Though some Christians still seem to over-emphasize the judgment that is coming at the end of time, in my circles many more Christians today seem to neglect it. I get it. It is important for us to grasp God’s grace too. And we also need to emphasize the importance and relevance of living like Christ in our daily lives here and now. Still, Jesus taught much about the judgment that is coming, perhaps even more than we realize. If we are indeed his disciples, we will heed this emphasis.
I am grouping together a large number of parables in this post, including some we have already considered, because they have a similar message. There are differences and nuances, of course, but the basic message is the same. I will include the references so that you can read any that don’t sound familiar or that you may want to explore further.
I will begin by briefly stating what the various parables actually say. We may have to wrestle with some of the wordings, nuances and implications, but certainly it is right for us to hear what Jesus actually said. We may also have to resist a tendency to make Paul’s words about grace our starting point and then try to fit Jesus’ words into him. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really think there is a contradiction between the two, but there may be a difference in emphasis. In any case, our focus here is on the parables of Jesus so the emphasis will be on his words.
Finally, related to what was just said, remember it is Jesus himself saying all the things that follow. Since his teachings about judgment are sometimes downplayed in the church today, some of this may surprise or even bother us, especially if we are accustomed to emphasizing other matters about him. Remember, what follows are the words of the one we have named as our Lord.
Here is a brief rundown of the parables about judgment:
Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). Anyone who foolishly stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God will be like a wealthy hoarder whose life is suddenly demanded from them.
Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Those who are rich and fail to listen to Scripture or heed the resurrection and so do not give to those in great need will end up in torment while those who received many bad things in this life will be comforted.
The Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-9). If we use worldly wealth for people, we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (See Post on this parable)
Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-40). At the end of the age the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. The wicked will be thrown into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Both wheat and weeds will grow together until the harvest (which is explained as the end of the age) when the Son of Man will send his angels to weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and those who do evil. These will be thrown into the blazing fire, but the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (see Post)
The Doorkeeper (Mark 13:33-37; cf. Matthew 25:42-44). When the Lord goes away he assigns tasks to his servants, including someone to watch at the door for his return. It is imperative that everyone watch for his return.
The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:13). Five wise virgins took along extra oil for their lamps but five foolish ones did not. When the bridegroom came, the foolish ones did not have oil and missed his coming while they were off buying more. The stated point is to keep watch because you do not know the day or hour.
The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and Minas (Luke 19:11-27). Those who don’t want the king to rule them will be killed in front of him, and those who are wicked and lazy and consequently are not good stewards of whatever the master entrusted to them will be thrown outside into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But those who are good stewards of what has been entrusted to them will be put in charge of many things and share their master’s happiness. (see Post)
The Faithful and Wise Servant (Matthew 24:45-51). If the servant in charge of feeding the other servants does so, it will be good for him when his master returns. But if he is wicked and begins to beat the servants and eat and drink with drunkards, his master will return and cut him to pieces and give him a place with the hypocrites where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Those who work in the vineyard are rewarded, regardless of how long they worked, due to the generosity of the landowner.
Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). The kingdom will be taken from those who don’t bear its fruit, don’t listen to the owner’s servants and who oppose and kill his son. They will be brought to a wretched end, crushed and killed. The kingdom will be given to others who will produce its fruit.
Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9). If a person does not bear fruit, they will be given a little more time, but then if they still do not, they will be cut down.
Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Those who took care of people in need inherit God’s kingdom and eternal life, but those who did not do so are banished from him and go away into eternal punishment.
The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30). One should make every effort to enter the narrow door because many will try to enter and not be able. Even if they dined with the Lord and heard him teach, they will not enter if he does not know them and if they are evil doers.
Unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Those who are forgiven by the king but refuse to forgive their fellow-servants will be handed over to the jailers to be tortured until they repay the debt they owed their master. The intended lesson is stated overtly, that this is how God will treat us unless we forgive our brother or sister from our heart. (see Post)
Banquets (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24). Even if you were rightfully invited to the feast and said you would come, if you make excuses you won’t get to come and will be destroyed instead. Likewise if you come without a wedding garment (which could be the gift of righteousness or the deeds of righteousness), you will be tied up and thrown outside into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (See Post)
Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49). If you hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice, you will withstand the judgment, but if you hear them and do not put them into practice, you will be destroyed.
