3.3 Gathering To Judgment
"The holy angels with him"
Practically and concretely, how will we be gathered to judgment?
How? When? It seems that the Angels will suddenly appear to us in
the course of our mundane lives, and invite us to go to meet Christ.
"The reapers" of the harvest "are the angels"; it is they who will
gather the believers, and then divide them into wheat and tares
(Mt. 13:40-42). As men gather in a net and sort out the fish, so
the angels will at judgment day (Mt. 13:47-50). "Men (angels) gather
(the branches), and cast them into the fire, and they are burned"
(Jn. 15:6). This same equation of men and angels is seen in Lk.
6:38, this time concerning how the angels will mete out rewards
as well as punishment at the judgment: "Give, and it shall be given
unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together...shall
men (angels) give into your bosom (at the judgment; ordinary men
certainly don't do so in this life!). For with the same measure
that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again"- very much
the language of judgment to come (Lk. 6:38 cp. Mt. 7:1,2). This
association of "men" (angels) with the judgment is fitting, seeing
that our guardian angel will have been with us through every up
and down of life. Speaking of the principle of responsibility upon
which our judgment will be conducted, the Lord hints at this: "to
whom men (our guardian angels?) have committed much, of him they
will ask the more" (Lk. 12:48). In a judgment context, Paul charges
Timothy before the angels of the elect, i.e. our guardian Angels-
as if to say 'They are watching over you now, they will be there
again at judgment and look back to your present life; so behave
as you should as a man under God's judgment' (1 Tim. 5:21). The
Lord responds to the question about how we will get to judgment
by saying that eagles fly to where the body is (Mt. 24:28). It’s
possible to interpret eagles as Angels- e.g. Rev. 8:13 speaks of
an Angel flying through the sky in the last day, crying ‘woe’-
the Greek ouai would’ve been understood as an imitation of
the noise an eagle makes. And there are other links between Rev.
8 and Mt. 24. So perhaps the Lord’s answer was that we are
not to worry about getting there, as our Angels will take us to
judgment. Zech. 14:5 speaks of the coming of the Lord Jesus “and
all the holy ones with him”. But it is applied to the believers
in 1 Thess. 3:13 and to the Angels in 2 Thess. 1:7. In this sense,
the believers come with their Angels to judgment; but because the
process happens in a moment of time, it appears that in fact Jesus
returns with the faithful. This is why elsewhere the Lord Jesus
is described as returning both with Angels (Mt. 16:27; 25:31; Lk.
9:26) and with the saints (Rev. 19:14 cp. 17:14).
Angels And Judgment
- "The reapers" of the harvest "are the angels"; it is they who will
gather the believers, and then divide them into wheat and tares (Mt.
- As men gather in a net and sort out the fish, so the angels will
at judgment day (Mt. 13:47-50).
- "Men (angels) gather (the branches), and cast them into the fire,
and they are burned" (Jn. 15:6).
- "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down,
and shaken together...shall men (angels) give into your bosom (at the
judgment; ordinary men certainly don't do so in this life!). For with
the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again"
(Lk. 6:38 cp. Mt. 7:1,2).
- "To whom men (our guardian angels?) have committed much, of him they
will ask the more" (Lk. 12:48).
Initially, it does not appear that there will be much compulsion
to come to the judgment. After a meeting of the Lord in the air
(1 Thess. 4:17), both sheep and goats eventually appear before the
judgment seat. The point has been made that when the Angels first
come to call us to judgment at the second coming (Matt. 13:39),
there will be an element of choice as to whether we immediately
accept the call to go and meet Christ. “In that day” we will have
the choice to go and take our goods from the house, or to go immediately
with the Lord (Lk. 17:31). Under the law, the trumpet sounded and
Israel had to gather themselves together (Num. 10:4); yet Paul says
in Thessalonians that the Lord comes with a trumpet to gather His
people together. If this is indeed based upon the Old Testament
pattern, then there is an element of choice as to whether we gather
ourselves unto Him- at least initially. Noah and Lot were invited,
not forced, to leave the world. Those who respond to Christ's return
"immediately" will be accepted, implying that the unworthy delay.
This means that the response is optional in the first instance (Lk.
12:36). There are other indications of this. The most obvious
is in the parable of the virgins, where the wise go out to meet
their Lord immediately, whilst the foolish delay in order to spiritually
prepare themselves. Our attitude in that split second is so vital.
The rejected will mourn and wail, in anticipation of their future
condemnation, when they see the sign of the Son of man indicating
His imminent coming (Mt. 24:30,31). And this is why there is the
implication that effectively, the division between sheep and goats
happens in the gathering process (Mt. 25:33); our response to the
gathering is our judgment. The parables invite us to see the Lord
gathering the wheat to one place and the tares to another, as if
the gathering is the judgment (Mt. 13:30); the wheat is gathered
to the garner, and the chaff to the place of burning (Mt. 3:12).
