|How Will Christ Judge the Nations?
William L. Pettingill
"God...now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the
which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he
hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30,31).
Thus spoke the apostle to the Gentiles in his first proclamation of the gospel in the great gentile city of Athens.
This word concerning judgment may include, at least in principle, all judgment. The whole world, embracing all human beings who ever have lived and all who ever will live, must sooner or later face the Son of God in judgment, except those who have taken their place under the sheltering blood of the covenant. These have already passed from death unto life and will not come into judgment (John 5:24). For the rest, who have persisted in turning from God's offered salvation in grace, nothing remains "but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27).
The Fate of the Heathen
If someone asks how this affects the case of the heathen world which has not heard the gospel, the answer is that "they are without excuse" who refuse to worship God (Rom. 1:20). The Judge of all the earth knows how to do right (Gen. 18:25), and He knows how to measure responsibility. Therefore, we must leave the heathen world to His righteous judgment. But let us see to it that no part of the heathen world is left in ignorance of the gospel through any fault of ours. Our Lord Jesus Christ has plainly marked out our task, and we are to be His witnesses "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). "He is the propitiation...for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2), and we must carry the good news to every creature. As someone has said, "The question is not so much what God will do with the heathen who have not heard the gospel, as what God will do with us if we fail to send the gospel to the heathen." The Son of God is "the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42), and it is a tragedy that the greater part of the world has never heard of Him. Whose fault is that?
But the Lord Jesus is not only the Saviour; He is also the Judge of all the earth.
"For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men
should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father...For as the Father hath life in himself;
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man" (John
Let us avoid confusing the judgment of the nations with the judgment of the lost dead, described in Revelation 20:11-15. Both of these accounts are often headlined, "The Last and General Judgment," but there is no such thing as a "general judgment" spoken of in Scripture. The judgment of the lost dead follows the Millennium, but the judgment of the living nations precedes the Millennium. A comparison of Matthew 25:31-46 with Revelation 20:11-15 will reveal many contrasts. In the later judgment there is a resurrection, and books are opened; in the earlier judgment these features are absent. Let us examine the judgment of living nations, as described in Matthew 25:31-46:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit
upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate
them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep
on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,
Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the
world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a
stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in
prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we
thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and
took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto
thee? And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have
done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also
say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the
devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me
no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison,
and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying Lord, when saw we thee an hungered,
or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he
answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Insamuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye
did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
The Time of the Judgment
The time of the judgment is determined by the words when and then in Matthew 25:31. It will be at the time "when the Son of man shall come in his glory," at the end of the age. The seventieth week of Daniel will by that time have run its course. The Church, the Body of Christ, will have been "present with the Lord" for seven full years. The terrible scenes of the Great Tribulation will have come an an end with the Battle of Armageddon, and the Lord Jesus will have been "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (II Thess. 1:7). "Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Matt. 25:31). He has come to "judge and make war" (Rev. 19:11). Revealed from heaven "in flaming fire," He comes to take "vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thess. 1:8).
The Place of Judgment
The location is indicated in Joel's account of this judgment of nations.
"I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat...Let the
heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all
the heathen round about" (Joel 3:1,12).
The Subjects of the Judgment
In the Joel passage the word goiim is translated "nations" in verse 2 and "heathen" twice in verse 12. In both Joel and Matthew it is equivalent to "Gentiles." This is distinctly a judgment of Gentiles. Arraigned before the throne of glory will be those gentile peoples who are found living upon the earth at the second advent of Christ to the earth. If it be objected that the valley of Jehoshaphat could not contain all these Gentiles at once, it is sufficient to answer that they may not all be there at once. They must, however, pass in review before that throne and be divided by the Son of man upon the throne, "as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."
The Tests of the Judgment
The basis of the judgment by which the Gentiles will be tested is their treatment of a third group whom the King called "my brethren." These, as will be seen in Joel's account, are Jews. Doubtlessly they are those Jews who will have turned to the Lord after the catching away of the Church. Immediately upon their conversion this Jewish remnant becomes God's evangelizing agency and begins the work of proclaiming the King's approaching advent "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). "And (at this time) this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations (Gentiles); and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). "I will send those that escape of them unto the nations...that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles" (Isa. 66:19).
The King on the throne identifies himself with these Jewish evangelizers, His "brethren," His "kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3). The "sheep" on the right hand are commended for ministering to Him, and the "goats" on the left hand are condemned for failure to do so. The "sheep" have believed the gospel of the kingdom and have, therefore, received and harbored those who preached it to them. The "goats" have rejected the message and have, therefore, turned from the messengers. Both classes are surprised to learn that in thus dealing with the Jewish remnant they have been dealing with the King himself. The same principle was revealed to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus highway. He though that he had been serving God in persecuting the Christians, but he learned that all the time he had been persecuting the Lord Jesus himself. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" In all our afflictions He is afflicted.
In Joel 3 we read:
"For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah
and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of
Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom
they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. And they have cast lots for my
people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. Yea,
and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye
render me a recompense? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your
recompense upon your own head; Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have
carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: The children also of Judah and the children
of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border.
Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompense
upon your own head: And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children
of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it.
Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war
draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears:
let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves
together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the heathen be
wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen
round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full,
the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes. multitudes in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also
shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake:
but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye
know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy,
and there shall no stranger pass through her any more. And it shall come to pass in that day, that
the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah
shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the
valley of Shittim."
The correspondence between this passage and that of Matthew 25 is very striking. The Gentiles have much to be settled because of their treatment of the Jews, and this settlement must be made with the Man now sitting at God's right hand "when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (II Thess. 1:10).
The Result of Judgment
This is summed up briefly in Matthew 25:46.
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
The adjective is the same in both clauses of the sentence. The punishment iss "aionian," and the life is "aionian." Both are endless. There is endless punishment for those on the left hand and endless life for those on the right hand. Many efforts have been made to tone down the endless punishment, but there it stands together with the endless life. Both are "aionian," everlasting, eternal, endless. Let no one trifle with this solemn declaration, "for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
(Reprinted from God's Prophecies for Plain People, by William L. Pettingill, by permission from Van Kampen Press, Wheaton, Illinois)