Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Five)

The allotment of the sheep

As argued previously, it is those among the nations who choose to bless Christ's (Jewish) brethren during the time of "great affliction" (even when it may put their own lives at risk) who constitute the “sheep” of Matthew 25. To the surprise of these gentiles, their compassionate acts toward faithful Israel during this time are said by Christ to have been done to him. Their reward for blessing Christ’s brethren during this time is then described by Christ as follows: “Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world” (v. 34). To better understand this future allotment of the “sheep,” we need to understand the nature of the “kingdom” that is in view in v. 34.

Many assume that the territory of the kingdom of God on earth during the eon to come will be worldwide in scope. Although it’s true that Christ’s dominion during the eon to come will, in fact, be worldwide, the kingdom over which Christ will be king will not. Rather, the territory of the kingdom – a kingdom which is going to be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6)[1] - will be the land of Israel. Although some may consider it splitting hairs to make such a distinction between a king’s kingdom and his dominion, I think scripture supports this distinction.

Consider, for example, the four kingdoms that were figuratively represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:31-35). The first kingdom that was represented in the statue was the kingdom of Babylon (over which Nebuchadnezzar was the king). Although the kingdom of Babylon had certain geographical boundaries, the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, extended far beyond the actual territory and citizens of the Babylonian kingdom (Dan. 2:36-38). In Jer. 27:8 God declared, “But if any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares Yahweh, until I have consumed it by his hand.”

Notice that the kingdom of Babylon was not the only kingdom in the world during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. There were other kings and other kingdoms in existence during this time; Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom simply had dominion over these kings and kingdoms (it is for this reason that Daniel referred to Nebuchadnezzar as the “king of kings,” Dan. 2:37). Consider especially Jer. 34:1, where we read, The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and all of its cities…”

Similarly, we read that, like the kingdom of Babylon, the succeeding kingdoms of Medo-Persia and Greece ruled over all the earth as well (Dan. 2:39). And the same can be said of the last kingdom represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (i.e., that which is represented by the “iron and clay feet” of the statue). Although this kingdom will be confined to a specific geographical territory (Rev. 16:10), the king of this fourth kingdom (the “wild beast”) will be given authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation,” and “all who are dwelling on the earth will be worshipping it” (Rev. 13:7-8). Here, again, we find a distinction being made between the territory of a king’s kingdom (which will have certain geographical boundaries) and his dominion (which will be worldwide).

Like the four kingdoms represented in the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the millennial kingdom of Christ will have a specific territory (i.e., the land of Israel). However, Christ’s dominion will be worldwide (this is represented by the image of the “stone” striking the statue and then becoming a “vast mountain range” that covers the earth; see Dan. 2:34-35). Christ will be “King of kings,” and all other kingdoms of the earth will be under his dominion during the eon to come. His dominion will be “from sea to sea” and extend to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8). But again, the actual territory of his kingdom on earth – the kingdom of Israel - will be the land of Israel. And this means that those who will be enjoying “the allotment of the kingdom” will be dwelling in the land of Israel.

In Psalm 37:22, we read that …those blessed [by Yahweh] shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.” Significantly, the first time Christ referred to the blessing of the enjoyment of an allotment for the righteous in Matthew’s account is in 5:5. There, Christ declared, “Happy are the meek, for they shall be enjoying the allotment of the land.” The “land” being referred to here (as well as in Psalm 37:22) is not a reference to the entire surface of the earth (no Israelite dreamed of living anywhere outside the land of Israel during the eon to come). Rather, it refers to the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 15:18; Josh. 1:4; cf. Amos 9:15). It is in this land that the nation of Israel will dwell in the eon to come (Ezekiel 37:21-28; 39:25-29), once the kingdom has been restored to Israel.

In v. 46 this “allotment of the kingdom” is referred to as “life eonian” (cf. Matt. 19:29). That this “allotment of the kingdom” and “life eonian” involves being alive during the eon to come is obvious. But simply being alive on the earth during this future time is not, by itself, the extent of the blessing of “life eonian” that Christ had in view here. In the eon to come, “life eonian” – at least, for those on the earth - will involve “enjoying the allotment of the land.” It is those who will be blessed to enjoy “the allotment of the land” that can be said to be “in the kingdom of God” and to have “life eonian” during the eon to come. Since Israel will enjoy preeminence over all the nations of the earth and will be the center of blessing on the earth at this time, those having an allotment in the land of Israel will be the most blessed of all who will be dwelling on the earth during the future eon.

We read in Ezekiel 47-48 of how the land of Israel will be divided up among the twelve tribes so that each tribe will get their own allotment of land to dwell in and enjoy during the eon to come. Significantly, we read in Ezekiel 47:21-23 that the “sojourners” or “foreigners” (lit. “guests”) who are residing among the twelve tribes at this time must be treated as “native-born among the people of Israel”: “This is how you will divide this land for yourselves among the tribes of Israel. You must allot it as an inheritance among yourselves and for the foreigners who reside among you, who have had children among you. You must treat them as native-born among the people of Israel; they will be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the foreigner resides, there you will give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord Yahweh.

In this passage I believe we find a clear picture of what, exactly, the “allotment of the kingdom” is that Christ said would be the reward of the “sheep” among the nations. Those gentiles who bless Christ’s brethren during the time of great affliction will get to live alongside Israelites and enjoy their own allotment of land within the territory promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and it’s quite possible that the location of their allotment will be based on the tribe of those Israelites that they aided during the time of great affliction). Despite their non-Israelite status (which makes them “foreigners”), these gentiles will be treated “as native-born among the people of Israel.”

Part six:  

[1] The subject of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel after the coming of the Messiah is the subject of numerous prophecies throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The following is a non-exhaustive sampling of such prophecies from the book of Isaiah alone: Isaiah 1:26-27; 2:1-4; 11:11, 12, 15; 19:24-25; 33:5-6, 17-24; 55:8; 59:20; 60:5, 10, 12, 14, 18, 21; 62:6-7.

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