The Process of Judgment
and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (25:32b–46)
The process of Christ’s judgment will include the absolute and unerring separation of the saved from the unsaved. When all the nations and peoples of the earth will have been gathered before Him at His return, the Lord Jesus Christ will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
In the ancient Near East, as in much of that land still today, sheep and goats are frequently herded together. But sheep are docile, gentle creatures, whereas goats are unruly and rambunctious and can easily upset the sheep. Because they do not feed or rest well together, the shepherd often separates them for grazing and for sleeping at night.
In a similar way the Lord Jesus Christ will separate believers from unbelievers when He returns to establish His millennial kingdom. He will put the believing sheep on His right, the place of favor and blessing. But the unbelieving goats He will put on the left, the place of disfavor and rejection.
In ancient biblical times, a father’s blessing was extremely important, because it determined who would receive the major part of the inheritance. When Jacob was about to bless his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, he was careful to place his right hand on the one who would receive the inheritance. Because the major blessing normally went to the eldest son, Manasseh was placed on Jacob’s right and Ephraim on his left. But when the time for blessing came, Jacob crossed his hands so that his right hand was on Ephraim’s head rather than Manasseh’s. Against Joseph’s objection, Jacob insisted on giving the major blessing to Ephraim, because God had chosen him over his brother (Gen. 48:8–20).
The Inheritance of the Saved
Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (25:34–40)
Jesus here reveals unequivocally that the Son of Man who sits on the glorious throne (v. 31) is also the Son of God, the divine King. After his subjects are separated, the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those will be the believers who have survived the holocaust of the Tribulation, and they will be ushered alive into the millennial kingdom, which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
Doubtlessly anticipating the salvation-by-works interpretations that would be made of verses 35–45, the Lord made clear that believers will not inherit the kingdom based on good deeds they will have or will not have performed on earth. Their inheritance was determined countless ages ago, even from the foundation of the world. Those who enter the kingdom will not do so on the basis of the service they have performed for Christ but on the basis of their being blessed by the Father because of their trust in His Son. They will in no way earn a place in the kingdom. A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family. In exactly the same way, a believer does not earn his way into the kingdom of God but receives it as his rightful inheritance as a child of God and a fellow heir with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:16–17).
Prepared for you accentuates the selectivity of salvation. From before the time the world was created, God sovereignly chose those who will belong to Him. And “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). The source of salvation is the Father’s blessing, the reception of salvation is through faith, and the selectivity of salvation is in the advance preparation of the Father made in ages past. Stressing the same truth, Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3–5).
The good deeds commended in Matthew 25:35–36 are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that they are not the basis of entrance into the kingdom. Christ will judge according to works only insofar as those works are or are not a manifestation of redemption, which the heavenly Father has foreordained. If a person has not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, no amount of seemingly good works done in His name will avail to any spiritual benefit. To such people the Lord will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).
Nevertheless, the genuinely righteous deeds Jesus mentions in verses 35–36 are measurable evidence of salvation, and He therefore highly commends those who have performed them. He is saying, in effect, “Come into My kingdom, because you are the chosen children of My Father, and your relationship to Him is made evident by the service you have rendered to Me by ministering to your fellow believers, who, like you, are My brothers” (v. 40).
The Lord then lists six representative areas of need: being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. The kingdom is for those who have ministered to such needs in the lives of God’s people, because those good deeds evidence true, living faith. They are characteristic of God’s children and kingdom citizens. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,” James warns, “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:15–17). John proclaims the same truth in similar words: “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Scripture is very clear in teaching that the evidence for assurance of true salvation is not found in a past moment of decision but in a continuous pattern of righteous behavior.
The response by those whom the King commends is remarkable and is another proof of their salvation. Because they have ministered in a spirit of humility and selflessness and not to be seen and honored by men (see Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), they have seemingly forgotten about the many things they have done and are surprised that these are worthy of such mention by the Lord.
The King addresses them as the righteous, not simply because they have been declared righteous in Christ but because they have been made righteous by Christ. Their works of service to fellow believers give evidence that they are themselves the product of divine “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The good deeds mentioned in these verses all deal with common, everyday needs. There is no mention of monumental undertakings or of spectacular accomplishments (cf. Matt. 7:21–23, where the claim to the spectacular is useless) but only of routine, day-to-day kindnesses that help meet the needs of fellow believers. Nothing more evidences conversion than a life marked by the compassion of God and the meekness and love of Christ. When the disciples of John the Baptist wanted evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, He replied by telling them not just about His spectacular healings but also about how He treated those in need (Matt. 11:4–6). When He announced His messianic credentials to the people of Nazareth, He again reflected not on the amazing but on the way He treated the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the downtrodden (Luke 4:18–19). The person who belongs to Christ will demonstrate such compassion and be humble about it.
