“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)
If look above your head when you walk into the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, you will see the scene Jesus describes depicted in the stone archway that frames the portal. Jesus is seated on his throne surrounded by angels. Beside the angels, mere mortals – kings and commoners – kneel in homage. Behind Jesus’ head is a cross-shaped halo, the emblem of his glory. The holy city, the New Jerusalem, sits at his feet.
Jesus lifts his hands in the air to display his wounded palms. One angel holds the nails that pierced his hands and feet and the spear that was thrust into his side Another holds the cross on which the Lord offered himself for the world. Signs of mercy abound.
Yet another angels holds the scales of divine justice. Kneeling in the scales, a “little one” clasps his hands in prayer; on the other side of the balance, a tiny demon clings to the chains. The devil and his minions attempt to tip the scales in the direction of damnation, but the carving shows the scales tilted toward salvation.
To the king’s right, a line of saints wear the victor’s crown. On his left, a corresponding line of the damned is bound in chains. Even nobility are found among the condemned. The faces of the damned are downcast and turned away from their Lord as demons lead them away from the holy city. The saints, in contrast, lift up their heads in adoration toward their savior.
Among the saints, a few on the periphery look outward toward the onlooker. Their heads are tilted and their gaze intense, as if they are trying to see something. Perhaps they are trying to determine the fate of those entering the sacred portal.