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BAAA! BAAA! (Or “On Matthew 25:31-33”)

Thu, Feb. 18, 2016 Posted: 02:54 PM


I recently saw an interesting discussion concerning Mt. 25:31-33 and whether or not it deals with “national salvation.” And, well, I got sucked in. You’ll recognize the passage:

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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

I found this discusssion especially interesting because it is about a “missionary” text, but that fact is almost always overlooked. The text certainly does not speak of “national salvation” (as most, correctly, concluded). But that is not to negate or downplay the very real missiological phenomenon of “people movements,” whereby a large percentage of the population of a given ethnic group (or tribe or caste) does, in fact, come to know and follow Christ. Neither does it merely refer to individual people in a vacuum, apart from their broader cultural or ethnic context. Matthew uses the Greek word ethnos (the expression is panta ta ethnē, “all the nations”), which is best understood in English as “ethnic group.” This is in keeping with the flow of Scripture from Genesis to Reveleation, with God’s stated purpose and desire (and worth!) to be known, loved and worshipped among all ethnic groups, or people groups, or simply “peoples.” Examples number in the hundreds but here are a few:

  • “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing...and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3);
  • “May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.” (Ps. 67:3);
  • “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (Ps. 97:3);
  • “‘My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal. 1:11);
  • “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [panta ta ethnē again], baptizing 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.” (Mt. 28:18-20).

But then comes the Greek word autous (from autos), which in some Bible versions (like NAS and NKJ) is translated as “them.” The problem is that this “them,” by itself, seems to have “nations” as its referrent, which is not the case. That would erroneously allow for the possibility of an entire ethnic group or “nation” (every one of it’s members) being found guilty and condemned to eternal separation in hell from Christ. And this is logically impossible, based on the innumerable passages (like the ones mentioned above) that show that one day representatives from every single ethnic group will be in the presence of the Lamb fulfilling their eternal vocation as worshippers (cf. Eph. 1:5-6, 11-12, 13-14; and Isa. 43:6-7). Worse, it would make God a liar for not having fulfilled his word (remember Gen. 12:2-3? Mal.1:11?). God’s greatest glory is revealed by uniting that which is diverse, by demonstrating that He alone, out of all that exists, is worthy to be worshipped by people from every single ethnic group.

Knowledge of Greek is helpful here. I’m not a Greek specialist, but here is what I understand: ethnē is in the neuter gender in the Greek. Autous (“them”) in that same verse is in the masculine and is best understood as meaning “people,” not “peoples” (see the NIV and NET, for example). What this means is that the nations will be gathered before the Lord, but He will judge them as individual people. It will not be a judgment of ethnic groups (like the Kurds or Berbers or Yanomami) or countries (like the U.S. or Brazil) but of individuals within all ethnic groups. So what is happening in Mt. 25:31-32, which is better understood as a vision of the future rather than a mere parable, is the gathering of all the people (that have ever existed) from all the peoples (that have ever existed) and the separating of people (not peoples) for judgment - some are sheep (those who belong to Christ) and some are goats (those who do not belong to Christ) - as Daniel predicted and John “confirmed”:

  • “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14);
  • “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9);
  • “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Rev. 9:9-10).

There are at least two HUGE implications for anyone who is a follower and worshipper of Jesus Christ. One is that the day will come when each one of us will give an accounting to the Lord for the way we lived our lives (holy, unto the Lord?) and how we managed the resources God entrusted to us as stewards. Were our abilities, finances, time, etc., all put to good use for his glory in all areas of life and (this leads in to the second HUGE implication) and among all peoples of the world? It’s a missionary passage! God is great and glorious and desires and deserves (“great is the LORD and most worthy of praise!”) to be known and worshipped among every single people group. What are we doing to to help bring in the “sheep” from among all people groups, so that they too may know the joy and blessing of following Christ and so that He will receive the glory due His Name from among all ethnic groups? My deep desire and driving passion is to be a SHEEP! To glorify Him, by His grace, in all areas of life and somehow to make His Name GREAT among all the peoples of the world. What about you?

BAAA! BAAA!

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I'm João, but you can call me John. Since meeting Christ at age 16, my driving passion has been to glorify Him! I’m a “Great Commission Entrepreneur,” passionate about starting and leading anything — mission agencies, churches, businesses — that helps fulfill the Great Commission. I also love to speak, teach, preach and write about God's glory in all areas of life and among all peoples of the world.

You can contact John at joao.mordomo@gmail.com; find out more at www.johnmordomo.com; link directly to this blog at www.llvd.net; and follow him on:

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João Mordomo