How Will You Stand Before the Judgment Seat?
“When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne.”—MATTHEW 25:31.
1-3. What reason for optimism do we have regarding justice?
‘GUILTY OR INNOCENT?’ Many wonder as they hear reports about some court case. Judges and jury members may try to be honest, but does justice usually prevail? Have you not heard of injustice and inequities in the judicial process? Such injustice is not new, as we see in Jesus’ illustration found at Luke 18:1-8.
2 Whatever your experience with human justice, note Jesus’ conclusion: “Shall not God cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night . . . ? I tell you, He will cause justice to be done to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?”
3 Yes, Jehovah will see that his servants finally receive justice. Jesus is involved, too, especially now because we are living in “the last days” of the present wicked system. Jehovah will soon use his powerful Son to wipe wickedness off the earth. (2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; Revelation 19:11-16) We can gain insight into Jesus’ role from one of the last illustrations he gave, often called the parable of the sheep and the goats.
4. How have we understood the timing of the parable of the sheep and the goats, but why will we give attention to the parable now? (Proverbs 4:18)
4 We have long felt that the parable depicted Jesus’ sitting down as King in 1914 and since then making judgments—everlasting life for people proving to be like sheep, permanent death for the goats. But a reconsideration of the parable points to an adjusted understanding of its timing and what it illustrates. This refinement reinforces the importance of our preaching work and the significance of people’s response. To see the basis for this deeper understanding of the parable, let us consider what the Bible shows about Jehovah and Jesus, both as Kings and as Judges.
Jehovah as the Supreme Judge
5, 6. Why is it appropriate to view Jehovah as both King and Judge?
5 Jehovah rules the universe with power over all. Having no beginning and no end, he is “King of eternity.” (1 Timothy 1:17; Psalm 90:2, 4; Revelation 15:3) He has authority to make statutes, or laws, and to enforce these. But his authority includes being a Judge. Isaiah 33:22 says: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King; he himself will save us.”
6 God’s servants have long recognized Jehovah as the Judge of cases and issues. For example, after “the Judge of all the earth” had weighed the evidence about the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, he both judged that the inhabitants merited destruction and enforced that righteous judgment. (Genesis 18:20-33; Job 34:10-12) How it should reassure us to know that Jehovah is a righteous Judge who can always carry out his judgments!
7. How did Jehovah act as Judge in dealing with Israel?
7 In ancient Israel, Jehovah sometimes rendered judgment directly. Would you not have been comforted back then to know that a perfect Judge was deciding matters? (Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:32-36; 27:1-11) God also provided “judicial decisions” that were altogether good as standards for judging. (Leviticus 25:18, 19; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 19:9, 10; 119:7, 75, 164; 147:19, 20) He is “Judge of all the earth,” so all of us are affected.—Hebrews 12:23.
8. What relevant vision did Daniel have?
8 We have “eyewitness” testimony bearing on this matter. The prophet Daniel was given a vision of ferocious beasts that stood for governments or empires. (Daniel 7:1-8, 17) He added: “There were thrones placed and the Ancient of Days sat down. His clothing was white just like snow.” (Daniel 7:9) Note that Daniel saw thrones “and the Ancient of Days [Jehovah] sat down.” Ask yourself, ‘Was Daniel here witnessing God’s becoming King?’
9. What is one meaning of ‘sitting down’ on a throne? Give examples.
9 Well, when we read that someone “sat down” on a throne, we might think of his becoming a king, for the Bible sometimes uses such language. For example: “When [Zimri] began to reign, as soon as he sat down upon his throne, he . . .” (1 Kings 16:11; 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12; Jeremiah 33:17) A Messianic prophecy said: “He must sit down and rule on his throne.” Hence, to ‘sit on a throne’ can mean to become king. (Zechariah 6:12, 13) Jehovah is described as a King who sits on a throne. (1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 4:1-3) He is “King of eternity.” Yet, as he asserted a new aspect of sovereignty, he could be said to have become King, as if sitting down on his throne anew.—1 Chronicles 16:1, 31; Isaiah 52:7; Revelation 11:15-17; 15:3; 19:1, 2, 6.
