“The Consummation of the Kingdom” Matthew 13:47-52 November 15, 2009
SI: This morning we are finishing our study of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13.
This collection of parables are known as the kingdom parables.
Jesus told them for the benefit of his disciples.
They are parables aimed at believers, to help us see more clearly
what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
He tells the disciples that through the parables, he is revealing the secrets
of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, the spiritual realities at work
in this age between his first and second coming.
These mysteries cannot be seen by unbelievers.
Just as the crowds did not understand Jesus’ parables,
so the world does not grasp these realities.
But to the disciples of Jesus, then and now, they have been revealed.
Jesus says that to the degree you understand them, and believe them,
and base your outlook and decisions upon them, you will be blessed.
Last parable, the parable of the net, is about the consummation of the kingdom.
How the Lord will wrap things up when the Gospel Age comes to an end.
INTRO: The first time I ate crawfish was when I was dating Allison and went to
meet her family in Louisiana. We sat down for supper the first night and there on
the table was a bright red pile of boiled crawfish.
I asked them to give me eating instructions and one thing the told me was this:
They said that if a crawfish’s tail is curled under it’s body, then it’s fine to eat.
But if you pull one out of the pile with a straight tail, throw it away, don’t eat it.
Because it means that it was dead when it went into the pot.
I have no idea what horrible things would have happened to me if I had eaten
one with a straight tail—but I didn’t tempt fate and find out.
Ask anyone in Louisiana and they will tell you the same thing.
When you are eating crawfish and you find one with a straight tail, throw it away!
The image in Jesus’ parable was just as familiar to his disciples.
Capernaum was on northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and it was a fishing town.
They had seen this and even done it themselves thousands of times.
A net was dragged to shore full of all kinds of fish.
And the fishermen sorted them into two groups, edible fish and inedible fish,
the good and bad. The good to keep and sell and eat, the bad to toss.
Then Jesus said, That sorting and keeping or discarding is a picture of judgment.
And he goes on to talk about the angels coming at God’s command and
sorting people into two groups for some to be kept and others thrown away.
It’s interesting to compare this last parable in Matthew 13 with the parable
we studied a few weeks ago about the wheat and the tares.
It’s a different image, farming instead of fishing,
but these two parables are very much alike in a number of ways.
Jesus even uses some of the very same words.
There is a gathering and a separating done by angels at the end of the age,
and the same words are used to describe the fate of the wicked:
They are thrown into the furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But there is a difference between these two parables, and the difference
helps us understand Jesus’ point, what he wants us to get from this parable.
The difference is that the parable of the wheat and the tares talks about the
work of the devil in this age and the spread of evil and the growth of the kingdom.
It stresses patience and commitment to growth as we approach the end.
But in the parable of the net, all of these details are removed.
There is nothing about the work of the devil. Nothing about the spread of evil
in this present age. Nothing about the children of God bearing fruit.
Jesus removes all those details to intensely focus on one truth:
There will be a judgment of all people at the end of the age.
Just as fishermen on the sea of Galilee separate fish into two groups,
all men will be separated in a final division. “So it will be at the close of the age.”
When Jesus says this is how it will be, then this is how it will be.
The Bible is unequivocal in its teaching that the final judgment is certain.
This is a great secret of the kingdom that the Lord presses home.
As much as things seem to grow and move along in sometimes slow
and ordinary ways—there is a great event on the horizon.
There will be a consummation of the kingdom.
This age will end. The age of grace will end. When it does, judgment comes.
Why does Jesus push this home with such force?
Why does he want the reality of judgment on the minds of his disciples,
so much so that he says this is one of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven?
Because a proper focus on judgment drives you to Jesus Christ.
That’s the only reason for knowing and believing any doctrine, to bring you closer
to God. And the doctrine of the final judgment does that powerfully.
Parables not simple stories with simple moral lessons, are they?
They reveal mysteries about God’s dealing with the world—secrets of kingdom.
Call you to respond in faith or suffer the consequences of unbelief.