When the King’s self-effacing servants ask, “Lord, when did we do all those things for You?” the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
The King’s addressing these people as brothers of Mine gives still further evidence that they are already children of God and do not become so because of their good works. The writer of Hebrews declared, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him,” Paul says (1 Cor. 6:17), and because of that union a believer can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
When the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus set a small child in front of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). A person who does not come to Christ in the humble trustfulness that is characteristic of small children will have no part in His kingdom at all, much less be considered great in it. Jesus continued, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (vv. 4–5). The physical child standing before them represented the spiritual child of God, the person who is converted (v. 3) by believing in Christ (v. 6). The person who lovingly serves the children of God proves himself to be a child of God.
“He who receives you receives Me,” Jesus told the disciples on another occasion, “and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40). Whatever believers do for each other they also do for their Lord Jesus Christ, and the person who genuinely receives and serves Christians in Christ’s name proves he himself is a Christian. The self-giving service of Christians to each other in Christ’s name is a key external mark that identifies them as God’s people. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
It is to the practical manifestations of such love that Christ the King will call attention as he ushers the Tribulation saints into His millennial kingdom. Believers during those seven years, especially during the devastating last three and one-half years, will have great need for the basics Jesus has just mentioned. Because of their identity with Christ, they will often be hungry, thirsty, without decent shelter or clothing, sick, imprisoned, and alienated from the mainstream of society.
Those who will have met the needs of fellow believers will themselves have suffered great need. Few, if any, believers during the frightful days of the Tribulation will be able to give out of abundance. Most of them will have resources hardly sufficient to meet their own needs. Their divinely inspired generosity to each other will have set them apart as the Lord’s people even before, as returning King, He publicly declares them to be His own.
The Condemnation of the Unsaved
Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (25:41–46)
To the lost who will be gathered on His left the King will say, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” Joining the unredeemable devil and his angels in the eternal fire of hell will be those human beings who refused to believe.
It is just as obvious that Christ does not condemn these people because they failed to serve Him (vv. 42–43) as it is that He does not save the others because they did serve Him (vv. 34–35). These are accursed because they rejected Christ, just as those who enter the kingdom are righteous (v. 37) because they accepted Him. Their rejection of Christ left them in a state where they were not able to do righteous deeds.
Jesus is speaking of eternal separation from God and from His goodness, righteousness, truth, joy, peace, and every other good thing. He is speaking of eternal association with the devil and his angels in the place of torment God prepared for them. He is speaking of eternal isolation, where there will be no fellowship, no consolation, and no encouragement. He is speaking of eternal duration and of eternal affliction, from which there will be no relief or respite.
The evidence that those rejected people never belonged to Christ will be that they did not love and serve His people. Their response to believers’ needs will have been just the opposite of those who enter the kingdom. When, vicariously through the needs of His people, Christ was hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, those unbelievers refused to minister to Him. And in so doing they proved they did not belong to Him.
Like the righteous who are received into the kingdom, the accursed who are rejected will also be amazed at the Lord’s words to them. But they will ask, “Lord, when did we not minister to you in those ways?” He will reply, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” To fail to serve Christ’s people is to fail to serve Him, and to fail to serve Him is to prove one does not belong to Him.
It is significant that the marks of lostness Jesus mentions here are not gross sins committed but rather simple acts of kindness not committed. The five foolish virgins who had no oil for their lamps were not shut out of the wedding feast because they were morally wicked but because they were unprepared for the bridegroom (see Matt. 25:1–13). In the same way, the slave with one talent was not cast into outer darkness because he embezzled the master’s money but because he failed to invest it (vv. 14–30). Also in the same way, a person who is shut out of the kingdom of God is not condemned because of the greatness of his sin but because of the absence of his faith. It is not that those who are damned to hell are equally wretched and vile; their common reason for damnation is lack of faith.
Jesus uses the same word (aiōnios, eternal) to describe salvation and condemnation. If believers will be in heaven with God forever, the lost will be in hell with the devil forever.
Since the millennial kingdom will be worldwide, there will be no place on earth for the accursed to go. They will be slain on the spot and go immediately into the eternal punishment of hell, suffering permanent, everlasting crystallization of their state of spiritual death. At the end of the thousand years their bodies will be raised (cf. John 5:28–29), and they will again stand before God for final sentencing and final condemnation in bodies suited for hell’s torments.
But the righteous will go away into eternal life, to spend all eternity glorified with their Lord and Savior. In marvelous contrast to the prospect of the accursed, at the end of the thousand-year earthly kingdom the righteous will discover that their eternal blessedness will only have begun.
The Parable of the Sheep
and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
We come now to the last recorded teaching of Jesus Christ in Matthew’s Gospel: the parable of the sheep and the goats. But it is not strictly a parable. It is a dynamic description of the last judgment, using a few symbolic elements: a shepherd, sheep, and goats. This story is unique to Matthew and is an appropriate ending to the chapters in which Jesus speaks of his return.
The story builds on the two previous parables and on the illustrations in chapter 24. The illustrations in chapter 24 and the first of the parables in chapter 25 stressed the need to be ready when Christ returns. The parable of the talents taught the need for faithful work and service, which will be rewarded at the judgment. The final story is of the judgment itself. There is also a progression. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the women who were not ready are only shut out from the banquet. In the next parable, the wicked, lazy servant is thrown out into the darkness. In the story of the sheep and the goats, those who have ignored the needs of Christ’s brothers are cursed with an eternal punishment.
