The King's Credentials
When the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of His glory, "before him all the nations shall be gathered, and he will separate them one from the other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matt. 25:32). The question arising at this point is, Who are here referred to as "the nations"? Since this prediction is the forecast of our Lord's return to the earth at the conclusion of the Tribulation period, the nations mentioned here can only be those peoples who survive the Great Tribulation. This interpretation is demanded by the facts of the context.
The word "nation" always refers to people in the flesh and never to departed spirits. Since such is the ordinary meaning and there is no positive evidence pointing otherwise, we must accept this term as referring to those nations that survive the ordeal of the Day of Jehovah.
From a close study of Isa. 24, it is evident that there will be people who pass through the Great Tribulation and who will be upon the earth when our Lord returns:
Vs. 1: Without doubt the destruction of the world's civilization is clearly set forth here: "Behold, Jehovah maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof." A comparison of this verse with Jer. 4:23-31 proves conclusively that both prophets saw in vision the complete destruction of earth's civilization in the day of Jehovah.
Some expositors however have seen in Jer. 4:23-26 a reference to the destruction of the earth which is narrated in Gen. 1:2. The thing leading them to this conclusion is the fact that both Moses and Jeremiah used the same words in the original language translated "waste and void." This identification will not stand the crucial test in Jeremiah's presentation, however. After painting the picture of desolation seen in the vision, the prophet explained his revelation in vss. 27-31 and introduced his explication by the use of the conjunction for. A casual study of vss. 27-31 shows that he was speaking about the period of travail through which Zion shall yet pass in the future. Since these verses have a forward look to the day of the Lord, and since they are explanatory of the vision described in vss. 23-26, obviously the desolation described in these latter verses is that which will be wrought during the time of Zion's travail.
According to Isaiah 24:2, all the people upon the earth will share alike these purging ordeals. In vs. 5 we are told why God sends these destructive judgments--namely, the thorough moral pollution of the inhabitants of the world and the breakdown of all law. According to vs. 6 the bulk of earth's population will be destroyed at that time. In vss. 7-13 we have a vivid description of the intense suffering through which those who survive the Tribulation will have to pass. In vss. 14-16a we see that even the dark clouds of the Tribulation have a silver lining. In these verses we find a vivid prediction of the mighty revival that will sweep the earth during that time of sorrow and distress.
In this connection let me say that this spiritual awakening, since it is in the midst of the Tribulation period, is undoubtedly the one described in Rev. 7, which likewise is placed in the midst of the Tribulation judgments. In the Revelation passage it is to be noted that the Jewish evangelists are the ones who bring about this mighty turning to God.
In the paragraph beginning with 16b and continuing to vs. 20 we have the prediction of the great upheavals and changes that will take place in the physical realm. The powers of the heavens at that time will be shaken and the earth will be rent violently; it will rock to and fro like a hammock and stagger like a drunken man. This description is to be taken literally since there are no indications in the context that the language is to be interpreted figuratively. According to vss. 21, 22 the "host of the high ones on high" (evil spirits) and the "kings of the earth upon the earth" will be gathered together and incarcerated in the pit of the abyss where they will be confined for "many days." During the imprisonment of these diabolical spirits and the wicked, rebellious rulers of the world, the Lord God will reign in Zion and before His elders there will be glory.
Over whom will He reign, when He sits in majesty in Jerusalem? There can be but one answer: the God-fearing remnant of the "few men" (vs. 6) who survive the Tribulation.
Since in the Olivet Discourse our Lord was describing the horrors of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:9-28) of which Isaiah had undoubtedly spoken, the nations who will be brought before the Lord Jesus when He sits upon the throne can be none other than the few men who survive the Tribulation and to whom Isaiah referred.
"Then the King will say to those on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (25:34). Who is this king? Only one answer is possible: the Son of man who sits upon the throne of His glory. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ is none other than the King.The Basis of the Judgment
When Jesus was born, the wise men came from the East, looking for Him who was born "King of the Jews." That the Lord Jesus Christ is this King is evident from the book of Immanuel (Isa. 7-12). In Isa. 7:14 we find a prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. Then in 9:6,7 appears this statement of His wonderful character and of His mounting the throne of David:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (vs. 6).
Note in the quotation above, the government is to be upon the shoulder of this child who is miraculously born to Israel. The government of what? What did Isaiah's auditors understand by this prediction? The government of Judea, of course. This interpretation is confirmed by vs. 7 which declares, "Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever." According to this prediction then, the King upon the Jewish throne is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
In conformity with this promise is that which was given by the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, in the following quotation:
And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:* and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:31-33).
Isaiah told his auditors that their eyes would "see the king in his beauty" (33:17). Following this quotation is a matchless description of Jerusalem as it will be when Messiah reigns there in glory. Under His regime there will be no more war. According to vs. 22, Israel will declare, "Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; he will save us "
Another beautiful picture of King Messiah's reigning in Jerusalem is set forth in Zephaniah's prophecy:
"Sing, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 Israel: be glad and rejoice with all the heart, 0 daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; 0 Zion, let not thy hands be slack. Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing" (Zeph. 3:14-17).
From these quotations, and many others which could be given, we get a clear-cut picture of King Messiah when He will sit upon the throne of His glory and reign over the world. All these passages were, doubtless, familiar to the apostles; hence when our Lord spoke of His sitting upon the throne of His glory and of being the King, the disciples readily understood the import of His language. One sees from these facts that Jesus assumed, on the part of the disciples, the knowledge set forth in the Old Testament.
