Much difficulty would be avoided if we were more willing to accept the record in Matthew chapter 24, as an account of what Jesus said to his immediate disciples for their instruction. They had heard the Master say to the leaders: Behold your house is left unto you desolate. They had been dismayed by his further emphasis, referring to the beautiful temple, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
This did not sound like the kingdom of God coming, and Peter, James, John and Andrew ask him with much concern Tell us, when shall these things be. Two supplementary question are asked: What shall be the sign of thy coming and what shall be the sign of the end of the Age?
A Prophecy Addressed to his Immediate Disciples
In reply Jesus addresses his disciples and answers their questions. He is concerned to instruct them in the events that would occur in their lifetime. Throughout the chapter he addresses those listening to him, using consistently ye, ye; with the exception of two verses where he says they, verses 30 and 31. In these two verses only does Jesus extend his view to a time beyond the lifetime of the twelve, to give a brief account of his second appearing. It is with these two verses that we are so personally interested, and we have already given some attention to them. Before examining them in greater detail, it will be well worth-while to glance at the earlier part of the chapter, to see how this leads up to the verses about his second appearing. The chapter divides up into eight sections:
1. Signs of the end of the Age, Verses 4-15
2. The great tribulation, verses 16-22
3. The coming in judgment, verses 23-28
4. The disappearance of the Jewish heavens, verse 29
5. The sign in heaven of his second appearing, verse 30
6. His appearing in power, verse 30
7. The re-gathering of Israel, verse 31
8. The exhortation, verses 32-51
There is an excellent series of articles by Bro. Thomas which includes the interpretation of Matthew chapter 24 in The Herald of The Kingdom and Age to Come (1859) Vol.9, commencing on page 121 and continuing over several issues*. It is particularly recommended to all readers. It not only gives an analysis of the Mount Olivet prophecy, but it gives a new insight into the Epistles of Peter, James and John.
Signs of the End of the Age
The phrase end of the world in verse 3, has no reference to our time. It was spoken by the disciples, and they used it to refer to the End that Jesus had been speaking about in the previous chapter. The RSV correctly translates it: the close of the age.
In verses 4-14 Jesus warns them of troublous times, with persecution and widespread apostacy. But the End would not come until the gospel had been preached in all the world (a Greek word for the Roman habitable) for a witness. This was a work which the apostles carried out. The last words of Jesus as he left the eleven gave them this commission: Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). A similar commission was given to Paul (Acts 9:15, 22, 21). Paul plainly says when writing to the Colossian believers that this had been accomplished when he wrote (Col. 1:23). After this widespread preaching as a witness, then shall the end come (v. 14). Jesus proceeds to give them the sign that the end was nigh; he speaks of the Romans being at Jerusalem (verse 15 and Luke 21:20). This was his answer to the questions When shall these things be? What is the sign of the end of the Age?
The Great Tribulation
Now was to be poured out on guilty Jerusalem and Judah the vengeance of God. Luke in warning the believers to flee to the mountains says: For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be accomplished. Moses and the prophets had written of this ending of the Mosaic Commonwealth; Jesus had spoken extensively about it in his parables, and particularly in his denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew chapter 23). They filled up the measure of their fathers (23:32) in crucifying Jesus and persecuting to the death his disciples. The outpouring of vengeance meant a time of great tribulation for the faithful as well as for the wicked. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (v. 20). Josephus gives a full account of this dreadful time.
The Darkening of the Jewish Heavens
Verse 29 picks up the great tribulation. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her lightetc. This is, of course, what did happen. Immediately after the pouring out of divine vengeance, and the consequent tribulation, reaching its consummation in Titus sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple, the Jewish political heavens ceased to exist. The sweeping away was so complete that only the graphic language used here is adequate: sun and moon darkened, stars fallen from heaven, the powers of heaven shaken. Paul had warned the Hebrew Christians (Hebrews 12:26; quoting Haggais prophecy) that God was about to shake the heavens and destroy them, showing that this shaking of the heavens in a symbolic sense was well understood by the disciples. It is quite out of keeping with the language used by the prophets and Jesus to take the heaven, the moon and stars in a literal way.