Interpreting the Passage
We might expect that a story as straightforward as the separation of the sheep and the goats would be easy to interpret, but that does not seem to be the case judging from interpretations given to it by generations of Bible students. There seem to be four main views, depending on how the interpreter understands the words “the least of these brothers of mine” (v. 40).
- The words might refer to anyone who is hungry or has other physical needs. This has been the majority view in church history, and it has led to many sentimental and sometimes fanciful stories. Gregory the Great tells of a monk named Martyrius who came upon a deformed man lying exhausted by the roadside. He carried him to the monastery, and when the abbot saw him coming he called to the other monks, saying, “Open the gates; our brother Martyrius is coming; he is carrying the Lord.” Another story concerns Francis of Assisi. Francis was a wealthy, careless man before his conversion. One day he was out riding and saw a loathsome leper. Something moved Francis to dismount and fling his arms around the leper. When he did, the face of the leper changed to the face of Jesus Christ.2
Stories such as these are characteristic of medieval piety. But the same view is expressed by persons such as William Barclay, who concluded from these verses, “God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need,” or a teacher who wrote, “The Son of Man sees in any wretch his brother.”4
- “The least of these brothers of mine” might mean the Jews. This is the dispensational view, which understands the judgment to be one of several judgments, this one placed at the close of the great tribulation after Christians have been removed from the world by the rapture. It is usually described as a judgment of literal nations on the grounds of their treatment of the Jews. Harry Ironside wrote, “ ‘My brethren’ … are those of Israel who are related to Christ, both according to the flesh and the Spirit, and will be his authoritative witnesses in the coming time of tribulation, when the present church age is ended.” This view is possible only if the entire dispensational understanding of prophecy is valid.
- “The least of these brothers of mine” could refer to the apostles and other Christian missionaries. This would mean that the reaction to them and their gospel determines the nation’s fate. This is closer to the text than the other ideas, and it has support from Matthew 10:40–42, where Jesus said to the disciples, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.… And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Some of these views are better than others, as I have indicated. But the trouble with all of them is that Jesus does not use the word brothers in those ways in this Gospel. In Matthew, “brothers” means “disciples,” all who follow Christ or all Christians (Matt. 12:48–50; 23:8; 28:10). “Those who are least” also refers to Christ’s followers (Matt. 5:19; 11:11; 18:3–6; 18:10–14). This use of the terms means that the next interpretation is the right one.
- “The least of these brothers of mine” refers to Christ’s disciples or all Christians. This does not mean that the Bible is unconcerned about the poor and the oppressed. It is. We read about them often. But that is not the thought here. What Jesus means here is that the fate of individuals depends on how they relate to Christ’s followers, which means how they also relate to him. John Broadus puts it like this: “Our Lord is not expressly speaking of benevolence to the poor and suffering in general, but of kindness to his poor and suffering ‘brethren’ for his sake.” D. A. Carson says similarly, “True disciples will pass an examination not because they are trying to pass an examination but because they will love his brothers and sisters—and therefore Jesus. Goats will fail because, of course, they will not particularly care for Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and thus will be rejecting the Messiah himself (10:40–42)—just as Saul, in persecuting Christians, was actually persecuting Jesus (see Acts 9:5).”
This understanding of the separation of the sheep and the goats should not surprise us, because it is one of the tests John gives in his first letter as to how we can know we are Christians. He has three tests. The first is whether we believe that Jesus is God come in human flesh (1 John 2:20–23; 4:2–3; 4:15; 5:1). The second is whether we obey Christ’s commands (1 John 2:3–6; 3:4–10; 5:2). The third is whether we love other Christians (1 John 2:9–11; 3:14; 4:7–21). This last test is the one on which the story of the separation of the sheep and goats depends, for the issue is whether we love and care for Christ’s followers, hence, whether we love Christ. This is what determines our destiny.
Faith and Works
Whether we love others has direct bearing on the relationship of faith and works that bothers some Christians. We know we are saved by faith alone apart from works according to the explicit teaching of the New Testament. Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” But if that is the case, as we believe it to be, how is it that judgment can also be based on works, as in the story of the separation of the sheep and goats or even in the parable of the talents?
The answer, of course, is that passages that speak of judgment based on works are merely saying that it, like all judgments, will be on the basis of demonstrable evidence. The works Christians perform do not save them, but the works are evidence that Christians love and trust Jesus. In other words, this judgment reflects on the highest level what we attempt on a much lower level when we admit people into membership in a particular church. When we do so we look for what we call a “credible profession,” meaning a verbal profession of faith in Christ supported by a consistent way of life. An inconsistent life invalidates the profession, however sincerely it may be expressed.
William Hendriksen is on target here when he says, “In the case of any given individual what matters is whether he has during his earthly life given evidence of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, of a life in harmony with Christ’s commands and example.”
But there is a point worth noting. The evidence of a credible Christian profession is not how many great works have been performed for Jesus, how many churches have been built or sermons preached or millions of dollars given to Christ’s cause. The proofs of conversion are not “great” things at all. They are little things, as most people think of them: sharing food with a brother who is hungry, giving water to a sister who is thirsty, welcoming a stranger, offering clothes to one who needs clothing, caring for the sick, or visiting a person who is in prison.
