Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man will come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, he’ll sit on the throne of his glory. 32And all nations will be gathered before him. And he’ll separate them from each another, like a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33And he’ll put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! 35For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; 36naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? 38When did we see you as a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? 39Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you?” 40And the King will answer and say to them, “I tell you the truth, in as much as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”
41Then he’ll say to them on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels! 42For I was hungry, and you gave me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.” 44Then they’ll answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t look after you?” 45Then he’ll answer them, saying, “I tell you the truth, in as much as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.”
46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
Our righteousness is by faith, not by our own actions
Most commentaries I’ve heard on this talk about how God blesses those who love their neighbor and will curse to hell those who don’t. What I find fascinating is that people were found righteous because of the one they helped. Others were judged as wicked because of the one they didn’t help. This reminds me of the heresy that being good will get you into heaven. From this story, if you trust in your own actions getting you into heaven, unless you’re perfect, if you miss even one, you’ll miss out, you’re not perfect. On the other hand, if we trust in Jesus’ righteousness covering our inadequacy and believe in him, our ensuing love for him will overflow in fruits of righteous actions. Although we might be very limited in our capacity to help others, Jesus will see that one that we helped as evidence of his love overflow overflowing from us.
We are to bless God’s people and not oppose them
Another interpretation of this, which I’ve heard from Jewish Christians, focuses on “my brothers” as being the Jews. This reflects God’s promise to Abraham.
Genesis 12:3 And I will bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.
This is understood to be the heritage of the Jews; but may also be extended to Christians.
Romans 11:17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and nourishment of the olive tree…
Those who bless God’s people, both the natural and the supernatural, will be blessed. However, those who oppose either will be cursed.
I’ve met a few Jews in my time, and to be honest, they can be an arrogant, insolent bunch. A bit like us Christians really ;-). But they are also warm, inquisitive and very well educated. They’re passionate about life and caring for everyone, even those who are antagonistic towards them. What I love about them is you can always have a warm, deep and meaningful disagreement with them, hug each other goodbye and get together for another round the next day. Israelis are among the first to send response teams to international disasters.
It’s easy to find reason to oppose God’s people, particularly when they are different to us, but to do so incurs God’s curse. We must always remind ourselves to serve all people with great patience and perseverance, especially when they’re “great for building our character ;-)”.
Note, that Jews, just like any other people will only be judged as righteous by believing in Jesus. God’s covenant with them is a natural one, that should ideally position them to receive their Messiah. In the end, they’re just as stubborn as everyone else in their rejection of God and his eternal plan for salvation.
But what’s this parable actually about?
The timing of this parable is a bit confusing. “When the Son of man will come in his glory…” sounds like the end of the tribulation, as does “inherit the kingdom”. However, “depart … into everlasting fire” seems to refer to the end of time. Revelation 20 describes that the unrighteous dead would not be resurrected until the end of the 1,000 years (v5). Then they’ll be judged and thrown into the lake of fire (v15). I think the timing of this parable is broad.
“All nations” is occasionally paraphrased “the people of all nations”. So, it’s debatable how “all nations” should be understood. However entire nations going to Hell contradicts the fact that righteous people will be found from all nations. I understand this as “the people of all nations”.
Revelation 7:9 After this, I looked, and so, a great multitude, which no person could count, from all nations, tribes and people and languages, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.
This parable as a general concept is also applicable to the rapture – when the faithful will be taken and the rest remain with a second chance.
The essence of this parable is that judgement will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. And those who think they’re righteous and those who look and act righteous, might not be righteous after all.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t look at his appearance or his height, because I’ve rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see like people do. For a person looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Matthew 19:30 But many who are first will be last. And the last will be first.
I pray that God would richly bless you as you contemplate his word.