10. What was a prime function of Israelite kings? Illustrate.
10 But here is a key point: A prime function of ancient kings was that of hearing cases and rendering judgments. (Proverbs 29:14) Recall Solomon’s wise judgment when two women claimed the same baby. (1 Kings 3:16-28; 2 Chronicles 9:8) One of his governmental buildings was “the Porch of the Throne where he would do judging,” also called “the porch of judgment.” (1 Kings 7:7) Jerusalem was described as the place where “the thrones for judgment have been sitting.” (Psalm 122:5) Clearly, ‘sitting down on a throne’ can also mean exercising judicial authority.—Exodus 18:13; Proverbs 20:8.
11, 12. (a) What was the import of Jehovah’s sitting down, mentioned in Daniel chapter 7? (b) How do other texts bear out that Jehovah sits down to judge?
11 Now let us return to the scene where Daniel saw ‘the Ancient of Days sit down.’ Daniel 7:10 adds: “The Court took its seat, and there were books that were opened.” Yes, the Ancient of Days was sitting to render judgment about world domination and to judge the Son of man as worthy to rule. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Then we read that “the Ancient of Days came and judgment itself was given in favor of the holy ones,” those judged fit to rule with the Son of man. (Daniel 7:22) Finally “the Court itself proceeded to sit” and render adverse judgment on the last world power.—Daniel 7:26.*
12 Consequently, Daniel’s seeing God ‘sit on a throne’ meant His coming to render judgment. Earlier David sang: “You [Jehovah] have executed my judgment and my cause; you have sat on the throne judging with righteousness.” (Psalm 9:4, 7) And Joel wrote: “Let the nations be aroused and come up to the low plain of Jehoshaphat; for there I [Jehovah] shall sit in order to judge all the nations.” (Joel 3:12; compare Isaiah 16:5.) Both Jesus and Paul were in judicial situations in which a human sat to hear a case and render judgment.*—John 19:12-16; Acts 23:3; 25:6.
13, 14. (a) What assurance did God’s people have that Jesus would become King? (b) When did Jesus sit down on his throne, and in what sense did he rule from 33 C.E. onward?
13 Jehovah is both King and Judge. What of Jesus? The angel announcing his birth said: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, . . . and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Jesus would be permanent heir of the Davidic kingship. (2 Samuel 7:12-16) He would rule from heaven, for David said: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord [Jesus] is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ The rod of your strength Jehovah will send out of Zion, saying: ‘Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.’”—Psalm 110:1-4.
14 When would that be? Jesus did not rule as King while a human. (John 18:33-37) In 33 C.E., he died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven. Hebrews 10:12 says: “This man offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually and sat down at the right hand of God.” What authority did Jesus have? “[God] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship . . . and made him head over all things to the congregation.” (Ephesians 1:20-22) Because Jesus then had kingly authority over Christians, Paul could write that Jehovah “delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.”—Colossians 1:13; 3:1.
15, 16. (a) Why do we say that Jesus did not become King of God’s Kingdom in 33 C.E.? (b) When did Jesus commence ruling in God’s Kingdom?
15 At that time, however, Jesus did not act as King and Judge over the nations. He was seated next to God, awaiting the time to act as King of God’s Kingdom. Paul wrote of him: “With reference to which one of the angels has he ever said: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet’?”—Hebrews 1:13.
16 Jehovah’s Witnesses have published much evidence that Jesus’ period of waiting expired in 1914, when he became ruler of God’s Kingdom in the invisible heavens. Revelation 11:15, 18 says: “The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” “But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came.” Yes, the nations expressed wrath toward one another during World War I. (Luke 21:24) The wars, earthquakes, pestilences, food shortages, and the like, that we have seen since 1914 confirm that Jesus is now ruling in God’s Kingdom, and the world’s final end is near.—Matthew 24:3-14.
17. What key points have we thus far established?
17 By way of a brief review: God can be said to sit on a throne as King, but in another sense he can sit down on his throne to judge. In 33 C.E., Jesus sat at God’s right hand, and he is now King of the Kingdom. But does Jesus, now reigning as King, also serve as Judge? And why should this concern us, especially at this time?
18. What evidence is there that Jesus would also be Judge?
18 Jehovah, who has the right to appoint judges, chose Jesus as a Judge meeting His standards. Jesus showed this when speaking about people becoming spiritually alive: “The Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son.” (John 5:22) Yet, Jesus’ judicial role goes beyond that kind of judging, for he is judge of the living and of the dead. (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1) Paul once declared: “[God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him.”—Acts 17:31; Psalm 72:2-7.
