THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST

by D. M. Panton



Chapter Nine

CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY

It is in the nature of a trust that a day must come for a report of the trust to be put in; and so, after a prolonged period during which His servants trade with the talents he had entrusted to them, Jesus says that "the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them" (Matt. 25:19). The parable covers the entire period from the Nobleman’s departure to his return - that is, from our Lord’s Ascension to the Second Advent; and so embraces all who have conducted His business on earth for nearly two thousand years: it covers the period, and the only period, in which the Church of Christ exists, and so is a comprehensive history of the work and judgment of the Church. The goods entrusted are small, but the returns possible on the outlay are enormous. To the very highest servant, who turns one pound into ten, our Lord says, "Thou wast found faithful in a very little" (Luke 19:17); obscure, nameless, often landless, sometimes homeless, even friendless, without rank or power, nevertheless we hold in our hands a trust which, rightly used, can change into incalculable wealth and power in the day of Messiah’s Kingdom.

Now our Lord casts the main emphasis on the third servant - seven verses are devoted to the servant who was a failure, and only three each to the successful servants: therefore, on this servant’s identity depends Christ’s main teaching in the parable; and unless we understand that he may be ourselves, ours will be a concealed peril, like a man-trap hidden under forest-leaves. For every truth, appropriated, falls on the soul like an electric shock; whereas it is obvious that the believer who denies the application of the passage to himself, while he may be committing every offence of which the third servant can be guilty, so encases himself in a coat of steel that God’s sword falls on him blunted and harmless. It is of vital import to know the spiritual standing of the third servant.

Now this servant is proved a child of God by the following facts.

  1. Equally with the other servants he is entrusted with our Lord’s goods on His ascension; but Christ has never entrusted, and never does entrust, His work on earth to the unsaved: therefore this is a saved soul equally with the rest. Jesus calls them all "His own servants"; literally, "slaves," bought with their Master’s money, and owned by Him. "About to take a journey, the Nobleman is obliged to hand over this property of his, which he is unable to manage personally as before, to other faithful hands during the time of his absence. He therefore calls, not strange laborers, but his own servants, belonging to him as his servants; and as their master, since he may expect that they will regard his interest as their own, entrusts to them and their hands the property he leaves behind" (Goebel). The servants differ greatly in capacity - in the extremes, as five to one; but they differ not at all in the possession of a common trust.
  2. The three servants are judged together, at one spot and at one time; but the wicked dead are not judged until the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:5,12), a thousand years after the judgment of the redeemed. So also the slothful servant is judged last of the three, as last risen and last rapt; for he is "the servant which knew his Lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will" (Luke 12:47). As judged together, all three servants are the redeemed, judged in the one and only judgment in which the Church, and the Church alone, appears (2 Cor. 5:10); and as this judgment is in the Parousia, the only access to which is by rapture, all the unsaved are of necessity physically excluded. None can reach the Judgment Seat except the saved.[9]
  3. All three are judged, like the Seven Churches, solely on the ground of their works: their faith in, and love for, the absent King are implied and assumed: their standing is never challenged. If the third servant were an unsaved soul, his works could in no way, and on no ground, be accepted: between the two Advents, it is the redeemed alone who are judged according to their works; for only those who have received from Christ can work for Him. Every servant of God has a personal service for Christ in the world, a sacred trust to fulfill; it is that mission, that trust, which constitutes him a ‘servant ‘ - the title by which the Apostles most loved to describe themselves (Rom. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jas. 1:1; Jude 1): the salvation a believer receives is the sole ground on which he can trade at all, and it is the Church alone which is the market where God’s trade is forever going on. "It is evident that the design is not to describe a man entirely fallen from faith, an apostate; but one who, although he has not dissolved his connection as a servant, or squandered his talent, yet has not used it to his Lord’s advantage, one who has not done his duty" (Olshausen).
  4. Overwhelming is the final proof. In the twin parable of the Pounds, the unsaved are placed in careful contrast with the saved, as Citizens and as Servants, the only two classes in the world, sharply sundering mankind: the Servants our Lord entrusts with His all on earth, the Citizens send the message after the ascended Christ, - "We will not have this Man to reign over us"; a message which, as Archbishop Trench says, will have its full and final fulfillment in the great apostasy of the last days. All three Servants have accepted Jesus as Lord, and have entered vitally into the service of God; "His own Servants, i.e., who have become His in faith, in contradistinction to the Citizens who would not" (Steir), and who are slain without mercy before His face (Luke 19:27). "Whilst the one Servant represents an inactive member of the body of Christ, the Church, who failed to perform his duty, these Citizens are open rebels, and hence their Lord orders them to be killed: it is evident that this penal proceeding is essentially distinguished from the reproof administered to the one Servant" (Olshausen).

