12. The day of judgment, 24:1-25:46

vi] The vision of the supreme court


This passage concludes Jesus' fifth and final discourse, The Coming of the Son of Man, 24:1-25:46. Having answered the disciples' question concerning the "when" and the "sign" of Jesus' "coming and the end of the age", 24:1-35, and having detailed Jesus' instructions on being watchful, 24:36-25:13, Matthew draws together Jesus' visionary description of the day of judgment.


On the day of judgment, the day of the coming Son of Man, only the righteous in Christ will inherit eternal life.


i] Context: See 24:1-14.


ii] Structure: The vision of the supreme court:

Saying - the separation of the sheep from the goats, v31-33:

"when the Son of Man comes in his glory,

and all the angels with him, .....

Parable, v34-45:

Saying, v46:

"as you did not do to one of the least of these,

you did not do it to me."


iii] Interpretation:

The passage before us consists of three elements: First, in the opening verses, we have a saying of Jesus concerning the coming of the Son of Man, v31-33. This saying addresses his coming, his enthronement, the assembling of humanity before him and the separation of one from another in much the same way as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; Second, an illustrative judgment parable, v34-45. In this parable we have oJ basileuV, "the king", separating people, some to his right for reward and some to his left, for punishment, with both reward and punishment determined on the basis of how each has acted toward the least of his subjects; Third, v46, a judgment saying which serves to round off v31-33.

The judgment saying, v31-33, 46, describes the reign of the coming Son of Man, his role as the universal judge, separating the just from the unjust and enacting blessing or cursing. It touches on truths found in both the OT and NT, cf., 13:49, 19:28, .... When it comes to the illustrative judgment parable, v34-45, first and foremost it describes the immanence of the kingdom and judgment, and the basis on which judgment will be enacted, namely, on perfect compassion; "blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy."

So, Matthew takes us full circle and leaves us with the conundrum he confronted us with in the Great Sermon. The King demands of his subjects a perfect compassion beyond anything we can achieve, and so we find ourselves condemned - standing to his left, "cursed". Unless, of course, we can find someone who is compassion personified, someone whose perfection is such that it covers all who stand with him. To this end we are reminded to look to Jesus, the one who saves through faith. So, let's make sure we stand with that "righteous" man to the right of the king, and not by ourselves on the left. On the day of judgment when asked "who are you?", simply answer, "I'm with him."


This passage, commonly known as The Judgment of the Nations, has prompted many and varied interpretations. Some commentators understand "the least of these brothers of mine" to refer to the physically poor, the hungry, needy... The implication is that entrance into the kingdom of heaven is determined on the basis of deeds of mercy and compassion done to Christ through the poor and downtrodden. This approach is further extended by suggesting that Christ is now manifested to the world in the life of the poor and that we experience the risen Christ in acts of compassion toward them. On the other hand, some commentators see the "least brothers" as missionaries. Dispensational writers see them as Jews converted through the tribulation at the beginning of an earthly millennial kingdom. The judgment proceeds on the basis of how people act toward these Jewish brothers (a view which has provided a cover for the dispossession of the Palestinian people by the Zionist State of Israel). The more conservative commentators see the "blessed" as disciples, believers. With this approach there is a tendency to regard a believer's standing in the sight of God as somehow maintained, or advanced, by acts of compassion toward the brotherhood - "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed", Prov.19:17. Popular is the idea that this judgment "of the nations" is a judgment of unbelievers, such that believers are not judged, since they are already standing on the right side of the king.


For the wider interpretation of chapters 24-25 see 24:1-14.


iv] Form:

Scholars are divided as to whether the passage can be properly classified as a parable, eg., "it belongs to the same class as the judgment scenes in Enoch and other apocalypses", Dodd. To some degree the language used in the passage is apocalyptic, although it is more descriptive than visionary. Others argue that it leans more toward a judgment dialogue; "In Judaism such dialogues are often part of depictions of judgment - (they) contain the reason for the judgment and the words of defense from the accused", Luz.

