Adventures in False teaching. Chapter two – Is there a judgment of the nations?

Have you ever heard the saying, “you should have been there!”

If you had you would better understand why I responded with the comment, “it was comparable to watching a tornado tear through a farm.” I made this statement in response to a friend who asked me what I thought of the morning’s study. Think about what happens in an event such as a tornado: The tornado rips through a farm, tearing the barn to pieces; quickly you begin to see two-by-fours swirling rapidly next to metal siding, a cow, and a farm tractor. Any and all of this could kill you. Now imagine someone asking you to describe what you see in the tornado. On which piece do you focus? That was the morning study.

Since the men’s study, for weeks now, has been attempting to address the presumed judgment of the nations, let’s see if we can find that theme in scripture.

With some frequency, the teacher has been referring to Matthew 25:31,32. Unfortunately, the reading always seems to end with verse 32, and therefore falsely conveys a horrific judgment upon all. Let’s look at this together, and I will use the NIV, a translation I cannot stand, but it is a simple read.

Matthew 25:31-32 NIV “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. (32) All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Without knowing the context, we assume that what Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel applies to the time immediately following the “tribulation.” Here is the problem with this thinking. Jesus responded to the disciples questions with answers that were specifically Jewish. This issue about when Jesus would return in his glory is one of those that is important to the heart of the Jew. While there is no denying that Jesus comes back at the end of the time of wrath and Revelation 19 makes that clear. Is that the end of the story? Not even close, as Jesus, in his glory, for the next thousand years, continuously sits upon the throne providing the light for the world.

At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released. Having had the time to deceive the world there is, once again, judgment. Matthew’s gospel calls this “the nations.” Focusing on the nations as countries can be a problem, as this is merely people, and a study of the words in Greek demonstrate that.

Although he denies the connection, the study leader makes the assumption that there is a particular judgment of the nations based on passages taken from Revelation chapters 19 and 20. I know this because he misquotes and takes these verses out of context, turning them into a horrific, merciless, and judgmental paragraph, which condemns everyone that remains to the lake of fire, simply because he sees no one specifically mentioned as coming from the book of life.

Revelation 19:11-15 NIV (11) “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and wages war. …”

Revelation 20:4 NIV “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. …”

Revelation 20:11-12,15 NIV (11) “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. … The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. .. (15) “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Since there is a consistent placement of Jesus sitting in judgment, let me point out several fallacies that I can see when using these verses.

  • In general, we do not see Jesus, alone, sitting upon a throne during the thousand years. Yes, Revelation 20 speaks of Thrones, but not just one.
  • The question posed by the disciples at the beginning of Matthew 24 was, when will you come back as the Messiah we expected. We see this glorious return in Revelation 19 as he rides in on the White Horse. However, Matthew’s gospel speaks of His return as well. Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

But what do we do? We ignore the undefined pause (noted by the period at the end of the sentence) and make a huge leap forward one-thousand years in time, to where Jesus/God gathers all the nations before him. Is that a problem? Not to the Jew, for they understand that when the Messiah comes his reign will last forever. It can be an issue for us though because we have a Western mentality that segments this event. What the Jew treats as a glorious event is merely one long migration into eternity.

  • Revelation 20:4 tells us that the dead are brought before the throne.

Matthew did not mention their physical condition, why should he, for the idea of an eternal soul is an integral part of the Jewish understanding.

Consider these dead and what they might mean. Since Revelation 20 tells us that Satan will be released after the thousand years for the specific purpose of deceiving the nations, we also know that God slaughters all those who rise against Him in this battle. So let me make an assumption here. Having joined themselves to Satan’s cause, a final battle, can I then say that these dead have made their choice as to whom they will serve?

Because we only concern ourselves with the dead here in Revelation 20, we need to be asking who the dead are. We already know that many died in this final battle, but this gathering does not exclude people throughout the generations. And, since the only thing that seems to die is the mortal body, are these actually dead?

Nowhere in Revelation 20:4 does it name Jesus sitting in judgment over the nations. It does, however, tell us that there are those who have been given authority to judge. Here are a few instances from Scripture where the judges we see are defined.

