Please read Joel 3: 1-16 and Matthew 25: 31-46 and pray; Lord, your word is alive and active. Speak to me clearly through your word which is the sword of your Spirit, and prepare me for the Day of your coming judgement, through Jesus Christ my Saviour and Rock of Refuge. Amen!
Last week we were engaged in a consideration of Joel’s famous and highly significant prophetic word concerning the unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit that would take place in the last days. (Joel 2:28-32) The Spirit would be poured out on all God’s people without exception, gifting each of them in the prophetic ministry. The apostle Peter in his Pentecost sermon to the crowds in Jerusalem confirmed that Joel’s ancient prophecy was being fulfilled in their midst. Jesus’ disciples were now anointed and equipped with the presence and power of the Spirit. (Acts 2: 1-4) People who had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost from many nations could hear the wonders of God being proclaimed in their own native tongues. (Acts 2:8-12) They were amazed and perplexed.
The Spirit was poured out upon God’s people for many reasons as we saw last week, but the principle one was for equipping the Church with power (Acts 1:8), so that the gospel might be taken to the very ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8, Luke 24:49) Jesus had given his disciples a very specific commission which is described at the end of Matthew’s gospel;
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Mathew 28: 18-20)
According to the Lord Jesus who is Head of the Church, the gospel was to be taken to ALL NATIONS in the power of the Holy Spirit which came upon the Church at Pentecost as promised by the prophet Joel. In Revelation we are given a glimpse of how heaven is populated by masses of people purchased with the blood of Christ from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9). Jesus also clearly spoke about the fact that when the gospel had finally reached all nations and all peoples, then, and only then, would the end come. (Matthew 24:14) In his address to his disciples concerning the signs of the end of the age and of his return, Jesus said;
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached IN THE WHOLE WORLD as a testimony to ALL NATIONS, and THEN THE END WILL COME.
The end of the age is brought about by the return of the Son of Man – Jesus Christ. This will occur on the Day of the Lord which Joel speaks about frequently as we have seen. The Day of the Lord which is the day of God’s personal coming and intervention is Joel’s main topic of teaching – and so it should not be surprising, that Joel then goes on to teach about the theme that is always connected to that Day – the judgment of God. This is the primary focus of Joel’s final chapter and of our bible reading today. (Joel 3: 1-16). Joel prophesies about the judgement of God upon the nations, a subject that the Lord Jesus taught about in connection with his second coming. Matthew 24 contains Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the end of the age and the day of his return. Matthew 25 contains 3 parables, including the parable of the sheep and the goats, which inform disciples how to be ready for that final Day and the judgment which will follow. (Matthew 25: 31-46)
There is therefore an intimate connection between the coming of the Spirit upon all God’s people, the gospel being taken out to all nations, the end of the age and the great Day of the Lord, and the judgment upon the nations which then follows. Each step in this divine plan leads on to what follows next, ending with the judgement upon all the nations who will have heard the gospel. Joel says of that time;
I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel. (Joel 3:2)
Jesus also speaks about this deliberate “gathering of the nations” or summoning of the nations in his parable of the sheep and the goats;
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32)
The name of the valley “Jehoshaphat” simply means “The Lord judges”. The valley of Jehoshaphat is mentioned twice and later in the passage it becomes the valley of decision – where God decides the fate of nations and individuals. God is absolutely sovereign in judgment. The fact that this takes place in “a valley” heightens the drama and the mood. Valleys in the OT were often places where people gathered for battles and decisive days of judgement. (Isaiah 22:1-5, Zechariah 14:3f).
Many biblical commentators see this “valley” as symbolical – symbolical of the fact that there will be a day of judgment, and that the nations will be “gathered into” one space for the Lord’s verdict. Other’s see a connection with what is graphically described in Zechariah 14, a prophet who has much in common with Joel. In Zechariah 14, we hear of the Lord arriving to judge with his holy ones (angels) and the Mount of Olives being split in two to form a new valley into which the nations gather for war and judgement. I have sympathy with this interpretation for this reason.
