1.4 A Literal Judgment?
The Figure Of Judgment
It is hard to know whether the figures of judgment are supposed to be taken literally; e.g. will there be a literal throne? I offer three comments on this.
1. Maybe not everything in the judgment descriptions can be read literally. The figures are there to teach us essential truths concerning the nature of the judgment but not to explain what it will physically be like in every detail.
2. But the figures of judgment can be taken literally to an extent. However, the actual process will be slightly different for each of us. Thus for some, Christ gives his verdict immediately and then discusses it with them (Mt. 25:33,34,41). Others are apparently given the reasons for the verdict first, and then explicitly told the verdict (Mt. 25:27). Others tell the Lord of their spirituality and are then told his comment (Mt. 25:20). Others don't realize the spiritual growth they've achieved (Mt. 25:37), others see it quite clearly (Lk. 19:16). To some, Jesus speaks first; in other cases, the believer starts the dialogue (Mt. 25:41-44 cp. 11,12,24-26). Some sense their rejection coming and plead to be let in to the Kingdom (Mt. 25:11,12); others complain at their Lord's apparent unfairness, as if they're sorry, but they just have to make their point to him (Mt. 25:44).
3. However, the above figures are all capable of another interpretation. It is possible to gather all the teaching, types, parables and figures of judgment together, and construct from them a literal sequence of events which doesn't contradict. That this is possible is quite remarkable; so much so that I conclude that we are intended to construct this picture of judgment and understand that this is what will happen; because this order of events will articulate the principles of judgment which have been expressed in God's earlier judgments. This sequence is outlined in Sheep And Goats and The Judgment Process. This is not to say that each figure of judgment isn't to also be understood in a more general sense.
However, if we are to take the judgment figures literally, another the question arises: Does Christ know beforehand who will be accepted, and the degree of their reward? If we take the judgment figures to have a literal meaning, then it sounds as if He doesn't know. Lk. 19:15 suggests that perhaps He doesn't know; the Lord calls the servants "that he might know how much every man had gained by trading". He is ordained to be judge of all (Acts 10:42). However, as Lord of Heaven and earth, with all power given to him, this seems unlikely- although it must be remembered that in the same way as God is omnipotent and yet limits His omnipotence, so He may limit His omniscience. The shepherd sees the difference between sheep and goats as totally obvious. It needs no great examination. Surely the idea is that the judge, the omniscient Lord of all, will act at the judgment as if he needs to gather evidence from us and thereby reach his verdict. The parables give this impression because they surely describe how the judgment will feel to us. We demonstrate later how many of the parables imply that our acceptance at the judgment all depends on our attitude to our brother. But we know (or we ought to) that this isn't the only thing that our redemption hinges on; but the point of the parables is that this will be very prominent in our minds then.