A Sign in Heaven
Jesus now refers to another part of the disciples questioning. He had told them of a sign of the end of the Jewish Age; now he tells them about a sign of his second appearing. There was to be a sign in heaven. What heaven is this? We have already seen it cannot be taken as a literal heaven, because the previous verse has referred to the political heavens of the Jews in A.D. 70. By the way verse 30 follows smoothly on from verse 29, it must be concluded that the heaven of verse 30 is the same as the heaven of verse 29. There is no reason for making it any other heaven.
The Jewish heavens have been non-existent for approximately 1900 years, and there could not very well have been any sign in non-existent heavens. But in our time, with the formation of the State of Israel, a Jewish heavens has again come into being, and we can look for the sign of the coming of the Son of man. The little phrase and then between verse 29 and 30 covers many centuries. Understandably the text takes no account of the long interval when Jewish affairs in the land have been dead, while Israel has been scattered among the nations. In the same way, the Old Testament prophets sometimes link the work of Jesus first and second appearing with no indication of a big gap between the two. We will call to mind Jesus quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue at Nazareth, and he broke off half way through a sentence. He quoted as being fulfilled: To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and left unquoted the next words: and the day of vengeance of our God. A similar New Testament hidden break to that in Matthew 24 is in 1 Corinthians 15 between verses 23 and 24. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterwards they that are Christs at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God. There is no indication that the then covers 1,000 years.
When we see happenings in the Jewish heavens, we are to know that the return of Jesus to the earth is very near. Jewish heavens, though not the new heavens in which will dwell righteousness (2 Peter 3:13), have emerged before our eyes. The desolation and the downtreading is ending, and the time to favour Zion is near. The cleansing, or justifying of the holy things (Daniel 8:13), belongs to the return of the Prince of Princes. So we have to see the general unfolding of events regarding the nation of Israel and their independent existence in their own land as a sign in the Jewish heavens. Probably the setting up of the government in Jerusalemwas a big element in the sign.
The Coming in Clouds and the Tribes Mourning
After the sign of his coming, then the actual coming. This coming is not the coming to the household, but a coming to be seen by the tribes. It clearly says so: Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. It is a mourning linked with Jesus being revealed in power. This is the fulfilment of Zechariah 12:9-10, as we have already seen.
But Zechariah 12:10 cannot be the complete fulfilment of Matthew 24:30. In Zechariah the mourning is limited to Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and will be fulfilled by those who are in the land when Jesus returns. But Matthew 24:30 says all the tribes shall mourn. There will still be many Jews in the lands of the enemy. Isa. 66:18-20 and Zechariah 2:6-8, tell us that some who have seen the glory, that is, the mighty overthrow of the enemy at Armageddon, are sent to the nations, and to Israel scattered abroad, to declare to them what has happened. No doubt Israel still scattered abroad will rejoice at this great deliverance, and join in the mourning for what their fathers did to Jesus long ago.
