The bible passages about the Last Day ought to bring the Christian comfort and hope. God the Father has given our Savior Jesus Christ all authority in heaven and on earth. That means that Jesus Christ is King. Since He is ascended the heaven, He rules over all things for the good of His dear bride/flock, the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. Each one of the readings today, in fact, has something to do with Jesus acting in His ruling office by exercising judgment, as The judge on the Last Day.
In the human legal systems of our day, the king and the judge and the jury are different people. This seems like a very good idea, because each one of us human beings is fallible, and we need checks and balances against one another. On the other hand, it is well said in Psalm 116:11 “I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”” And again in Jeremiah 9:3 it is written: “They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord.” Our poor miserable sin can often gum up a trial; judgments of human courts might not always get to the heart of God’s eternal justice, because we are fallible. Yet there is no such fallibility in Christ Jesus: He is both King and Judge and Jury (consider Prov 25:2). As True God, Jesus knows all things and sees all things clearly. He determines the guilty and the innocent, He declares the sentence, and He gives command for it to be carried out.
As we heard in the gospel reading, Jesus the great Judge will come again on the last day and “sit on His glorious throne.” The throne is the sign to us of His divine authority: to Him belongs the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever amen. Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Ancient of Days, as we heard described in the old Testament reading for today (Daniel 7:9-14). Nothing is outside of His jurisdiction. We today are tempted to put far too much stock in whatever human beings declare as right and wrong, good or bad. On the Last Day, however, it will be abundantly clear that Jesus Christ alone is the authority. All nations will bow down before Him – every person from every country or race or language or tribe on earth will kneel before Him, whether in terror or in joy.
So it is that Jesus divides the sheep and the goats. It says : “32 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. 33 And he
will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” Now, the human race is not livestock – it’s an illustration. Right now, before the Last Day, those who are made alive by faith are all mixed together in the world, surrounded and beset on every side by the wicked and unbelievers. On the Last Day God will sort all that out. The lies and the liars will be fully revealed for what they are. Jesus says in Luke chapter 8[:17]: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” The wretched, wicked condition of every human heart will be exposed for what it truly is, judged, and finally sentenced.
Now, if that’s all we knew, we ought to be terrified, because each of us is guilty at one point or another of breaking God’s Holy and Eternal Law, and on our own we deserve the wrath He describes here. Consider how the “goats” in the judgment were very concerned with their actions, as if that was what justified them in the judgment. Yet the apostle John writes in 1st John [1:8,10] “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” It may well be that some – some – of the anxieties we face in daily life is our conscience recognizing God’s judgment against sin.
But everywhere in the gospel, Jesus repeatedly tells us to “fear not,” when He is near to us with His gracious favor. Our Judge Christ Jesus is also our redeemer. He took on human nature and was born among us, under the Law, to redeem us who are also under the Law. In dying and rising, He paid every cost associated with our guilt. In Holy Baptism, in the Word of holy Absolution, He puts His righteousness onto us, His holy little flock. So it is that you who receive His righteousness through faith are counted as righteous as Jesus Christ is, as innocent and just as the Judge Himself. You do not need to be afraid of the judgment, because your sins are forgiven. Again, St. John writes in his letter : “9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The judgment is that you are innocent, on account of Christ. St. Paul writes using courtroom language in Romans chapter 3: “28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” That’s what it means when we confess in the creed: that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, that is, those who are made alive through faith will be judged according to Christ’s righteous, and those who remain dead in their trespasses will be judged according to their own.
So it is that the sheep – the ones who are justified already by God’s grace in Christ alone, we can look forward to that day with hope. We can love our neighbors, even the least and most unworthy of them, for their good, without having to worry about the reward.The sheep, in the judgment, weren’t aware that they’d done anything that would justify them in the judgment – they weren’t focused on themselves, but rather on their Good Shepherd, and His promises. St. Peter says in the epistle reading: “13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. ” (2 Pet 3:13-14)
In that peace, we can look forward to the Last Day and the final judgment. It will be a day of vindication. All of God’s Word will be proven true, and no one will scoff at Him then. The evil people who afflict you, dear Christians, will be put away from you. Our suffering will cease, and the life everlasting will be pure joy. You who believe and are made righteous by the forgiving blood of Christ Jesus… you will be fully and finally set apart, made pure. The good that God has worked through you will be made known, His promises will be confirmed, faith will turn to us, and we will all give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, Who does all things well, Who sits on the throne, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, + one God, now and forever. Amen