It is because these are little things that the righteous do not even remember having done them. They ask Jesus, “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (vv. 37–39).
It is also because these are little things that the unrighteous did not do them. They might have done them if someone important, such as Jesus, had been there. But they hadn’t seen anyone like that. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (v. 44). Of course, they only delude themselves by such comments, because they would not have helped even an important person in a truly selfless way. They would have done it only for what they could have gotten in return.
Let’s notice one other thing as well. The wicked are condemned in this story not because of some great positive evil they have done but for their simple neglect of doing good. Or to put it in other terms, the people spoken of here are not the great sinners of the world, like Adolf Hitler or some serial killer. They are the good people who occupy the pews of churches and serve on philanthropic boards. Therefore, when the judgment comes, they are astonished. They are like the foolish virgins who cannot understand why the groom will not open the door for them or the servant who cannot perceive why the Lord is not satisfied by his zero-growth performance.
R. V. G. Tasker says, “As in the previous parables of the ten virgins and of entrusted wealth, so in this picture of the great assize, it is not so much positive wrong-doing that evokes the severest censure, as the utter failure to do good.” The desire to do good comes from receiving the life of the Lord Jesus Christ within, which is regeneration.
Hell: How Bad is It?
We sometimes hear people say that they cannot believe in an Old Testament God who is full of wrath and judgment and that they prefer the God of the gentle Jesus. But they forget that it is Jesus more than any other person in the Bible who speaks most clearly about hell. Matthew 25 is an example. In the parable of the talents, the master cries, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30). In the separation of the sheep from the goats, the King tells the goats, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). The chapter ends with Jesus’ frightening summation: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46).
We may not like these statements, but they were spoken by Jesus, the very Son of God, and I think he knew what he was talking about. We would do well to take his warnings seriously. Should we take them seriously? Is hell to be feared? Or can we shrug off our fear with a joke, like the one that tells us not to worry about hell because if we die and go to hell, we’ll be so busy shaking hands with old friends that we won’t have time to worry?
Jesus described hell this way:
- Hell is a total separation, and not just from those who will be with Christ in heaven. It is separation from God. Jesus expressed it when he quoted the King as saying, “Depart from me, you who are cursed” (v. 41).
It is interesting how most of us divide people. We separate men from women, the haves from the have nots, the privileged from the disadvantaged, the wise from the foolish, rulers from those who are ruled, people who are of our own class from all others. Someone said on one occasion, “The whole world can be divided into two classes, those who divide the world into two classes and those who do not.” The ways in which we divide people seem almost endless. Yet the division in Matthew 25 is the only one that really matters—the division between those who will “go away to eternal punishment” and those who will enter into “eternal life” (v. 46), between the saved and the lost. That division is absolute. Charles H. Spurgeon wrote, “Not one goat will be left among the sheep, nor one sheep with the goats. … There will be no middle company in that day.”
- Hell is a bad association. We learn something interesting about hell in these verses that is not taught explicitly elsewhere. Hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). If hell was prepared for the devil and his angels—the angels that followed him in his rebellion against God and are now known as demons—we can be certain that they will be in hell some day. And if that is the case, it means that those who have refused Christ and have shown it by their neglect of Christ’s followers will be sent there to be with those demons.
Some people think of hell as a place where the devils torment sinners. But Jesus pictures hell as a place where fallen angels and rebellious human beings are together in their suffering. What a terrible association! What a destiny! To spend eternity shoulder to shoulder with an evil being whose one goal has been to defy God and bring others to share in suffering forever. Will the devils not gloat that they have succeeded in bringing people to hell? Will they not gloat over you if you are there?
- Hell is suffering. I suppose the references to hell as a place of “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41) or “burning sulfur” (Rev. 20:10) are symbolic, if for no other reason than that the demons are disembodied spirits and thus cannot be punished by fire in the literal sense. But what of that? The purpose of imagery is to point beyond what literal language can convey. If a literal burning by fire is bad, the reality of hell’s suffering must be immeasurably and inexpressibly worse. Even if the suffering is only mental, internal, or psychological, it is something that produces an eternal “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30).
- Hell is darkness. After fire, darkness may not seem so bad, but this is a darkness that shuts off all sight of others, indeed, all sight of everything, even sight of oneself. The only thing that will be left is the conscious, mental self in its rebellion. Can you recall that horrible poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley?
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
But no one will be thanking God for his soul in hell. Cursing God is more like it. Yet even the cursing will mean nothing, for the punishment is fixed forever and no words or actions will ever change it.