19. Why is it correct to speak of Jesus as sitting down as Judge?
19 Are we thus justified in concluding that Jesus sits down on a glorious throne in the specific role of Judge? Yes. Jesus told the apostles: “In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) Although Jesus is now King of the Kingdom, his further activity mentioned at Matthew 19:28 will include sitting on a throne to judge during the Millennium. At that time he will judge all mankind, the righteous and the unrighteous. (Acts 24:15) It is helpful to keep this in mind as we turn our attention to one of Jesus’ parables that relates to our time and to our lives.
What Does the Parable Say?
20, 21. What did Jesus’ apostles ask that relates to our time, leading to what question?
20 Shortly before Jesus died, his apostles asked him: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus foretold significant developments on earth before ‘the end would come.’ Shortly before that end, the nations will “see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”—Matthew 24:14, 29, 30.
21 How, though, will people in those nations fare when the Son of man arrives in his glory? Let us find out from the parable of the sheep and the goats, which begins with the words: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him.”—Matthew 25:31, 32.
22, 23. What points indicate that the parable of the sheep and the goats did not begin its fulfillment in 1914?
22 Does this parable apply when Jesus sat down in kingly power in 1914, as we have long understood? Well, Matthew 25:34 does speak of him as King, so the parable logically finds application since Jesus became King in 1914. But what judging did he do soon thereafter? It was not a judging of “all the nations.” Rather, he turned his attention to those claiming to make up “the house of God.” (1 Peter 4:17) In line with Malachi 3:1-3, Jesus, as Jehovah’s messenger, judicially inspected the anointed Christians remaining on earth. It was also time for judicial sentence on Christendom, who falsely claimed to be “the house of God.”* (Revelation 17:1, 2; 18:4-8) Yet nothing indicates that at that time, or for that matter since, Jesus sat to judge people of all the nations finally as sheep or goats.
23 If we analyze Jesus’ activity in the parable, we observe him finally judging all the nations. The parable does not show that such judging would continue over an extended period of many years, as if every person dying during these past decades were judged worthy of everlasting death or everlasting life. It seems that the majority who have died in recent decades have gone to mankind’s common grave. (Revelation 6:8; 20:13) The parable, though, depicts the time when Jesus judges the people of “all the nations” who are then alive and facing the execution of his judicial sentence.
24. When will the parable of the sheep and the goats be fulfilled?
24 In other words, the parable points to the future when the Son of man will come in his glory. He will sit down to judge people then living. His judgment will be based on what they have manifested themselves to be. At that time “the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one” will have been clearly established. (Malachi 3:18) The actual pronouncing and executing of judgment will be carried out in a limited time. Jesus will render just decisions based on what has become evident about individuals.—See also 2 Corinthians 5:10.
25. What is Matthew 25:31 depicting in speaking of the Son of man sitting down on a glorious throne?
25 This means, then, that Jesus’ ‘sitting down on his glorious throne’ for judgment, mentioned at Matthew 25:31, applies to the future point when this powerful King will sit down to pronounce and execute judgment on the nations. Yes, the judgment scene that involves Jesus at Matthew 25:31-33, 46 is comparable to the scene in Daniel chapter 7, where the reigning King, the Ancient of Days, sat down to carry out his role as Judge.
26. What new explanation of the parable comes into view?
26 Understanding the parable of the sheep and the goats in this way indicates that the rendering of judgment on the sheep and the goats is future. It will take place after “the tribulation” mentioned at Matthew 24:29, 30 breaks out and the Son of man ‘arrives in his glory.’ (Compare Mark 13:24-26.) Then, with the entire wicked system at its end, Jesus will hold court and render and execute judgment.—John 5:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
27. What should we be interested in knowing about Jesus’ final parable?
27 This clarifies our understanding of the timing of Jesus’ parable, which shows when the sheep and the goats will be judged. But how does it affect us who are zealously preaching the Kingdom good news? (Matthew 24:14) Does it make our work less significant, or does it bring a greater weight of responsibility? Let us see in the next article how we are affected.
Regarding Christians’ taking one another to court, Paul asked: “Is it the men looked down upon in the congregation that you put in as judges [literally “are you seating”]?”—1 Corinthians 6:4.
Do You Recall?
□ How does Jehovah serve as both King and Judge?
□ What two meanings can there be to ‘sitting down on a throne’?
□ What did we formerly say as to the timing of Matthew 25:31, but what basis is there for an adjusted view?
□ When does the Son of man sit down on his throne, as indicated at Matthew 25:31?