For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. (16:27)
Parousia is a noun form of the Greek verb behind to come and is often used to refer to Christ’s second coming, of which this is the first mention in the New Testament.
A day of judgment is coming, Jesus reminded the disciples and the multitude. The Father “has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22), and when the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God, comes in the glory of His Father with His angels (an event further described in Matt. 24–25), He will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Christ’s holy angels are the instruments of His service and His judgment, and when He comes to earth again they will come with Him, to raise “those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life” and “those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
That general truth had been proclaimed long before by the psalmist: “Thou dost recompense a man according to his work,” the psalmist declared (Ps. 62:12). It was also echoed by Paul in his letter to the church at Rome. In 2:5–8, he is specific:
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
“Each one of us,” the apostle later wrote, “shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Matthew 25 records the Lord’s teaching about the judgment of the nations. They, too, will be judged by their works (vv. 31–46).
As the Lord reviews the life of each person who has ever lived, He will say, as it were, “There is a believer. I can tell by his works, because they are the product of My Holy Spirit. There is an unbeliever, as I can also tell by his works, because they are the product of the flesh.” It is not that works save, but that they are the product of salvation. James teaches that the only kind of faith that saves is the kind that results in righteous behavior (James 2:14–26; cf. Eph. 2:10).
Those whose works are pleasing to the Lord are those who, by God’s sovereign grace and power, have trusted in Christ as saving Lord, while denying self, taking up their crosses, and following Him. They will receive everlasting life and all the blessings of heaven. Those whose works are rejected by the Lord are those who put their hope and trust in the ephemeral things of this life. They will receive eternal damnation and all the torments of hell.
The call to salvation is a call to discipleship as described in this passage. When God saves, He produces this kind of follower.
27 Not only Jesus’ example (v. 24; cf. 10:24–25) but the judgment he will exercise is an incentive to take up one’s cross and follow him. The Son of Man (see comments at 8:20; 16:13) will come “in his Father’s glory”—the same glory God his Father enjoys (cf. 26:64; Jn 17:1–5), another implicit claim to the status of deity—along with his angels, who both enhance his glory and serve as his agents for the eschatological ingathering (13:41; 24:31; 25:31–32; Lk 9:26). They are his angels. He stands so far above them that he owns them and uses them. At that time he will reward each person kata tēn praxin autou (“according to what he has done”). The language is that of Psalm 62:12, where Yahweh rewards his people, and the Yahweh-Jesus exchange is not uncommon. The use of praxis (“conduct,” “deeds,” GK 4552) is Matthew’s rendering of the Hebrew collective singular by a corresponding singular in Greek (Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 138). For the concept of rewards, see comments at 5:12.
27 The “for” which introduces this saying links this judgment scene with the disciple’s loyalty and martyrdom: it is worth remaining faithful even to the loss of earthly life because there is an ultimate judgment to come, and on the outcome of that judgment the enjoyment of true life will depend. In Dan 7:9–10 the judgment takes place at the throne of the Ancient of Days, surrounded by ten thousand times ten thousand angelic attendants; when the Son of Man “comes” to that courtroom scene it is as the one in whose favor judgment is given. But the result of that judgment is that he in his turn receives “dominion, glory and kingship” over all nations for ever (Dan 7:14), and so Jesus’ saying here merges the two roles, and he comes not to be judged but to judge. He thus shares “his Father’s glory,” and the angels who surround the throne of God become “his angels” (see p. 635, n. 4). There may also be an echo here of Zech 14:5, the vision of the eschatological “coming” of God “and all the holy ones with him.” Thus here, as in 25:31–34, Jesus speaks of his future glory as Son of Man in terms which merge his role and dignity with that of God himself. It then follows naturally that in v. 28 the “kingship” is ascribed not to God but to the Son of Man.