As set forth in Matt. 25:34-44, the basis for the judgment here depicted is that of good works. Those put upon the right hand are placed there because they have been good and kind to His brethren, whereas those placed upon the left are thus separated from the others because of their failure to perform hospitable acts toward His brethren. These facts show that the basis of the judgment of the living nations at the coming of our Lord is that of good works and charitable deeds.The Sheep and the Goats
One seeks in vain for even the slightest intimation in this passage of the ones judged accepting or rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. There is absolutely no warrant for the popular idea of a general judgment into which all the dead of the ages will be brought, which is the usual interpretation of this passage. Nowhere in the passage is there the least hint of a resurrection of the dead. It is, therefore, safest to accept the words at their face value and to believe and interpret this judgment scene as that of the living nations who will be separated upon the basis of good works.
On the right hand, according to our Lord's prediction, those represented by the sheep are the people who have been kind to His brethren. They will be permitted to enter that kingdom. The one condition of entrance is that of good works toward His brethren. For us to read into this passage something else is to do violence to the Scriptures. But further light is to be found when this passage is read in the light of such a one as Ps. 24, which gives a picture of our Lord establishing His glorious reign in Zion.
In vss. 1,2 of the psalm, the inspired writer declared that the Lord is the owner of the universe, for it is His by creation. Following this affirmation the question is raised: "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? and who shall stand in his holy place?" (vs. 3). The expression, "hill of Jehovah," must be understood in the light of its usage in David's time, for he wrote this psalm, as is indicated by the superscription.
According to Acts 4:25, David was also the inspired author of Ps. 2. In the sixth verse of this latter passage God declared, "Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." Mount Zion in the southeastern portion of the city of Jerusalem is called God's holy hill, i.e., the hill of Jehovah; hence when the question is asked in Ps. 24:3, "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah?" we are to understand that the Temple area is meant. This passage presupposes that Jehovah will be there in Mount Zion: hence the writer asks who will be permitted to come up into His presence and to stand there, that is, to be acceptable to Him.
The question is answered in vs. 4, "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood, and hath not sworn deceitfully." We must be careful to take this language at what it says and must avoid reading back into it pure New Testament conceptions. Those who will stand approved, according to this verse, in the presence of the Lord, are those who have maintained a strict, pure, moral life. From this passage are we to conclude that one's morality and self-righteousness will save him? Not at all. This question is answered in vs. 5: "He shall receive a blessing from Jehovah, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
Those of the surviving nations who come before the presence of the Lord--who are gathered before Him when He separates the living nations--will see the light and the truth with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ and will accept Him. To them He will give His righteousness and they will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ on account of their full-hearted surrender to Him. Psalm 24, therefore, gives us information supplemental to that found in Matt. 25:31-46.
Those placed upon the left hand--"the goats"--are the ones who have been inconsiderate toward our Lord's brethren. From the language of Jesus we may safely conclude that their actions are but overt expressions of their hearts toward Him. Because of an adverse attitude and a rebellious spirit toward Him, they refuse to do anything for His brethren during the trials of the Great Tribulation. Because of this fact they are rejected and go off into everlasting punishment.
* The Throne of David
Some expositors have understood Peter's language uttered on the day of Pentecost to be proof that Christ is sitting upon the throne of David at the present time. In Acts 2:22 Peter declared that God wrought wonderful signs through the Lord Jesus in order to attest His divine commission. According to vs. 23 Jesus was delivered into the hands of those who executed Him by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Peter charged his auditors with the crime of the death of the Lord Jesus. What they did, however, simply carried out God's plan and purpose.
Though Christ was slain, death could not hold Him, because David in Ps. 16 foresaw the resurrection of Messiah. In the verses Peter quoted, David, the human author, used the personal pronouns, I, me, and my. To the superficial student this passage seems to refer to David's own experience. Peter corrects this error in vs. 29 by showing that David died and was buried and that his tomb remained until that day. Therefore, Peter argued, though David did use the personal pronouns of the first person, he was not speaking of his own experiences. Being a prophet, David used the regular method of prophetic utterance.
It was necessary that the Lord Jesus be raised from the tomb in order to carry out the program which was laid down in the Old Testament Scriptures. Foreseeing the entire redemptive career of Messiah, David showed that His resurrection was involved in the plan of God. Had our Lord remained in the tomb, Peter argued, the promise concerning David's seed sitting upon the throne forever would have become null and void. "He [David] foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:31).
These verses have been interpreted as affirmation that Christ now is upon the throne of David. This view is erroneous. All the passage says is that David, foreseeing that Christ would sit upon His throne, gave this oracle concerning the resurrection. The statement is far from saying that Christ is now on David's throne.
David's throne was in Jerusalem. Christ at the present time is at the right hand of the Majesty on high. In no sense can the throne upon which the Lord Jesus is now seated be called David's throne.
Verses 24-32 are devoted to proving that Messiah, whom the Jews slew by the hands of lawless men, was raised from the dead.
The objectors could reasonably have demanded of Peter that Jesus come forth and stand in their presence if He were raised from the dead. In anticipation of this opposition the apostle declared that Jesus was not here upon earth but that He was seated at the right hand of the throne of God, according to the prediction found in Ps. 110:
Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Jehovah will send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (vs. 1, 2).
This psalm outlines the entire redemptive career of Messiah. According to it, Messiah comes to the Jewish nation and is rejected by the people of Israel. At the invitation of God He ascends to Heaven and takes His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. It is clear from Peter's argument that he was outlining this course as set forth by the Old Testament prophets. This much of Messiah's redemptive career, declared Peter, had been fulfilled.
In order to see the remaining part, one must study Ps. 110. By reading vs. 2 he sees that when God has put the Jewish people under Messiah's feet, the latter will come and reign in Zion. Zion is the poetical name for Jerusalem. Messiah's reigning upon the throne of David, therefore, is something yet in the future--when Israel accepts Him as her Messiah. Therefore in no sense can one say that Christ at the present time is upon the throne of David.