We are best to follow Nolland who argues that "what was probably originally a parable by Jesus about a king who entered into judgment with his people has been progressively allegorized (to a considerable degree already before Matthew) to the point where it has become an account of the final judgment and no longer a parable." So, the story-line may well have begun life as a kingdom parable, a climactic gospel riddle announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand - the king is even now sorting out the faithful from the unfaithful, the day of blessing and cursing is upon us, so repent and believe. Although The Judgment of the Nations may have started out a kingdom parable, Matthew uses it to reinforce the saying, v31-33, 46, such that the passage as a whole serves to remind a believer that on the day of judgment we will be held accountable for our life, and the standard to which we will be held accountable is perfect compassion - only those whose righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees will be saved. This being the case, only by grace through faith in the one righteous man will we stand in that terrible day.


v] Synoptics:

The material is unique to Matthew, most likely drawn from his own local oral source. It is possible that the three structural elements in the passage were two separate pieces of tradition (v31-33 + 46, and v34-45), either brought together during transmission, or by Matthew himself. Of course, Jesus may have presented it as a whole, with the lack of definition a product of oral transmission. We are best to reject the proposition that it is a figment of Matthew's imagination.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 25:31

The vision of the supreme court, v31-46: i] The coming of the Son of Man and the judgment of the great separation, v31-33. "When the Son of Man comes in his state of glory, all the angels being with him, he will take his seat on the throne which is his in his glorified state. All the nations will be assembled in his presence, and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats", Cassirer. Although we know Jesus is himself the Son of Man, in this passage he does not make this link. Jesus is relating how it will be when Daniel's Son of Man comes into the presence of the Ancient Days in heaven and receives his eternal kingdom, cf., Dan.7:13. Just as the farmer separates his sheep and goats at evening time, so the Son of Man will separate all humanity into two groups, with those at his right hand given power and honor. Note that the Son of Man's coming is heavenward (as viewed from heaven), not earthward, although his coming to heaven has earthly ramifications.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the discourse.

oJtan + subj. "when" - Introducing an indefinite temporal clause, with definite expression, as NIV.

oJ uiJoV tou anqrwpou "the Son of Man" - As noted above, the reference is to the mysterious messianic figure who is enthroned at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, cf., Dan.7:13. Jesus tended to use this messianic title in that it revealed his lordship without fostering messianic fervor. The phrase can be understood simply as "man" and therefore served to maintain the messianic secret. For syntax, see 8:20.

elqh/ (ercomai) aor. subj. "comes" - Comes to heaven, not earth.

en "in [his glory]" - in [the glory of him]. Possibly local, expressing sphere, "in his state of glory", Cassirer, or adverbial, expressing manner, or association / accompaniment, "with glory." In 16:27 the Son of Man comes en th/ doxh/ tou patroV "in the glory of the Father", so expressing high Christology; he comes in a cloud of divine presence, in the radiance of the shekinah glory.

oiJ aggeloi (oV) "the angels" - [and all] the angels, messengers. Nominative subject of the verb "to come." Here referring to Jesus' entourage, quite possibly believers, his "messengers" from earth, gathered with Christ on the final day.

met (meta) + acc. "with [him]" - Expressing association / accompaniment.

tote "-" - then. This temporal adverb is used throughout chapters 24 and 25 as a temporal indicator of indefinite time rather than sequential time, so "at that time" rather than "then / after that".

epi + gen. "on" - [he will sit] on [throne of glory of him]. Spacial; "upon".


panta ta eqnh (oV) "all the nations" - [and] all the nations [will be assembled]. Nominative subject of the verb "to gather together." Here the term probably just means "all peoples", both Jew and Gentile, although Green suggests "all the Gentiles", cf., 24:7, 9, 14. "All people" most likely includes dead and living since the day of judgment is also the day of resurrection. This does not quite fit the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross, "this day you will be with me in paradise", but then the day of judgment is enacted outside of time, time being part of the created order.

emprosqen + gen. "before [him]" - Spacial.

aforisei (aforizw) pres. "will separate" - A pastoral illustration which turns out to be a rather frightening event performed on the day of judgment. From a distance, Palestinian sheep and goats look the same and since they graze together they are constantly being separated. Beare notes that the judgment is not a trial, but rather the enacting of a sentence for decisions already made.

ap (apo) + gen. "[one] from [another]" - [them] from [each other]. Expressing separation; "away from."

w{sper "as [a shepherd]" - as [the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats]. Comparative; "as, like, just as, .."


men .... de "-" - on the one hand [he will put the sheep on right of him], but on the other hand [the goats on left]. Adversative comparative construction

ek .... ex + gen. adj. "on [his right] .... on [his left]" - from [right]. This preposition expresses the sense of separation from the left or right, expressed in English as "at" or "on". Jesus extends the shepherd illustration into this verse, having the sheep and goats separated from each other.