1 Corinthians 6:2 NIV Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

You should be asking yourself a couple of questions here. The first is, who are the Lord’s people? And the second might go like this; I thought we were talking about the nations, and yet this says the world. So is it the world or the nations? Before I address either of those, I want you to see the NASB translation of the same sentence.

1 Corinthians 6:2 NASB Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?

The Lord’s people initiated with Israel. God has never decommissioned them. He did, however, punish them severely for their disobedience. Unfortunately, that punishment continues through the time of wrath and judgment, which we foolishly call the TRIBULATION. We, the church, have had the fortune of being adopted into the family and likewise gained the title, the Lord’s people.

There is another group of individuals called saints in scripture entitled to carry the title, the Lord’s people, the martyred saints. It is always good to have scriptural backing for your statements, and besides, most people want proof so here goes.

Revelation 20:4-6 NASB “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these, the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

A quick tally of those reigning gives me: the church and now the martyred saints, which also reign with him. Note the phrase, “with Him.”

Scripture tells us that Jesus told his disciples that they would reign in judgment with Him. Look at this passage in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is talking to His Jewish disciples.

Luke 22:28-30 NASB “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; (29) and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you (30) that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The “you” he mentions, were the disciples, and the trials that Jesus speaks of are the ongoing events, including the beatings, scourging, and the cross. For their dedication, both now and in the future, Jesus tells them, they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes. While this does not answer any direct questions about a judgment of the nations, they are indeed sitting in judgment over Israel – the twelve tribes. It does, however, give us a huge clue about an aspect of the twenty-four elders, whom we also find sitting upon thrones. While Luke’s Gospel speaks of the elders sitting on thrones judging, I see no direct correlation between the elders and judgment in the Revelation. Since the Jewish law states that there must be two or three witnesses to make a case, then based on the fact that we can only find one witness, I would be hesitant to make a case out of this.

If I were to draw a conclusion from what I have pointed out so far, it would be to say that I see judgment handed off to the church and the martyred saints. Considering the horrendous treatment these martyred received, it is a logical choice. I am not so sure God operates like that, but it makes sense to me.

Focusing specifically on judging the nations.

No matter what my conclusions the adamant will still insist that Jesus is to judge the nations; And, as I pointed out, they pull aspects from Matthew 25: 31-32 and Revelation 20, beginning at verse 11 to make their case. In doing so, they create a theory from the various scriptures, so that they can validate their claims. I am going to start with Matthew 25 since that one comes up most frequently.

When trying to ascertain what scripture is saying to me, I need to understand the context. In this case, it begins in Matthew 21, where Jesus, not because of some innate connection with the Father, but through understanding, like the prophet Daniel, knew that it was time to ride into Jerusalem, on a young colt, as a KING should.

I cannot begin to fathom the excitement the disciples felt as they thought, He is finally going to step up and reign as the King for which they had longed. That excitement was short-lived, for just minutes later he was clearing the outer courts of the temple, chasing vendors, people, and the elders out; His actions brought a verbal firestorm, and the disciples had nowhere to hide. The rhetorical barrage between Jesus, the priests, and elders, lasted for two days, neither did he take the throne as they had imagined. Exiting town Jesus heads toward the mount of Olives; we now find the disciples struggling with something intelligent to say. I probably would have done the same thing they did. Passing by the temple, the symbol of Jewish tradition and the focal point of Jewish pride, it seemed to prevent them from seeing Jesus as the Messiah. In response to their statement, Jesus told them the temple would be destroyed. Trying to redirect their focus He tells them what is coming. This response from Jesus prompts a short string of Jewish-oriented questions, which He meets with a long response that was specifically Jewish in nature. This Jewish orientation is what we see in Matthew 24 and 25.