Some of the basics we learn from these parables include that our master is indeed coming back but we don’t know when (cf. Matthew 24:36). We need to be alert, watch, and be prepared. This is done in part by staying faithful to our assigned tasks (Mark 13:33-37).
These parables also show that, when the Lord returns, there will be a judgment of both his people and those who are not his people. The basis for judgment is variously stated including how we have viewed and used money, whether we are righteous or wicked, whether we are prepared and watching, our stewardship of the resources and tasks God has entrusted to us, whether we have worked for him and respected his spokespersons and son, the fruit borne in our lives, whether we have taken care of people in need, whether we have made every effort to know him and do good, whether we have forgiven our fellow servants who sin against us, whether we have actually responded to his invitation, and whether we have listened to his words and actually put them into practice. There is a strong emphasis on how we have lived our lives.
I believe in the mercy and grace of God. If he were not merciful, there would be no salvation. Paul speaks much about this, and it is perhaps what we know him best for. But we must not focus so exclusively on grace that we miss the clear teaching of these parables that we will be judged on how we have lived our lives. Paul writes about this aspect too, although we sometimes downplay such passages (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5—all written to Christians). Conversely, Jesus also speaks of God’s role in in saving us through himself (Matthew 9:1-8; 19:23-25; 26:28; Luke 7:36-50; John 10:9; 12:47). Another example is that, while the parable of The Wise and Foolish Builders shows the necessity of putting Jesus’ words into practice (Matthew 7:24-27), the immediately preceding teaching shows that we will not enter the kingdom unless we are known by Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). The parable of the unmerciful servant contains both truths—God’s grace and our obedience. God mercifully forgives us (Matthew 18:26-27, 32-33) and this should change the way we view and treat others (18:33-34). If not, something is severely wrong between us and God. (For the balance between grace/faith and obedience see also John 14:15; Romans 1:5; 16:27; Ephesians 2:1-10; Hebrews 3:18-19; James 2:14-26).
These parables also describe condemnation in judgment in utterly horrifying terms, if we can allow ourselves to actually hear them. They include torment, blazing fire, darkness, not being allowed to enter the banquet, being tied up and thrown outside, being cut to pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites, being brought to a wretched end, being killed, being banished to eternal punishment, being tortured until we repay our debt and being sent to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s startling to note that this last consequence is mentioned no fewer than seven times. I won’t enter the debate on whether or which of these descriptions may literal and which figurative. Suffice it to say that even if they are all figurative, the corresponding reality they describe must still be terrible. And again, remember these descriptions come from Jesus himself and are a substantial part of his teaching.
Thankfully there are also great rewards for those who are approved in the judgment. The rewards include that it will be good for us, comfort, being welcomed into eternal dwellings, shining like the sun in the Father’s kingdom, enjoying a great feast or banquet, being put in charge of many things, sharing our master’s happiness, being graciously rewarded, and inheriting the kingdom and eternal life. These are a significant part of our hope and inheritance, and they give us something very positive to look forward to.
So, these parables make clear that the Lord will come back at some unknown time, will judge everyone, will banish some to a horrific destruction and receive others into magnificent eternal life. Various aspects of our lives and deeds form the basis for the judgement in these parables. While it is certainly possible to overemphasize the judgment, it is equally possible to downplay it. Jesus himself made clear that there is a judgment to come, and that should affect how we live our lives here and now.
This is the final post in the series of parables of the kingdom. I won’t try to review all we have seen. You can look back through the posts if you wish and also see the series on The Story of God’s Kingdom here. It is clear, though, that the kingdom of God is absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching. Since he is our Leader and Lord, we need to heed and highlight the good news of his kingdom.