euwnumwn adj. "left" - The sheep and goats are sorted into the good luck and bad luck positions. The sheep are placed on his right, a position of honor, power and authority. The goats are placed on the left, a bad-omen position.


ii] The illustrative judgment parable, v34-45. Matthew now records the parable about a king who separates his loyal subjects into two groups Those honored with power and authority are positioned to the right, those facing opprobrium are positioned to the left. In the dialogue between the king and his subjects, the criteria for selection is established. One would expect a king to honor those who respect the rich and powerful in his kingdom, but this king honors those who respect their more insignificant fellow citizens - the poor, ill and lame. In this scenario the parable evidences the great reversal theme of kingdom parables - the coming kingdom overturns accepted conventions. When it comes to reward and punishment, the parable becomes more theologically explicit; it's as if Jesus' application of the parable has found its way into the parable itself. So, the "inheritance" of the honored, the "blessed", is "the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world", while the end of the dishonored, the "accursed", is to "go away to eternal punishment." The righteous, the blessed ones, receive the inheritance of the kingdom, an inheritance the Father prepared for them before the beginning of time. As for the "cursed", they are banished to eternal fire; their end the same as the Devil and his demons.

The fourfold repetition of deeds of compassion serve as the standard for reward and punishment, ie., allocation to the right of the king, or allocation to his left. As noted above, many commentators handle these deeds of compassion as if they must be done, and can be done, ie., the parable is often viewed as ethical. Although the parable gives direction for the Christian life, it is well to remember that only the righteous in Christ will stand in that terrible day - only his compassion, his righteousness, saves.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb. The use of an indefinite time signature at this point indicates a division, best identified by a new paragraph. Given that we now move from a saying to a new literary form, it seems likely that tote is transitional.

oJ BasileuV (euV ewV) "the king" - Nominative subject of the verb "to say." Although guesswork, it is likely that "the king" is any king, although in the present context he serves as a type for the coming Son of Man. The parable may well be alluding to the apocalyptic imagery of Daniel's coming Son of Man (cf., Dan.7), but note how Jesus maintains a 3rd person ascription; it's not "then I will", but "then the king will".

toiV dat. art. "to those [on his right]" - [will say] to the ones [on the right of him]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase ek dexiwn into a substantive, dative of indirect object. For ek, see v33 above.

oiJ euloghmenoi (eulogew) perf. pas. part. "you who are blessed" - [come] the blessed ones, praised ones. The participle serves as a substantive. These blessed ones, standing to the right of the king, are blessed because they have been assigned to his right and thus have gained their inheritance.

tou patroV (hr roV) gen. "by [my] Father" - of the father [of me]. The genitive may be classified as adjectival, verbal, subjective, or ablative, source / origin. God the Father is often assumed (note NIV "Father" rather than "father"), given that a dynastic king's father would not be alive, although giving honor to a former king is not unusual. The description is somewhat obtuse, cf., 16:27 for a similar problem.

klhronomhsate (klhronomew) aor. imp. "take your inheritance" - receive an inheritance, inherit. The inheritance is defined as the kingdom.

thn hJtoimasmenhn (eJtoimazw) per. pas. part. "prepared" - [the kingdom] having been prepared. The participle serves as an adjective, , attributive, limiting "kingdom"; "the kingdom that has been prepared for you", Berkeley.

uJmin dat. pro. "for you" - Dative of interest, advantage.

apo + gen. "since [the creation]" - from [foundation]. Here expressing source. Approached allegorically we may say "God intended from the beginning to fashion creatures in community for fellowship with himself", Blomberg.

kosmou (oV) gen. "of the world" - of world. The genitive is adjectival, verbal, objective, as NIV, or possessive, expressing a derivative characteristic, "world's creation."


gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why those to the right are blessed by the father.

moi dat. pro. "[you gave] me" - [i hungered and you gave something] to me. Dative of indirect object. The provision of food, drink and clothing to the needy is a work required of the righteous in the Old Testament, and those who perform it "shall surely live", Ezk.18:6-9, cf. Job 22:6-7, Isa. 58:6-7.

fagein (esqew) aor. inf. "to eat" - The infinitive is adverbial, expressing purpose; "you gave to me something in order that I might eat."

