are dead in the ground awaiting a resurrection and judgment. Furthermore, the Bible never says how long an unsaved sinner will be in Gehenna before they are annihilated. While the Bible indicates that some people will be in torment for a long time, no verse says that is true for every unsaved person. In fact, there are reasons to believe that many or most will be consumed very quickly.
When Christ comes to earth and fights the Battle of Armageddon, he will throw the “beast” (the Antichrist) and the false prophet into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20). Those two are the first two people who are thrown into the Lake of Fire. After Armageddon, Jesus will set up his Millennial Kingdom on earth. It is called his “Millennial Kingdom” because it lasts 1000 years (Rev. 20:2-6).
When Jesus sits on his throne in his Millennial Kingdom, one of his first acts will be to gather before him all the people who have survived the Tribulation and Armageddon, and judge them according to their works. This judgment is called by scholars, “the sheep and goat judgment,” because Jesus is said to separate the people into two categories, “sheep” (believers), and “goats” (unbelievers) (Matt. 25:32). The goats are then led off to their punishment.
Another misconception that must be cleared up about this verse is that it does not teach that people burn forever in the Lake of Fire. The “goats” are thrown into the fire and burned up; annihilated. The phrase that has caused the confusion is κόλασιν αἰώνιον, which usually gets translated, “eternal punishment” (kolasis aiōnios literally means, “age punishment,” because in Greek the adjective (aiōnios; age) usually is after the noun (κόλασιν; punishment)). As we stated above, because of the context, which is the start of Christ’s kingdom on earth, we feel that the primary emphasis of this verse is, “the punishment associated with the Age to come.” However, the adjective aiōnios can refer to duration as well as a specific age, so there is a sense in which “everlasting punishment” can be a good translation if it is properly understood—that is, that the “punishment,” not the “punishing,” goes on forever.
The Greek word kolasis, “punishment,” is a noun, not a verb. The phrase is not “everlasting punishing,” as if the “punishing” went on forever and people writhed in pain forever, but rather it is “everlasting punishment,” because the punishment, which is death, goes on forever. For those who are thrown into the Lake of Fire and experience the “second death” (Rev. 20:14), their punishment, death, will never end. They are never given life again; they are annihilated from existence forever.
There are times when the noun “punishment” is used for the process of the act of being punished, so how do we know that this verse does not use “punishment” in the sense of “punishing”? The way to know that is from the scope of Scripture. Does the whole Bible, taken together, teach that the unsaved are annihilated in the fire, or survive in the fire and burn forever? The clear reading of Scripture is that mankind is given a choice between life and death. There is no verse that states that God gives people a choice between living forever in a good place or living forever in a bad place. John 3:16 gives the choice between “perish” or “everlasting life.” Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is “death,” but the gift of God is “life.” Jesus said the believer has passed from “death” to “life” (John 5:24). The orthodox teaching is that people burn “in hell” forever, but that mostly comes from the unbiblical idea of the “immortal soul,” a concept that does not exist in the Bible.
Here in Matthew 25:46 the Greek text does not have a definite article before “punishment.” The preposition eis is before the noun. In Greek, if a preposition precedes a noun, the noun can be definite without specifically adding the definite article: the subject and context determine whether or not the article should be included, and sometimes it is added because that is the way we would say the phrase in English. Daniel Wallace writes in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p. 247): “There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite.” A. T. Robertson writes: “...the article is not the only means of showing that a word is definite. ...The context and history of the phrase in question must decide. ...[As for prepositional phrases], these were also considered definite enough without the article.” Robertson then cites some examples that use ek (Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. 790-792).
[For the dead being dead now, and not alive in any form, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on people being annihilated in the Lake of Fire and not burning forever, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire].
“life in the age to come.” [See Appendix 2, “Life in the Age to Come”.](top)