The idea of eternal suffering has been so disturbing to some people that there have been countless attempts to deny it or limit its duration. People have claimed that eternal suffering is inconsistent with the goodness of God, who certainly will never allow any of his creatures to remain in hell forever. But God is a better judge of what is consistent with his goodness than we are, and it is he who says that hell is eternal. Others have argued that an eternal hell is inconsistent with the justice of God, for no sins committed in time could ever deserve such punishment. But what makes sin an infinite evil is that it is against an infinite God. Besides, we must remember that hell’s punishments vary in severity according to the nature of the sin (see Matt. 11:22; Luke 12:47–48; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The bottom line is that verse 46 uses the same exact word to describe the duration of the sinner’s punishment in hell as it does to describe the duration of the believer’s life in heaven. It is the word eternal.
John Ryle was no alarmist, but he wrote:
Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body; the eternal sting of an accusing conscience; the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels; the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised; the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future—all this is misery indeed: it is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold.
“Do These Things”
Why does Jesus say these terrible things? Is he trying to frighten us? No. What good would that do? People are not frightened into heaven. Jesus is warning us, particularly if we suppose that we are right with God when we are not right with him and will not be ready for Jesus when he comes.
When Peter tells us to “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10), he also explains how it should be done. He says that we must add goodness to faith, knowledge to goodness, self-control to knowledge, perseverance to self-control, godliness to perseverance, brotherly kindness to godliness, and love to brotherly kindness (vv. 5–7). In other words, we must develop Christian character. But then he also adds rightly, “If you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vv. 10–11, emphasis added). It is only by doing them that we show we have the life of Jesus Christ within.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25:31–32)
Every child of a certain age knows life is not fair. To a child, parents, teachers, and coaches often seem unfair as they dole out kind words, privileges, and playing time to one child and not another. The sense that things are unfair can even extend to God. In a church class, as they finished a lesson on the life of Moses, nine-year-old Emily asked her teacher a series of rhetorical questions.
“So Moses was the greatest prophet, right?” Right.
“And he met God, but didn’t die, which is impossible, right?” Right. “He did all those signs and wonders with pharaoh and the Egyptians, right?” Right.
“But Moses—who basically did everything right—didn’t get to enter the Promised Land?” That’s right, Emily.
Emily thought for a while, and then pronounced, “This is so not working for me. It’s about the most unfair story I know.”
The questions set the teacher thinking. Moses did claim credit for one of God’s miracles, saying, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). Because Moses failed to honor the Lord, he lost the privilege of leading Israel into Canaan. How could the Lord deprive Moses of the pinnacle of a life of labor and aspiration? Is that not unfair? But perhaps the story wants us to consider “the exquisite pain” of seeking and failing to attain even our highest aspirations.
Can anyone complete God’s intentions for one’s life? Because of our weaknesses and sins, our reach will always exceed our grasp. No man is noble enough, no woman has enough years to accomplish every goal and dream. When we are young, this does not occur to us. In our youth, all of life with all its possibilities stretches out before us. We feel immortal and everything seems possible. But then the years pass—not quickly, but constantly. Our children grow up and we grow old. One by one, options close and life seems short, given all that we hoped to do and see. Disappointments make us wonder what comes next. Is there more? Jesus tells us what comes next in Matthew 24 and 25.
Jesus Comes in Glory
Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (25:31). Every phrase makes a point. Jesus, the Son of Man, will return to the earth personally. He will return in glory, accompanied by the host of his angels. In his power, he will take his throne.
At that time Jesus will gather “all the nations” and all angels to his throne and seat of judgment (25:32, 41; cf. Rom. 14:10). Then “he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (25:32). Over and over, Jesus implored his disciples to watch and be ready for that day. Since no signs will forecast the hour of Jesus’ return (24:36), the only course is to be ready and watchful at all times. Then Jesus told two parables that describe the way of preparation; both parables deserve a review.
In the first parable, ten maidens wait for a wedding procession that was long delayed (25:1–13). Five maidens brought enough oil for the wedding procession, and five did not. The five who had no oil asked the other five to share their oil, but the five who were prepared refused. This hardly seems loving or neighborly, but the parable has no concern for the golden rule. Jesus bends the details of the story to the main lesson: We must be ready and readiness is not transferable. Most summers I climb a peak in Colorado. The ascents are not technical—no ice axes and pitons are required, but it is never easy to climb to 14,400 feet. Every climber in a group or team needs to be fit. No one can ascend a mountain on another climber’s fitness. Neither can anyone run a marathon on another’s training. Some things are not transferable; readiness for Jesus is one of them.
The second parable, the talents (25:14–30), portrays readiness in active terms: “Vigilance is not a passive waiting and watching, but consists of active responsible service. When Christ returns, he will not ask if one had the date right but ‘What have you been doing?’ ” Whenever Jesus may return, we will be caught in the act—in the act of serving him, or not.
Throughout Matthew 24–25, Jesus places an emphasis on deeds. Toward the end, he turns to the origin of those deeds. In the parable of the talents, when the master went away, he entrusted his wealth to two servants who set to work at once. They were eager to please their master, to labor for his gain. When he returned, they gladly gave their profits to him. The root of such service is love, the kind of love most often exemplified in families. The scientists of happiness have finished digesting their polls. Having children has virtually no net effect on happiness. Despite this scientific discovery, adults continue to have children and to invest in them. Why bother, if our children do not promote happiness? For one thing (there are other reasons), we find satisfaction in serving people whom we love.