hmhn (eimi) imperf. "I was" - [i thirsted and you gave me to drink] i was. The parable describes six different situations of distress and the actions to relieve them. These good works / acts of charity, although not defined by the Torah, were, in Jewish tradition, "decisive at the judgment", Luz, eg., "works of charity are the gate of the eternal", Str-B 4.1212. Aorist verbs are used, except for "I was a stranger" and "I was in prison" where an imperfect verb to-be is used - obviously expressing an existing state rather than durative action.

xenoV (oV) "a stranger" - a foreigner, stranger [and you gathered me]. Predicate nominative. Hospitality to the stranger is also required of the righteous in the Old Testament, cf. Job.31:32.


gumnoV adj. "I needed clothes" - naked [and you clothed me]. Predicate adjective. Imaging compassion to the poor, alms etc., again required of the righteous; "I was but poorly clad, and you clothed me", Cassirer.

hsqenhsa (asqenew) aor. "I was sick" - i was weak, sick [and you visited me]. The caring action may read "visit", or "care for", both actions required of the righteous. Given the religious requirements pertaining to disease, visiting someone who is sick is an act of supererogation, cf. Sir.7:35. "I was sick and you took care of me", Cassirer.

hlqate (ercomai) aor. "[I was in prison and] you came [to visit me]" - [i was in prison and] you came [to me]. Ancient prisons provided a roof but nothing else. Food and other necessities must be provided by family and friends so this is not just a visit to commiserate.


tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb; probably not sequential, as noted above, but simply indicating a step in the story-line.

oiJ dikaioi (oV) "the righteous" - [answered] the righteous ones [to him saying]. Here, the "righteous" are the covenant compliant, those who are judged right before God.

autw/ dat. pro. "[will answer] him" - Dative of indirect object after the verb "to answer."

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant.

pote adv. "when" - [master] when. Serving to form a series of temporal clauses, v37-39.

peinwnta (peinaw) pres. part. "[did we see you] hungry" - [did we see you] hungering [and we fed you, or thirsting and gave you a drink]? As with "thirsting" this participle serves as the accusative complement of the object "you" of the verb "to see" standing in a double accusative construction. The same construction is used for the participle "having sickness", v39. It is worth reminding ourselves again that the list of compassionate acts rules most of us out of the kingdom. We may have gone the extra mile for our family and close friends, but that's about the end of it. Thankfully there is one righteous man who is love personified and he kindly allows us to bask in his reward as an act of grace appropriated through faith (Yes I know, I'm a broken record!!!!).

v38, 39

As for v35, 36


apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[The King will] reply" - [the king] having answered [will say]. Attendant circumstance participle; redundant - a Semitic construction.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

amhn legw uJmin "I tell you the truth" - truly I say to you. The phrase serves to underline the following statement and is often used by Jesus.

ef oJson "whatever" - in as much as. This construction, the preposition epi + pro., appears three times in Matthew, but is not found in the other gospels, or the LXX. It is likely to be adverbial, standing in place of the temporal en w|/, "for as long as / while", 9:15, cf. 2Pet.1:13. Possibly here expressing measure, "in as far as / in as much as"; "To the degree that", Morris, Nolland.

twn elacistwn sup. adj. "[one] of the least" - [you did to one of these] the least [of the brothers of me]. Superlative of little. The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive. This articular adjective here "adds a sort of climax", Robertson. "Least" is being used of status such that "service to the least will instinctively be considered as of little consequence", Nolland. Yet, in God's domain, where status is not important, this kind of act is what matters. So, the word identifies a degree of compassion beyond the norm, of love to the unlovely, "the least." As noted above, this is likely not to be a designation for the disciples, twn mikrwn toutwn, "these little ones", 10:42, 18:6, ... "The least significant among them", Cassirer.

toutwn gen. pro. "of these" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

twn adelfwn (oV) gen. "brothers" - The commentators opt for either "brother", in the sense of a disciple / believers / Christians, so Carson, Blomberg, France, ...., "Jesus thus identifies himself fully with his disciples", Hagner, cf., 12:50, 28:10, or poor / lowly humanity. A fellow child of God, but also "the stranger within the gates", it's hard to be sure. We are best to stay with the indefinite nature of the parable, so possibly "one of the members of my family", NRSV, "however insignificant", REB, or better, "one of the least of these my subjects."

mou gen. pro. "of mine" - The genitive is possessive.

emoi dat. pro. "[you did it] for me" - Often taken as a dative of indirect object, "to me" = "you actually did it to me", but possibly a dative of interest, advantage, "for me" = "you did it for my honor", "you did it out of respect for me." The general principle, "the person who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, Prov.19:17, makes a similar point.


