In my book on Revelation, one of my goals (once I start to write it) will be to contrast its view of judgment with that of Jesus himself. I think the differences are stark and telling. BUT, that is not because I think Jesus imagined that God was simply a God of love who would forgive everyone in the end. I wish he did think that, but alas. He was a Jewish apocalypticist who firmly believed the judgment of God was coming on the earth. So did the prophet John, seventy years later, writing the Apocalypse.
But for me the important issue is the object and reason for destruction. Here they differ significantly, in ways that make me think John the prophet is not preaching the gospel of Jesus.
Nowhere, in my view, can Jesus’ understanding of the coming judgment be seen more clearly than in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). I have talked about this passage several times on the blog before. In order to explain the contrast with Revelation, I need to talk about it again. (I had a friend in seminary who liked “going to the barrel” to pull out a sermon he had given before in a different context; in his view “If it’s worth giving once, it’s worth giving twice”)
The passage comes at the tail end of Jesus “apocalyptic discourse” (Matthew 24-25), two chapters of Jesus’ discussion of what will happen at the end of time and of how people need to prepare for it. To conclude the discourse, Jesus describes the coming Day of Judgment, when the great cosmic judge, the Son of Man, sits on his throne, judging all the nations of the world gathered before him (Matthew 25:31-46). This is not merely the judgment of the righteous and wicked in Israel, but of all the pagans as well. The Son of Man separates all the peoples into two groups, the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. He then addresses the sheep, welcoming them into the amazing kingdom God has prepared for them as a reward for all the good they did during their lives, because: “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when naked you clothed me, when sick you visited me, when in prison you came to me” (25:35-36). The sheep are completely confused and ask what he can possibly mean. They have never even seen him before. How could they have done any of these things for him? He replies, “Truly I say to you, as much as you did these things to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (25:40).
He then turns to the goats, and Click here for membership options
This is an unusually important passage for anyone interested in knowing what Jesus really said and thought. Join the blog and you can read a fuller explanation of it!