As judge, he will “repay every person according to what they have done.” The whole clause closely echoes Ps 62:12 (cf. Prov 24:12), which speaks of God’s universal judgment; again language appropriate to God himself is transferred to the glorified Son of Man. “Repay” is used for divine rewards in 6:4, 6, 18, and here too the primary emphasis in context is probably on the reward for loyalty even to the point of martyrdom, the reward which results in “finding one’s psychē.” But the term is no less applicable to punishment for disloyalty, and a judgment of every person “according to what they have done” must be expected to envisage either reward or punishment, as will be spelled out more fully in 25:31–46. This saying is thus not only an encouragement to the faithful, but also a warning to those whose loyalty may be wavering. “What they have done” is a broad term, but in the present context the focus is not on lifestyle in general, but on whether or not they have maintained their commitment to Jesus in the face of hostility. A more focused perspective on the basis of final judgment will be provided in 25:31–46, and we shall consider at that point how this prospect of judgment on the basis of “what they have done” relates to the Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith.
16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory. Jesus alludes to Daniel 7:13–14 for a second time (see comments on 10:23). In Daniel 7:13–14 the picture is of “one like a son of man, coming on the clouds of heaven,” enthroned and given authority over all things for an everlasting kingdom. Jesus implicitly claims his future vindication by God. The same phrasing of “Son of Man” and “coming” (erchomai) is repeated in 16:28.
he will reward each person according to what they have done. In Matthew, Jesus frequently references final judgment, as he does here. In line with his use of Daniel 7, Jesus claims that he (“the Son of Man”) will be the one to judge all peoples. People’s actions will matter in that final day, as has already been emphasized at 7:24–27; 13:41–42 (also 25:31–46). For Matthew, this truth does not negate the reality of God’s grace and forgiveness in believers’ lives, since human covenant loyalty is always in response to the reality of God’s initiating covenant loyalty and grace.
27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then shall he render to each according to his deeds. For “Son of man” see on 8:20. The Father will reward this Son of man, the One who from suffering attains to glory, in achieving salvation for his people. The Father will impart his own glory to him and give to him his own angels (cf. Dan. 7:10) to be his brilliant retinue (Matt. 25:31). The glory of the Son of man is revealed also in this very fact, that he will be the Judge who will render to each man according to his deeds.
Entrance into or exclusion from the new heaven and earth will depend on whether one is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Apart from Christ there is no salvation at any time (Acts 4:12; cf. John 3:16; 14:6; 1 Cor. 3:11). Salvation is wholly by grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Nevertheless, there will be degrees of punishment and also degrees of glory. Note the expression “many stripes … few stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48), and see also Dan. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:12–14.
The degree of glory or of punishment will depend on two considerations:
- What amount of “light” (knowledge) has this person received? (Rom. 2:12).
- How has he used the light which he has received? (Luke 12:47, 48). Has he been faithful? And if so, in what measure? Has he been faithless? And if so, to what extent? This will be evident from his works. These works will show both whether or not a person is a genuine believer in Christ, and also to what extent he has used or abused the light which he received (Rev. 20:13; then 1 Cor. 3:12–14). Hence the passage under consideration says, “Then shall he render to each according to his deeds.”
16:27. Jesus then explained the wisdom of following and accepting the suffering and loss implicit in following him. Using the title the Son of Man in eschatological, messianic sense, Jesus foretold the day when all the losses of his obedient followers would be abundantly compensated. In contrast to his first coming to earth in humility, the next coming would be in his Father’s glory with his angels. Now he has come as the sacrificial Son of Abraham; then he will come as the sovereign Son of David.
Although Jesus’ intention in the context of Matthew 16 was to give hope to his followers, the word reward does include the “repayment” or judgment of those works that do not honor Christ. Each person does not mean only those disciples who will be rewarded, but also those who seek the world and end up forfeiting their lives (Col. 3:23–25). Therefore, “repay” or “recompense” is a preferable translation over “reward.”
The repayment will be according to what he had done. Christ was seeking to motivate his followers to work hard and invest their lives for eternity. Scripture makes it very clear that there are differing degrees of reward for believers, based on their stewardship of life opportunities (Matt. 25:14–30; Rom. 2:6; 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:23–25; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12). In 2 Timothy 2:10–13, the apostle Paul summed up the basis of the disciple’s reward as endurance.
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