If I approach what Jesus said, with even a minimal amount of Jewish-oriented thought, I will have a greater understanding. In Matthew 25: 31 – 46 an aspect of His response includes the statement, “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.” To the Jewish mind, “coming in His glory and all the angels with Him,” would have been highly symbolic, prophetic, and indicative of when He would return as the Messiah/King Israel anticipated. It makes sense, for Jesus is painting a picture of the time after the period of wrath and judgment when He will physically come back to earth. Yes, this time of glory includes the migration into eternity. So, the Son of Man, coming in His glory is what we understand to be the physical, second coming of the Messiah. This second coming includes what is defined in Revelation 20 beginning with His reentry into the physical world, which we see described in Revelation 19:11, and culminates with the Great White Throne judgment.

In Revelation 19 He comes riding with the sole purpose of judgment; this is evidenced by the visual that he is covered in the blood of His enemies.

  • If this is the sole judgment of the nations or merely an aspect, it should not matter for it could all be over in a second. But, if it takes a few days, what is that to us? There is no way it will take God a thousand years to bring judgment, culminating with the White Throne.

But what do we do when we look at Revelation 20, where Jesus/God takes a seat and passes judgment upon some of those gathered before Him, we extend his judgment over the nations across the span of the millennial reign to the moments just after the years of wrath. We do this because we are not clear on what Scripture says, and we allow foolish teachers to feed us this garbage without question. (P.S. – You can have graduate degrees and still be a fool.)

  • If this is the sole judgment of the nations – then why are survivors among the nations made to come to the New Jerusalem every year, participate in the Feast of Tabernacles, and bow before Him.
  • If this is the sole judgment of the nations – And, you teach that this includes a final decision and a one-way ticket to hell, then why would there be any nations left to deceive after the thousand year reign?
  • If this is the sole judgment of the nations – then why, in both scriptural references, does he also show mercy to some and give them entrance into the kingdom?

While judgment might be what is happening, the argument, initially presented by the study leader, was intended to be a concise, chronological representation of what he thinks he sees in Scripture. What it turned out to be, was a convoluted merger of multiple verses that cover two different time frames.

In Matthew 25:32-46 it does say that the nations will be gathered to Him.

Yes, but if that was all you based your understanding on, then you have a problem, for the Greek word used here for nations is ethnos, and means Gentiles, people, or a people of similar habits. Why that could be anybody; And, it would best be thought of in that manner. So Matthew’s Gospel is telling us that people will be gathered before him. Mind you; they will be from every corner of the world, but they will be there.

Since, in the broader spectrum, people are not quite nations, what evidence do we have that all nations will be gathered to Him?

Isaiah 2:4 tells us that, “He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples, And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.”

While judgment is spoken of, so is the concept of rendering useful decisions for people, somewhat less judgmental than I expected to find.

The following verse in Isaiah 34:2 is rather grim.

Isaiah 34:2 NASB For the LORD’S indignation is against all the nations and His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter.

Sure, this speaks of all, but that is never the case. [I say this because I have read Matthew’s account and the account in Revelation 20. Both speak of those who are granted mercy and entrance into the kingdom of God, based upon their works. That causes most of us in religious circles great grief because we are hard pressed to explain it when compared to what the majority of the New Testament tells us, that it is faith, not works that grant our acceptance into the kingdom of God.]

In Deuteronomy chapter 13, God is speaking to Israel about false prophets and how to identify them. If found out the community was to kill the prophet by stoning them. This method of death is a horrific event, even without dragging the entire community into it. However, God gave these instructions with an express intent, which we see in:

Deuteronomy 13:11 “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you.” (NASB)

Did that happen? I think it would be safe to say that every male among the Israelites camp heard this word. (I said every male because it was a decidedly male authority structure back then and it would have been expected for the men to pass this information along. What if that did not happen, could I still say that all Israel heard? ) You would think that all Israel would have wholeheartedly followed these instructions, but they did not.

If I consider the Hebrew children in Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar is demanding that ALL bow before the image (The assumption here is that EVERYONE is there) one might suppose that Daniel, a highly respected leader, would have been there too, and yet he was not.

I think it is clear to say that the word all is a generalization. Does this understanding diminish God in any way? Not at all, it merely reveals how merciful God truly is.