When Jesus ascended from earth into heaven, he ascended from the Mount of Olives. The angels said to the watching disciples that they would see him return in the same way in which he was taken away from them. Could Jesus then, return to the same place from where he left when he finally returns in power and with glory? All the world will witness his return, but Jesus surely has to again stand upon the earth in a geographical location. Could that not be Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives? Zechariah 14: 4 reads;
On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west forming a great valley, with half the mountain moving north and half moving south.
Could this possibly be the newly formed Valley of Decision? Are we not promised that spectacular earth-shaking signs will accompany the Lord’s return? Are we not told by Jesus himself that the heavenly bodies will be shaken and that the light will be adversely affected? (Matthew 24: 29-30) Joel and Zechariah testify to the same phenomenon. (Joel 3: 14-15, Zechariah 14:6).
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun will be darkened, and stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. (Joel 3: 14-16)
Wherever and whenever the day of judgement comes, the main thing for us and for the whole world to note is that it is most definitely coming. There will be a gathering of the nations, and there will be judgment from the Lord of all nations. If we deny this, we may as well consign our bibles to the dustbin, because this is taught in no uncertain terms in the pages of the Scripture, and from the lips of the Son of God himself – hence our reading today from Matthew 25. And in what remains of this sermon, I want to highlight some major biblical truths concerning this day of judgement which awaits us all.
So let me start with that very point. This is a day that awaits us all – everyone who has ever lived. God is and will be the Judge of the living and the dead. Revelation 20: 11-12 makes it plain that all will “stand before the throne (the Great white throne) while the books are opened” through which God makes his assessment and decision of every single person.
Paul writes to the Romans;
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat. It is written: As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God. So then, EACH OF US will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:9-12)
Hebrews 12:23 describes God as “the judge of all men.” Hebrews 9:27 teaches that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement.” Hebrews 4:13 expresses this truth; “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” With regards to our speech and the words we use every day, Jesus teaches; “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)
The reality of judgement and the coming “day of judgement” is not in doubt it we take Scripture as our guide and authority. The second thing to emphasise is that God’s justice and judgement will be absolutely righteous and perfectly just. His justice and judgements are intrinsically pure and infallible. Psalm 9:16 reveals that God is “known by his justice.” Many of the Psalms express the truth that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.” (Psalm 89:14, 97:2). In fact, the bible emphasises that God loves justice. (Psalm 11;7, 99:4) and He judges in “truth” (Psalm 96:13) and with “equity” (Psalm 98:9). God’s kingly sceptre is a sceptre of justice. (Psalm 45:6) and God executes just judgement from a pure “white throne”. (Revelation 20:11). No single person will be able to challenge or criticise God’s judgment or accuse God of being unfair. Job came to realise this. (Job 40:8) As Jesus himself expressed, “By myself I can do nothing: I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
This leads on to the third crucial point. God the Father has handed over all judgement to his Son. Jesus Christ will be your Judge. The bible teaches that Christ is our Creator (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16), our Saviour through his cross (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14) and also our Judge. The second time he comes into the world, he will come to judge. It is in John 5:22, where we hear this from the lips of Christ;
Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
On two notable occasions in Acts, different apostles make a point of stressing that it is JESUS who will JUDGE. Peter in Acts 10:42 says; “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.” And Paul whilst evangelising in Athens amongst the famous Areopagus boldly states; “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30). In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes about appearing before the judgement seat OF CHRIST (2 Corinthians 5:10), and in his letter to the Romans he teaches that “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:16)
It would therefore seem most unwise in this life to make a habit as so many do of insulting, mocking, blaspheming and dishonouring the name of the Judge of the Universe. The Judge in the Courtroom is not going to look favourably on those who has spent a life-time mocking and blaspheming his name and pouring scorn on his teaching, and who have also neglected the offer of pardon and salvation through his personal sacrifice. (Hebrews 2:3)
Which leads us to the next point. On what basis will the nations be judged? When we think of the teaching of the prophet Joel and of the Saviour Jesus, it must be clear that repentance is key when it comes to being spared God’s righteous judgment and punishment. Joel has emphasised repentance as the turning point which leads to restoration with God – restoration is terms of forgiveness from God, renewal and hope. Joel has explained that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:31). Returning to God in this life is critical if we are to face judgement without fear and with confidence. Christ and his apostles again and again stressed that people must repent of their sin in preparation for the future. (Matthew 11:20-24, Acts 2:38-39, Acts 3: 19-23, Acts 17:30-31).
But in even more specific terms, the basis for judgement will rest of how we have embraced through faith what Jesus refers to as the greatest commandments. In response to a question asked of him about which is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by speaking about not one commandment but two which are bound closely together;
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Love for Almighty God – which is evidenced by love toward our neighbour. Everything hangs on this! That practical love for the needy neighbour and brother or sister is explained in the parable of the sheep and the goats; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked etc… This is what it means to embrace the gospel. We repent from our sin. We turn around and face God and beg for mercy and forgiveness. We receive forgiveness, a new heart and a new nature, and the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we might then pursue and love God passionately, and also love our neighbour as ourself. Such a life is what God demands. Such a pathway we must pursue with God’s grace if we are to stand in the judgment.
Another key thing to note is that the bible teaches with clarity that the Lord knows those who are his.
Paul writing to Timothy his son in the faith states;
Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his”, and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness”. (2 Tim 2:19)
On the day of judgment Christ our Judge will know and recognise his own sheep. When describing himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus taught; “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14) There will be no mistaking the true identity of Christ’s sheep. Their names are already written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27). His name is on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4) and inscribed upon the palms of his hands. The Lord Jesus will easily recognise those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. He will see those who are robed in his perfect righteousness. He will know those who have the Holy Spirit in their hearts. He will know who ministered to him in life as they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, welcomed the stranger. He knows those who gave him a cup of water. He will recognise their faces.
It is precisely because God knows, loves and cherishes his own chosen and anointed children, that He does not take kindly to those who hurt, harm and persecute them with malicious cruelty and contempt. One of the things that will be most noticeable in the valley of judgement as Joel makes clear, is that God will enter into judgement against the nations concerning my inheritance, my people Israel. (3:2) God will judge those who have cruelly mistreated his beloved children, his people, his church, his inheritance, his bride, those He bought with his own precious blood. Persecutors will not get away with their shameful crimes. This is why the book of Revelation repeatedly emphasises that the martyrs will be vindicated on the day of judgement. (Revelation 6:10-11, 11:18, 18:24, 19:1-2)
Joel prophesies with fire in his bones that those who have “cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes and sold girls simply that they might have a drink” will be severely punished. There is a day coming when those involved directly or indirectly in crimes such as child slavery, child abuse and prostitution, those making money through human trafficking, those responsible for “shedding innocent blood” (3:19) will face the wrath of the Lamb – as will those who have led the nations throughout history corruptly, oppressively and murderously. The nations that have “raged against God and defied Him (Psalm 2:1-3) will face the roar of the Lion of Judah. (3:16) Imagine the fate of a hyena who has just killed a little lion cub – who is then caught by the father of the cub. The hyena can expect no mercy. I suggest those who have persecuted and killed God’s children, his sons and daughters will face a similar ruthless fate from the hand of God who has declared through his prophet Zechariah, “whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye”. (Zechariah 2:8-9, Psalm 116:15)
When facing this glorious and awesome Judge – Jesus Christ, the Ancient of Days, it will be good to have an Advocate in that valley on that Day. Those who love Christ need not worry because the Judge is also their Advocate. Christ will plead their cause and they will go free because he has personally paid the debt for their sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ – the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Jesus Christ is the best defence lawyer in the business. He is the only One when it comes to representing people on the day of judgement. He is the “refuge for his people” who Joel speaks off. (Joel 3:16) He is the stronghold of the people of Israel. He is our shield. He is our defence. He is our fortress. He is our Rock. With the Lord Jesus, there is rescue and deliverance (Joel 2:32b) as we call upon his name – and there is eternal safety and security in union with him. Living under the shadow of His wing – we find, experience and confidently know eternal security and peace.
Rock of ages cleft for me – let me hide myself in thee. This great hymn by Augustus Montague Toplady ends with these magnificent words;
While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar through tracts unknown, see Thee on Thy judgement throne;
Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.
And now unto God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb of God his Son, our Saviour, and to the Holy Spirit who marks and seals us for the day of redemption to come, be blessing, glory, praise and honour, now and always. Amen
(Revd Peter J Clarkson 8.8.21)