The appearing of Jesus in glory to his nation at Armageddon and after, is described as the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. The disciples would recognise these words as coming from the prophecy of Daniel. Jesus had already directed their attention to the prophecy of Daniel, with regard to the overthrow of Jerusalem (v. 15); and no doubt he had often instructed them out of the things in Daniel concerning himself, both as the sin-bearer and also the king. His disciples would hear in the words coming in clouds the echo of Daniel 7:13. The main idea in Daniel chapter 7 is the Ancient of Days coming to the earth and setting up his throne. This the Father will do in sending Jesus, his Son, who is heir of all things, who is the brightness of his glory and the very image of his substance (Heb. 1:2-3). After the vision of the setting up of the throne of the Ancient of Days in the earth, additional information is provided by a further vision in which one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven to this throne of the Ancient of Days. We must keep in mind these are symbolic happenings, symbols of God manifestation. The description of the one on the throne with its fiery stream and its wheels of burning fire is symbolic and not literal. The coming of the Son of man with clouds to this throne set up on the earth, in order to receive the dominion, glory and kingdom is part of the symbolism. It means that the authority and power to take the kingdom are derived from this throne of the Eternal. The meaning of the Son of man with clouds, becomes plain as we read on. Daniel is told in verse 18, But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever. So the Son of man with clouds are the saints, the holy ones, with Jesus as the chief Holy One. Being instructed in Daniel, the disciples listening to Jesus would understand his language of the Son of man coming with clouds as meaning Jesus revealing himself with his glorified believers to deliver the nation of Israel (Daniel says one like the Son of mana symbolic MAN. Jesus says simply the Son of man, a title Jesus frequently gives himself). Bro. Thomas has an enlightening section on the appropriateness of clouds to represent glorified saints in Eureka Volume 1, under the heading He is coming with clouds.
The representation of the saints as a Man with clouds passes from Daniel into Revelation. Similarly in Chapter 10: And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. The figure is used again in chapter 14:14: And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle, and he reaped the harvest of the earth. The cloud in these several passages is not to be given a literal meaning, any more than we give a literal meaning to the sharp sickle, the rainbow, the feet as pillars of fire, etc. It is a symbol for the multitude with Christ. With these several illustrations we can include the language of Paul to the believers in Thessalonica, that they should be in clouds with Christ in the airwith him as rulers.
In these several scriptures just quoted, it can be seen that when the Son of man with clouds is manifest, the time of judgment is past. It is, as Matthew 24:30 says, a manifestation with power and glory. We can be sure that in this verse in Matthew, because the Son of man is already clothed with a cloud, the coming is not a coming to judge his household, but a coming to the nation with his glorified brethren.
The Angels Gathering the Elect
After the coming in clouds with power and glory, the next happening is, And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another. Taken by themselves, without regard to the context, these words could well be thought to describe the angels of heaven gathering the believers to the judgment seat. But this construction cannot be put on the verse. We shall see that this verse applies to the ingathering of the rest of the nation of Israel, following Armageddon and the setting up of the throne in Jerusalem.
At this time the nation are the elect. The time and situation must be distinguished from verse 24. At the time of verse 24 the nation was at the point of being cast off, and Gods care was for the Christian believers; they were the elect. But at his return the nation comes back into favour with God, and it becomes the elect, the chosen, in the eyes of all the world. The nation becoming the elect of God is frequently expressed by Isaiah. Here are a few references. For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land (chapter 14:1). Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, (cf. Matt. 24:31 will gather from the four winds of heaven) and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away (Chapter 41:9). Behold I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction (chapter 48:10). And to these references we might add the words of the apostle Paul, As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers sakes (Rom. 11:28). So Israel as the elect of God are to be gathered from the four winds of heaven. Zechariah uses this language: Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord; for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord...For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me (an angel, one sent) unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye (chapter 2:6-9). Here in Zechariah are all the ideas of Matthew 24:31, the apple of his eyehis elect; scattered to the four winds; sending to the nations to gather them.
The sending is with a great sound of a trumpet. The jubilee was the day of the great trumpet sounding in Israel. The word in Hebrew for jubilee is the loud sounding of the trumpet. At the jubilee every Hebrew could return home. So in this antitypical jubilee, Israel scattered abroad are called back to their land and national inheritance. Isaiah speaks of this great sound of a trumpet calling back Israel, And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria,etc. Isaiah 18:3 also refers to this jubilee trumpet blowing.
The sounding of the great trumpet that gathers Israel must not be confused with the sounding of the trumpet in 1 Corinthians 15:52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which raises the dead. Both trumpet soundings are antitypical Jubilee trumpet soundings: there was a sounding of trumpets on the first day of the month to gather the princes of Israel, and there was the sounding on the 10th day of the month to assemble all Israel, on the day of atonement. The trumpet that raises the dead is the antitype of the sounding on the first of the month, and the trumpet of Matthew 24:31 to bring back Israel to their land is the antitype of the sounding on the 10th of the month.