The parable also features a third servant who did no work for his master. He did nothing with his master’s wealth, but simply buried it in the ground and handed it back to him. The dialogue reveals his reasons. He says, “I was afraid,” and calls his master a “hard man” who would seize whatever he produced. Clearly, he has no love for his master. So then, we prepare for Jesus’ return by performing “evidential works of righteousness,” works that grow from love of the king. The virgins’ oil and the stewards’ talents both represent deeds of loving obedience. Such deeds keep us ready for the day of judgment, Matthew 25 shows.
We Stand before the Throne of Judgment
With the nations arrayed before him, Jesus will separate mankind as easily as a shepherd separates sheep and goats—sheep to the right and goats to the left: “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (25:32–33). This image was familiar to Jesus’ hearers. Sheep and goats grazed together by day, but shepherds separated them nightly because goats needed more warmth. Sheep were more docile and more valuable than goats, so Jesus, shepherd and king, invites them to the right side, the side of favor in antiquity (Matt. 20:21). Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34).
See how sweetly Jesus speaks of the redeemed. We are blessed; we inherit the kingdom prepared for us. This inheritance is no afterthought; it is the culmination of God’s plan, which he was always determined to fulfill for us and in us. By grace, he gives us a kingdom, yet the judge remembers our every good deed.
The Judge Remembers Six Acts of Service
Jesus is not afraid of repetition. Jesus lists six acts of service and repeats them four times in all. He begins, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:35–36).
The righteous ask when they performed these deeds and, in the asking, repeat the entire list: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ ” (25:37–39). Next Jesus tells those who are cursed that they failed to perform the same six acts: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me’ ” (25:41–43). They answer that they never saw the opportunity to show the same six forms of kindness (25:44). The repetition lets the list sink in. These were, and to some extent still are, the typical, essential acts of kindness.
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Hunger was commonplace in the ancient world. People were not lean or trim, they were thin—because they lacked food, not because they dieted. The righteous feed the hungry.
“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” Water was scarce too, especially during the dry season (which lasted nearly half the year), when people cautiously drew water from cisterns filled with water collected during the rainy season. The righteous give water to the thirsty.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Even in the Roman Empire, travel was difficult and fraught with dangers. Inns were dirty and crime-ridden, yet it was dangerous to sleep in the open. The righteous invite strangers into their homes.
“I needed clothes and you clothed me.” Since clothing was costly, the poor often lacked adequate covering. The righteous clothe the poor if they can.
“I was sick and you looked after me.” The righteous looked after the sick. Medical care was spotty, but a friend could at least offer comfort and companionship.
“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Prisons were dark, dismal places. Ordinary folk never came near them. But the righteous visit prisons.
If we review this list, we see that it encompasses the basic human needs: for food, clothing, and companionship. Today most of us have plenty of food, water, and clothing. But some do not and many are lonely. Jesus still wants us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked when we meet them. The sick still need care. Travelers and prisoners feel isolated. When someone joins a prison ministry and goes for the first time, he can expect one question: Will you come back?
Jesus praises the righteous for performing these acts of kindness to him, and he blames the rest for failing to show kindness. The righteous are surprised by Jesus’ commendation. We should observe the precise form of both his praise and their surprise. Jesus blesses the righteous not for feeding the poor, but for feeding him. They cannot recall the event: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” (25:37). Jesus replies, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (25:40). By contrast, the wicked are surprised, but in the opposite manner: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (25:44). Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (25:45). Thus if anyone failed to help Jesus’ brothers, they failed him. As Jesus sees it, failure to aid the least of his brothers is sacrilege—a refusal to aid Christ himself. In Calvin’s words, “So then, whenever we are reluctant to assist the poor, let us place before our eyes the Son of God, to whom it would be base sacrilege to refuse anything.”
Jesus describes both what we ought to do and for whom we ought to do it—for “the least of these brothers of mine” (25:40, 45). By “my brothers” Jesus means “my disciples,” as Matthew 12:48–49 and 28:10 show. The term “little ones” means disciples throughout Matthew (10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; cf. 5:19), and “least” is the superlative of “little.” The least seem to be the weakest members of Jesus’ spiritual family.
Along this line, when Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, he said that anyone who welcomed his disciples welcomed him and would be rewarded for it (10:40–42). This makes us wonder: is Jesus saying he will judge the nations on the basis of the way they treat his disciples?
Yes and no. The Bible certainly says believers ought to be especially quick to come to the aid of fellow believers (Gal. 6:10). Love for Jesus’ disciples and messengers certainly proves that someone has responded properly to the gospel message. But Moses and Jesus both command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” so we also have a debt to all neighbors (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39). Further, the Bible often says our treatment of the poor and the needy tests the genuineness of our faith (e.g. Prov. 31:20; James 2:14–16). For example, when Amos accuses Israel of faithlessness, he cites their treatment of the poor. They sell out, crush, and trample the needy (Amos 2:6–7; 4:1; 8:4–6). But when Job proves he is God’s friend, he says, “I was a father to the needy” (Job 29:16).
