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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.