This is a bare-bones parable of judgment.
Let’s look at it under the bare-bones outline Jesus provides. Just two points.
1. The sorting 2. The burning
see how both point to him.
MP#1 The sorting
“Men drew (the net) ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.” Then Jesus says: “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”
There are only two categories of people at the judgment, only two—
good fish and bad fish.
The Bible has many other names for these two categories.
Gold and dross, wine and dregs, grain and husks, sheep and goats,
wise virgins and foolish virgins, wheat and tares.
These are all ways of describing two moral categories—the evil and the righteous.
And that tells us that the standard used for sorting on the day of judgment
will be God’s moral law. That will be the only standard.
So the judgment will not be based on any human categories,
but on what God says is evil and righteous according to his law.
The question always comes up: What about people who don’t have the Bible?
What about people who have never heard of the Ten Commandments?
Scripture is clear, judgment will still be according to the law of God—
the law written on the heart. In other words, the conscience.
Years ago I was getting a haircut and I started talking about spiritual things
with the woman cutting my hair. She said that the only thing you have to do
to get to heaven is let your conscience be your guide.
So I asked her, Have you always let your conscience be your guide or have
you ever violated your conscience? She didn’t like that question.
And she admitted that she had done some bad things.
But she argued that she was still a good person.
I explained to her that Jesus is the only good person, and that she had to trust him.
She wasn’t interested. I hope a seed was planted.
But my point is that she rejected the idea of two categories of judgment.
She created a third category for herself.
I may have done some bad things, may have violated my conscience
a time or two, but I’m a good person.
According to Jesus, that’s not one of God’s categories at the judgment.
There are only two, evil or righteous as determined by the law of God—
revealed in Scripture and written on the heart.
And when it comes to sorting people into those two categories—
God is perfect, he never makes mistakes.
He’s the omniscient Judge. He knows everything.
He presides with perfect knowledge of the character and history
of every person who will stand before him.
There will be no surprises for God at the day of judgment.
In fact, he has already determined his judgment.
John 3 says: “Whoever believes in the Son is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe stands condemned already
because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
That means that even in this life, God has passed judgment on people.
We know this is true because when people die their souls go immediately
to heaven or hell to await the resurrection and the final judgment.
And that intermediate state of heaven or hell shows that judgment
has already been passed.
So what is the purpose of the final judgment if the outcome is already known.
It’s the great purpose that motivates all that God does—his own glory.
Children’s catechism asks: Why did God make you and all things?
The answer is: For his own glory. Could ask, why does God do anything?
For his own glory. It’s the same with the final Judgment.
It will bring glory to God as He sovereignly confirms the final destiny of every
single person—for some vindication and reward, for others condemnation.
His judgment will be indisputable because on that day everything hidden
will be revealed. Things will be seen as they really are.
There won’t be any doubt which are the good fish and which are the bad.
The Bible elsewhere speaks of books being opened.
The faith people had or didn’t have will be revealed.
The deeds they did, whether good or bad, the life they lived will all be revealed.
And in the publication of these deeds and execution of judgment,
as God assigns each person the place where he will spend eternity,
God’s justice will be magnified in the condemnation of his enemies,
and God’s grace will be magnified in the salvation of His people!
Doesn’t that make you want to be found righteous in that day?
Don’t you want to be one who magnifies God’s grace at the judgment?
But if the evil are those who have broken God’s moral law—
and we have all broken it, how do we move from the category of evil
to the category of the righteous?
That’s the Gospel.
The Gospel is that God gives righteousness to all who have faith in his Son.
And the way that works, the way you get righteousness through faith in Christ,
is by something called imputation.
Imputation is more than forgiveness.
If God just forgave your sins, that would not be enough for judgment.
You would still not be righteous before him. Because righteousness is more
than simply not committing sins. It’s doing everything God requires.
It’s loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,
and loving your neighbor as yourself.
If you were just forgiven, would bring you up to zero.
