What is the judgment of nations in Matthew 25?
Okay, put your spiritual thinking caps on. This one takes some mental energy, but it will be soooo worth it.
This is a difficult chapter. It is often cited to discuss the future judgment of INDIVIDUAL MEN, where those termed “goats” are first placed at the Lord’s left hand and then ordered into “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Conversely, those called righteous “sheep” are placed at the Lord’s right hand and blessed with eternal life.
However, I believe this Scripture passage does NOT refer to the judgment of individual men, but rather to the judging of ANGELIC PRINCIPALITIES which were appointed to rule over various nations. Why do I say this?
First, because verse 32 says “nations” (ethnos) were gathered before Jesus on His throne. This passage never refers to individual men. It is undisputed that the Lord appointed various angelic “principalities, dominions and powers” to rule over earthly institutional structures and geographical nations (Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; Daniel 10:20). Some of these angelic powers are fallen powers who joined Satan in His cosmic rebellion in opposition to God and His angels (Revelation 12:9; Daniel 10:20). So then, this judgment scene is NOT referring to men but to various angelic powers who rule over all the various nations and institutions.
Second, verse 41 says that “the goats” are cast into some sort of “chastening age-abiding fire” which was originally created for “the devil and his angels.” The passage never says “men” are cast into this fire, but only the “goat nations” (i.e. fallen angelic powers). This description of the punishment place is further proof the passage is referring to angelic powers and not men. Why would God cast men into a place reserved for angelic judgment? The passage, on its face, says these particular flames were made for angelic chastening, not human chastening.
Third, the acid test of this judgment in this passage is not “faith in Christ”, as it is for the judgment of men, but rather how the nations/institutions treated their poor, sick and imprisoned. That would be a works-based righteousness and contrary to the whole concept of salvation by faith if it were the basis of determining the salvation of men . But, if we see that angelic powers are judged differently, that they are judged rather on how they performed systemically, as agents and facilitators of justice and mercy in the nations/institutions they were given authority over, then we get a completely different picture. Angelic powers who ruled over cruel, unmerciful and unjust nations will be held accountable for their poor treatment of the weak and needy. For this, the angels will be judged in a chastising and purging fire created solely for them.
So, if this entire passage is referring to the judgment of angelic powers, then to apply its passage to men would be completely unwarranted.
Although I don’t agree with all of Walter Wink’s conclusions, he does a great exegetical job in his “Powers” trilogy of laying out the roles of principalities and powers as the prevailing dominant spirits which actually “inhabit” and conduce the functions and activity of institutions and governments.
Nations and institutions end up having spiritual personalities which play out a thousand different ways, including how the government/institutions treat their poor, hungry and imprisoned. These angelic powers are fallen to various degrees, but redeemable with the Body of Christ’s help. We ourselves do righteously judge angels on some level (1 Corinthians 6:3), and by so doing perhaps help redeem some of these powers into sheep nations who care for their poor, feed their hungry, and treat their prisoners with decency. So, this judgment of the angelic powers ruling nations could be what Matthew 25 is describing here.
Here is what we know for sure:
1) Angelic powers ARE judged. 1 Corinthians 6:3.
2) The flames of chastening judgment described in Matthew 25:41 were created as place of judgment of both Satan and the angelic powers.
3) Whatever is being judged is Matthew 25 is NOT on the issue of faith in Jesus, but rather on the unwillingness to care for the poor, weak and imprisoned.
4) That what are being brought together before the throne of Jesus to be judged here are all the “nations.” Matthew 25:32.
5) And that angelic powers work on SOME level in the operation of nations and institutions. Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; Daniel 10:20.
6) That “goats” often represent ruling demonic entities in the Bible. “To the Devil in particular, the serpent, the goat and the dragon have been attributed as his symbols.” Symbols and symbolism in Christian demonology – Definition. WordIQ.com.
The scapegoat in the Bible is actually called the Azazel goat, a well known alternate name of Satan. Leviticus 16:8 “And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. [1 Footnote  16:8 The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat; also verses 10, 26 ESV.]”
The great church father Origen equated Azazel with Satan. One translation of this word is rendered Za-za-e’il (the strong one against God), according to the Syriac Peshitta Version, as in Qumran fragment 4Q180.
The medieval mystic Nachmanides (1194–1270) identified the Hebrew text as referring to a demon and identified this “Azazel” with Samael, one of the well-known appellations of Satan in Jewish tradition. Interestingly, Azazel is one of the several names Muslims use for Satan. Many other Christian, Hebrew and other early sources clearly link Azazel as either a high-ranking captain of Lucifer or, in the alternative, as Satan himself.
Also, consider these verses below which seem to link “goats” to demonic activity involving “all the kingly leaders of the nations.” The Hebrew word for “goat” is used in all these verses as translated below. Not all other Bible translations use the word “goat,” but that is the Hebrew word used in the following passages.
“Even the pit underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in. At you, it has awakened those impotent in death, ALL THE GOAT-LIKE LEADERS OF THE EARTH. It has made all the kings of the nations get up from their thrones. All of them speak up and say to you,`Have you yourself also been made weak like us? Is it to us that you have been made comparable? Down to the pit your pride has been brought. Beneath you, maggots are spread out as a couch and worms are your covering.'” Isaiah 14:9
“Against the shepherds my anger has grown hot, and AGAINST THE GOAT-LIKE LEADERS I SHALL HOLD AN ACCOUNTING; for God has turned his attention to his drove.” Zechariah 10:3
“And there the haunters of waterless regions will certainly lie down, and their houses must be filled with eagle owls. And there the ostriches must reside, and the GOAT-SHAPED DEMONS themselves will go skipping about there. And the jackals must howl in her dwelling towers, and the big SNAKE will be in the palaces of exquisite delight. And the season for her is near to come, and her days themselves will not be postponed. God has broken the rod of the wicked ones, the staff of the RULING ONES, the one striking peoples in fury with a stroke incessantly, the one subduing nations in sheer anger with a persecution without restraint.” Isaiah 13:21
“So they should no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the GOAT-SHAPED DEMONS with which they are having immoral intercourse. This will serve as a statute to time indefinite for you, throughout your generations.”‘ Leviticus 17:7
These above verses are the basis for the image of the goat being so prevalent in Satanic rituals, from its image overlaying the pentagram to the severing of goats heads during Satanic rituals, the goat symbolizes demonic rule and power.
Add this “goat” symbolism to the Matthew 25 equation and the possibility of “goat nations” being judged as fallen territorial angelic powers here becomes clearer and clearer. These nations/institutions were cruel and/or neglectful to their poor, hungry and imprisoned. The “sheep nations,” in contrast, are those once fallen powers who will have been redeemed by the Body of Christ before this judgment occurs. “That there might be made known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly [places], through the church, the manifold wisdom of God.” Ephesians 3:10.