Jesus—His Life and Message: Final Judgment by the Son of Man

March 23, 2021

by Peter Amsterdam

The previous two articles in this series, The Coming of the Son of Man (Parts 1 and 2), covered Matthew chapter 24, part of which addressed endtime events and Jesus’ return. The latter part of Matthew 24, verses 45–51, along with Matthew 25 verses 1–30, consists of three parables: the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant (Matthew 24:45–51, Luke 12:39–40);1 the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13);2 and the parable of the king and the stewards (Matthew 25:14–30, Luke 19:11–27).3 These parables were covered in The Stories Jesus Told series, so are not included in this series. After these parables, Matthew 25:31–46 focuses on the final judgment by Jesus, the Son of Man.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.4

Jesus’ earthly life in many ways was one of lowliness and service. However, the time will come when He will return in His power and majesty, accompanied by the angels. Within the Gospels we find a number of other references to Jesus returning with angels accompanying Him.

The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.5 

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.6

Jesus continues to speak about when He comes in His glory.

Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.7

The statement that “all the nations” will be gathered together makes the point that Jesus is referring to the final judgment of all people. Sheep and goats were the most common of small domestic animals in Israel, with sheep considered to be better than goats. Sheep and goats often grazed together; however, because goats were more sensitive to the cold, they were generally put in a warmer place for the night. The concept of the sheep and the goats being separated by the shepherd would be understood as standard practice within Israel at that time.

There is no explanation given as to why sheep are viewed positively and goats negatively. However, as the sheep and goats are separated, the sheep receive favorable judgment and the goats are seen in an unfavorable light. The right-hand side was generally considered the favored side. To be seated at the right hand of a ruler was the highest honor a ruler could give, whereas the left side was seen as representing an ill omen.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”'8 

Earlier, in verse 31, we were told that the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne; now, the Son of Man is referred to as the King. It is He who will pronounce the verdicts to those who are before Him. In the Gospel of John, we read that the Father has given Jesus this authority.

As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.9

Jesus first speaks to those on His right side, those who are blessed of the Father. The blessedness of those on the right is the inheritance of the kingdom. This reflects what Jesus said earlier in this Gospel.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.10

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11

Elsewhere Jesus referred to the future when He said to His disciples,

Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.12

Jesus then pointed out some of the things that those who “are blessed of my Father” do in their lives—they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison. This list is repeated four times in this chapter (verses 34–46). Such repetition emphasizes that these activities are meant to be a discipleship guideline for believers. A Christian’s life should exhibit evidence that God is at work in and through them, and such acts of kindness mirror the Lord’s love and care. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.13

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’14 

The “sheep,” now called “the righteous,” are surprised to hear that they did these commendable things. They reviewed the list of actions which Jesus referred to and asked when they did such things. It’s clear that they didn’t do these acts of kindness in order to be rewarded; rather, they acted in love and in alignment with Jesus’ teachings.

The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”15 

Jesus’ answer begins with the phrase “Truly, I say to you,” which adds to the importance and seriousness of the statement. His ministry focused on the poor, needy, and outcasts—the least of these. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we find examples of those He ministered to. Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.16 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.17

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”18

Following the commendation of those who have lived their lives in alignment with what Jesus taught, He then focused on those on his left. While He invited those on His right to “come,” those on the left hear the opposite: “depart from me.” They are referred to as “you cursed.” These who are rejected go into the fire which is prepared for Satan and his angels.

In the book of Revelation we find the vision of the lake of fire into which the Devil, the beast, and the false prophet are thrown.

The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.19 

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.20

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find other references to hell fire.

I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.21

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.22

While the ESV translates these verses as the hell of fire, other Bible versions translate this as hell fire, fiery hell, fire of hell or the fires of hell.

Jesus made reference to the devil and his angels, which refers to fallen angels who are Satan’s helpers. Other references to fallen angels are found in the New Testament.

God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.23

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.24

Jesus continued,

I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.25 

Jesus listed the same needs and actions that He did when commending those on His right hand, but this time in the negative. These, in contrast, have been so focused on themselves and their own concerns that they have ignored the plight of others. What is staggering is that in not doing these things for others, Jesus states that they were not doing them for Him personally.

Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”26

The people are just as surprised as those in the first group, as they aren’t aware of any time they refused to give Jesus food or water or any other help when He needed it. They didn’t understand that in failing to serve the needy they failed to serve Him. One author writes: We should notice that their condemnation is expressed not in terms of their having done some awful crime but in terms of their failure to do what is right. Sins of omission can be very important.27

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.28 

Commentators have different views about eternal punishment. Some interpret it to mean punishment which lasts forever, that someone assigned to hell will endure punishment eternally. Others understand it to mean punishment which relates to the age to come. In this understanding, it is seen not as continual punishment which goes on forever, but as punishment which has eternal consequences, meaning the loss of eternal life through being destroyed by fire. Either one means a permanent separation from God.

The thought of being permanently separated from God and His goodness and love is deeply sad and disturbing. It is certainly a motivating reason to share the good news of the gospel with all who we can, so that they too can spend eternity in the presence of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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4 Matthew 25:31.

5 Matthew 16:27.

6 Matthew 13:41–42. See also Matthew 24:30–31.

7 Matthew 25:32–33.

8 Matthew 25:34–36.

9 John 5:26–27.

10 Matthew 5:3.

11 Matthew 5:10.

12 Matthew 19:28.

13 Hebrews 13:2.

14 Matthew 25:37–39.

15 Matthew 25:40.

16 Matthew 11:4–5.

17 Luke 4:18–19.

18 Matthew 25:41.

19 Revelation 20:10.

20 Revelation 20:15.

21 Matthew 5:22.

22 Matthew 18:8–9.

23 2 Peter 2:4.

24 Revelation 12:7–9.

25 Matthew 25:42–43.

26 Matthew 25:44–45.

27 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 641.

28 Matthew 25:46.