Imputation is the transfer of the perfect record of Jesus Christ to you.
Jesus is like a union negotiator. If you are in a union, and the head of the union
negotiates a contract, that contract is yours. If it’s bad it’s yours, good yours.
The Bible does use the term union negotiator, it uses the term covenant mediator.
As your Mediator, he lived a perfect life, he loved God and neighbor—
by faith, that righteous life is imputed to you.
Bible describes his righteousness as a white robe you wear.
“Dressed in his righteousness alone/Faultless to stand before the throne.”
But that’s not all.
When imputation really happens, something else happens simultaneously.
You are born again. The Holy Spirit and he implants a seed of spiritual life.
From that seed grows real righteousness in your life. Yes, still sin.
But also real righteousness. You start to see it. You start to grow in virtue.
Love, self-control, courage, joy, conviction of sin
So on the Day of Judgment, not only will you be clothed in Christ’s righteousness,
but God will reveal that you have become a righteous person
through the work of the Holy Spirit.
How will you be sorted by the angels on the last day?
Remember there are only two categories—evil or righteous.
There is no third category.
“I may have done some bad things but basically I’m a good person” is not one.
Have you received the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him?
And if you have, you will be cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit,
and growing in all the graces of the Christian life.
Examine yourself for evidence of that change.
“test yourself to see if you are in the faith” “be alert, be ready, purify yourself”
Do you see evidences of that righteousness growing in your life?
Are you fighting sin, are you repenting, are you walking in obedience,
and you growing in love and all the fruit of the Spirit?
Or, does your form of Christianity leave you unchanged inside?
Outwardly you go through the motions of worship. You sing, talk language.
But inwardly bitter and resentful, self-centered, more difficult to live with?
Are you ready for the day of sorting?
Jesus wants you to think of that so that you trust him for his righteousness—
imputed to you freely, and so that you long for his Spirit, to make you
into the righteous person God wants you to be.
Jesus says there will be a sorting, and after that, a burning.
MP#2 The burning
Jesus says: “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In the parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus says that
“the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
But in this parable he does not mention rewards at all, it’s only punishment,
only the fiery furnace and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The reason is that this is more of a bare-bones parable.
Jesus only elaborates on the punishment because that is the fate of the entire
human race apart from the grace of God.
It’s this bare-bones approach that makes this parable so sobering.
The church father Chrysostom called this “a terrible parable.”
Gregory the Great said it is “one to be feared rather than expounded.”
In other words, don’t try to preach a sermon on it, just read it and tremble
because Jesus is teaching something horrible. He’s proclaiming the reality of hell.
What do you think about hell? Nobody likes the doctrine of hell.
Non-Christians certainly don’t like it.
And normal Christians don’t like it either.
There was a book written a few years ago called “Hell Under Fire.”
It was a response to the attacks on the traditional, orthodox view of hell
as a place of eternal punishment. More and more voices in the church
are saying that hell doesn’t exist. It’s incompatible with the love of God.
So this book was written to defend the biblical view.
A number of evangelical scholars contributed to it. And what is interesting is
that even though they defend hell biblically, they don’t enjoy talking about it.
Sinclair Ferguson said it best: “To speak of hell is to speak of things so overwhelming that it cannot be done with ease. The thought of hell can carry no inherent attraction to the balanced and coherent human mind. Yet hell exists; this is the testimony of the Scriptures, of the apostles, and of the Lord Jesus himself. The emotionally intolerable is also the truth—and therein lies it’s awfulness.”
Jesus describes it as a fiery furnace. The image of fire is used throughout the NT.
Is hell literally a place of fire? Can it be literally flames and also darkness?
Hell is a real place just as heaven is a real place. But the language about hell
is figurative. That doesn’t make hell better, it makes it worse.
Because it means that human language cannot adequately describe it.
Language cannot describe the glory of heaven or the horror of hell.
So the Bible uses the most powerful imagery possible—fire, burning.
Last Sunday morning, trying to iron a shirt and drink cup of coffee at same time.
