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The Final Judgment

Every man will stand judgment before God for his life in this world. Each person will be judged according to his words and his works.

I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every idle word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36)

For the Son of Man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay every man according to his works. (Matthew 16: 27, cf. Revelation 2:23)

The judge will be Christ Himself, for He is the one who, by His suffering and death, has received the power to judge. It is the Crucified One who will call men to account at the end of the ages. He has won this right as a man through the perfection of His human life.

For the Father… has given Him the authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:27)

Christ will judge all men exclusively on the basis of how they have served Him by serving all men – the least of the brethren.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from an- other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

Then He will say to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire pre- pared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?’

Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25: 31-46)

All spiritual life is fulfilled in this one parable of Christ, for the heart of it is love, both for God and for man.

In commenting on this teaching about the final judgment, Saint Augustine has said that Christ Himself is truly the one who is found in all of these conditions, just as He is the one who is the Savior in each of them.

He Himself was hungry; who is the “bread of life,” which if a man eats of it, he will never hunger again. (John 6:35)

He Himself was thirsty, crying out “I thirst!” (John 19:28); who gives the “living water,” which, if a man drinks of it, he will never thirst again. (John 4:13, 6:35, 7:37)

He Himself was a stranger with “no place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58), who “came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:11); who brings all men home to the heavenly house of the Father. (John 14:1-2)

He Himself was naked, in the manger in Bethlehem, in the streams of the Jordan, and on the cross of Golgatha; who clothes all men with Himself (Galatians 3:27), and with the “robes of salvation.” (Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 6:11)

He Himself was sick, “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities,” left alone hanging on the cross (Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 26:56); who Himself heals all the wounds of men, for “with His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

He Himself was in prison, arrested as a criminal and thrown into jail, forsaken by His disciples (Matthew 26:56, 27); who Himself proclaims “liberty to the captives” (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18), setting men free from everything that binds them, and forgiving their crimes.

Since Christ has identified Himself wholly with every man, in every one of his sad and most sorrowful states, the person who “does it to the least of his brethren” does it to Christ Himself – not “as if” to Christ, but to Christ in reality, for Christ is most truly within every man, and every man is the bearer of Christ, the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)

St. Simeon the New Theologian gives the following teaching about the parable of the final judgment:

The Son of God has become the Son of Man in order to make us men sons of God, raising our nature by grace to what He is Himself by nature, granting us birth from above through the grace of the Holy Spirit and leading us straightway into the Kingdom of heaven, or rather, granting us the Kingdom of heaven within us….

A man is not saved by having once shown mercy to someone…for “I was hungry” and “I was thirsty” is said not of one occasion, not of one day, but of the whole of life. In the same way, “you gave me food,” “you gave me drink,” “you clothed me,” and so on, does not merely indicate one incident or action, but a constant attitude to everyone always. Our Lord Jesus Christ said that He Himself accepts such mercy…in the persons of the needy.

…it is Him whom we feed in every beggar…Him whom we have left to die in our neglect…Our Lord was pleased to assume the kindness of every poor man…in order that no one who believes in Him should exalt himself over his brother, but seeing his Lord in his brother, should consider himself beneath him…and honor him, and be ready to exhaust all his means in helping him, just as our Lord exhausted His blood for our salvation.

A man who is commanded to love his neighbor as himself should do so…for his entire lifetime…A man who loves his neighbor as himself cannot allow himself to possess anything more than his neighbor; so that if he has more and does not distribute them without envy…he does not fulfill our Lord’s command exactly.

If he who possesses…disdains even one who does not…he will still be regarded as one who has disdained Christ our Lord.

His words, “you have done it unto me,” are not limited only to those to whom we have been unkind, or whom we have wronged, or whose possessions we have taken, or whom we have harmed, but include also those whom we have disdained. – This latter alone is sufficient for our condemnation for, in disdaining them, we have disdained Christ Himself.

All this may appear too hard for people and they may think it right to say to themselves: “Who can strictly follow all this, satisfying and feeding every- one and leaving no one unsatisfied?” Let them listen to St. Paul: “For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14)

…a man who gives all…has fulfilled the particular commandments in one stroke…as he who prays constantly has fulfilled the rules of prayer…and he who has God in himself…has accomplished everything…(Practical and Theological Precepts)

It is also the teaching of the spiritual masters that what must be given to all men is Christ Himself: the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Home of the Father, the robes of salvation, the healing of wounds, the liberation and forgiveness of all sins. In this sense every man, no matter how rich or how righteous, is poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, sinful and imprisoned by evil and death. Thus to “do it to the least of the brethren” is to offer Christ to all men, to give them the eternal and unending satisfaction of all their needs and desires: bread which is never consumed, water which eternally satisfies, a home which is never lost, garments which do not grow old, healing which never suffers again, liberation which can never revert to captivity. Thus, “to do it to the least of the brethren” is to bring them the Kingdom of God. In doing this one offers to all men and so to Christ Himself what already belongs to them from God; as in the liturgy of the Church we offer to God that which already is His. In every case, this is Christ Himself.

We offer to Thee, what is already Thine, on behalf of all, and for all. (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

This, therefore, is perfect love; the love of God and the love of man, the love for God and the love for man, becoming one and the same love. It is accomplished in Christ and is Christ. To love with this love is to love with the love of Christ and to fulfill His “new commandment” to “love one another even as I have loved you.” (John 13:34-35, 15:12) In this is the whole of spiritual life. In this, and this alone, man will be finally judged. It is the crown of all virtue and prayer, the ultimate and most perfect fruit of God’s Spirit in man.