JUDGMENT OF LIVING NATIONS,
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The King Upon His Throne
In order to properly understand the teaching of Matt. 25:31-46, we must keep clearly in mind the occasion of the discourse. In this connection, let us review the historical setting.The Timing
Our Lord had foretold the destruction of the Temple. That prediction immediately suggested to the apostles' minds the forecast of the closing scenes of the present age and the introduction of the Millennial kingdom as set forth in such passages as Zech. 14. In this chapter the prophet depicted very clearly the final scenes at Jerusalem in the day of Jehovah, the fall of the city, the sudden appearance of the Lord upon Mount Zion, the conclusion of the present age and the establishment of the glorious kingdom of God upon earth.
Misunderstanding Christ's prediction, which was fulfilled in 70 A.D., the apostles thought that He was speaking of the final collapse of the Jewish nation in the day of Jehovah. Hence they asked Him about His coming and the fulfillment of Zech. 14, when His feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives, whereupon he will establish the kingdom of God upon the earth. Such a vision loomed before the apostles' minds and brought forth these questions.
Practically all of the Olivet discourse, as we have already seen, has thus far focused attention upon the sign of the end of the age, the Tribulation, the coming of the Lord for His saints and His rewarding them. It would be strange indeed if our Lord had stopped His prediction there and told us nothing concerning the establishment of His earthly kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament forecast. In fact, the discourse would have been incomplete and unsatisfying. Praise the Lord, He always gives that which meets our need and satisfies.
The discussion of the judgment of the nations and establishment of the kingdom is begun by the disjunctive conjunction but. This connective throws the verse over against that which has preceded. What is that? As we have already seen in our previous studies, Matt. 24:32 begins a discussion of the Rapture of the Church. This subject occupies all of our Lord's attention from 24:32-25:30. We must therefore conclude that the coming of the Son of man referred to in 25:31 is thrown over against His coming for His saints, as set forth in this previous block of Scripture. With this general survey of the Rapture and the Tribulation, we are ready to examine the records more minutely.
"But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory" (Matt. 25:31). To what coming does this verse refer? Undoubtedly to the event mentioned in the preceding chapter: "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (24:30). This verse was given just prior to the parables of the fig tree, the ten virgins, the talents, the lessons on the timing for the Second Coming of Christ, and following the discussion of the Tribulation. Since both verses speak of His coming in glory with the angels, it is evident that the same event is the subject of consideration.The Throne of Glory
In view of the setting of the entire discourse, we may be certain that it is this coming that is referred to by Zechariah, when at the conclusion of the great day of Jehovah, God in the person of King Messiah will descend from Heaven "and His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives" (vs. 4a).
When the Son of man comes "in his glory," He will sit upon "the throne of his glory." What is the significance of this expression? What would the disciples understand by this statement?
Since our Lord did not go into a discussion of this throne of glory, it is evident that He presupposed they had knowledge concerning it. In order for us to understand this, we shall have to investigate it in the Old Testament, in which the apostles were versed.
The throne of the kingdom: The first mention of this throne is found in Hannah's prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10. In vss. 1,2 she praised God for His wonderful, providential acts and for His answering prayer. Then she warned the proud and haughty to humble themselves before the Lord (vs. 3). In vss. 4-8 she interpreted God's dealing with humanity through the centuries and showed that He is working toward an objective in a great future age when the poor, humble and trusting ones will be raised up to sit with princes and to inherit the throne of glory.
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, he lifteth up the needy from the dunghill, to make them sit with princes, and inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are Jehovah's, and he hath set the world upon them (vs. 8).
Following this verse we see a promise that the Lord will preserve His saints during a time of tribulation at the end of which He will come to fight against all the wicked (see vs. 10). He will then judge the ends of the earth and will give strength to His King, who is none other than His anointed, the Messiah.
In this song, therefore, we have a divine interpretation of the philosophy of history. God is working all things toward one common end--namely, the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth over which King Messiah will reign. The throne of this kingdom is here called "the throne of glory."
The Davidic throne: Another reference to the throne of glory is found in Jer. 14:21: "Do not abhor us, for thy name's sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us." The sermon of which this verse is a part was delivered by the prophet concerning a terrible drought that had come upon the land. In concluding his message the prophet prayed to God not to abhor the Jewish people, for the sake of the Divine Name. Furthermore, he earnestly pleaded with the Almighty not to disgrace the throne of His glory.
God had promised Israel that if she would be faithful and obedient to Him, He would give her rain in the proper season. According to His promise in Deut. 11:13-17, He would send the rains in the proper seasons and would give Israel bountiful crops upon the condition of her obedience and faithfulness to Him. Israel made the claim that Jehovah, her God, is the Almighty who controls nature as well as nations. When the land of Israel was smitten with drought, the heathen would naturally come to the conclusion that Jehovah had no control over the rain; otherwise He would not permit such a calamity.
The only possible alternative to this position was that God was displeased with His people, but it is more likely that the heathen would reach the former conclusion. The honor and the dignity with which the name of God was held among the pagans would, according to Jeremiah's conception, be contingent upon the perpetuity and the power of the Davidic throne. A severe drought over the entire country for several years, at least would impoverish the nation and would result in its final overthrow by enemies. Therefore, the prophet pleaded with the Lord not to abhor the throne of His glory, that is, the Davidic throne.
In Lev. 26:3-13 we see that the Lord, in placing the chosen people in the Holy Land, desired to make an ideal country of it and a holy nation of Israel. Upon the condition that the people would be faithful and true to Him, He promised exemption from disease, freedom from invasion and abundance of the necessities of life. The nations surrounding her would look upon the land and its inhabitants as a people ideally located and blessed and would be led to seek God and His knowledge. Thus in the divine plan the land and the people of Israel were to be a model for the nations.
But Israel would not be obedient. She was rebellious continually; hence God could not shower his blessings upon her. He was forced to withhold the rain, to permit foreign invasions and to cause droughts, all of which sooner or later broke the power of the nation and brought the final overthrow of the Davidic throne and kingdom.
The throne of Jehovah: In the third chapter of Jeremiah appears one of the most profound predictions to be found in the Old Testament. In vss. 1-18 the prophet pleaded with backsliding Israel and treacherous Judah to return to the Lord with all of their hearts. This exhortation was concluded with a discourse concerning the future kingdom.
And it shall come to pass, when ye are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith Jehovah, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of Jehovah; neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they remember it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I gave for an inheritance unto your fathers. (Jer. 3:16-18)
This prediction declares that the time will come when all the tribes of Israel will return to the Lord and when Jerusalem will be called the throne of Jehovah. The language must be taken at its primary, ordinary, literal, usual significance. There is nothing in the context to indicate otherwise. Accordingly, then, this passage is the forecast of the time when Jehovah's throne will be established in the city of Jerusalem and all the nations will gather there to worship the Lord. This Jehovah enthroned in Jerusalem is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Messiah and Saviour of the world.
Since in the Old Testament the throne of David was called "the throne of glory" and since the apostles at the time of the delivery of the Olivet Discourse were thinking in terms of the Old Testament teaching, obviously then the expression "the throne of his glory" in Matt. 25:31 can refer to nothing else but the Davidic throne upon which our Lord will take His seat at His return in glory.