Reached over iron to pick up coffee that was sitting on washing machine,
pressed forearm on the iron. I immediately jerked away.
We instinctively recoil from the pain of being burned. Remember those horrible
pictures from 9/11 of people leaping from World Trade Center to escape flames.
It’s the Bible’s way of saying hell is a place of great pain, from which no escape.
Jesus also describes it as a place of weeping.
That’s confusing, because it seems that people who are weeping are sorry.
But this is not a weeping of repentance. It’s the weeping of remorse.
Both Peter and Judas wept for what they had done to Jesus—
but Peter repented and went to heaven, Judas did not and went to hell.
And old Scottish preacher once spoke of the weeping in hell.
He said there will be godless fathers weeping in hell, tormented by the knowledge
of godless their sons in hell with them. And godless mothers wracked with guilt
over godless daughters in hell.
And the most miserable will be godless ministers surrounded by congregations.
And gnashing of teeth. That’s an expression of frustration and hatred.
My dad had a great ability for explaining theological truths to me as a child.
Once when I was young, very troubled by hell, people suffering for eternity.
I thought, certainly they would be begging God for forgiveness, sorry for sins.
So I asked dad, Will God forgive people in hell if they ask him for forgiveness?
He said: They will never ask for forgiveness. They will hate God and curse him.
That’s what it means to gnash their teeth at him.
Remember the chill that passed over me as I thought about people in great pain,
not calling out to God for mercy, but cursing God for eternity.
Is this the Jesus we know saying these words?
Is this the mild and gentle Savior. The same Jesus who said:
“For God so loved the world . . .”
“Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give rest.”
“Let the little children come unto me”
Yes, it is. The reason why Jesus Christ speaks this way—
more so than any other person, more than Moses, more Paul—
is because of his great love. His tender mercies.
Once read an article about a program for juvenile offenders.
They were taken to the state penitentiary, introduced to hardened criminals.
These men told in most graphic detail the horrors of life inside the prison.
Then, equally graphic, what they would do to these young men if they came.
What was the motive of the people who arranged this?
Were they sadists? Did they take pleasure in this? Not at all.
Their motivation was concern. Look where you are heading.
There are eternal consequences for wickedness and there will be a judgment.
That is one reason Jesus talks about hell.
But he has a much greater reason.
He’s saying, Look what I have done for you on the cross.
Because that’s what the cross is, it was Jesus’ hell.
And here we get to the other side of imputation.
It’s not just that we get Jesus’ perfect record, we get his white robe. He got ours.
2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The perfect man became sin and suffered in his body and soul the pains of hell
during the hours of darkness and rejection on the cross.
And all of the terrible descriptions of hell in the Bible, especially those
from the lips of Jesus himself, and just hints of what he willingly
suffered for your sin, so that you could be forgiven.
Do you see what that means for you?
Do you see what the Day of Judgment means for you?
It means that as a Christian you shouldn’t say to yourself—
I better not sin, I might go to hell.
You should say, I can’t sin because Jesus has gone to hell for me.
How can I bear to sin against the one who loved me so much?
Lord Jesus, I love your cross.
I love that instrument of your pain because it is for me righteousness and life.
And at the end of the age, on the day of judgment—at the harvest,
when every man great and small is cut down and separated—
And when on that day you see people weeping in despair and gnashing
their teeth in hatred as they are dragged away by angels to the fiery
furnace and eternity—then on that day you will say—
Lord Jesus, I love your cross. I love you for delivering me.
Jesus says to his disciples: Do you understand these things?
And he asks all of you here this morning: Do you?
Do you understand why it is so important for Christians to always
have in mind the end of the age and judgment and separation and burning?
Do you understand why this secret of the kingdom of heaven is so important?
Because when that is real to you,
and when you connect judgment and hell to the cross of Jesus,
and his suffering and his great love—
then you have the greatest possible incentive for obedience and holiness.
And you will await the end of the age with confidence,
and look with anticipation for the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.