We are quickly approaching the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. Near the end of his life, Jesus takes his disciples to Mount of Olives which overlooks the Herodian Temple and describes its destruction and his return. Like the rest of the book, Matthew returns to the theme of King and Kingdom in the Olivet Discourse.
The King’s Return
After predicting the destruction of the Temple, the disciples become curious. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Although a full exegesis goes beyond our purpose, what is important to see is the emphasis on earthly kingdoms at war with each other. Verse 7 explains, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
These nations, at war with each other, will declare war against believers. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Despite that, however, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (vs. 14) Here, Jesus connects the Kingdom of God with the gospel of Christ. Thus it is through the preaching of the gospel that the Kingdom comes, not through wars or an election.
All of this leads to the coming of the Son of Man. The “son of man” language is taken directly from the prophet Daniel and it is clearly messianic. This “Son of Man” brings the prophetic Day of the Lord and destroys evil and suffering forever. He comes, we could say, as a king to establish his eternal kingdom.
The King on His Throne
Chapter 25 returns to this theme of kingship, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins …” (25:1). The message this chapter is preparedness. Christ, the King, will return and set up his kingdom. Our response must be one of readiness.
The conclusion of the Olivet Discourse is littered with king language. Matthew explains that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (25:31-32). What we see here is all the nations, and their kings, gathered before the throne of the King. He is truly the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
In fact, the text describes Christ as the King. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Again, he adds, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (vs. 40)
Thus the King is also the final Judge. He rewards the righteous and condemns the wicked. He, alone, possesses all authority and all the nations bow before him. This is consistent with the Old Testament imagery of the Messiah and Matthew sees it in the eschaton.