Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

"Son of Man, Shepherd, King"

St. Matthew 25.31-46

Seminarian Brian Johnston, Vicar

+ Grace, mercy, and peace unto you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. +

The day of final judgment is where we see the works of Christ and how they come to completion by bringing an end to the present evil age. Today, Jesus talks about himself in the judgment in three different ways. He describes himself as the Son of Man, as the Shepherd, and as the King. Jesus teaches us again what the day of final judgment will be like and what His role will be. He does so clearly, succinctly, vividly, and assertively. He tells us these things to call us to repentance and faith in him, and to assure and comfort us as to what our end will be, because of what he has done, and will do.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31). Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. It’s his favorite reference for himself. When He calls himself the Son of Man He is referring to our Old Testament reading from Daniel: “Behold, with the clouds of heaven there can one like a son of man, and he came to the ancient of days and was presented before him” (Daniel 7:13) Jesus is not just one who looks like a son of man, as we see in Daniel, but He is the Son of Man that Daniel see’s. It’s a divine title. The Son of Man is always a title of the one who is going to come bring judgment upon the world. Jesus is the Son of Man, as we see in John 3[:14b-15], Jesus says the Son of Man must be “lifted up that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The Son of Man, who is Jesus, was indeed lifted up. He was lifted up on a cross, crucified in judgment for your sins. In this way, judgment has already come upon the world and the Son of Man took the full fury of God’s judgment for you. The reason why the Son of Man comes again to judge the world is because He fulfilled God’s will and was judged.

If the Son of Man is a title for one bringing judgment, the image of Him taking a seat on His glorious throne shows that He is one who is given the Kingdom. “Then He will sit on His Glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31). Therefore, he is King. The title of King comes later in our reading when Jesus says, “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” (Matthew 25:34). The King has authority to say who gets to enter into His Kingdom. If Jesus is the judge, with the title Son of Man, and He has declared you not guilty, the King, who is also Jesus, will certainly let you into the Kingdom. Jesus is both judge and king. There is no separation of powers. There is only one person who grants us citizenship into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The King knows who gets to enter into his kingdom. They are distinct from everyone else. They are blessed by His Father. They have been marked in baptism with the righteousness of the Son. They have faith in Him and have done His will. “And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

In this way, Jesus acts as a shepherd on the last day. “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. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32-33). This separation that Jesus is talking about is nothing new. He has talked about separating the wheat from the chaff and separating good and bad fish. But here, He uses the image of being a Shepherd who sets the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.

The sheep need a shepherd. They need to be told where to go, and they listen to their shepherd’s voice. They go where their shepherd goes. Without the shepherd they would be lost. Jesus says that He came for the lost sheep. He desires to bring them into His pasture, and He does, on the last day.

The goats on the other hand are proud. They’re smart and stubborn. They have no need for a shepherd. The goats are the hypocrites. They are the ones that we would expect to enter the fold, but because of their stubbornness they will not follow their shepherd’s guidance. They rather go their own way. They have no love for God, or neighbor, or for Jesus.

This is the way it is with all who do not believe in the Son of Man who was crucified for them. The things they do are not the will of the Father because they were not faithful to Christ. They are incapable of doing the will of the Father. They are cursed. They are sent away to eternal torment and fire. That place was not intended for them. The eternal torment and fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. God does not desire to send any of the flock there, but they have made their choice by not believing, nor following the one who has been given authority over all. The Son of Man does not advocate for them. They despise the least of these, Jesus’ brothers, so they despise Jesus himself. And the One they hated sends them away.

But there is a different outcome for the sheep. The sheep are the ones who are part of the church. They follow their shepherd. They listen to his voice, and go where he goes. The shepherd knows them and calls them by name. These sheep are you, you who believe and have been baptized. The judge looks favorably on you because of your faith in Christ. And because of your faith the good works that you have done are truly seen as good works. Though you are sinful and the works that you did are tainted with sin, they are seen as priceless treasures in the eyes of God because of your faith. Because you did good for the least of these, you did it to Christ himself.

These judgments were already done before the last day. They were done in the time of Christ, and they are delivered to you in the time which you live here, on earth. Through hearing the Gospel preached to you, and being baptized, and receiving the Lord’s Supper faithfully, Jesus has kept you in faith. The promise that the Son of Man was crucified for all of your sins, gives you life and salvation, and justifies you today, tomorrow, and on the last day is a promise you can bet your life on because the Son of Man lives. He sustains you and has fulfilled the judgment for you. You will stand before Him and He will judge you as not guilty. You will stand on the right with the sheep, and when your Shepherd calls for you to enter into his fold like a King’s decree, you will enter into His kingdom, and have eternal life.

+ The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus +