One day, Jesus will return in glory as the Son of Man (Matt. 25:31-46). He will be the King (25:34, 40) who will judge all nations. He will separate them into the sheep and the goats (25:32-33). His dealings with both groups provide us with significant information concerning the Bible’s teaching about the everlasting fire in which unrepentant sinners will ultimately suffer.
The King will command the sheep on His right hand to enter into glory: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34). This statement by the Judge is striking in what it teaches.
First, it says that the Father is the ultimate agent (perfect passive participle [εὐλογημένοι] with a genitive noun for the ultimate agent [τοῦ πατρός]) who has blessed the sheep so that they will inherit the kingdom (τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου). The King thus is the judicial agent of the Father who will authoritatively call the sheep and direct them to enter into the kingdom.
Second, the King will specify that the kingdom has been prepared for the sheep (dative of advantage) from the foundation of the world. Saying this, the King will testify to the eternal benevolent purpose of God for them.
The record of the King’s statements to the goats, however, differs, from His address to the sheep in important ways. To the goats, the Judge says, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (25:41). Unlike His earlier statement concerning the sheep, the Judge does not say that the goats are cursed of the Father. Although the Father through His King will ultimately consign the goats to their terrible place of punishment, the King does not say that they were cursed by the Father.
The King also does not say who has prepared the everlasting fire. Of course, it is clear that God is the One who has prepared the fire, but the Judge chooses not to say so in this statement.
Moreover, instead of specifying that the fire was prepared for the goats, the Judge specifies that the fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. This facet of His end-time judicial pronouncements is worth pondering deeply. Why does the Judge not specify to the goats that the fire was prepared for them? Why does He make known, instead, that it was prepared for the evil spirit beings that rebelled against God?
These differences in the King’s dealings with the sheep and the goats suggest that even at that decisive moment when their eternal fates are finally made known, God will reveal something about His heart for mankind. His not saying that He cursed the goats and prepared the fire for them from the foundation of the world may be implicit final testimony to all who are present at that solemn occasion (as well to all who read or hear this teaching but may not be present at that occasion) of His essential eternal benevolence toward mankind.
Whether this interpretation of His final saying to the wicked is correct or not, for us who are alive now, the King desires that we repent toward the Father and believe that He has raised His Christ, the Lord Jesus, from the dead. Confessing that Christ as the Lord and calling upon Him now while there is yet time, we one day will be with Him in eternal glory in His Father’s kingdom!