This call back to their land is made by his angels. Who are they? Angels are messengers, those sent, as the word angelos means. They may be mortal men, immortal saints, or the angels in heaven. The word angel is applied to all three. As to mortal men, the priest is described as the messenger, angel of the Lord, in Malachi 2:6. The book of the Revelation was delivered to John by an angel, and in Revelation 22:8-9 we learn that he was a mortal man, for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them that keep the sayings of this book. Then as to the immortal saints being angels, this is the case in Revelation chapter 14. The redeemed are said to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth (verse 4). In verse 10 we have the worshippers of the beast tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. Putting these two verses together, we see that holy angels are the redeemed. In several places in the Revelation an angel is a symbol for the saints with Christ (see chapters 10:1; 14:5; 18:1 etc.) Again in the second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul speaks of Jesus being revealed from heaven with the angels of his power, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God. This is a reference back to Daniel chapter 7, and the throne like a fiery flame and the wheels as burning fire and the fiery stream issuing forth from the throne; by which the fourth beast is destroyed and his body given to the burning flame. This work, we have seen, will be carried out by the saints. They are the angels of his power whom he sends out with power to accomplish the divine will.
In the case before us, in Matthew 24:31, the angels are both the saints and mortal men. We have already read about this in Isaiah 66:19-20. God sends those that escape the judgments in the land to certain nations, and as a result they bring the children of Israel back to Zion as an offering to the Lord. So Jews who have seen the glory of Christ revealed in their land will be sent, under the direction of the saints, to their brethren scattered abroad.
The Coming as Lightning: Verses 23-28
In our brief interpretation of Matthew chapter 24 we passed over verses 23-28. The concluding words of this section read: For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Coming as lightning certainly sounds like the manifest appearance of Jesus in the earth again. But if we give this interpretation, we find ourselves in a difficulty, because of the words that follow in verse 29. These read: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, etc. and we have already seen thatthis was fulfilled in the time of the overthrow of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. So, if verse 29 is A.D. 70, then the previous verse about the coming as lightning must also be around A.D. 70. If coming as lightning means Jesus second appearing in the earth, then we are saying it occurred in A.D. 70; and we know this is not true. The difficulty may be seen from another angle. The second appearing of Jesus in the earth is plainly before us in a proper sequence in verse 30; how can we have this appearing in verse 30, and also earlier back in verse 27-28? The solution to this difficulty is in recognising that there was a coming in judgment of Jesus in A.D. 70, and the coming as lightning in verses 27 and 28 are referring to this. When heard of for the first time, this certainly sounds a strange idea, but a consideration of various phrases of Jesus and the apostles will bring one to feel at home with the idea. Bro. Thomas in the articles already referred to (see note on page 55) covers this ground thoroughly. A concise handling of the matter appeared in the Christadelphian, September 1955, by Bro. E.T. Humphreys. If we look at the Epistle of James, chapter 5, we shall see the kind of reference there is to this coming of Jesus in judgment. The wicked in Israel were oppressing the believers in Christ, verses 1-6, and their cry had come to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. This introduces the idea of judgment: Lord of Sabaoth is Yahweh of hosts. James says to his brethren, Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (or more correctly, as R.V. and R.S.V. is at hand). Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold the judge standeth before the door. So when James wrote, the coming in judgment was about to happen.
Looking again at the verses in Matthew, the sense seems to be this: Jesus warns them that they must not be deceived by accounts of Christ having returned (v. 24). They were not to go and look in the desert for him, nor in secret chambers (v. 26). He was not to be looked for in this way, but they were to look to Jerusalem, the place where the eagles would be gathered to the carcase. Jesus was to come in judgment in a very real way, that could not be mistaken. It would be a coming like lightning from the east. The lighting of war struck against Jerusalem by the armies of Titus. This idea of a coming judgment would not be strange to the disciples. Jesus had spoken of it often in his parables. He had probably explained to them the prophecies of Moses and Daniel on the matter. Moses had prophesied that God would bring the Roman eagle against the nation (Deut. 28:48-50). Daniel had put on record that after Messiah the Prince had been cut off in sacrifice (chapter 9:26), the people of the Prince were to come and destroy the city and the sanctuary. The Romans were this army of Christ, bringing the judgment spoken of by Daniel, and by Jesus, in his parables.
