The Unpopular Topic
The Unpopular Topic
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
It is the least popular top discussed in Scripture. When a pastor preaches upon it, we grumble and complain that he is negative and judgmental. We spend more time trying to justify why we can ignore it than talking about how it should change our lives and perspectives. The topic that we must strive to ignore and rationalize away is the judgment of God.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Christ concludes his final message with the warning of the certainty of God’s judgment. When Christ returns, he will not only come to establish his kingdom but also bring judgment upon those who have rejected him. Throughout the whole narrative, beginning in chapter 23, Christ has pointed out that there are two realms of existence, two groups of people: Those who accept him and receive the reward for their faithful service and those who ignore his offer of salvation and reject his message. In the first advent, Christ came to bring salvation to a world languishing under the deadly effects of sin. In the second advent, when Christ returns, he comes as a righteous king who will bring judgment upon those who refused his offer of grace.
In this passage, he confronts those who have rejected him and the characteristics they manifest. As he brings condemnation, he goes back to the beginning of his ministry and the sermon on the mountain. He established the moral foundation of his kingdom by calling us to two over-arching qualities that will characterize his people. A genuine disciple loves God, uncompromisingly obeys him, and loves people unconditionally. Christ points to the quality of our love as the evidence for our salvation. It is not that we earn our salvation through acts of love but that our salvation, if genuine, will result in obedience to God’s word, which at the heart of his word is the command to love one another. The apostle John highlights the importance of a transformed life when he writes, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him, and he cannot because he is born of God.” In other words, followers of Christ will be changed. No longer will their values be determined by the world, but they will be governed by the word of God (1 John 2:15, Romans 12:1,2). This begins by demonstrating God’s love through our care and concern for people (1 John 3:16-17; Matthew 25:35-39).
Christ then concludes with the gravest warning. If we reject him and his word, we face the reality of inevitable and eternal punishment. In verse 46, Christ uses the same language to describe the certainty of eternal judgment and the certainty of eternal life. After death, there will be no opportunity for salvation. There is no purgatory in which we can experience judgment and gain access to heaven. There is no second chance. Just as our salvation in Christ is inevitable and eternal if we accept him by faith, so our judgment is unavoidable and eternal if we reject his word and reject his salvation. This should strike fear in every one of us. Not a fear that leads to a paralyzing terror of God, but a fear that leads us to God to seek his salvation and forgiveness. While the reality of judgment is sure and indisputable, Christ offered us grace and forgiveness. He came so that we might not face eternal judgment. But His work on the cross demands a response on our part. We must surrender to him and allow him to become our king. How we respond will determine our eternal destiny. All we need to do to receive his salvtion is by praying a simple prayer of faith: “God, I recognize I am a sinner, unworthy of salvation. I accept that Christ died for my sin and paid the penalty that I deserved and that by grace, you forgive my sins. I surrender my life to you and ask that you transform and enable me to walk in obedience to you.” When that becomes our prayer, then we have the certainty of eternal life.