The Angel who reaps for judgment 'thrusts in' his sickle, and 'casts
out' the wicked in rejection (Rev. 14:19). But 'thrust in' and 'cast
out' in that verse both translate the same Greek word ballo-
the implication being that the gathering-to-judgment process is
in fact the separation process. Likewise the net is "cast"
into the sea in order to gather people for judgment, and then the
rejected are "cast" away (Mt. 13:47,48).
The collapse of time around the events of the judgment would explain
this equation between the gathering and the judgment. The wicked
will "immediately" feel that the house of their pseudo-spirituality
has totally collapsed, as soon as the rain of judgment comes down
(Lk. 6:49). The 'rain' will be a symbol of blessing for the righteous,
and of judgment for the wicked. Likewise the cup of wine is another
double symbol- of blessing, and of condemnation. Yet we know that
there will be a process of condemnation- they will argue
back with their Lord, expecting a reward for their good works…but
underneath, "immediately" from their first knowledge of the Lord's
return, there will be this sense of total collapse within them.
The judgment passages which speak of the rejected apparently confidently
demanding a place in the Kingdom in reward for their good works
must be read with this fact as background. In that day, "One will
be taken, whilst the other will be left [behind]" [Lk. 17:34].
The Greek for "taken" is the same as in Jn. 14:3- the Lord comes
again to take us to be with Him. Seeing this passage also
speaks of the second coming, it seems to me on reflection to fit
more logically that the faithful are taken away; and the rejected
'left behind". The Greek word for "left" really has the idea 'sent
away'. Whilst it's not the same Greek word, it is the same idea
as in several pictures of the judgment- the rejected are 'sent away';
the idea of being 'left sitting' doesn't seem to be there. So in
the very moment of the Lord's return, the essential division is
made; the faithful are taken, whilst the rejected are "left", but
their being "left [behind]" is actually their condemnation, their
being sent away from the Lord.
It seems from Dt. 1:22 that if Israel had responded immediately to the
offer of going in to inherit the Kingdom / promised land, then they would
have entered it. But they refused; they wavered, and wanted the spies
to go ahead of them. They would look back and “deem it a light / easy
thing” to have entered the land (Dt. 1:41 RVmg.), just as the those rejected
for disobeying the initial call will later realize how relatively easily
they could’ve entered the wonderful Kingdom.
Loving His Appearing
Thus our Lord said that all those whom he finds watching will
be welcomed into the marriage feast (Lk. 12:37). And 2 Tim. 4:8 is plain
enough: "All them also that love his appearing" will be rewarded along
with Paul. Paul's own confidence in salvation was because he knew the
earnestness of his desire to be "present with the Lord" Jesus (2 Cor.
5:8), such was the closeness of his relationship with him. Is this really
our attitude too? Can we feel like Simeon, that we are quite happy to
die after we have just seen our Lord with our own eyes (Lk. 2:29)? Is
there really much love between us and our Lord? The faithful are
described as "those that seek (God)...such as love thy salvation"
(Ps. 40:16). None truly seek God (Rom. 3:11- the context concerns all
of us, believers and unbelievers); and yet we are those who seek Him.
We must be ambitious to do the impossible. Those who truly love
righteousness and the Kingdom will be rewarded with it. Likewise Paul
in 1 Cor. 8:2,3 describes the faithful man as one who accepts he knows
nothing as he ought to know, but truly loves God. Heb. 9:28 is clear:
"Unto them that look for (Christ) shall he appear the second time...unto
salvation". Those who truly look for Christ will be given salvation. People
from all over the world, the living responsible, will see the sign of
the son of man, will know His return is imminent, and wail with the knowledge
that they have crucified Him afresh and must now meet Him (Mt. 24:30,31
cp. Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10). Their response to the certain knowledge that
His return is imminent will in that moment effectively be their judgment.
The Master is so delighted that his servants are watching for Him that
He immediately sits down and gets a meal ready for them, doing the serving
Himself (Lk. 12:37). There is an arresting element of unreality here.
Would a Master really do this, at such an unlikely time at night, would
he really serve himself, and would he really be so glad that the servants
were waiting up for him? But these elements of unreality serve to teach
the lessons: that the Lord will have unspeakable joy at His return because
of our expectancy of the second coming, and He will surprise us by His
glee and enthusiasm for us.
The idea that whoever truly loves the Lord's coming will therefore be
accepted by Him can easily be abused by those who reason that anyone who
has the emotion of love towards Christ will be rewarded by him. We know
that true love involves both having and keeping his commands. But for
those of us in Christ, these verses are still a major challenge. If we
truly "look for" Christ's second coming, if we "love his appearing", this
will lead us to acceptance with him. So the point is surely clinched:
our attitude towards the second coming is an indicator of whether we will
be saved. Time and again in the Psalms, David expresses his good conscience
in terms of asking God to come and judge him (e.g. Ps. 35:24). Was this
not some reference to the future theophany which David knew some day would