This coming as lightning is referred to in Luke 17:21-37, and Jesus associates it with the faithful, with angelic help, escaping from Jerusalem. The language in verse 31 of Luke 17 should be compared with Mark 13:15, and this will make it clear that the escaping from the house or the field was at the time when they fled to the mountains from Judea. Bro. Roberts deals briefly with the account in Luke chapter 17 in Nazareth Revisited, end of chapter 47 (p. 408-410 in 1926 edition).
Lukes Record: The Signs in the Sun, Moon and Stars
There is a verse in Lukes account of the Mount Olivet prophecy which is quite similar to a verse in Matthews account, but on examination will be found to be referring to a different time.
Luke 21:25 reads: And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon earth distress of nations, with perplexity. This verse must not be confused with similar words in Matt. 24:29, which we have already studied. The darkening of the sun, etc., in Matt 24:29 is immediately after the tribulation of those days, which we saw was the Jewish tribulation of A.D. 70. In Luke 21:25 the signs in the sun, moon, and stars,are after the downtreading of Jerusalem by the Gentiles. Luke writes his gospel account for the Greeks: (to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus). He speaks of the times of the Gentiles continuing until they are fulfilled. All the time Israel is downtrodden, the Gentile heavens prevail. He is saying, in verse 25, that when the Gentile times are fulfilled, and the Gentile heavens are coming to an end, there shall be signs in the sun, etc. So we should expect the signs he is writing about to belong to Gentile heavens. How apt are his words for the continual upheavals we have witnessed in the Gentile heavens in the past 70 years. How characteristic of the Gentile world that the sea and the waves have been roaring, the power of the people exerting itself whether in its democratic, communist, or republican forms. The distress of nations and perplexity continues to grow. The powers of heaven shakeninstability of governments and violent sudden changes. Yes, Luke wonderfully describes here the events in the Gentile heavens just prior to the appearing of Jesus. This is not to be confused with the different time and circumstance covered by the darkening of the Jewish heavens described in Matthew 24:29.
Jesus Exhortation to his Disciples
In Matthew chapter 24, after this brief reference in verses 30 and 31 to his second appearing, Jesus returns to matters that concerned his immediate disciples. The rest of the chapter is exhortation, encouragement, and instruction to guide them through the difficult years that lay ahead. The ending of the age was to be as bad as the days of Noah. Like Noah they must be ready and watching for the end when Jesus would come in judgment. If they did not watch, they too would have their portion in the destruction of the wicked and would not escape from the calamities. Verses 44 to 51 are a parable directly addressed to the twelve, to warn them to fulfil their stewardship faithfully. The words do not apply to us. Only the apostles can be described, in the words of the parable, as servants whom his lord hath made ruler over his household. They were distinctly put in a position of authority in the ecclesia. This is seen in the way a word from Peter brought the death of Ananias and Sapphira. The record adds: and a great fear came upon all the ecclesia, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people...and of the rest durst no man join himself unto them. The apostles had power to bind and to loose (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23). Quite understandably, therefore, having such power and authority, Jesus, in Matthew 24, exhorts them beforehand to act wisely and faithfully, giving the household meat in due season.
With the start of Matthew chapter 25 Jesus enlarges the picture of responsibility and judgment to all the believers, in the parables of the Ten Virgins, and the Talents, and finally the Judgment of Nations.
