You Are Wrong About Matthew 25:31-46!

One unconvinced reader said...

READER>> Your understanding of Matthew 25:31-46 is wrong.  The passage is saying that those on the left of Jesus will be punished WITH the Devil and his angels in the Lake of Fire.  Whereas you are saying that those on his left ARE the Devil and his angels.

ME>> First you correctly understand my view.  Thank you for that.  I do believe the passage is best understood in the context of the whole of Scripture that those on Jesus' left, those cast into the Lake of Fire, are the Devil and his angels.  Now I will be the first to admit that there are some curious facets to this understanding.

1) We most naturally assume that when Jesus gathers the nations before him that he is talking about only human beings and human nations.  The Greek word "ethnos" is used in the Bible to mean "a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus, for example the human family."  Thus when he divides the people into their categories of sheep and goats, we naturally conclude that some humans are sheep while the remainder are goats. It appears that only part of humanity is saved from the Lake of Fire while the rest are eternally lost.  Arminians and Calvinists both agree on this point, though they disagree as to how people are saved.

However, do not too quickly conclude that "ethnos" mean human "ethnic" groups.  It should be noted that the meaning of the word "ethnos" is also used to mean "the people, in contrast to their king."  The first denotation in the Vines dictionary also indicates, "a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together: a company, troop, swarm."  I would suggest that at the Great White Throne Judgment these alternate denotations are closer to the mark.  In fact we can be certain of this because 2 Peter 2:4 makes it plain that some angels are imprisoned now being held for future judgment.  Jude 6 and Revelation 20:11-15 also make it plain that angels will be extracted from Tartarus / Thalassa to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment.

King Jesus will summon all his subjects before him for final judgment and this includes both human and angelic people.  We humans often neglect to consider Jesus' angelic subjects because they are most often invisible to us.  However, angels are also people subject to King Jesus and will likewise stand before his judgment throne.  What word other than "ethnos" would the Holy Spirit use to identify a mixed body of his subjects that includes both human and fallen angelic people?  "Ethnos" is the word he chooses!  The bad news for fallen angels is that they do not have a vicarious substitute for the condemnation they must receive.  The good news for us is that Jesus became a human and so his work of atonement applies to all humans.

2) You say that in Matthew 25:41 Jesus says to human beings about to be damned that they will be sentenced with the Devil and his angels to Eternal Fire.  I will concede that the sentence structure is odd and lends to your view.  Why would Jesus use the demonstrative pronoun first and the proper name second?  Typically, for clarity, the proper noun is first and the pronoun second.  Consider three possible explanations.

First, the Holy Spirit may have allowed an awkward construct to parallel the structure of verse 34.  Second, perhaps the phrase "which is prepared for the devil and his angels" is better understood not as a quote to the unredeemed, but as an explanation to the redeemed.  Third, with Satan already damned to the Lake of Fire and his demons arraigned on Jesus' left, perhaps Matthew 25:41 is not awkward at all.  Read my article Your Thoughts on Matthews Meaning of 'Aionian Fire?'

If you continue to disagree, then you must provide a reasonable explanation as to why Jesus only lists the Devil and his angels as those for whom Eternal Fire is prepared.  Why does the Holy Spirit say explicitly that the Lake of Fire is "prepared for the Devil and his Angels?"  Why doesn't he say prepared for unbelieving mankind? He says the Devil and his Angels because that is who the Lake of Fire is prepared for and no one else!

3) Finally I also concede that it is odd that the Devil and his angels would say in Matthew 25:44 (WEB), "Then they will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?' "  We might think that at this point the Devil and his angels would recognize their rebellion, concede their doom, and manifest their hatred of Christ with a violent display of malice as they are damned to the Lake of Fire.  It is hard to imagine the Devil or the demons with their awesome intelligence speaking such a lame excuse.

Yet in spite of their awesome intelligence, we must remind ourselves that Satan is not only The Great Deceiver, but also The Greatly Deceived.  For Satan said, "I will ascend into heaven! I will exalt my throne above the stars of God! I will sit on the mountain of assembly, in the far north," (Isaiah 14:13b WEB) and the Lord says, "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty. You have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor," (Ezekiel 28:17a WEB).

Though Satan was and continues to be an enemy far beyond our strength, his great pride has left him greatly deceived to the very end, along with all his demonic followers.  We should note also that the demonic leaders, Satan, The Beast, and The False Prophet are already cast into the Lake of Fire before the Great White Throne Judgment.  So the lame excuses are coming from their demonic underlings just arraigned from Tartarus / Thalassa.

If this explanation does not satisfy your objection, then I have a corresponding question for you.  I believe the sheep on the right are the redeemed unbelieving just extracted from the end of their punishment in Hades.  But, traditional understanding says that these sheep are those who believed before their death.  However, the confirmation of the salvation of believers has already happened though faith in Christ many years earlier!  Yet these people say, "37) Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38)  When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39)  When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'" (Matthew 25:37-39 WEB).

If these people are believers, why are they incredulous about their salvation and ignorant of these basic facts after already spending years of glorious fellowship with Christ?  If you are concerned about the lame objections of the goats, you should also be concerned about the objections of these sheep.  You could further argue that these sheep cannot be unbelievers because they are praised for doing good.  However, these newly believing sheep did not yet understand, like we Christians already understand, that we actually serve Christ when serving others. Thus they are amazed that the tiniest good they did is now accepted by the grace of Christ, not that the good outweighed the bad.  All these questions are easily answered when we see that these sheep are new born believers just extracted from Hades with their eyes just opened, incredulous over the love of Christ who has also accepted them by his grace.

The redeemed should take warning that our sinful nature is likewise vulnerable to equal deception.  We would follow Satan to the very precipice of the Lake of Fire and over the brink if we could!  Yet grace will be finally victorious for every single one of Christ's chosen ones.  Not one of Christ's chosen can ever fall over the brink!