For awhile, now, I’ve been studying the parables within the Olivet Discourse with a view toward their basis in eschatology. Lately, I’ve been developing that theme in Matthew 25 (also part of the Olivet Discourse, according to Matthew), specifically Matthew 25:31 and following. Here, Jesus spoke of his coming in glory, with his holy angels, in order to sit on the throne of his glory (Matthew 25:31). At that time all nations would be gathered before him, and they would be separated as a shepherd would divide the sheep from the goats (verse-32).
We need to keep in mind that Jesus was “…a minister of the circumcision (i.e. of the Jews) for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Romans 15:8; parenthesis mine). In other words everything Jesus said or did, during his public ministry, was to serve the Jews for the sake of the truth, that is, in order that the promises God made to the fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) could be confirmed, i.e. fulfilled. With this in mind, where did Jesus get the idea that “all nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:2)? Notice what Peter claimed on the day of Pentecost. Quoting Joel, he explained the phenomena the Jews were witnessing:
Acts 2:16-21 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; (17) And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: (18) And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: (19) And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: (20) The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: (21) And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (emphasis mine)
So, Peter claimed Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled in that generation in the first century AD. The coming of the Holy Spirit was proof of that, according to Peter. Immediately after the prophet, Joel, had said the things, which Peter quoted in Acts 2:16-21, Joel said:
“behold, in those days” (What days were they? They were the last days, according to Acts 2:17 above), “and in that time” (What time was Joel writing about? It was the Day of the Lord; see Acts 2:20 above), “when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, (i.e. when the righteous remnant of both the House of Israel and the House of Judah would be restored under one King, the Messiah; see Ezekiel 37:21-24) I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land” (Joel 3:1-2; emphasis and parenthesis mine).
Notice that at the very time that the Lord would gather together the righteous remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel from the nations where they had been scattered, he would also gather to himself all nations, and this Peter puts in the context of the first century AD (see Acts 2:16-21 above). Therefore, the context of the nations gathered before Jesus in Matthew 25:31-32 must, also be understood to have occurred in the first century AD.
Paul also wrote that his Gospel called out to the Jewish remnant that were scattered among the nations (Romans 9:25-27; cf. Hosea 1:9-10; 2:23) and also to the gentiles (Romans 10:13). The latter scripture Paul based upon Joel 2:32, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord, will be delivered” – Jew or gentile. All were brought into the valley of Jehoshaphat, that is, they were brought, via the Gospel, into the valley of decision (Joel 3:14), and the Lord separated his sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32), and judged them according to how they responded to the Gospel.
Matthew 25:31 and following, therefore, cannot be removed from the context of the first century AD. It was to be fulfilled in that generation (Matthew 24:34). Peter concluded that the prophecy of Joel was then being fulfilled in the first century AD, and the last days pointed to that generation of believers, and the Day of the Lord was near, and fulfilled, according to these studies, in 70 AD.