An attempt at a final thought:

Confronted by what I see in God’s word, I need to submit to His authority and change my understanding, even if it challenges every tradition and false teaching I have ever learned. Grasping His mercy over judgment is not difficult for me, for He has shown great mercy to me. My problem is, how do I explain a mercy I do not fully understand, nor comprehend. I cannot adequately explain why it appears that in both Revelation 20 and Matthew 25 people are granted entrance into the kingdom of God based on their good works. Which by-the-way, is very clearly explained in Matthew 25 when Jesus responds to the sheep, that your acts of showing kindness to Him when He was: hungry, thirsty, in prison, had no clothes, etc. I think you get the picture, and a predominant visual is Jesus in prison. That never happened, and so I must assume that He is in or represented by this broad range of people; And, the little ways we help them, is doing what? Apparently, stepping outside of our selfish desires, if even for a minute. Since I was taught that the guarantee of my salvation came through acceptance by faith, I am going to stick with that. Having tried gambling I can tell you that I am not good at it; And, though occasionally compassionate, I am not going hope that the one sandwich I gave a person is going to buy my way into heaven. I came to understand who Jesus was and is; I also know what He did for me by giving His life, and I am putting my life and trust in that.

Grasping His mercy over judgment is not difficult for me, for He has shown great mercy to me. My problem is, how do I explain a mercy I do not fully understand, nor comprehend. I cannot adequately explain why it appears that in both Revelation 20 and Matthew 25 people are granted entrance into the kingdom of God based on their good works. Which by-the-way, is very clearly explained in Matthew 25 when Jesus responds to the sheep, that your acts of showing kindness to Him when He was: hungry, thirsty, in prison, had no clothes, etc. I think you get the picture, and a predominant visual is Jesus in prison. That never happened, and so I must assume that He is in or represented by this broad range of people; And, the little ways we help them, is doing what? Apparently, stepping outside of our selfish desires, if even for a minute. Since I was taught that the guarantee of my salvation came through acceptance by faith, I am going to stick with that. Having tried gambling I can tell you that I am not good at it; And, though occasionally compassionate, I am not going hope that the one sandwich I gave a person is going to buy my way into heaven. I came to understand who Jesus was and is; I also know what He did for me by giving His life, and I am putting my life and trust in that.

I cannot adequately explain why it appears that in both Revelation 20 and Matthew 25 people are granted entrance into the kingdom of God based on their good works. Which by-the-way, is very clearly explained in Matthew 25 when Jesus responds to the sheep, that your acts of showing kindness to Him when He was: hungry, thirsty, in prison, had no clothes, etc. I think you get the picture, and a predominant visual is Jesus in prison. That never happened, and so I must assume that He is in or represented by this broad range of people; And, the little ways we help them, is doing what? Apparently, stepping outside of our selfish desires, if even for a minute. Since I was taught that the guarantee of my salvation came through acceptance by faith, I am going to stick with that. Having tried gambling I can tell you that I am not good at it; And, though occasionally compassionate, I am not going take a chance that the one sandwich I gave is going to buy my way into heaven. I came to understand who Jesus was and is; I also know what He did for me by giving His life, and I am putting my life and trust in that.

One of stories/parables we read about is the vineyard and those hired to work it. We find this in Matthew 20. As the day is coming to an end, the owner hires others for the same pay as those who started at day break. Having worked all day in the hot sun, they are mad and do not think that is fair, and they tell him so. Well, that is many of us, and, as I point out these things I see in scripture, this is almost word for word what I hear. These guys I sit with, steeped in their religious tradition and imposed rules, have suffered their entire lives as they restrained themselves from doing the things that “world” does. And, now they are incredulous at the possibility that God would show mercy and allow someone into the kingdom (our payment if you will), and they do not have to do anything.

Since I was taught that the guarantee of my salvation came through acceptance by faith, I am going to stick with that. Having tried gambling I can tell you that I am not good at it; And, though occasionally compassionate, I am not going hope that the one sandwich I gave a person is going to buy my way into heaven. I came to understand who Jesus was and is; I also know what He did for me by giving His life, and I am putting my life and trust in that.

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