When the Son of Man Comes

Sun behind the clouds

Different people look forward to different events in their future. A high school student may be anticipating graduating and going to college. A young couple may be looking forward to having children. Those who are older may be preparing for retirement. People might look forward to the weekend as a time for fishing, attending a sporting event, or just spending time at home.

These anticipated events will be different for everyone because each person has different desires, priorities, and interests. Their plans for the future are different because everyone has unique circumstances so they can expect certain things to happen (good or bad).

However, one future event that is the same for all of us is the return of Christ at the end of the world. What will happen then? How can we prepare for this day? To answer these questions, we will consider what Jesus taught about the coming of the Son of Man.

His Arrival

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him…” (Matthew 25:31-32).

When Jesus returns, He will come “in His glory” (Matthew 25:31). As He ascended to heaven in “a cloud,” He will return “in just the same way” (Acts 1:9-11). Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will return “with His mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).

When He returns, He will sit on His throne. This indicates a position of authority as He has been given authority to judge. Jesus said, “[The Father] gave [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). Furthermore, He said that “all the nations” would be gathered before Him (Matthew 25:32). This means that this event would not be a limited, localized judgment; instead, it was for everyone. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The Separation

All the nations will be gathered before Him; 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” (Matthew 25:32-33).

When Jesus separates people at His return, it will be part of His judgment (John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He is the only one in this position to judge (James 4:12). Paul told the Athenians that God had “fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). On this appointed day, the Lord will execute His “righteous judgment” (Romans 2:5) because He is “the righteous Judge” (2 Timothy 4:8).

Jesus said that this separation would result in the formation of two groups – “the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:33). This separation into two groups was a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching:

  • Those who follow the “narrow” way and those who follow the “broad” way (Matthew 7:13-14).
  • Those who do “the will of My Father” and those who “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).
  • Those who are “wise” and those who are “foolish” (Matthew 7:24-27).
  • Those who will “have eternal life” and those who will “perish” (John 3:16).
  • Those who are raised “to a resurrection of life” and those who are raised “to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
  • Those who “shall be saved” and those who “shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

On that last day, we will not get to pick the group in which we want to be. He will be the one to determine where we belong.

Those on His Right

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 something to 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, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe 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’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Those in this group will be welcomed into the eternal kingdom (Matthew 25:34). This is the “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). The fact that this was “prepared…from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34) shows that this was always God’s plan (cf. Ephesians 3:11).

As Jesus explained, the reward that these individuals would receive was based upon what they did in this life. This concept is consistent with the rest of the Scriptures:

  • Judgment will be based upon “what [we have] done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
  • Those who “[do] the will of [the] Father who is in heaven will enter” that eternal home (Matthew 7:21).
  • Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).

The specific work that Jesus mentioned in our text – helping those in need – is just one of many works required by the Lord. Jesus would make it clear in the Great Commission that His disciples were to “observe all that [He] commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Helping others, but being otherwise corrupt, will not allow us to enter heaven. Sometimes we see godless, unbelieving people do good deeds; but just being a “good” person or doing some good things will not save us. However, as Jesus explained in this passage, we are to treat others as we would treat Christ (Matthew 25:40).

Those on His Left

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, ‘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, ‘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’” (Matthew 25:41-45).

Those in this group will be sentenced “into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). This is a place of torment where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30) and “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47-48). And though this place has been “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), there will be others who will also be sent there (cf. Revelation 20:10, 15; 21:8).

In this passage, the punishment for those on the left would be based upon what they failed to do in this life. As we noted in the previous section, the specific work that Jesus mentioned which this group failed to do was just one possible way in which someone can be condemned. Keeping part of God’s law and breaking another makes us “a transgressor of the law” and “guilty of all” (James 2:10-11). Paul explained that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When we do things that are contrary to God’s law – or fail to do those things that have been instructed in His law – we are then worthy of punishment.

Another point that Jesus made was that even though He is absent, He is perfectly aware of what happens in this life. Though Jesus was not literally in the flesh, He knew all about their actions in failing to help those who were in need (Matthew 25:45). The Hebrew writer noted, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13, ESV). When the Lord returns, there will be nothing that we will have hidden from Him.

The Final End

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

This judgment that Jesus described would not be followed by continued existence for people here on the earth. This would be final (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). Two things will happen at the close of this final day of judgment:

  • The wicked will go to eternal punishment “where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). There will be no second chances.
  • The righteous will go to eternal life where they will “always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). There will be no danger of losing their reward.

Conclusion

When the Lord returns, He will judge each one of us. This judgment will be final. There will be no second chances and there are only two possible destinations – eternal punishment or eternal life. We need to be sure we are prepared to meet Him on that last day so we can gain eternal life.


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Comments

  1. Wayne Teel says

    Thank you, Andy, for a very well written article on the subject of the end time.

  2. Great job!