|A246 : by Tony Garland |
There are a number of reasons why I believe the sheep and goat judgment (Mat. 25:31-46) is a separate judgment from the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11:15).
Time of Judgment
The sheep and goat judgment takes place immediately upon the return of Jesus (Mat. 25:31) whereas the Great White Throne judgment takes place 1,000 years after the return of Jesus — after the millennial kingdom has run its course and the final rebellion is complete (Rev. 20:7-10).
Believers Participate in the Millennial Kingdom
I believe that all true believers will participate in the millennial kingdom. They are part of the first resurrection and are immune from the second death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6). Thus, their destiny (saved or unsaved) is determined well in advance of the Great White Throne judgment which leads to the second death (Rev. 20:14). Since all those who are saved participate in the millennial kingdom, their salvation status (written in the Book of Life) is known at that time and there would be no reason for them to stand in the Great White Throne judgment to be evaluated against the book of life once again.
The Basis of Judgment
The sheep and goat judgment takes place on the basis of how people from the nations treated the brethren of Jesus. No mention is made of “books” or the Book of Life which are the basis for judgment at the time of the Great White Throne. Each individual in that judgment faces a three level judicial process: (1) how bad have you been (determines levels of punishment in the Lake of Fire); (2) have you been perfect (can you escape the Lake of Fire without being in the Book of Life); (3) if you are not perfect, are you covered by the blood of the Lamb (written in the Book of Life)? I believe that everyone in this judgment is a non-believer so the “books” (recording their works) will determine the degree of punishment and that they have sinned. Thereafter, the Book of Life is consulted to show they are not written there which certifies their final destiny in the Lake of Fire (the second death).
The Groups Being Judged
At the sheep and goat judgment, there are three distinct groups: (A) Jesus’ brethren, (B) sheep from the nations and, (C) goats from the nations. It is evident that the sheep and Jesus’ brethren will both find entry into the kingdom (which, incidentally, immediately follows this judgment) whereas the goats do not. That means that both the sheep and Jesus’ brethren must be believers. If the sheep are believers, how are they to be distinguished from Jesus’ brethren? The answer is found in their ethnicity: the brethren are Jewish believers under extreme duress during the time of Jacob’s trouble whereas the sheep are Gentile believers who demonstrated their faith by the dangerous and risky works they performed ministering to the persecuted Jewish believers during the time immediately preceding the return of Christ. At the Great White Throne, only the dead who have not previously been raised (cf. Rev. 20:5) are then raised for judgment. This is one reason why the Great White Throne judgment does not occur until after the final rebellion at the end of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:7-10) because it is the final judgment for unbelief. Thereafter, only believers exist outside the Lake of Fire. Incidentally, amillennialists typically have a difficult time recognizing and identifying the two distinct groups of believers who find entry into the kingdom at the sheep and goat judgment—because they don’t have room in their theology for an ongoing significance of Jewish believers in the plan of God for believing Israel following the rapture (although there is no distinction in their means of salvationa).
Living vs. Resurrected
The sheep and goat judgment involves those already living at the time Jesus returns—the nations are simply gathered: there is no mention of resurrection. The Great White Throne judgment involves all the unsaved dead of all time who are explicitly raised (Rev. 20:5) to undergo the judicial process consigning them to the Lake of Fire.
As to what Jesus said concerning the destination of the goats at the sheep and goat judgment, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat. 25:41) and “these will go away into everlasting punishment” (Mat. 25:46): (1) either the goats will bypass the Great White Throne judgment and go directly to the Lake of Fire (this fate apparently awaits the Beast and False Prophet, not to mention Satan; cf. Rev. 19:10; Rev. 20:10); or (2) Jesus was speaking of their final destiny and they will be held in Hades until they are resurrected along with the rest of the unsaved dead to face the Great White Throne (Luke 16:23; Rev. 20:13). In regard to (1) and its unique situation, consider that those among the nations at the return of Jesus who wind up as goats are certified beast followers, denoted as “earth dwellers” who took the mark of the beast. There are indications in Scripture that taking the mark of the beast is a unique sin associated with a hardened generation at the time of the end—essentially an unpardonable sin (Rev. 14:9-11). They are the ones who were never written in the book of Life (as opposed to having been written and then subsequently blotted out, Rev. 13:8b; 17:8c).
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May God bless you as you continue to dig into the Scriptures to determine how these things all fit together.