As in v34, the language of blessing and cursing takes on a theological flavor, less parabolic and more an application of the parable - in the face of the dawning kingdom, those who are not perfectly compassionate end up with the devil in hell. Of course, our Western mindset often leads us to over-read Eastern imagery. The king may be doing nothing more than using dismissive language; "you can go to hell."

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb, indicating a step in the story-line.

toiV dat. art. "to those [on his left]" - [he will say] to the ones [on left]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase ek euwnumwn into a substantive, dative of indirect object. Again the preposition ek takes the sense of "out of / from" the left hand, expressed in English as "at / on."

ap (apo) + gen. "[depart] from [me]" - [go] from [me]. Expressing separation; "away from."

oiJ kathramenoi (kataraomai) perf. pas. part. "you who are cursed" - the ones having been cursed, under a curse. The participle serves as a substantive. They are cursed in that they are sent from the Father's presence into the eternal fire.

aiwnion adj. "eternal" - [into the] eternal (ever-burning) [fire]. The accusative complement of a double accusative construction, here adjectival, limiting "fire". This reference is often used to support the notion of eternal punishment, cf., v46, but the imagery used here is not necessarily describing the eternal damnation of the lost, but of a fire that does not go out and so is ready to deal with the condemned. Annihilation may be a better way to describe the end of those without God - they are no more.

to pur "fire" - the fire. The fire is an image of hell, or gehenna, and derives from the ever-burning rubbish tip outside Jerusalem in the valley of Hinnom. Everything was thrown on it, including corpses.

to hJtoimasmenon (eJtoimazw) perf. pas. part. "prepared" - having been prepared. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "eternal fire."

tw/ diabolw/ (oV) dat. "for the devil" - the deceiver, the liar, the slanderer. Dative of interest, disadvantage.

toiV aggeloiV (oV) "[his] angels" - [and] the angels [of him]. Dative of interest, disadvantage. Satan's demons. "Satan's mob."


The syntax for v42-45 repeats v35-39.

ouk edwkate (didwmi) aor. "you gave [me] nothing [to drink]" - you did not give. Not "would not give me", TEV, but as NIV. So also v43.


ou dihkonhsamen (diakonew) aor. "did not help [you]" - did not do service [to you]. In the sense of "serve your need", since the word is used of service to others. "Did not come to your aid", Cassirer.


apokriqhsetai (apokrinomai) fut. "he will replay" - he will answer. As for v40, "the king will answer etc." "Then he will answer: 'The truth is that every time you failed to do these things for one of these, even the least of them, you failed to do them for me'", Barclay.


iii] Blessing / cursing for the righteous / unrighteous, v46. If, as seems likely, the verse rounds off the saying, v31-33, then it serves as an inclusio for the judgment parable. The curse brings with it "punishment" in the sense of suffering as a consequence of wrong behavior. Here the punishment is described as ongoing, although undefined. The picture of to pur to aiwnion, "the eternal life", of v41 may help, although not so if it is parabolic. This lake of unquenchable fire (eternal, Matt.15:3) is symbolic of a punishment that involves separation from God, a separation that is best described as eternal annihilation, nothingness. Banishment from the presence of the living God is a monstrous loss - an unquenchable fire. The term appears only here in Matthew and probably derives from Daniel 12:2-3, LXX. "Eternal doom", Peterson.

kai "then" - and. Possibly consecutive; "so ....."

ou|toi pro. "they" - these ones. Nominative subject of the verb "to go away."

apeleusontai (apercomai) fut. "will go away" - will go away, depart. Predictive future.

eiV "to" - to, into [eternal punishment]. Spacial, arrival at.

de "but" - but/and [the righteous into]. Transition, indicating a step to a contrasting point.

zwhn aiwnion "eternal life" - So also Daniel 12:2; "and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall rise, some to life everlasting." cf. Matt.19:16, 29, referring to "the future inheritance of eschatological blessing", Hagner, or simply of entering the kingdom of heaven, or to "enter into life."


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]