Now therefore we see the danger to us all which our Lord flashes out like a red light upon the line - a danger which, remarkably enough, is greatest to the lowliest disciple. What is the peril? Undervaluing what God has given us. Christ gives to each servant what He sees he can wisely use; as much as he can handle and profit by; no servant can say, Lord, Thou gayest me nothing: no servant is expected by Christ to produce results greater than his abilities or his opportunities; the poorest, the most unlettered, the most obscure have the ‘very little’ which yet can coin enormous future wealth. "A talent is entrusted also to the idle servant ‘according to his own ability’: he is therefore just as able, and for this reason just as bound, to work spontaneously with his gifts, as all other servants with theirs" (Goebel). But he so undervalues his opportunity as to bury it in the earth - in earthliness; his carnality is his shame because he is a child of God, and as such betrays his trust: "the circumstance rendering him guilty is, that he to whom the money belonged was no stranger to him, but his master, to whom he was bound as a servant" (Goebel). For it is not the possession of the talents that determines our reward, but solely our use of them: it is the second five and the second two, not the first five and the first two, on which reward alone is given.

So Jesus describes the third servant as the exact opposite of the first two: instead of "good" and "faithful," He says he is "wicked" and "slothful": not "good" in the general sense, but a good servant; and so not bad (or wicked) in a general sense, but a bad servant: the goodness of the one consisted in his faithfulness, the badness of the other in his sloth. "This distinctive name comprehends all his guilt, Thou slothful servant" (Steir) ; unprofitable (Matt. 25:30), but not unregenerate, or apostate; he did not misemploy, nor embezzle, nor squander, but simply hid his money. So what exactly does our Lord charge him with? Unbelief, unregeneration, rebellion, apostasy, adultery, theft, murder? Nay: it is simply a servant of God who has made nothing of his life; all he has done wrong is merely to withhold his powers from serving God; he hoarded, when he ought to have expended; he had no sacred sense of responsibility. "The parable is not for gross sinners: the warning is for those who, being equipped of God for a sphere of activity in His kingdom, hide their talent" (Trench). He says, As I cannot be so holy as God requires, I give up the attempt to satisfy such strictness: I object profoundly to the doctrine of reward according to works, and deny all responsibility in a servant of Christ beyond his responsibility to maintain the gift of grace with which he was entrusted at his conversion. But his answer (as his Lord says) implies that he knew the truth. The Judge answers - Your very consciousness of the severity of the principle ought to have made you more careful, not less, to meet its requirements. "Thereby must the evil servant bear testimony with his own mouth to the innermost truth, and the most perfect right, according to which the Lord requires fruit from what He sows or gives - that God demands fruits and works" (Steir). For the believer to have at his judgment only what he had at his conversion will be his condemnation. As his life had been negative, so is his punishment: he is cast into the darkness outside the brilliantly lit festal hall[10]: "nothing is said here of any further punishment of the servant; enough that he has no part in the kingdom of the Lord" (Goebel). Over lost opportunities, wasted graces, slighted privileges, a sold birthright, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth."[11]