The King Appraises Our Deeds
The sheep showed the six acts of love to Jesus’ disciples and to the world. The goats did the opposite. They “depart” and go “into the eternal fire” prepared for them, for they did not feed the hungry or visit the sick and the prisoner (25:41). They, too, will be surprised, for they failed to recognize the test when it came to them. Our actions prove our faith—or disprove it. The Bible says this over and over, often citing similar acts of kindness in passages such as Isaiah 58, Ezekiel 18, and Job 29 and 31. This prompts a question: How can salvation by grace and justification by faith coexist with the thought that Jesus inspects our works on judgment day? The Bible answers that works are the evidence, not the ground, of our judgment.
Again, works are the evidence, but not the basis for Jesus’ judgment. The basis or cause is our heart response to Jesus. But our works either prove or disprove our claim that our heart and mind trust in Jesus. We can see the wisdom and justice of this procedure. The English say the true gentleman is the one who lifts the proper fork when no one is watching. Likewise, the true believer loves God and neighbor when no one is watching. The offhand remark, the casual encounter, the moment when we are hardly aware of ourselves—these are the true tests of our faith. Our incidental, unpremeditated words and deeds best reflect our heart. Our routine acts and trivial words best reflect our character.
We know the Bible says we are justified by faith. How then can we be judged by works? First, the entire Bible teaches all our works will be examined. We will account for them all on the last day (Ps. 62:12; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 20:12). But this is not salvation by works because our works follow our heart commitments. This becomes clear if we examine one of the passages we just cited.
In the last line of Psalm 62, David says, “Lord, … surely you will reward each person according to what he has done” (62:12). But hear it in context. David says,
My soul finds rest in God alone.…
He alone is my rock and salvation.…
Trust in him at all times, O people …
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.…
… you, O God, are strong, …
you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done. (Ps. 62:1–2, 8, 10–12)
Because David trusts the Lord alone, he is confident that his life, including his works, reflects that trust. He is confident that the Lord will see David’s loyalty in his deeds.
Conversely, Jeremiah says the corrupt heart also proves itself in actions:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward a man according to his conduct,
according to what his deeds deserve. (Jer. 17:9–10)
So then our words and deeds witness and testify to our heart commitment on judgment day. They supply public, verifiable evidence of our heart’s condition (Matt. 7:17–18; 12:33–35; James 2:14–26). This means we should examine ourselves afresh and consider: What do my incidental words and deeds reveal? Do they show that Jesus is my king, that his life permeates mine?
While speaking in a pastor’s conference in Brazil, I met Andrew, a British missionary who came to Brazil five years earlier to speak at a similar conference. Brazilian church leaders recognized their need for Andrew’s help, so they invited him to stay and teach at one of their schools. Andrew loves Brazil but it is not his home.
As I tossed out a comment on parents listening to their children’s music, I named some bands my children taught me to appreciate. Andrew, twenty rows back, thrust a fist into the air. When I saw him afterward, he mentioned some of the music his son had taught him to love, then almost choked, “How I miss him.”
The willingness to move to a foreign land, at the cost of separation from beloved family and friends, not to mention the other costs of moving to a new language and culture, is the kind of deed that God sees as evidence of faith. Such deeds spring from the faithful heart, but they are verifiable tokens of faith in the Lord.
Jesus Separates Mankind
Our passage teaches several important things about eternal destinies. First, they are eternal. Jesus tells the righteous: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34). But he tells the cursed: “Depart … into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41).
There is symmetry here. The wicked “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (25:46). Yet there is a difference. The Lord always intended to spend eternity with his people. We inherit “the kingdom prepared … since the creation of the world” (25:34). But God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, not for mankind. Hell was no part of God’s original intent—which counts as a point for sublapsarianism.
The basis for our eternal destiny is our response to the gospel and the messengers who bring God’s word, whether they do so by formal preaching or quiet testimony. Jesus says both the sheep and the goats will be surprised on the last day—but not at their destiny. If you love Jesus, repent of your sins, know him as Savior, and follow him daily, it is your enduring aspiration to see Jesus face to face. Believers will be joyful, not surprised at their destiny. Nor will unbelievers be stunned to hear that Jesus neither knows nor welcomes them. After all, they neither knew nor welcomed him and they had no desire for heaven.
The surprise lies not with the destiny assigned, but with the reason given. Neither sheep nor goats knew their deeds were so weighty. The righteous did not perform to gain a reward, but to show love to the needy, especially Jesus’ disciples. But then such deeds will count because they were free gifts, not calculated acts.
The Character of Heaven
The Bible says little about the character of heaven. Yet we cannot help but wonder what it will be like. Some have concerns. As a child, I was not much attracted to heaven, in part because I did not trust in Christ, in part because it sounded tedious to float on clouds, playing harps, singing, and being good all day. A life without football, baseball, and woods to roam seemed dull indeed. To be sure, a number of my ideas came from speculations about the new creation that I took as truth. But speculation is inescapable, for Paul says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Then “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:17). Our identity will remain; we are not absorbed into the Godhead or the mass of humanity. We will recognize others, even as the apostles recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1–8; Luke 9:28–36; cf. Luke 16:19–31).