The Judgment of the Nations, Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all nations...Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The third parable in Matthew chapter 25 has been used to justify the idea of resurrection and judgment of believers after Jesus has saved Israel from the invader, and has set up his throne in Jerusalem. We have established from many other scriptures that this is not the right sequence of events, and to explain this parable in this way is to set it against the other scriptures. Also, to do so requires an improper interpretation of ideas in the parable. Nevertheless, there is difficulty in applying this parable to a judgment of nations because the language of visiting the sick, giving drink to the thirsty, etc. as a basis of acceptance is what one would naturally apply to the disciples of Christ. How then can we harmonise the various parts of this parable?
Four general points will open up the parable.
First it is quite inappropriate to have Jesus on his throne of glory, and the saints not with him, still to be raised from the dead, and judged. It is a distinct promise of Jesus that his brethren will be with him in his throne of glory: To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne (Rev. 2:21). To the twelve he made a similar more detailed promise: Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). These ideas are reproduced in the symbology of the Revelation. When a door is opened in heaven and a throne is set therein (Christ in ruling position) there are seen to be twenty four other thrones around the main throne, and we are told that those sitting on the 24 thrones are the redeemed (Rev. 5:8-10). The 24 thrones do not come into existence after the main throne; they are there from the start of the vision, making it clear that the redeemed are with Christ when the door is opened in heaven. Again, when the lamb appears on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1), the 144,000 are with him. So we must accept the fact that when Jesus sits on the throne of glory, the saints are with him.
The second point is, there have already been two parables in Matthew chapter 25 covering the judgment of the believers, and it does not require a third to set out this matter. But it is appropriate to add to the parables of individual judgment, a third on the judgment of nations.
The third point is that it plainly says it is a judgment of nations. Before him shall be gathered all nations... One cannot read this as meaning people separated from the nations. Revelation 5:9 describes the saints as redeemed out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation. The word nation here is the same as in Matthew 25:32. The nations, and a people separated from the nations are not the same thing. Here in Matthew it is all nations.
Fourth, and most interesting, the language here is a reflection of similar language in Daniel chapter 7. We have already found at least two previous references of Jesus in the Mount Olivet prophecy to Daniel. The main scene in Daniel chapter 7 is of the nations before the throne of glory. The nations are presented in the form of the four beasts. They are before the throne of the Ancient of Days; and the judgment was set and the books were opened. The fourth beast is destroyed, the other three beasts are allowed to continue, but shorn of their power. We must bear in mind that both in Daniel and Matthew it is parabolic language. The nations do not actually come before the throne, any more than Christ actually gave talents to his servants, and received 1, 5 or 10 talents on his return. The parable is a presentation of judgment, setting out essential principles by the parabolic story. Now in Daniel chapter 7 one cannot possibly say that the nations before the throne are the individual believersthey are four beasts. As Matthew 25:31-32 is so similar to Daniel 7, it is reasonable to conclude that Matthew is also referring to nations and not individuals.**
How then do we explain Matthews parable as a judgment of nations, and yet the basis of judgment is visiting the sick, giving drink to the thirsty, etc.? The explanation is to recognise that the two previous parables have already put the believers on the right hand or the left of the throne; either accepted to enter the kingdom, or rejected to be punished with the devil and his angels and destroyed. In this third parable the nations are added to the individual believers, either on the right hand or the left. They too are put into one of two classes; to enter the kingdom, or to be destroyed.
Taking this view, the question is, Is it appropriate to include nations with individuals in being judged on the basis of giving or withholding a cup of cold water, etc.? The answer is, Yes. It is upon their attitude to Christs brethren that the nations will be judged. Those who have shown tolerance, and have given protection to hunted heretics, have shown some pity and regard for the Jews, and show this attitude when Christ comes, they will be allowed to enter the kingdom and share in its blessings under Christs rule. This will apply in general to Britain and the English speaking peoples. They will have to show faith and obedience towards Jesus and will enter the kingdom as subject people. They are Blessed in Abraham and his seed. The prophets speak of nations attaining to the kingdom. Zechariah says: And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people (Zech. 2:10). Moses says: Rejoice ye nations with his people (Deut. 32:43). In Isaiah chapter 19 Egypt and Assyria are to be blessed as the people of Yahweh, Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance (19:25). In the light of these scriptures, the language of Matthew 25 applied to nations does not sound so strange. Nations on the right hand enter the kingdom as nations, and individuals on the right hand enter the kingdom as immortal rulers.