Both the faithful servants are remarkable examples of "boldness in the day of judgment" (1 John 4:17): both come joyfully forward, for they have facts in their hands - the talents doubled; and both are invited at once into the joy of their Lord - our Lord’s joy in His Kingdom, for which He endured the cross, despising the shame, "the authority God will confer on Him on His second coming from heaven in kingly power and glory to establish the Messianic Kingdom" (Goebel).[12] So also would the third servant had he been found faithful. "He has no share in the kingdom of his lord, and therefore he who is like him will have no share in the Kingdom of Christ" (Goebel). Both faithful servants had exercised all their faculties and powers in the interests of their Master; the long delay in His return had not made them slothful or negligent, but, on the contrary, had afforded them longer time for greater gains; and what they had gained in the Church, they reap in the Kingdom. The "well done" is conferred for no reason but one - because they have done well. "The period is not given them for idle waiting. It is of the most critical importance for themselves, because it is appointed them as a test-time, on the use of which their own participation in the Kingdom of Christ and their position in it will depend" (Goebel). For the way to advance our own interests is to advance our Lord’s: each gained cent, per cent, for their Lord, and for each pound (Luke 19:17) the reward is a city: the more devoted the life, the more blazing the glory. No servant had more than one pound: no servant was without one pound: every servant had an equal opportunity of making ten pounds: yet ONLY ONE (so far as we know) did so. "It is an experiment of the future King, in the course of which His servants first prove their fidelity in a little sum of money, and then for their reward take part in managing His Kingdom" (Goebel). For while the ten cities and the five cities are figurative, because every phrase in a parable is ipso facto figurative, nevertheless our Lord reveals that the "many things" over which He puts the faithful servant will be no less than royalty. "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Rev. 2:26,27). Then follows the judgment on the wicked among Israel and the Gentiles. "When the King has thus distributed praise and blame, rewards and penalties, to those who stand in the more immediate relations of servants to Him, to those of His own household, He proceeds to execute vengeance on His enemies, on all who had openly cast off allegiance to Him, and denied that they belonged to His House at all" (Trench).

So "the Coming One remains the Lord of all these servants, of the unfaithful as well as the faithful; and in the case of the latter will show Himself as Lord in the reckoning” (Steir). For as profound the punishment of sloth, so magnificent is the reward of fidelity; it cuts both ways: in exact proportion as we accept the promised enormous premium on fidelity, so we are compelled to acknowledge the gravity of the consequences of unfaithfulness. “In the times between the departure of their Lord and His second coming His disciples are to work with what He committed to them on His departure for Him and His cause with faithful diligence, because the most glorious reward awaits such fidelity at the hour of Christ’s return, while the heaviest punishment threatens the selfish indolence that would decline active employment of what it has received" (Goebel).

Thus we confront our crisis. Officers are required for the administration of a kingdom: so God has deliberately interposed a prolonged period between the two advents, that our Lord might be enabled to so test His servants, in His absence, as to discover which are fitted for positions of responsibility and trust at His return. The Nobleman, before He departed, laid plans for the selection of officers to aid Him in the administration of the Kingdom; He devised a plan for bringing to light who those officers are on His return; this plan is in operation at the present moment, purposely so contrived as to reveal individual capacity for office, and personal fitness for trust; and - most impressive of all - the Long Journey is now nearly over, and at any moment the investigation may begin. "Make haste about cultivating a Christ-like character. The harvest is great; the toil is heavy; the sun is drawing to the west; the reckoning is at hand. There is no time to lose; set about it as you have never done before, and say, ‘This one thing I do’" (A. Maclaren).



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ


[9] At a meeting in Toronto a Christian lady came up to the speaker and said, - “You alarm me! I thought I was not coming into any kind of judgment. How then am I to know that I am saved?” “Madam,” he said, “the answer is very simple. The moment you stand before the Judgment Seat you will know that you are saved, for none but the saved will ever stand there. The lost from among the dead are not judged until the great White Throne appears, a thousand years later.

[10] Since the Parousia is a place of thick darkness (Ps. 18:9), indwelt by the Shekinah Glory (Matt. 26:27), to be cast forth from the inner ring of light on the threshold of the Kingdom is to be expelled into the external dark of the Pavilion of Cloud (Ps. 18:11).

[11] “It the servant is not a believer, but a mere professor, then we have in the parable nothing to represent the Christian who fails in faithfulness” (C. G. Trumbull).

[12] It must be the Millennial Kingdom, for our Lord’s everlasting Kingdom as the Son of God – as distinct from the kingdom the Nobleman goes away to obtain (Luke 19:12) – is inherently His, without beginning or end, never conferred: “of the Son He saith, Thy Throne, O God, is FOREVER AND EVER” (Heb. 1:8).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)