It is best to admit our ignorance, for eternal life—unending time—is beyond our comprehension. We can hardly imagine a world where there will be no sin or flaws, no brokenness and repentance, no poverty, envy or greed, no need to improve. We wonder, “Will I want to improve? Play the flute or guitar better perhaps?”
Yet if we draw on as much biblical data as possible, our guesses may be well informed. We may begin to settle on a method by thinking about hell for a moment. In hell, Jesus says, the wicked are removed from Christ, the source of all our blessing. The Bible’s descriptions of hell are symbolic. Taken literally, they seem contradictory. For example, hell is described as a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14–15), which suggests heat and light. Yet Jesus also says unbelievers are cast “outside, into the darkness,” which sounds cold and dark (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Yet the point is clear. We should not aspire to be in hell.
We should aspire to heaven, where we will enjoy the presence of the triune God we love—Father, Son, and Spirit. Whether ten-year-olds thrill at the thought or not, we will worship in heaven. When we see the Lord “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), the vision will transform us: “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This means our worship on earth is preparation and practice for heaven. Ultimately, choirs do not practice for their director or their audience, they practice for heaven. But there will be other activities too.
Much is uncertain. We may yet learn and grow. Perhaps our renewed bodies will have new capacities, the capacities Adam and Eve enjoyed in the beginning and that only a few can achieve today. Perhaps the clumsy will all be able to dance and do back flips. Perhaps the stubby fingers connected to tone-deaf ears will fly over keyboards and frets. In one way or another, we can expect to explore God’s good creation. But there are riddles. Will we take naps, not from need, but because it feels good? What will happen to sports, sexuality, creativity, and invention?
Consider food. The biblical images leave us uncertain, because there is superficial contradiction, but the basics are clear. Jesus says we will share a feast with him (Luke 22:18; Matt. 8:11). Yet Paul says the stomach or belly, as the seat of our disorderly appetites, will be destroyed (1 Cor. 6:13). So perhaps we can expect the pleasures of food and fellowship, but we will not need to battle gluttony or endure starvation.
Work also poses a riddle. Jesus promises his disciples they will sit on thrones and be in charge of many things (Matt. 19:28; 25:23). Yet the Bible promises we will enter eternal rest (Heb. 4:1–3; Rev. 14:13). So perhaps we will know the exhilaration that comes from accomplishing great things or the satisfactions of a job well done. But we will not know the exhaustion of toil or the frustrations currently connected to labor. There will be no more pests or weeds, no frustrations from a world that battles us and battles itself. There will be no fear of failure, no deadlines, no bosses disapproving, no subordinates or peers seizing our turf. We will not hand our work off to others who forget it, oppose it, or ruin it. The absence of such frustrations sounds restful. Of course, much of this world’s work will be superannuated. There will be no soldiers, no surgeons, no jailers, no ambulance drivers, and no insurance agents. No one will need such services.
In heaven, we will be good, but not because we are working at it. Our pilgrimage will be over. As Thomas Aquinas said, heaven will prove to be not so much a reward as the end for which all humans were created. Yet there will be things to do. Jesus says we will sit on thrones, making judgments. In the Bible, to judge is to lead and leadership entails work. But it will be pleasant work to rule the earth as God intends.
Questions remain: Will our favorite things be in heaven? A volleyball enthusiast once asked if there would be volleyball in heaven. Try to imagine what it would be like. With flawless bodies and minds, we can imagine a high caliber of play. The first point would begin with a perfect jump serve, screaming over the net, curving toward a corner. But then the defense will be improved too: the receiving team will counter with a flawless dig, then a well-placed set, and a thundering spike. But the defense will be ready with a block, then a set, and another spike. After 487 hours of play, someone will be ready to move on and all the players will congratulate each other: “Great point! It would have been fun to finish it.”
On this topic, a little boy once asked his mother, “Mommy, will there be pears in heaven?” The wise mother answered, “Honey, if you want pears, there will be pears.” Her answer is perfect because everything we want will be there. Every object of desire will be there because we will no longer have illegitimate desires. This is difficult to conceptualize, but it is true and it is part of what makes heaven a wonderful place, a place filled by the glory, righteousness, and grace of the Lord.
Our task today is to prepare to meet Jesus our good king. We do this not by looking for signs of his return but by trusting him, loving him, looking to see the Great Shepherd, the Son of David, the Son of God, every day. We follow him and live as he lived, not to earn his favor, but from pure delight in him. And when we fail, we remember. The same Jesus who urged you to love your neighbor died on the cross, to bear the penalty of sin when you do not love him or your neighbor. Grace will cover those failings, so that he will bless us. Because of our faith and the good deeds that sprang from it—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner—he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21).
This world is good but flawed and very short compared to eternity. Through time and eternity, God the Father, Son, and Spirit is Lord of the living. By his love he put the powers of death to death. As we trust him, we prepare to live with him forever. I hope to see you there.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 120–126). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 538–545). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Doriani, D. M. (2008). Matthew & 2. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 2, pp. 408–420). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.