On the left hand are the goat nations, the nations of the fourth beast, the nations of Europe in general. Throughout the centuries they have tortured and murdered Christs brethren: the harlot is drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus (Rev. 17:6). The parable says that what they did to Christs brethren, they did to Christ. They will continue the same hatred and defiance when Christ is here. They belong to the left hand, along with those whom Christ has rejected at the judgment of the household, the unprofitable servants cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30). These nations and the rejected individuals suffer the aionian fire and torment, Depart from me ye cursed, into aionian fire prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41). This aionian fire is described in the book of Revelation as the lake which burneth with fire and brimstoneEurope in the grip of dreadful war, and the end of the matter is destruction.
Bro. Thomas has a brief half page on this parable in Eureka , Vol. 3, pg. 408 (Old Edition), and also page 406.
The Holy Angels
The Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him. Who are the holy angels? In Matthew 16:27, Jesus said he would come with his angels and then he shall reward every man according to his works. In Luke 12:8-9 he speaks of judgment before the angelsconfess before the angels of God, or, shall be denied before the angels of God. So we understand that the angels of God come with Jesus, raise the dead, and are involved in their judgment. This is very fitting, because the angels have been intimately concerned with the lives of all the believers in their mortal probation. If we understand Jesus coming in Matthew 25:31 as his leaving heaven and coming to the earth, then we would understand the angels here as these angels of heaven. But it is more likely that the coming here is to be understood in a wider sense; his coming in his kingdom, his coming to be king and rule; coming in the sense of the words we have earlier considered: Behold he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him. If the coming is in this sense, then the angels are the saints. The verse is saying he comes in glory with his saints to defeat the invader of his land, and to reign in glory: at this time he will judge all the nations of the earth. If we take note of verse 41, the picture is of two rival powers and their angels. There is the devil and his angels, the beast of Europe and all his supporters, on the one hand; and on the other Christ and his angels, the saints and the nation of Israel, who create the everlasting fire which destroys the devil and this angels.
The understanding of Matthew chapters 24 and 25 needs careful attention to detail, and the fitting of all the parts into a harmonious whole. The right approach is to take our stand with the apostles and look at the matter through their eyes. To do this we have to learn the situation existing at that time, and also become aware of what they would already know from the prophets. The whole prophecy is then seen to be addressed to his immediate disciples for their guidance, with two verses 30 and 31 briefly going beyond their time to Jesus second appearing as the king.
Our study was undertaken because certain interpretations of the chapter now current clash with our main thesis that Jesus returns to Sinai, gathers his saints there, and then comes with them from the south to deliver Jerusalem. Our own explanation of Matthew chapter 24, and the parable in Matthew chapter 25, shows that this clash is not necessary, and all scripture can be brought into harmony.
The conclusion of our whole study in this booklet is that many items of scripture await fulfilment after Jesus comes and before Armageddon.
We have not to await further major developments before he comes, unseen by the world, to judge his household. The exhortation is that we be like watchmen, waiting for our Lord. His coming is near.
*Note: The Herald of The Kingdom and Age to Come, a magazine published by Brother John Thomas last century, has been re-printed by The Christadelphian Scripture Study Service; 17 Braemar Rd., Torrens Park, South Australia 5062. In case of difficulty, photocopies can be obtained from The Bible Magazine. Edited versions of the articles have been reproduced by Logos Publications of Australia under the Title: The Last Days of Judah's Commonwealth.
**Publishers Note: Another scene in which nations are judged is seen in Joel 3:12. The basis of judgement here is declared to be treatment of God's people by the nations--verses 2 and 3.