In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus gives a parable of the final judgment. In broad strokes:
- God = “the King” who judges the nations
- the righteous = “sheep” who inherit eternal life
- the unrighteous = “goats” who inherit eternal punishment
- the eternal punishment is depicted as “eternal fire” (v. 41)
On all counts, it is a very sobering parable.
But I’d like us to consider what we can learn of God by contrasting what is said to each group of people:
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.Matt. 25:34, ESV
Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”Matt. 25:41, ESV
Note especially the bold sections:
- The sheep are told to come (presumably into God’s presence). The goats are told to depart “from me,” assuming that, in some sense, they are being removed from God’s presence.
- The blessing comes from “my Father”. But the cursing is not said to come from “my Father.” It just says, “you cursed.” In other words, it is apparent that God is the blesser, but He is not as eager to be the curser.
- The sheep inherit eternal life. This is something that is their due by the fact that they are children of God. But the goats are not told that eternal fire is their inheritance. In fact…
- The kingdom of God was “prepared for you [the sheep]” while hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was not God’s intent and hope that people would dwell there.
All of these purposeful contrasts show that God is much more eager to bless and bring people into His presence than to curse and condemn people to hell. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t curse (see Deut. 28) or is not the judge who sentences people to hell (see Matt. 10:28). He must do that as a righteous judge. However, these contrasts show that it is not his heart or intent to do these things. He longs for all to be in His presence.
He’s like a judge who must sentence his son to extreme penalty for a heinous crime. If he’s a good judge, he will follow through with this sentence, but with much anguish and tears in his eyes.
Compliments to Dr. Peter Williams for pointing these contrasts out to me.
For more on this parable, see Matthew 25: The Sheep & Goats (Apr. 29, 2019).