Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:22 “But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on
the day of judgment than for you.”
These words hugely impact our understanding of Jesus. They strongly bespeak His divinity. Christ, in essence claiming to have supernatural, supra-human knowledge, said He knew what Tyre and Sidon would have done had He preached among them. Only God could know people’s minds and hearts this well.
He also foretold the ruin of Chorazin and Bethsaida. His words dealt with the end of time, but the cities’ ultimate final destruction is literally portrayed in their current ruins. History corroborated Christ’s prediction. Rome so completely destroyed both cities that little was left. Even their ruins are almost unidentifiable.
Jesus often showed superhuman knowledge of the future. His ability to forecast was beyond the powers of mere mortals. He told the disciples they would find tax money in the mouth of the first fish they caught (MT 17:27), they would be allowed to borrow, for His entry into Jerusalem, the donkey they saw tied up (MT 21:2-3), they would be allowed to eat the Passover at the home of the man they saw carrying a pitcher of water (MK 14:13-15). He predicted with stunning accuracy the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (MT 24:2), saying not one temple stone would be left on another. This sounded odd, but precisely happened.
When Titus captured Jerusalem, he ordered his soldiers not to set the temple on fire. He wanted the gold gilding that adorned the temple walls. His soldiers, enraged at Israel, torched it anyway. The melting gold flowed down into crevices between the stones. To retrieve the gold, the soldiers had to dismantle the temple stone by stone. Not one stone was left on another, exactly as Jesus had predicted.
Predicting the future is risky, but Jesus never feared His predictions would be contradicted. Only God would dare pronounce woes of this magnitude on cities. Jesus boldly put His reputation on the line, leaving the verdict to history, to any who investigate His claims. Time could have proved Jesus wrong, but didn’t.
The verification of His words about the future “in time” helps us know we can trust His words about the future “beyond time.” Our text is not exaggeration or conjecture, nor talk from One who judges based on probabilities. He claimed to know with absolute certainty whereof He spoke. Only God can know the relative rewards and punishments to be distributed on Judgment Day. Thus, when Jesus foretold the verdicts of Judgment Day, He was claiming to be God, the King of all.
Jesus is not only our Savior and the suffering servant. He is ultimate Judge, the God who determines and foretells the futures of cities and individuals. Make sure the Judge we will see on the final day is the Friend we are viewing this day.
Our text mentions Judgment Day, called by old-timers the Great Assize, the climactic court session rendering final verdicts. Several truths arrest our attention.
First, there will be a final climactic Day of Judgment. This is not myth or legend. History is moving toward a specific preordained assembly. This notion, deeply ingrained in Western thought, explains why communism, which also advocates mankind is headed to a climactic conclusion of history, could have been birthed only in the Judeo-Christian world, where history is generally viewed as linear, headed to a point. Most of the rest of the world views history as circular and repetitive. Like it or not, we are headed to a climax. Judgment Day cometh.
Second, everyone will be there. “We must all appear” (2 Cor. 5:10). None who have breathed will be absent. Tyre and Sidon have yet to settle with Chorazin and Bethsaida. Citizens of Tyre and Sidon will be present, as will be people from Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Springfield. God’s judgment may rain down destruction on a city, but never destroys souls. The latter are everlasting. All who have ever lived still live, in Heaven, on Earth, or in Hell, and shall live forevermore.
On Judgment Day all will be present. Court will be in session, and all will have been subpoenaed to attend. Heaven, Hell, and Earth will be emptied to witness a reckoning which shall in everyone’s estimation acquit God of any wrong doing. When all is said and done, everyone will be forced to admit God did right.
Third, we can be totally wrong as to what will happen on Judgment Day. Citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida, being Abraham’s descendants and keepers of the law, thought they were eternally safe, and viewed all Gentiles, including Tyre and Sidon, with disdain. Religious snobs, denying the terrible sin inherent in their own smugness, look down on sinners. At the Judgment, be not surprised if sinners look down on the snobs. A life looking eminently respectable here may at the Judgment be judged more harshly than a life looking shameful here (Plummer).
Jesus warned about the shocking surprise factor of Judgment Day, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven” (MT 7:21). Peter urges us to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 P 1:10 Holman).
The writer of Hebrews instructs us to prove everyday that we walk with the Lord. Do not trust in an emotional experience of the past if there has not been fruit remaining from it. John MacArthur well says, when you hear that the number of Christians living together without marriage is increasing, do not believe it.
People prove they are Christ-followers by a holy, albeit imperfect, life. All believers stumble into sin, but it is another, more serious, matter to wallow in it.
Fourth, Jesus will be the ultimate issue on Judgment Day. He is the crux of history and eternity. Heaven and Hell hinge on what we do with Jesus. The worst sin, the only everlastingly condemning sin, is refusal to trust Jesus for salvation.
The only unfixable sin is a lack of repentance. To spurn the gentle wooing of God is a grievous evil. Jesus called this sin blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
Each time Jesus mentioned this sin, He was speaking about unbelievers. Believers can not commit blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Their most serious offense is to commit sin unto death. They can offend the Lord to the point He ends their earthly, physical life before He takes away their heavenly, spiritual life.
Jesus is the issue in eternity. Our everlasting destiny depends on what we do with Him. Albert Simpson’s old song says it well:
What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be;
Someday your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?”
Fifth, there will be degrees of reward and punishment on Judgment Day. This is the main lesson in our text. Degrees of guilt and merit will vary.
There is a judgment based on works (Rev. 20:12-13), but not to determine everlasting destinies. Works will only determine levels of reward or punishment.
“More tolerable” indicates a Divine fairness in God’s judgments. He thinks matters through, weighs all the evidence. God is the Good One. Thus, we can confidently trust the fate of every person in the world to His hands. He will do right. He is always just. In the bleak, foreboding early days of our nation, our founding fathers found solace in pondering this trait of God. In the Declaration of Independence they claimed they were appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, and firmly relying on the protection of divine Providence. They trusted their cause to God, rightly believing He would do right.
God will be fair. To smug Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus said of wicked Tyre and Sidon, their knowledge was less, their guilt is less, their condemnation will be less. Tyre and Sidon would not have to answer for the abuse of huge spiritual privileges. They have this to their credit, had Jesus performed miracles among them, they would have repented. Thus, their judgment will be gentler.
Not all unbelievers will receive the same judgment, for not all have the same opportunity. Determinations will be based on the measure of opportunity, on the quantity of light received and rejected, on the number of messages heard as contrasted to the level of non-response and ingratitude. Guilt is not measured totally in a deed itself, but in the deed as it sits in the context of opportunity. This distinction helps us better process thoughts of Hell and a loving God.
Don’t spend so much time arguing over what will happen to those who never hear the Gospel that we forget to care for those who hear it often, yet reject it. Do worry about the Bells of the Big Country, our adopted unreached people group. Worry also about our neighbors for whom our text does not bode well.